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Since You Never Asked: 'It's Important to Always Tie One On'

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It’s a rule of thumb around public radio that many of us got into the field so that we wouldn’t have to dress up.  Compared to other professional positions, the number of days in which I come to work wearing a tie is pretty low.

Lake Effect essayist Jonathan West takes a different view of dressing up:

Since you never asked...

...a recent survey of my neckwear confirms that I am the owner of 68 bow ties, 14 neck ties, and three jaunty ascots that even I think are too pretentious to ear. So, yes, as that count makes clear, you can assume that I recently thinned out my wardrobe and now have just the right volume of neckwear to serve as "the guy in the room who wears the tie."

Someone always needs to wear a tie. If you're looking for some elaborate reason, here's one...it's just the way things need to be. And yes, you kids should now also get off my lawn. A person wearing a tie makes a room feel different. And I don't mean different like your Uncle Lester, I mean different like, "Oh, this super premium champagne tastes so different!"

I became permanently wed to wearing ties some years ago when my grandfather died. My family assembled for a funeral in Florida, and I checked in with my brother about what he was wearing. His answer was, "Nice slacks, shirt, shoes." Missing from his funeral uniform list was any mention of a tie. He also let me know that my dad wouldn't be wearing a tie.

"No one wears a tie in Florida...it's too hot." That was the perfectly sound rationale given to me by my relations when I raised an eyebrow about this. Now, I concede that Florida is hot, but in that moment I knew my destiny - I was to become the tie guy, sweat lodge state be damned.

The day of my grandfather's funeral it was a soggy 98 degrees in the shade. Perspiration dripped off of everyone attending the funeral, but there in the middle of the crowd I stood, suited from head to toe with a somber necktie lassoed around my fully buttoned shirt collar. My grandfather had built an addition on the back of his house with his own two hands, so I didn't mind wearing a tie to class up the affair. Plus, all the sweating I did that day helped me lose a few pounds, and who doesn't love to lose a few.

I learned an important thing by wearing a tie to my grandfather's funeral - people take a person in a tie seriously. I don't care if you're wearing a tie behind a counter asking me "Do you want fries with that?" or if you're just about to take out my gall bladder. You sport a tie, and I'm leaning in and believing the snot out of what you have to say.

It's not enough to simply buy a tie and wear it, of course. When you embrace being the one who always shows up in a tie, you start to realize that you have some sway in how to tone up or tone down a room. I have my ties organized from dark to light shades in my closet. Sort of sad to happy tie trail, if you will. I show up wearing my Churchill black and white polka dotted bow tie, and you better believe I mean business buster. I swing into the room with an orange, red, and yellow tie that brings out a particular hint of sass in my eyes, it's flirting, laughs and extra cupcake time for everyone. But be well warned, if I come at you with my jet-black necktie, you better check your pulse. That's the one I reserve for honoring the dead.

With great ties, comes great responsibility. I've chosen the path of the tie, so I accept the added burden of trying to know stuff. If you're standing in a room full of people and you're the only one wearing a tie, I guarantee you that people will ask you things that they think you'll know because you look like an expert or a museum security guard. In fact, that's sort of the deal. From birth to death, moment-to-moment, you need the tie around someone's neck to let everyone know, "Hey, there's someone wearing a tie...they'll know what's going on."

With a tie, you become the person called upon to answer life's burning questions. When does the meeting start? Where's the ladies room? Can you explain Fermat's Last Theorem to me? If you answer the call of the royal order of tie wearers, do us all proud and know enough to answer the very best. I've been wearing ties forever, so I'd step right in and rattle off the following clean, clear, answers to those queries: 9:00 am, down the hall to the right, and I don't know nothing about math, but I'm sure there's someone here wearing an even better tie who can explain it all for you right now.

Contributor Jonathan West has wrapped up his year-long stint as the Pfister narrator.  He continues to be a writer, actor, director, and well-dressed man about town. 

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