Friday, January 13, 2017

Mr. Fancy Pants

After making a one-hour presentation for a group of engineers, I was chatting informally with one of the attendees, when he whispered to me, “Bill, you’ve got a little hole right, um, right there on your pants.” He discreetly pointed toward my groin. Sure enough, the seam of my pants was split just below the zipper. Wow, that’s embarrassing.

What’s even worse, the pants were practically brand new. I only owned them for about two months, and had worn them to work maybe five times. So, you’d think I’d be pretty upset and proceed to do the following: 1. Return to the store in a rage, 2. Demand my money back, plus extra cash for pain and suffering, and 3. Write a column about it.

Well, it turns out only one out of those three things occurred. Or more accurately, the third thing is occurring at this moment as I type, and I hope a complete column will be the result.

You see, I purchased the pants on sale at a big box store for $14. Now, it’s not that I’m a cheapskate (OK yeah, I am, a little). It’s just that I like a bargain, and more importantly, on any given day at work I could be doing a presentation for a group of engineers in a corporate conference room, or I could be climbing on the roof of a building inspecting air conditioning equipment. Just brushing up against a section of metal ductwork can put a slice in your pants (not to mention in your forehead if you forget to wear a hard hat).

So, I’ve gotten in the habit of buying inexpensive clothing for work because it’s way too frustrating to have a brand new pair of $100 dress slacks from Joseph A. Banks get a tear or an industrial strength grease stain just because I had to make an unexpected visit to a building’s boiler room. On the other hand, if I rip or stain a pair of $14 pants, I shrug and head for the big box store to buy another pair.

However, choosing to wear cheapo clothes comes with a certain understanding: you simply can’t complain if the seam unravels on its own. If I returned the pants to the store and demanded my money back, the customer service clerk surely would say, “But you only paid 14 bucks. And you wore them FIVE whole times. What did you expect?”

It’s like that episode of Seinfeld, when they debated whether you can bring a piece of mushy fruit back to the store for a refund. Of course you can’t. It’s fruit. That peach cost 50 cents. It’s part of the inherent risk of being alive. You get a mushy piece of fruit, you throw it away and move on with your life. You get an unraveled seam in a pair of $14 pants, you use it as a rag to check the oil in your car and you move on with your life.

A few weeks later, after purchasing a replacement pair of pants for $14, I was preparing to give another presentation to a room full of engineers. As I bent over to plug my laptop computer’s power cord into the wall socket, a loud ripping sound filled the room. A couple of guys said, “What was that?” I shrugged, trying to ignore my rapidly reddening face, and replied, “I didn’t hear anything.”

The meeting went well, and I hope no one noticed that I gave the entire presentation while standing with my back firmly wedged into the corner of the room. I might have to upgrade and start wearing $16 pants.

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