The Oscar Madison syndrome

Nov. 16, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

It occurred to me the other day, while I was washing some clothes in the tropical-themed laundry room at the bachelor pad, that when it comes to apparel generally and laundry specifically, I am an unfortunate victim of the Oscar Madison syndrome.

For those who are too young to appreciate this reference to the 1965 Neil Simon play, “The Odd Couple,” about two divorced men sharing an apartment, I should mention that the world is divided into two groups; the Oscars and the Felixes.

In the play, and subsequent film and television versions, Oscar was a fun-loving slob, who generally looked like something the cat brought in, while Felix was neurotic but neat as a pin.

I do not share Oscar’s view of housekeeping (which generally involved not doing it), but, like Oscar, I tend to go around looking a bit disheveled.

This is not because I don’t care about my appearance, it is simply the manifestation of the disease.

Some people can “wear” clothes, and others cannot.

I, and the other sufferers of the Oscar Madison syndrome, are among those who cannot.

Some people can throw on any old thing and look like they just stepped off of the catwalk, or out of the pages of a glossy magazine or catalog.

Others are not so lucky.

I can select garments made of the finest “wrinkle free” fabric, and they still give up the fight the minute I put them on.

“Wrinkle free” is an oxymoron, rather like “government intelligence” or “congressional ethics.”

I purchase quality items in tasteful patterns, and try to take good care of my clothes, but instead of looking freshly-pressed, they still end up looking as though I slept in them on a bench down at the bus station.

There is another problem that plagues me. Gravity seems to have a profound effect on my britches, urging them ever earthward, while at the same time, my shirttails are affected by some sort of anti-gravity, which pulls them skyward.

Perhaps trousers and shirts have opposite magnetic polarity which causes them to try to avoid one another like former lovers at a cocktail party. Whatever the reason, it does not make for a neat appearance around the equator.

Belts don’t seem to be able to correct this, and I dare not resort to suspenders for fear they would let go at some critical moment and put someone’s eye out.

Perhaps what I really need is to design some sort of an all-in-one jumpsuit similar to the garments that prisoners and mechanics wear, but one that has the appearance of a separate shirt and trousers. That would be the way to go. If I could also clip my socks to the trouser cuffs of such a garment, I would be right in business.

I have also had bad luck keeping things clean, which is another unfortunate symptom of the Oscar Madison syndrome.

When I wear light-colored britches, it is almost a certainty that I will at some point during the day be required to run through some bushes, kneel on the ground, or walk through someone’s dusty shed to take a photograph. A dedicated writer makes these sacrifices for his art.

Instead of staying white or cement, or whatever color they were in the morning, by dinner time, my britches take on more of a desert camouflage pattern of the sort that is so popular in Afghanistan.

The same is true with shirts.

They seem to attract stains like bright lights attract moths on a warm summer evening.

There are all sorts of stain resistant fabrics on the market, but they are no match for sufferers of the Oscar Madison syndrome.

No matter how careful I am, by the end of the day, there always seems to be some spot or smudge marring the ample expanse of my once pristine shirtfront.

I would have done well back in the medieval times when suits of armor were an acceptable part of a gentleman’s wardrobe.

They may not have breathed very well, and they were no doubt murder on very hot or very cold days, due to the thermal conductivity of metal, but those tin shirts must have been a breeze to clean. Any unfortunate spills could be wiped up in a trice, and the finish could be buffed out to a glossy shine in no time.

All one would need to do would be to apply a touch of oil from time to time to keep things operating smoothly and ward off rust.

The sufferers of the Oscar Madison syndrome should be viewed not as a bunch of careless slobs, but as victims of a horrible and devastating disease. They deserve compassion, not disdain.

The world needs Oscars, despite their sartorial misfortune, or perhaps even because of it. A world full of Felixes would be snappily-dressed but no fun at all.