I bought a suit last week. The suit is burgundy, slim-fit, and its kind was worn by my celebrity crush on the red carpet, once. I have wanted to buy it since the beginning of the year, but haven’t had the occasion or the finances to do so before now. ‘What do you need a suit for?’ my boss asked me, when I told her about my $450 purchase. I didn’t want to admit that I’d thought I’d needed the suit for work, so I told her I would be wearing it to a Mad Men themed birthday party next month, which is actually true.
My friends and I are still young, which is to say we don’t get invited to weddings or funerals or corporate job interviews very often. When my mother gets invited to weddings, she doesn’t take me as her plus one, even when I beg. I had it in my head that buying a suit would be a sign of growing up, and perhaps increase the likelihood of my being invited to these types of events. I think about all the grown up things I’ve done this year, like picking my friend up from the hospital, or calling the Australian embassy from Cambodia, or seeing my by-line in the newspaper, or taking cheques into my local branch and banking them. I’ve definitely done a lot of grown up things. On the other hand, though, I’m not anywhere near as grown up as I’d like to be. My chest hair is still making up its mind about how much it really wants to grow, and I only learned last night, when a colleague held up the plate I’d been eating from and asked who it belonged to, that the heads of asparagus are edible and that you don’t have to leave them in a sad pile with your oyster shells.
This year is also the year I did the least grown up and mature thing I’ve done in some time. I had been at an upmarket event in the evening, where I drank champagne as it came around on silver trays. A bunch of us went out to a club in the Valley after that, where I drank vodka. Later, I ended up drinking beer at a pub I’d never been to with the only member of our group I didn’t know. As we drank our beer, I suddenly realised that I was going to be ferociously ill, and also, that I didn’t really like beer. I excused myself from the table and hurried through the bar to the toilets.
The gentlemen’s restroom there houses a single urinal, one cubicle and one sink, all of which were in use when I ran in to vomit. The cubicle door was half-open, though. I went straight inside, ducked underneath the arm of the stranger who was in there urinating, knelt down over the bowl and just managed to gasp ‘I’m so sorry!’ before vomiting everywhere. He bellowed at me and recoiled from my vomit, hosing me with his urine as I spewed on his shoes. I had one hand on the ground to keep myself steady, and I used the other one to push the man away from me as the cramped cubicle filled up with liquid. If he had wanted to put a glass into my neck, it would have been only too easy. Instead, he only snarled ‘Get help, mate’ and then shamed me with an extra little squirt of urine, like an alpha wolf might do to a bitch he didn’t fancy but nonetheless owned, before zipping himself up and closing the cubicle door behind him when he exited.
I didn’t move for a while, except to reach up and fumble with the lock on the door. The force at which the vomit had ejected from my body had left me weak and trembling, and I worried briefly that I might have lost some precious organs to the flood. I woke up half a day later, fully clothed on top of my bed. The first thing I registered was a horrible smell, which led me to realise that I had slept with my hands over my face. These were the same hands that hadn’t been washed since the previous night, when they had been rubbed against a toilet floor, a toilet bowl, a toilet seat, my vomit, the stranger’s urine and, I suspect, his penis. As someone who keeps a tube of Dettol on my person at all times for fear of germs, this was probably the worst moment of my life, second only to being weed on by a stranger in a public toilet.
My dad called me a binge drinker when I told him about this experience. I have seen my father binge drink many times, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wear a suit. I don’t tend to see him wearing anything except corduroy, or his T-shirt of a headless stick figure that says ‘Need head’. My dad is fifty-one. He has always worked, but because he isn’t a lawyer or a banker he isn’t required to a wear a suit for his job. His office is in West End, and sometimes when we’re driving together and he sees the traffic pouring out of the city in peak hour, he’ll yell, ‘Scurry rats!’ out the window, and hoot with laughter and triumph.
I wore a blazer to my twenty-first birthday party, a blazer I had tailor-made after scouring an entire Vietnamese city to find the correct material for it, and when my father saw me wearing it he shouted, ‘Hey, it’s Howdy Doody!’ This comment points to how little my father cares about clothes and the things they are supposed to symbolise or denote. I think this is why, as much as I love my burgundy suit and the way I look when I wear it, it doesn’t make me feel like a man grown the way I expected it to.
What my father has always worn, for as long as I can remember, is a silver watch with a white face. I remember being young enough to sit in his lap, where I would unclasp and clasp the watch over and over again. When I tried to put it around my wrist, it would slide down to my elbow. For my high school graduation present, I wanted to ask him to buy me a watch like his. I forgot to ask, though, and then either forgot again or simply didn’t ask when it came time for my eighteenth birthday, my university graduation, and then my twenty-first.
One of my classmates gave me a digital watch when I was seven. It had small pieces of gum inside of it you could eat, and the Velcro band gave me a sweat rash. I threw it away when it started to smell. I’m at a stage in my life now where I’m not certain what my next significant milestone will be, but I think it might be far enough away that I can expect to feel more grown up and more ready to ask my father for a real watch, like his, by the time it happens.
If not, I can still wear my suit, and pass as a grown up on the outside.
Tim McGuire is a Brisbane writer of features, essays, reviews, and fiction. His writing has been published in The Big Issue and The Lifted Brow, and performed at Men of Letters.