Some writers, it seems, hard to read, struggle to get a piece going unless they have something to talk about, but something to talk about doesn’t come from the same reservoir as having something to say. Some of our most interesting and arresting writers have written profoundly, enjoyably, articulately, about, by all appearances, nothing. Others wait until fit to be tied with a topic under the acrimonious assumption readers are awaiting their latest culled diatribe.
Men’s neckties provide rich fodder for topic matter. The tie is a remarkable piece of nothing. The necktie reached a new height with Annie Hall, who looked and moved like she was taking cues from Charlie Chaplin. After Annie Hall, the necktie could only be pastiche and kitsch and irony. But Annie, or Woody, wasn’t the first out of Hollywood to use the tie to say something at once both memorable and forgettable. W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton – all sported neckties as part of their costume, part of their act. Rodney Dangerfield mastered the wearing of a loose tie, and of using the tie as an expressive prop for his hands. Rodney rarely appeared without a tie, usually wore a red one, and he wasn’t as funny tieless, open-collared. Only with his tie on could he reach the proper level of fit to be tied where his humor worked.
Donning a tie of course is no guarantee to successful stand-up, won’t necessarily make you funny. On the contrary, ties usually suggest a portent, a serious person. White collar workers wore ties because their work was often so unintelligible and without obvious skill that they needed something to enhance their heft in society. Without a necktie, the white collar worker could easily be mistaken for a bum, someone characteristically out of work. To go on a bummer is to loaf about with no clear or obvious purpose, a near perfect description of the average white collar worker. At the same time, a loose tie, particularly when worn toward the late afternoon, may suggest one has been hard at work. Either that or the office air conditioner is on the fritz.
The opposite of wearing a tie, if one is out and about, is wearing only an undershirt. The t-shirt was invented to be worn inside, an undergarment, worn under an overshirt, not to be seen. Originally titled “The Poker Night,” Tennessee Williams’s play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” dresses Stanley Kowalski in a t-shirt, hot and sweaty on a humid August Southern night, drinking and smoking, worked up and fit to be tied. Stanley enters, “roughly dressed in blue denim work clothes. Stanley carries his bowling jacket and a red-stained package from a butcher’s.” Tennessee Williams might have dressed Stanley in a tie, had he known more about office workers.
But it turns out Stanley does wear a tie, has a collection of three. Or maybe we’re confusing the play with the happier ending movie. In any case, it just goes to show anyone can wear a tie, and it means nothing.