Do you know the Right Said Fred song called I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt? Have you ever had a moment when you felt like you belonged inside that song? A too sexy for my shirt moment? I have. Allow me to tell you the story.
I was born with a head too big for my gender; my head is bigger than the average female head. Aside from family joking that I had too much brain matter and my mom complaining about how hard it was to give birth to a baby with a large skull, my large head size never bothered me much. There was just one tinsy little annoyance; the fact that I could never wear feminine hats because all of them are too small for my head. Over the years, I learned to accept this fact about myself and when in need for hat to shelter myself from the sun, I would buy a man’s straw hat … usually something cheap from the dollar store. Since I was going to be wearing an non-elegant hat …. might as well wear a cheap non-elegant hat. Over the years I became accustomed to ignoring the hat section in department stores and avoided looking at elegant hats in retail stores because there was no point in coveting something that I could never wear anyway.
So this too sexy for my shirt story is off to a bad start, but your need to be patient. Ok?
But, there was one store, a single store that held magical qualities. A hat store called Edie Hats on Granville Island that was the exception. If you were going to have a “too sexy for my shirt” moment this place would be it. That store always has an interesting window display and an even more interesting layout inside. Instead of the orderly shelves with products neatly stacked on them, this store has things arbitrarily thrown around: Hats on top of shawls, a feather boa obscuring some antique book, a mysterious wooden ladder that gives the illusion that you might climb up into a magical and fantastical world. Walking into this store is always a magical experience in itself and so whenever I was visiting Granville Island I would make the effort to pop in just to have a look. I would never touch anything inside, but I would imagine myself walking into an elegant place where magic rules the day. One day, I walked into the store with my mother and we were both admiring all the different hats and the other products at Edie Hats and then my mother dragged me by the hand towards a hat placed on a hat rack: “This hat would look so elegant on you if you didn’t have that darn big head of yours”, my mother said. It was an elegant black straw hat with a turned up rim that indeed seemed oh so elegant to me. I looked at it lustfully for a few moments and then a few more, then I sighed. “O how I wish I could buy this hat and wear it, I am so sick and tired of wearing ugly men’s hats” I thought to myself. The young sales woman approached me and said with a delightful smile “You can try this hat on …. you know, in fact you can try anything in the store if you want”. “That is ok”, I replied acknowledging her lovely intentions. “There is no point, it will not fit me anyway, my head is too big”, I continued with slight sadness. “I can make the hat fit you” she replied. Then she explained that the store owns some sort of device or contraption which I did not understand how it worked, but it can expand hats to fit bigger heads. My eyes widened with surprise, there was slight disbelief in my voice “You mean if I like this hat, you can make it fit my head?” The young sales woman assured me that this indeed was the case. She even showed me the contraction behind the counter.
Ooooooo, this too sexy for my shirt story is staring to heat up. Right?
Initially I felt dizzy thinking about the possibility of being able to wear an elegant hat. I paused for a few minutes soaking in this new reality then I went to town trying on different elegant hats in different colors: white hat, lavender hat, wide, narrow, flapping towards my face, with flowers on the side, with plastic fruits on the side ….. the whole range. My mother offered commentary and helpful advice: “Not the right color for your skin tone, too big, too small, wrong shape for your face, too over top … etc”. In the end I bought the black straw hat that my mother pointed out initially and indeed the young sales woman was able to expand it to fit my head. I walked out of the store amazed at my new status as a no-longer the woman that has a head too big to wear an elegant hat. I could hear Mr. Right Said Fred personally singing into my ear: “I’m too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt.” And I responded: “Yes I know. I’m too sexy for my hat, too sexy for my hat, too sexy.”
This hat incident reminds me of my co-worker Felix. A middle aged man I worked with while living in Jerusalem. He worked at the company before me developing a prototype. I was hired as the heavy hitter with experience that would turn the prototype into a functional product that the company would sell to clients. Felix did not respond well to the new young woman coming in and changing things around. The way Felix dealt with his discomfort is that every morning he would walk up to my desk and start yelling at me: “You are ruining the company, you are stealing my code, you can’t make those changes”. He would yell accusations at me louder and louder until his eyes would start bulging out and his face would turn red and after a while he would turn pale white. I didn’t know the details, but I knew that Felix had a heart problems of some sort. I knew that he stayed at the hospital for a while and was taking medications. Whenever his face would turn pale white I would start to worry and think to myself “Is he about to have a heart attack? I don’t want to have Felix on my conscious for the rest of my life” I would try to calm him down and draw up a chair urging him to sit down. “Calm down Felix, it is just software, don’t worry about it” I would say in a soothing voice. “Breath, breath in, breath out” I would audibly breath with him to help him calm down, then I would go to the kitchen to get him a glass of water. After a few minutes, Felix would calm down and a more natural color would flood back to his cheeks. There would be a pause of silence, and then he would ask “So are you going to make the changes I am asking you to make?” I would look into his eyes and contemplate it for a few seconds, I recognized emotional manipulation when I saw it. In very calm but assertive voice: “No” would be my reply. Felix would jump out of his seat and snap right out of the tranquil state I worked so artfully towards. He would scream and yell and stomp back towards his desk. This interaction repeated itself for about two months.
