FRAGMENTS: Dignity, Pt. 1
The absurdity of men in shorts
NO SOONER DID the sun come out and the temperatures climbed into the 80s did men lose their trousers, as they always do.
I was at the dog park one day last week when the mercury had soared. I looked around and saw that I was the only man wearing proper bottoms—the kind that start at the waist and go down to the ankle.
All the other men were wearing what are commonly called “shorts.” I put the term in quotations because, well, for one, I’m cranky about them, but also because “shorts” can be many things: short films, short stories, short people (pace Randy Newman). What the word commonly refers to, as you all know and as I am merely being purposely obtuse about, is short pants.
(Don’t even get me started on the word “pants.” Ask any Englishman if you can try on his pants and he will punch you in the nose. The word itself is derived from the patron saint of Venice, Pantaleon, who was mocked by performers of commedia dell’arte—a style of theater I do not enjoy—thereby further spreading the word Pantalone in Italian or Pantalon in French, only to wind up as “pantaloons” in English, where it was shortened to “pants” but considered vulgar. I cannot get beyond this point in the history of the word—which is why I prefer the more dignified “trousers”—while everyone else is happy just going around saying “pants,” paying no heed to the sordid derivation of the word.)
I have never enjoyed wearing shorts. I have a vague memory of a time one hot summer day when my mother insisted that I swap my long pants for shorts. Being the dutiful son, I obeyed mommie dearest, put on a pair of mini-pants, went outside and made a beeline to the nearest rock, against which I rubbed my right knee until it bled. I went back inside, showed my mother what happens when people wear shorts, cleaned myself up and put on a pair of proper trousers, having shed blood for a matter of principle.
I have suffered the indignity of having to wear shorts on occasion throughout my life: when I have been dragged to a beach or an equatorial territory, or just to set a good example for my son and not poison him with my ridiculous notions of propriety. One would think that one might finally reach a point in one’s life where one could finally put one’s well-covered foot down (don’t get me started on sandals) and just simply say, “No more.” But the pressure to wear shorts is never-ending, like Bob Dylan’s concert tour.
So what’s the big deal about shorts?
Let me tell you what is not the big deal about shorts first. This has nothing to do with embarrassment about how my legs look. I have been told on many occasions that I have nice legs and I should show them off. And I believe that. But my legs are meant to stand on and to propel me, not as objects upon which for others to gaze in astonishment and wonderment.
Secondly, not all men have such fine-looking legs as I have. And not all people want to look at your creepy bare legs. There is a reason the adage is “Clothes make the man” and not “Shorts make the man.” Dress yourself, for heaven’s sake.
I think it is fine for boys to wear short pants, even if I preferred not to back in the olden days. Boys will be boys, and children for the most part lack dignity simply by virtue of still being children. So don’t feel bad about dressing your kids in shorts; you get a free pass for that.
But these days, grown men show up everywhere with exposed legs: at the theater, in restaurants, on airplanes. When did this behavior become socially acceptable? Can’t we exert some social pressure to get grown men to dress properly while in public?
I do realize that for most people—especially those men who do not care about things like dignity, propriety, or self-respect—wearing shorts is a matter of keeping cool and comfortable. Which is why God invented shade and air-conditioning. Get the hell out of the sun, and if it is too hot to be outside in a pair of lightweight khakis then stay inside, where you can dress (or not) however you like.
Dignity is a virtue that time has left behind, much to our misfortune. The lack of a sense of dignity, of the importance of upholding oneself to certain dignified standards, is the root cause of the anarchy of disrespect that has grown rampant across the land. And make no mistake: dignity is as much or more about self-respect than it is about respect for others. Dignity is essential to a civil society; without it, all that remains is woeful indignity. And a world full of indignant behavior is not one in which I prefer to live.
Besides which, guys, honestly: you look like a bunch of children in your shorts. Grow up and wear your big-boy pants.