A Series of Things: The Bow Tie October 4, 2013Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
I call him my 87-year-old boyfriend. When I took on the job of editing a quarterly journal 18 years ago, I inherited him, a writer. I knew him only through letters (then e-mails) and the occasional phone calls. We took to one another immediately.
He has been threatening to die since the very beginning, which was before he turned 70. If he ever decides to up and do it, I shall crawl into a hole for days or months or years.
In 2005, he self-published a play, a conversation between two historic anglers, and dedicated the piece to me. He staged it once, one performance only, in Boulder. I offered to fly out to see it. We could meet in person. He thought about it. Decided it would make him too nervous. Told me not to come.
So I sent a bouquet of autumn orchids, which made it to the stage, brightly and stubbornly sitting in for me.
I figured we’d never meet in person.
But then Gordon and another author of mine, both members of a prestigious London club, decided to hold a club event in Denver, the first ever in the United States. I was invited (a woman!). I knew the chance would never come again, so off Tim and I went to vacation in Colorado for a week, attend this black-tie affair, and at long last meet Gordon.
Did you get that? Black tie. Tim would have to rent a tux. He would have to learn to tie a bow tie.
We borrowed a neighbor’s bow tie and practiced. It didn’t go swimmingly. The night before we left, I wrote to Gordon [subject line: If we have to tie a bow tie]:
I think we are totally screwed.
I just tried with a perfectly reasonable online tutorial. I failed miserably. And we can’t bring this one along to practice.
I am hoping one will arrive pre-tied, or we may be unable to attend the event until help arrives.
He immediately replied:
I have a wonderful one pre-tied. It’s old, elegant, and a marvel of structural engineering. I have it here for you. Or I can and will tie it.
Do NOT worry about it. I can valet with the best of them.
I told him to bring along the pre-tied tie. And the next evening I met Gordon for the very first time, in the lobby of the Hotel Boulderado, where his grandmother had lived back in the day and where his grandfather had once had a barber shop. He’s a delight. The next evening we had that long-awaited martini we’d been threatening, mixed by Gordon himself at his home, with my husband and his wife and daughter there too, everyone enjoying the perfect drinks and magnificent company.
Gordon handed me the bow tie early on, I think—maybe that first evening. But maybe it was the evening of the event itself, as he remembers it. No matter. The tie turned out to be one that clipped to the top button of the shirt—nothing around the neck at all. A marvel of structural engineering.
He wanted Tim to wear the tie, and then he would give it to us.
He had a long story about the history of the tie, which he told us, and which I knew I would never remember accurately. So a couple of months later, I asked if he would kindly write it down for me. And this is what he sent:
A Tale of a Tie
This tie, a tie, any tie, so tight around the neck, enough to confound anyone about everything. So, I must be brief.
We flew off to Powell, Wyoming, in early September 1950, to teach school. A little town of some 3,500 souls in the Big Horn Basin.
The town had been pre–laid out precisely by the government land offices in 1909 on perfectly ABSOLUTELY flat desert land, soon to be watered by irrigation into small 80-acre homesteaded farms. Water would not drain in its streets—not a great problem because there was so little of it.
I emphasize the absolute flatness of the town because it meant that there was no proper hill for the owner of the town’s one bank to build his house on and so look down on all the rest of us. Bank president and owner Bob N—— had been the very first baby born in the brand-spanking-new flat town—in 1910.
Bob was smart, conservative, and strategic. He also could sense irony and paradox, and was not without a certain charm.
Somehow or other we got to know him and his rather glamorous wife, who was an excellent cook. They even had this nobody of a new schoolteacher and his wife to dinner. I should add that Bob was a fly fisherman and wanted to be serious about it. That in itself recommended me to him. He craved improvement. Betty and I were curiosities for him. How in the world could he like and be drawn to people so different in worldview from his? Democrats!
He must have seen some of my early theatre work at the high school. Because one day he said to me, “Gordon, I don’t come to your plays anymore because they are all religious plays.” To this day, that estimate of my work remains the most valued of all. Bob caught on to what I was trying to do: be serious; that is, “religious” about everything. And he didn’t like it. He knew I was an apostate, and he believed in nothing, not even money. I liked him. I always felt warmly toward him.
He told me that I was the first person he was telling that he was divorcing Evelyn. “Gordon,” he said at the lunch counter where he made this announcement, “I have felt dead for fifteen years.”
I told him to be damned careful before he cast off so good a cook.
But, the tie, the tie, what of the tie?
Bob’s uncle and aunt Chris and Monty F—— lived a door or two away from Bob and Evelyn and across the alley from us. (Bob had built a modernist home on the flat land and a shockingly late-modern new bank building that folks thought crazy.) Uncle Chris and Aunt Monty were genuinely cultured and cultivated people, of that particular American stripe who read their Emerson and their Shakespeare.
And they died. That’s what they got for their pains: They got dead.
And they left behind lots of stuff: books, small art objects, clothing, furniture. Nobody in the family was interested in it. Bob thought that I might like a lot of that stuff. I, after all, was about as strange as Uncle Chris himself. I might want some of that stuff for costume and properties in my theatre, which continued to get seriouser and seriouser—ever more “religious.”
And amid all that stuff was this clip-on black formal bow tie of such ingenious design.
I admired it, mused on it, treasured it, and never wore it.
And kept it to this day on September 13, 2012, at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, where for the first dinner of the London Flyfishers’ Club, Tim wore it.
And so things come round. I think Uncle Chris would be gladdened that Tim used it on so auspicious an occasion.
Banker Bob N——? When after 16 years we decided to leave Powell and go to Stanford for a Ph.D., I grew fainthearted at the thought of going off utterly penniless. So, I asked Bob, what if we get in a jam and need some money, might I come to you? “Gordon,” he said, “call me and I’ll have money to you the next morning.” We never had to call on that offer, but you can imagine the comfort in it.
Like the F——s, Bob eventually got dead for his pains.
And you have the formal black bow tie. Pass it on.
There’s a frame that surrounds wire that hangs on my bedroom wall. On this wire hang earrings, and now the treasured tie is clipped there too. It’s close to the mantel, on which rest two books that I think of as my Gordon books: The Shaw-Terry Letters: A Romantic Correspondence and Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell: Their Correspondence. (The Navajo reel case lives on that mantel, too, but that’s another story.)
Here’s a photo of earrings (a rather disheveled display, I’m afraid) and the tie.