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To the left or to the right

    When I was 16 years old and a junior in high school, my parents’ Christmas present to me was a gift certificate for a Brooks Brothers suit. This was 1966 and Brooks Brothers had a lot more meaning then than it does today. Such a suit was very special and could only be purchased at Brooks Brothers single location in New York City. A young man’s first Brooks Brothers suit was an important ritual in his development, a signal that he was to be a gentleman. 

    I was in school in Connecticut at the time and at the first opportunity, I went in to New York for the weekend to pick out the suit and have it fitted. It was a glorious experience in a bastion of male sartorial splendor. I was treated as a king. A young man being fitted for his first Brooks Brothers suit was a very important occasion in the store. Everyone scurried about to advise me on fabrics, sizes and cuts of suits. 

    Once the suit was selected, I was sent into the fitting room where a tailor crawled around checking everything very precisely. There were decisions to be made: cuffs or no cuffs, dimensions for the cuffs, break, slight break, or no break. And finally, the tailor looked up at me and asked: “Do you dress to the left or to the right?” 

    Hmmm. This was not something I had ever considered. I somehow knew right away what he meant, but I couldn’t imagine how it could matter unless he tailored the pants ridiculously tight or I wore them pulled up to my chest. Nevertheless, four thoughts flashed through my mind. One, was this a kind-of coming-of-age decision that had to be made once and could never change? From now on, when friends asked “How’s it hangin?” would I always have to answer “to the left”? Two, what if the suit was tailored “to the left” and accidentally I ended up “to the right"? Would I look odd? Would I “stand out"? Three, what if this was a code question? The tailor was obviously gay. What if dressing to the left or right was like having a left or right ear pierced, forever a symbol of sexual inclination? And finally, most embarrassing of all, what if the guy was simply having a little fun at my expense, pulling my “leg” so to speak. To avoid making unintended sexual statements or being made a fool of, I looked at him directly and said: “I dress straight ahead”. He nodded and went about his work, but I thought I saw a little grin as he leaned down to check the pants length once more. 

    As is often the case in such situations, I thought of all the best answers later. “Leave room for it all the way to the left knee,” I could have said. Or I could have told him I don’t dress left or right, I dress up or dress down depending on the occasion. I have been fitted for many suits since that time, and even had a few custom made, but the question has never come up again…until yesterday. 

    In preparation for a bicycle tour of Burgundy this fall, my wife went out last week and bought us bicycles to practice with. Yesterday, we went out for our first training run, an eight-mile cruise in a nearby state park. The bike is beautiful and easy to operate, but the seat is about as comfortable as sitting astride an iron railing. For a man, the immediate question to be answered as you climb on the bike is: should I arrange myself to the left or to the right of this seat. It’s not a trick question being asked by a tailor, it is simply an anatomical requirement that the front of the seat rest against one leg or the other, not in the center. After forty years of avoiding this decision, I could not make it yesterday either. I rode one way for awhile, the other way for awhile, and whenever we coasted downhill, I shifted to sitting sort-of sideways on one thigh or the other, avoiding the issue altogether. 

    Who designs these things anyway? This is obviously a female bicycle seat. I’m heading back to the bike shop as soon as possible to find something a little more accommodating.

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