The shirt is magnificent. It’s covered in huge red flowers that look so real you could pick them. The greens are green, the yellows are yellow, the reds are red. I’ve been told that when I wear it, I look like a cross between a centerpiece at a terrifically expensive wedding and a Carmen Miranda headpiece. I’m hoping that’s meant as a compliment.
Friends bought me the shirt as a present while they were on a two-week cruise through the Caribbean this past winter. Somehow, they thought that reminding me they got to take an expensive vacation and I didn’t would cheer me up. Or maybe they just wanted to rub it in. Still, the shirt is truly a work of art, not one of those cheap knockoffs made in some unheard-of Third World country. It was made in Pakistan, about which we hear plenty.
Much to Sue’s embarrassment, I wear this shirt a lot. When I dress up, I throw a blue blazer over it. No tie necessary. Many times, I am the only person in the entire room wearing anything nearly so cheerful. That was certainly true at Shirley Maxwell’s funeral.
Sue complained that the shirt was too casual. I had to explain to her that times have changed. Today, formal doesn’t mean “black tie,” it means “black T-shirt” (preferably one that doesn’t have your favorite band’s tour schedule on the back). And funerals aren’t somber events anymore. We’ve turned them into “celebrations of life.” You’re no longer supposed to look unhappy that your spouse or your friends have died. You get up and tell funny stories about the deceased as if this were some big practical joke that everyone is in on except the guy in the coffin. How long before they get rid of the preacher altogether and hire comedians to plant us when our time comes?
Late yesterday afternoon, I was wearing the gift shirt and a floppy straw hat while I helped Sue in the garden. Sue doesn’t usually like me to help in the garden, as it often turns out that I water the weeds and weed the plants, but she was desperate.
I was watering what I thought were tomatoes when the first bee hit, right on the shoulder. I’m not allergic to bee stings, but I am sensitive to them. A sting on the hand will make my whole hand swell. I could feel my shoulder starting to swell just as another bee got me high on my right cheek. Maybe they were angry that the flowers on my shirt held no pollen, or maybe the queen had sent them off to war, or maybe they just woke up on the wrong side of the hive.
My eye was swollen shut, parts of my lips were puffed up to three times their normal size, and my cheek was out to here. Fine, I thought. I’ll take some antihistamine and wait for the swelling to go down. It didn’t help.
The problem was, we had committed to dinner that night with friends at a popular restaurant. It had taken weeks to organize our schedules, and after several failed attempts, not showing up would be unforgivable.
”You should have told us!” Betty said after getting a look at my face. “We could have rescheduled. What happened?”
”Ahbummeemungme,” was how “A bee stung me” came out.
Bill was also sympathetic.
”I can’t eat if I have to look at that all night,” he said. “You’ve just spoiled my appetite. I need a Scotch — a double.”
The swelling on my shoulder made me walk funny. I looked like I should be ringing the bells at Notre Dame.
“I motna smellin would gomand nah. Ivmad uneer brise weded,” I said, pointing to my face and trying to explain that I thought the swelling would go down by now and, hey, I just had a near brush with death.
”I’m not talking about your face,” said Bill. “The bees did you a favor. I’m talking about that shirt. Please, throw it out before more people get hurt.”
Jim Mullen’s newest book, “How to Lose Money in Your Spare Time — At Home,” is available at amazon.com. You can follow him on Pinterest at pinterest.com/jimmullen.