Editor’s Notebook: Birthday shirt

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by Brian Clarey

I pulled the shirt from a hanger in the back of the closet and took a good look at it for the first time in a long time.

It’s held up pretty good over the years — its deep navy shade now faded to twilight blue, the original buttons secure in their moorings, the breast pocket still intact. The Nehru collar, however, is frayed like shed snakeskin, and I can see daylight through the shoulder seams.

If I’d known I would have had it this long I probably would have taken better care of it.

It’s been in my possession for exactly 20 years, bequeathed to me on the night of my 26th birthday at a bar in Uptown New Orleans called Fat Harry’s. John Howard, a doctor of philosophy and preferred drinking buddy of mine, gave it to me right off his back when I admired it that night, took it off then and there and stood near the door at Fat Harry’s, giant and pale as the underside of a sea tortoise.

Naturally I gave him my shirt after I put the blue one on, and because he was so much bigger than me the buttons didn’t reach across his chest. His double-X didn’t look as baggy on me then as it did when I tried it on the other day. And then we hit the town, because it was my birthday.

This was not the night he slugged a wise-mouthed undergrad just in time for Christmas, or the night we fell prey to the tangerine women of the upper French Quarter. This was the the first time I wore what would become my go-to nightlife outfit for years and years, and, though the finer details of that celebration remain hazy, I probably had it on for four days straight.

John Howard, a doctor of philosophy and preferred drinking buddy of mine, gave it to me right off his back when I admired it that night

After that I wore it when I went to shows and on bug nights behind the bar. I wore it on my first date with the woman who would become my wife, paired with jeans and boots because that’s all I wore for years.

I packed it with the things I brought up to North Carolina when I moved here; it still saw some active duty after dark, but after a bleach stain bloomed near one button it became relegated to work detail and general farting around.

The cuffs have been rolled and unrolled so often the forearms are a slightly darker shade than the front panels. There is, likewise, a change in shading near the waist from the days when I used to tuck it in. I believe that if I gave it a few good shakes it might fly into pieces.

But the birthday shirt been with me as long as anything I own. And this week, as I turn 46, I think I can get one more wear out of it.