When I was about 20 and living in Brooklyn Heights, I came home one night, reached in my left front trouser pocket, and found that my keys were missing. I walked three blocks to my friends Marty and Jerry’s apartment and crashed on their floor. In the morning, I found my keys in my right front trouser pocket, where they did not belong.
I was reminded of this when I instructed my son Bud how to keep track of the box for his dental retainer.
“Put it in your left front pocket, and every 30 seconds or so, touch your pocket to make sure it’s there,” I told him. “That’s what men do.”
Pockets. You must have four trouser pockets. Left front is for keys, right front is for money and miscellany (pocket knife, pipe tool), left rear gets the handkerchief, right rear the wallet, with driver’s license, credit and debit cards, receipts, business cards, and so forth.
At frequent intervals throughout the day, you pat your pockets to make sure everything’s there. If not, you instantly correct the error or the omission.
The idea of going anywhere, indoors or out, awake, without any of these items, is unthinkable. A very refined, even fey, friend of mine once said in irritated astonishment of his wife, “She leaves the house without keys or money!”
Not only my friend’s wife, but women in general, do this, or some variation. A popular novelty song of the fifties featured a man complaining of his girlfriend that “She Can’t Find Her Keys.”
The decline in smoking has led to the decline of the honorable use of the shirt pocket for cigs and lighter. (I smoke a pipe, which requires considerable organization, but that’s unusual.)
You always lock your car with a key, even if the car can be locked with a push-button for all four doors inside. (Isn’t it obvious?) The modern electronic clicker, kept on the key chain, has made this technique obsolete, but I drive an old car.
There are other, more private secrets. In a public restroom, confronted with an unoccupied row of (say) seven urinals, which do you select? The second from the left or the second from the right. The next man in picks the one you have not (number two if you have picked number six, number six if you have picked number two). The next, if the two of you are still occupied, takes the middle (number four). Next come numbers three and five, and last come numbers one and seven.
You don’t know this? You’re not a man.
You always leave room for things — a paradox, of course, because, being a man, you don’t like things, otherwise known as stuff, very much at all. For women, this rule may be summarized in an image: On a coffee table or end table, always leave enough room for a large ashtray and a beer can. Even if your man does not drink or smoke, he needs that much room. Leave room in closets, in drawers, in cupboards. Do not fill things up, no matter how well organized you are. (Fibber McGee’s closet was actually Molly’s, a little-known fact.)
Those things you care about, you care about very much, and you always know where they are: Your grandfather’s pocket knife, the clay sculpture you made in eighth grade, the picture of your 20-year-old father saying goodbye to his dog on the eve of World War II, your baseball glove, your favorite tennis racquet (even if unused for ten years). You can preserve a broken-down cardboard container (say, for a camera tripod) or a leather duffel with a partly broken zipper for 30 years, never damaging either one further.
You will use the same razor — not the same brand of razor, the same razor — for 20 years or more. When you pack for a weekend trip, you will take exactly the amount of clothing you need, never more. (I use casual weekend trips to cull my wardrobe. I bring along torn old T-shirts, underwear with sprung waistbands, and socks beginning to develop holes, then throw them away at my destination after wearing them one last time rather than re-pack them home.) “What if?” does not enter into your suitcase calculations. If Jed Babbin calls me at my sister’s place near D.C. next time I’m there and invites me to a banquet, I’ll rent a tux and shoes. And socks, too, come to that.
Someday I will also tell Bud that many of these things will not work very well when he gets married. There will be consolations. It will not matter much.
He will always have his pockets. He will touch them hundreds of times every day, making sure the world is still there.