No shirt, no shoes, no thanks

I saw the first sign of summer today – an overweight man without a shirt on a riding mower. We averted our eyes and kept driving. Just when we thought we were safe, we saw another one. You don’t see this much skin at the beach. I wanted to roll down the car window and yell, “For God’s sake, man, think of the children!” But Sue puts on the window locks when I’m in the car with her. According to her, yelling out the car window at strangers is “antisocial behavior.”

Antisocial? I’m trying to help the poor guy. Maybe if he put on a shirt and bought a push mower he’d drop a few pounds and have six-pack abs by the end of the summer. It’s one thing for Matthew McConaughey to run around half-naked, it’s another thing for Orson Welles. This is just a guess, but I would say the ratio of shirtless, well-proportioned men using riding mowers to big jelly-bellied men is roughly 99 to one.

Now, I don’t have a perfect body and I’m not trying to promote silly, unhealthy, unattainable bodies. All I’m trying to promote is wearing a shirt while you mow the lawn. Is that too much to ask?

It is perfectly natural for men, especially older, bald men who don’t eat right, exercise or wax their backs to have love handles and sagging pecs. That doesn’t mean I want to see them while you mow the lawn. When did suburbia become a half-nudist camp? Did I miss the “we don’t have to wear shirts anymore” memo? Was I out of town the day we voted to start doing yard work naked? And what is the point of having a beautiful lawn if you’re going to spoil it by exposing yourself. Let me put it this way: Would you put a statue of yourself mowing the lawn with your shirt off on your front lawn? I didn’t think so.

Years ago, we used to have a neighbor who would take off his shirt when he mowed the lawn, but he was a male model working on his tan. Women in the neighborhood would always find time to do yard work when he mowed. They would suddenly find an urge to trim the roses or train the vines or sweep the walk that didn’t need sweeping. By August, it looked like a unisex block party every time Nigel mowed his lawn. For about three years, we had the spiffiest lawns in the neighborhood. Then Nigel made a shaving cream commercial for television and made so much money that he bought a bigger house in a better neighborhood. I don’t think he mows his own lawn anymore.

But few of the guys you see mowing their lawns shirtless are male models – unless they’re the “after” models for nachos and beer. Have you ever noticed that the most fattening products you see on TV use the skinniest models to sell their products? “Hi, I’m Kate Moss for Deep Fat-Fried Chocolate-Covered Butter!”

Most people think subliminal advertising is hiding secret messages like “Eat this” in TV commercials. Wrong. The message is that you can eat bags of potato chips, drink a few six packs of beer and polish it off with a quart of ice cream every night and look like the rail-thin models who are hawking it. Could it be that they look so thin because they never eat the stuff they are selling?

It wasn’t so long ago that you would see signs that said “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” A few years later it turned into, “No shirt, no shoes, no problem.” How long will it be before we start seeing, “No shirt, no shoes, welcome back Class of ‘08” or, “No shirt, no shoes, bride’s side or groom’s side?” or “No shirt, no shoes, how long did you know the deceased?” or, “No shirt, no shoes, let’s transplant this liver!”

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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