I donned my new tropical shirt and asked my wife, Valerie, what she thought of it. I was hoping shed say attractive or carefree or perfect for summer.
Its loud, she replied.
When our daughter, Madeline, saw me in the shirt, she had no comment. She was surprised to see me wearing the shirt days later, when we were visiting our relatives down in Virginia.
I thought you were kidding, she said, referring to the first time I presented myself in the shirt.
Mom, who joined us on the trip, said she liked the shirt. My cousins said they did too. In fact, Cousin Jimmy said he had one himself and even wore it on a recent trip he had taken.
So Valerie and Maddie are outnumbered when it comes to the shirt. Since they have to live with me, though, perhaps I should concede that their two combined opinions probably should outweigh those of others. But heres the thing: I like the shirt.
To be certain, I was unsure what to think when I tried it on in the dressing room at a clothing store in Biddeford. I never like shopping for clothes, as I lack style, interest and patience as I wander the aisles, look through items jammed together on racks, and head to the dressing room with its harsh and unflattering lighting and full-length mirrors. I try to get in and out of clothing stores as soon as possible. Its usually only when I get home and wear a shirt or a pair of pants or shorts for the first time that I am able to determine whether I like something new or not.
And yeah, it turns out I like this tropical shirt. I suppose its loud. Its burnt orange and is short-sleeved, which I suppose is unnecessary to mention. Have you ever seen a long-sleeved tropical shirt? Anyway, the shirt has pineapples and grey and white feathers printed all over it. It occurs to me now that perhaps those are the feathers of a seagull, which will never be among my favorite birds, but thats okay. I still like the shirt.
For me, this tropical shirt is a return to form. For years from when I was a teenager through when I was in my 30s, Id say I always had at least one tropical shirt hanging somewhere in my closet. A friend gave me my first one when we were 15 or 16 years old; he was several inches taller than I was and passed it on to me when it no longer fit him. I put it on and felt my summertime teenage persona take shape. I was a camp counselor at the time and recognized the shirt as similar in style to something Bill Murray wore in the 1979 slob comedy, Meatballs, in which he played a loose and goofy camp counselor himself. Hey, a kid needs role models, right?
This new tropical shirt I bought a few weeks ago is the first one Ive owned in nearly a decade. The evidence of when I last owned and wore one is a photo of me and Valerie at a friends wedding reception back in 2010.
I can hear you now. He wore a tropical shirt to a wedding? Why, yes. Yes, I did.
When you slip into a tropical shirt, with its razor-thin fabric and the airy way it hangs off your shoulders, you can feel all cares and worries slip away. Strange, but true. Im not sure why this is the case. Maybe the shirt fools your mind into thinking youre at the beach or on some faraway island. Maybe theres something about the loud designs on the shirt that disabuses you of the notion that you, and perhaps others, should take you seriously. All I know is that such shirts work a certain magic, bestowing calmness on those who wear them.
Case in point. Several years ago, Valerie and I were at my sisters bridal shower at my parents house. It was a hot summer day. My father asked me to open the window in the living room. I raised the main window and then the storm window. I lowered the screen. Then I heard a sharp, metallic, rushing sound. It lasted only a few seconds, so I had no real time to determine what I was hearing. I soon found out. It was the storm window, slamming right down on my fingers like a guillotine.
When I realized what happened, I paused. I wiggled my fingers free from underneath the storm windows metal frame. I noticed that the middle finger on my right hand was mangled and bleeding at the tip. I took a deep breath, turned around, faced the crowd of friends and relatives gathered in the sweltering heat of the living room, and said, ever so calmly, Ill be back.
I proceeded to the kitchen and began cleaning my finger at the sink. It wasnt getting any better. My cousin brought me to the emergency room at Goodall Hospital, where I spent the next several hours. The doctor injected a needle into my finger to numb it because he needed to remove the fingernail and sew some stitches.
What are you going to give me? I asked the doctor as I braced for the procedure.
What do you mean? the doctor asked. I just gave you something.
That was for my finger, I said. What are you going to give me for my mind?
Nothing, it turned out. My only option was to just turn and look the other way while the doc did his gruesome deed.
Perhaps you think it was pure shock that made me react with such calm in those seconds after the storm window bashed my fingers and I turned to everyone in the room and quietly told them Id return.
Maybe you think it was the anesthesia the doctor shot into my finger that made what he had to do bearable.
Yeah, you might think all that. But I think it was something else.
I was wearing a tropical shirt throughout this whole experience.
And you know what? Finally, at long last, I have my million-dollar idea, the one that will make me rich and enable me to retire early my paper clip, if you will.
Tropical johnnies for patients at hospitals.
Shawn P. Sullivan is an award-winning columnist and the author of Islands in the Chaotic Ocean of Life, a memoir that is available online at Amazon.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.