Belt way The gradual and reluctant undoing of a deep-rooted habit I don’t recall when it started, but I do recall when being a tucker became a way of life: 7th grade. Social studies teacher William Eberhardt (shorten his first name and swap in two letters in his last name for a big-time juvenile guffaw) wore a coat and tie to class every day, and a hat home every night, and he kept a confiscated belt hanging on his wall. If you dared walk into his class without one, or if you were so brazen as to slink in with your shirt untucked, you were subject to the verbal equivalent of a WWF smackdown. “Mr. Wamre,” the rather diminutive Mr. Eberhardt would squeak amid the sloppily muffled cackles of classmates. “Get that shirt tucked in so I can see your belt, or turn around and head down to the office right now.” And in the office, a big Minnesota-born principal we called “Tex” in honor of his ever-present cowboy hat, wasn’t sympathetic to disruptions in school attire, either. With his pointy cowboy boots and towering frame, and his eagerness to lord this size advantage over shrimps like me, the most direct line to the easiest school day was to remain a tucker. And so I did. For years it wasn’t a problem, because everyone did it. I’d run across the occasional beltless slackers, of course, but I presumed these godless hooligans would surely get what was coming to them someday. But time doesn’t stand still, and someone somewhere along the line decided to break free from the bonds of belthood. Occasionally on TV, some celebrity would be wearing a jacket, and peeking from beneath it would be a completely untucked shirt. And from Mr. Eberhardt’s perspective, who could even tell if the guy was wearing a belt? Soon the tuckless movement was omnipresent: Guys in suits wore their shirts sticking out. The bottoms of Hawaiian shirts never saw the inside of pants. People wore t-shirts that dropped straight down from protruding bellies, leaving enough room for a raccoon to rest comfortable at belt-level, if any raccoon should be so inclined. Finally, our sons started in on me. “Dad, wear your shirt out. Everyone else does it,” one said. “Dad, what’s wrong with you?” the other asked. “You don’t look right with your shirt tucked in.” And I watched as their shirts flapped freely in the breeze and their unbelted pants and shorts began to channel the rear view of plumbers crawling from beneath a house with their tool belts. They seemed happy to be so free. I began to feel isolated by my intractable decision. So against my better judgment, I started following the crowd. I still tuck in my shirt at work and, sometimes when I’m alone, just because I can. But more and more in public, I’m following the crowd, going along to get along, and allowing my belt to rest quietly in the closet. It doesn’t feel right, doesn’t even look right, and I worry that someone who knows better might see me out and about. But peer pressure has taken its course, and my days of exclusive tucking are over. I’m sorry, Mr. Eberhardt.
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