“Hey Alice, what do I wear?”

Armen 001_2

By Karen Topakian

This refrain echoed through my family’s modest RI ranch home every time my father had to go anywhere other than work.

At his job at General Plating, he often wore worn out, stained seersucker pants and a shirt. It didn’t matter what he wore at the shop because the hot liquid chemicals he worked with ruined everything.

But when he had to go somewhere, anywhere else: wedding, funeral, out to dinner, visiting family, birthday party…he asked for help. Particularly since the time he showed up at a friend’s dinner party and opened his jacket to reveal a plaid vest and different plaid pants to ensuing laughter.

Since then he would stand in my parents’ bedroom and holler to my mother, “Hey Alice, what do I wear?”

“I don’t know, Armen,” she yelled back while pawing through her own closet in her small dressing room a few feet away. “How about pants and a shirt?

“No need for sarcasm,” he retorted. “Do I need to wear a suit?”

“Why would you think that?” responded my mother. (My family habitually answered a question with a question.) “We’re only going out to dinner with the Nahigians.

My father opened the wooden sliding doors to his closet and stared blankly at the neatly hung pants, shirts and sport coats. He aimlessly moved a few wooden hangers across the rack.

“How about my charcoal grey pants?” asked my father.

“The heavy wool ones?” answered my mother. “We’re not eating dinner at the North Pole.”

“I don’t think they’re wool,” he said trying to assess by rubbing the fabric between his fingers.

“You don’t know?” she countered while pulling out a pair of black silky pants, holding them up to her waist, gazing in the mirror and shaking her head. “Do you mean the ones we bought at the sidewalk sale last summer?”

My father froze in his tracks. He waited a few minutes. “Yes,” he said cautiously. Then waited again.

“Ok, yes, that’s a good idea,” pronounced my mother.

My father quietly uttered a sigh of relief. He pulled the pants off the hanger, put them on and added a black belt.

Pleased with himself, he opened a drawer in his blonde mahogany bureau, chose a blue striped long sleeved dress shirt and put it on.

Feeling proud, he strode to my mother to show her his selection

“Oh, I like that shirt on you. Didn’t the girls buy it for you for Christmas?” she asked while removing a different pair of black pants from her closet.

He shrugged, “I think so.”

“But those pants,” she argued. “They’re too big. You can’t wear those. You’re swimming in them.”

“What do you mean?” he asked her while looking at himself in her full-length mirror

“Look at them,” she asserted pulling the pants away from his thin legs. “You can’t wear them.”

“You know I don’t like to wear tight clothes,” he explained

“There’s a big gap between tight and too big,” she remarked. “For once, why don’t you help me figure out what to wear?”

“You don’t need my help, Alice,” he declared. “You always look nice.”

She removed a red silk top from the hanger, pulled it over her head, examined herself in the mirror and nodded. “Good enough.”

Dejected, my father lumbered back to his open closet and stared.

My mother brushed past my father on the way to her bureau and stopped for a moment. She pointed to a pair of black pants and proclaimed, “Wear these.”

“How did she do that?” he mumbled to himself

He took off the grey pants and put on the black ones.

“I guess I need a tie,” he muttered to himself.

“Yes, you need a tie,” she replied while holding up necklaces, looking in the mirror, searching for the right combination.

My father groaned.

“Why don’t you wear your leather vest with it,” added my mother, which she knew would make him smile.

“I can?” he asked happily.

Thirty minutes later, my parents met their friends at a restaurant, when the wife saw my father she loudly exuded, “Armen, you always look so nice. Ohh, I love your vest.”

“My daughters and my wife picked them out,” acknowledged my father proudly, while my mother beamed.

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