I sympathized with Felix and the fragility of a manly ego. I made an effort to befriend him, by discussing with him topics of common interest unrelated to work where a common ground might be forged. Movies, books, exercise and nutrition were all topics that I attempted to raise. No matter what I tried, our work relation didn’t improve and the yelling sessions continued.
At the time I was traveling by car every once in a while for work related meetings in Tel-Aviv. As a result I had Tel-Aviv’s map on my desk to help me navigate my way in an unfamiliar place. One day, I came to work and discovered little red x marks on my map. I asked Felix if he had left the red marks on my map and he confirmed that indeed it was him. “These are all the best places to pick up prostitutes in Tel-Aviv” he explained. I didn’t know this, but it turns out that Jerusalem is a conservative city where it is hard for a prostitute to stand on the side of the road to solicit business. However Tel-Aviv being a more secular city has more allowance for such ventures. I didn’t ask Felix why he thought I needed to know this information, whether he thought I would use it as a customer or as a service provider. However I felt sufficiently disgusted that I threw the map in the garbage and then proceeded to lock all my belongings in my desks drawer so that Felix wouldn’t be able to touch them.
One day after the customary morning yelling session, Felix went to his desk and sat quietly for several hours, then he got up in the afternoon and stood in the hallway where everybody in the office would be able to hear him. He yelled “I can’t work with Elen anymore! I can’t work with Elen anymore!” and then stormed out of the office. That was it, I never heard or saw Felix again for the next two months.
“Too sexy for my shirt” moment this was not.
After that work progressed well and things seemed to be going peachy with the project that I was working on. After two months of blissful shoutless work days, Felix walked into the office and headed straight to the meeting room. My boss and the CEO of the company, looked like he was expecting the unexpected visitor and got up from his desk and walked into the meeting room closing the door behind him. “Oh no! Felix will ask for his job back” a sense of dread filled me and I could feel my heart beats speeding inside my chest. “O! breathe Elen, Breath!” I told myself. “I can deal with this, I have dealt with it before, breath in, breath out, stay calm … don’t panic”. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine a beautiful lush garden with water fountains and roaming peacocks. After about 45 minutes, my boss walked out of the meeting room with Felix following him. “Hey Elen, come over here, Felix has something to tell you.” I got up from my seat and faced Felix who proceeded to give me heartfelt apology about his past behaviour. I was a taken by surprise, I never expected Felix to apologize. “O Felix, this is great, I accept your apology” I said enthusiastically. “Let us put the past behind us, water under the bridge, and forge ahead with new camaraderie”. Felix looked happy with my response and traces of a smile showed on his face. I felt encouraged some more and I said “to seal this new friendship, hey how about we go for lunch together?” Felix said “that is great, when?” “Next Wednesday!” I replied. “Hey Buddy this is great, I am so happy that we sorted this out, to make it official, lets shake hands on it”. I extended my hand towards Felix offering a hand shake. Felix grabbed my hand, but instead of shaking it, he raised my hand towards his face and placed a gentle kiss on the back of my hand. Then his eyes teared up, and he looked all emotional. He looked like he was about to cry. Suddenly, he let go of my hand and stormed out of the office without saying a word. I felt touched: “Oooo, he was sincere in his apology” I thought to myself.
That is when my boss started to laugh, he was laughing so hard that he was holding his stomach and bending over like somebody how is afraid he might bust a hernia. “Now I know what was going on” he repeated a few time. “It is obvious what was going on” I said defiantly “He was hired before me, his ego was bruised because the new kid was hired to supersede him”. “That is what I used to think was going on, but now I realize that something else was going on”, my boss said while still laughing hysterically. “Ok genius!” I retorted defiantly: “Why don’t you explain it me then”. “Elen”, my boss looked intently into my eyes and said with a soft voice. “Felix is in love with you, he was in there asking me for advice on how to ask you out on a date.” My eyes widened with shock. Turns out Felix was not asking for his job back and I just suggested to have lunch with him. “Oh no! oh no!” I shook my head with denial. “But that is not what I meant!” I exclaimed. “I know what you meant” said my boss. “But I am just letting you know that there is something else going on, so I leave it up to you to decide how to proceed”. Needless to say I cancelled my lunch appointment with Felix.
After that I received flowers and gifts from him at the office which always triggered a hysterical laugh from my boss and concerned look from me. I liked Felix so much better when he hatted my guts and told me that I was the most stupid person on earth. I know how to handle that, but I wasn’t sure how to handle this new incarnation. In hindsight, I suppose the little red x marks on the map were meant as a romantic gesture which I foolishly interpreted as an insult.
For so many years, I tried hard to be one of the guys. Tough like a man. Aggressive like a man. Program like a man. Wear a hat like a man. A part of me felt neglected inside all of this. A part of me was yearning for the feminine side. The part that was filled with joy and delight wearing a black straw hat when I walked out of Eddie hats that day. Big head or not, ego smashed to bits, here I come.
Do you have a “too sexy for my shirt” moment. Please tell me about it.
O and if you want to see my black hat you need to go to my Florence Graffiti blog post.