“In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.” Proverbs 14:3
Ever since I was a little boy I have struggled to keep my zipper locked in its secure and upright position. I remember wearing brown corduroys and the way the fly would gape open like a brass-toothed mouth announcing my shame to the world. I didn’t see shame in it. But my older siblings made sure I understood what an embarrassment this failure was.
When I comprehended the mechanical nature of the device and that sometimes mechanics can fail, I had my excuse. “It’s broken,” I would say. “That’s why!”
Even new pants came with the defect. “Broken again?” my brother jeered one day. “Are all your pants broken?” Well, what else could it be? I remembered zipping it earlier. The problem was I couldn’t tell which day the memory came from. I was certain I had zipped it yesterday, piece-a-junk.
The whole business of zippers seemed like an unnecessary hassle. Why would God put a hole in your pants right in that most inauspicious place? That the zipper was to facilitate using the bathroom never occurred to me since, like all other self-respecting boys my age I dropped my drawers to my ankles to do my business–shirt tucked under chin and hips thrust forward. A three inch opening could never compete with that level of freedom.
Things have improved in adulthood, but I’m still not out of the woods with malfunctioning zippers. As I teacher, I have taught entire classes on the fly, only for students to inform me of the indiscretion at the end of class. Because of my favorable marriage to an alert woman, I now have a support system much less harsh than mocking siblings and friends. It turns out my problem needed understanding, not ridicule. My wife now helps refine my presentation in polite society.
The value of this support hit home recently when my wife and I attended a book club. After a good meal and conversation we retired to the living room to discuss the book at hand, a significant work on culture and philosophy. The evening progressed smoothly in a lively exchange of wit and wisdom punctuated with light laughter.
Just after I made one comment that I felt was particularly insightful, my wife leaned over and whispered, “You’re a superstar!” Indeed, I thought, and smiled with satisfaction. It was a rather fine comment, though I had never heard her compliment my intellect in such glowing terms. I was happy to wear this new title.
Moments later, and after another poignant comment, she again lavished me with praise, leaning even closer to my ear, “You’re a superstar!” Again! I must really be on a roll tonight. And I was just getting warmed up.
But I grew suspicious. In seventeen years of marriage, I had sometimes been told I was a good husband or father, but I had never been a superstar. And now I was a superstar twice in one night.
Then it hit me. I was not a superstar at all. I was the very opposite—a clumsy little boy in brown corduroys.
As the reality of my condition slowly sunk in, she leaned in again to remove all doubt: “Your zipper’s down.”
In addition to having a zipper problem, I’ve always been a little hard of hearing, and it turns out “superstar” and “zipper’s down” have remarkably similar phonetic structures. Or maybe the problem is better diagnosed as wishful hearing, a condition where my pride transforms unpleasant news into whatever it would rather hear.
Sheldon Lawrence is an award winning essayist and author of the recent novel “Hearts of the Fathers: A story of Heaven, Hell, and the hope of new life after life,” available here.