The assignment was out in the woods of Durham at one of those houses that sits far back from the road. Dogs barked. Chain saws buzzed. Somewhere in the distance, the sound of a shotgun racking a round.

It was raining and the yard was a minefield of deep puddles. I sloshed my way toward the house in question, frogs jumping, penny loafers squishing. And not just penny loafers. Because it was my third or fourth assignment with the paper, I was still an Aspiring Journalist and so I went around dressed impeccably. Crisp white shirt, crisp black tie, London Fog coat and slacks* with the creases ironed in just so.

* While I’m on the subject, what’s the difference between slacks and trousers? And what about dungarees, how come nobody uses that word anymore? Pantaloons, now there’s a fun term. Let’s bring it back.

While I sloshed toward my assignment, I could hear young folk inside the house laughing at me.

“Look at the shoes!”

“Ha ha! Check out his hair!”

“Momma, why is that funeral man coming? Are we putting someone in the ground today?”

Kids can be so cruel.

It was a humiliating affair, but did I learn anything? Nossir, I did not. For the first year or so with the paper, I continued to dress like a groomsman, even if I happened to be covering a tractor pull that night. Sometimes, I’d throw a sweater on over the shirt and tie (I called it the Alex P. Keaton) even if my assignment for the night was the arm-wrestling championship at a Mechanic Falls honky-tonk.

The teasing continued. Arm wrestlers can be so cruel.

On the street, it was misery. I’d go to the scene of a shooting and street folks with valuable information would flee from me. I’d chase after them, necktie flapping like a runaway tongue, but running in loafers is near impossible. Plus the trench coat flapped around me so that I looked like a giant bat, which only frightened people further and caused children to cry.

The street folk thought I was a police detective, of course. Or a G-man, or someone who had come to share the good word and who would demand that they take pamphlets.

I remember the day I said to hell with it. Instead of slacks (or pantaloons, if you will) I pulled on grubby jeans. Instead of a collared shirt and tie, I went with a pullover and a hoodie. Instead of loafers, I put on work boots and stomped to the newsroom like a man on his way to cut down trees or shovel poo.

I got to the office. An editor approached and gave me that night’s assignment. I was to head to a local synagogue and speak with worshipers about the death of an important Jewish leader abroad.

“But you might want to go home and change into something more appropriate,” said the frowning editor. “This is a solemn affair.”

And that, my friends, is why I go to work these days in a robe and slippers.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer and a GQ model. Email fashion queries (and thoughts on the slacks/trousers debate) to [email protected]

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