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White Slavery

by Stephen Lautens


August 30, 2002

No matter how old I am, Labour Day always makes me feel like I should be getting ready for school. As it approaches I start having that recurring dream about arriving unprepared for a French exam, and then realizing I've showed up to write it in the nude and I have nowhere to hide my conjugation tables. Like that's ever going to happen - again.

This time of year makes me feel instinctively drawn to the mall in search of new packs of pencil crayons, binder paper and a protractor set.

With school behind me, aside from a day off Labour Day really only means one thing now: it's time to put away my white suit.

I honestly don't know why I bought it. White isn't even a particularly Canadian colour. During the snowy season (which if you live in Calgary now includes most of the summer) you run the risk that if you ever stumble into a snow bank, you won't be found again until the thaw.

No, a white suit in Canada is about as practical as a convertible or rushing out tomorrow to buy the doughnuts for Jean Chretien's retirement party.

But go ahead and call me a fancy pants if you must (except of course if I happen to be writing an imaginary French exam), but I've always had a thing for white suits. I'm not talking about those jackets with the long sleeves that tie up in the back that were so popular in some of our better laughing academies. I mean a real white business suit.

I probably got my liking for white suits watching TV as a kid. About seven James Bonds ago, Sean Connery wore a white dinner jacket in "Diamonds are Forever". Peter O'Toole boozed his way through "My Favorite Year" all in white, and everyone wore one in "Casablanca". A couple of years ago I ran into Tom Wolfe, author of "The Right Stuff" and Bonfire of the Vanities" and famous wearer of white suits.

Anyone can wear a black suit and look tough, but it takes someone with real guts to wear a white one. To begin with, you put up with a lot of grief. People yell at you to ask how the Boys from Brazil are doing, or what flavours of Popsicle you have in the truck. But then again you don't buy a white suit if you intend to go unnoticed in a crowd. You wear a white suit to stand out. It's like announcing to the world: "Here I am. I hope the daily special is spaghetti."

There's nothing like a white suit to make you realize how dirty and full of peril the world is. Everywhere you turn there's a kid who has just come back from a face-painting fair or guy next to you making a point by gesturing with a chili dog. You worry about everything you sit on and everything you touch. 

My brother is particularly good when he sees me wearing anything white. He always comes up and says: "You have a spot." When you anxiously ask where, he grinds an imaginary grubby finger into your chest and says: "Right there."

I'm not even going to mention the consequences of not having a good supply of flesh-coloured underwear, except that without them you might as well be writing a French exam in the nude.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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