My father always wore a black or navy blue one. When he came home from the sea or office, he pulled it over his head without undoing it and hung it on the bedroom door.

We’re talking ties here, those pieces of colored cloth men are forced to wear around their necks to appear presentable. I guess it’s better than the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” who had to wear an albatross around his neck.

Through the years, I watched all the men in my family graduate to bolo ties, those long black cords with a huge medallion attached to them. Old men in Arizona and New Mexico wear them. John McCain wore one, and probably Jimmy Carter did too.

It seems to be a talisman of senior retirees too busy or feeble fingered to tie a Windsor knot. I look forward to skipping those.

I myself have totally given up on ties. I don’t go to weddings anymore. I’m a writer, which means I’m on a fixed income and can’t afford salad bowls for newlyweds who make more than I do.

Everyone I know is too old to be baptizing a baby, and funerals are out of the question. All of my friends are dead now.


So this is a brief story of the American tie in families and politics.

See that tall skinny kid up on the table? The one with the Bobby Kennedy haircut? That’s Texan Beto O’Rourke on the stump in Iowa, waving his arms, swinging hips, jabbing at the air. He’s wearing a blue shirt and jeans but no tie, which, in his case, makes him resemble a cattle auctioneer or pig farmer, a disguise I’m sure he hopes will work.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, from Indiana, almost always wears a tie. When His Honor from Indiana shows up without a tie or jacket, it looks as if he just came out of the men’s room and left them  on the hook. I’m a big fan of the mayor, but he looks uncomfortable without a tie. He’s ex-military. That could be it.

Joe Biden, in his previous incarnations as vice president and senator, seems to have been born wearing a tie. Now, out on the stump, he’s taken to the new mode and appears in coffee shops and a few street scenes with open neck. But you can tell that he, too, feels off balance without that layered piece of cloth hanging from his neck. My advice to all male candidates: If you’re going tieless in the rural areas, just wear a cute sport shirt, preferably one from J.C.  Penney, and definitely without a brand logo from Polo or Brooks Brothers.

The audiences in Iowa at the cattle and pig auctions and wheat-belt church suppers and, for that matter, anywhere in any bar or coffee shop in the Midwest or South are full of no-tie guys.

Maybe it’s  because memories run deep on these plains and in the rice and cotton fields of the South and certainly on the porches of Oklahoma.


The folks in those spots grew up with ancestors for whom the sight of a man in white shirt and tie coming up from the hollows or down the dirt roads to the gate meant one of two things: He was coming for the taxes, or to tell the man in bib overalls and wife in a Sears Roebuck housecoat that they had to get out.

Ties, because of the fat orange-faced man sitting in Obama’s chair, have become obscene.

He, who is called 45, has his imported from China with his label on them; and he has two. One is black, to wear to funerals in case one of his elder statesmen such as Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross Jr.,  or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, should leave unexpectedly. The other is a bright shiny red, the size of a matador’s cape, that seems to be made of plastic and flows from his tonsils clear down to his groin. It appears to be wearing him.

So far, each of the male candidates has avoided the scholarly bow tie. A wise move. As I write this, I am awaiting the first debates to comment on cravat styles. Stay tuned.

Next time out, female candidates’ apparel.


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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