"I need to wear black pants and a black shirt to school today, and I don't have a black shirt," my daughter announces at breakfast. Today is the dress rehearsal of the play she's stage-managing; this is the first I've heard of a costume.
"Just wear your black jeans and your navy shirt," I say casually.
"Black and blue, Mom?" she says. "Black and blue? If I wear black and blue I won't look like a shadow, I'll look like your knee. By the way, can I see it today? How gross is it?"
I give her a black turtleneck of mine that she twins with a pair of black fleece bell-bottoms that are three inches too short. When I point out that she has pants that fit she says the ones she has on show off her lucky socks better. The socks are black, too, but flecked with large pink hearts. They bring good luck, she explains, only if she takes them off right before the performance.
"What good luck charms do you think the Red Sox are wearing today?" I ask her.
She scowls. "I don't know and I don't care. I hate the Red Sox. You know that."
"OK," I say, "then the Yankees."
She rolls her eyes. "The Yankees don't need stuff like that to win."
On the Middlebury campus, meanwhile, it is Gay Jeans Day, and many of us are wearing jeans to show our support for gay rights. Indeed, surveying the students who pass me as I walk to my class, I feel proud of our community for being so broad-minded.
One of the kids in my class runs across the lawn to greet me. "Did you get my e-mail?" he asks breathlessly. I shake my head no.
"Well, basically what it said was that if it's OK with you I'm going to miss class today. This girl I know, her father got tickets to the playoff game in New York, and I'd like to go. But only if it's OK with you."
I say fine before I realize he's from the other side of the aisle. "It's an automatic 'C' at the midterm if you root for the overdog," I yell to his retreating frame.
He turns and regards me curiously. "There are no midterm grades at Middlebury, Prof. Halpern," he says, taking off again.
Alex Wolff, the prolific Sports Illustrated writer, has come to our class to talk about sports writing. He's brought this week's issue of the magazine, in which he's written a cover story about "The Athlete at 10 Years Old."
"I was thinking of interviewing your daughter for the piece," Alex says. "She's 10, right?"
I nod. As a thwarted soccer mom, we are treading on touchy ground here. "What kind of parent forces their kid to play a game?" my 10-year-old demanded when I told her the first week of school, after delivering a passionate disquisition on the benefits of team sports, that she had to join the school squad. "Games are supposed to be fun! Soccer is not fun! Soccer is stupid. A bunch of kids run around chasing a ball. What is fun about that?" Needless to say, I didn't sign her up.
After class I drive home, stopping at the general store to pick up the mail. Timm Williams, who mans our town's 3-foot-by-4-foot "postal closet," is on duty, as he is most afternoons.
"Today is the official peak of the leaf season," he says.
"It's also Gay Jeans Day down at the college," I tell him.
"That is just great!" Timm says, pointing at his pants. "I am both pro-jeans and pro-gay. All my heroes are gay. Jean Genet. William Burroughs. Kenneth Anger. Fassbinder. Brion Gysin. Did you know that Gysin gave Burroughs the idea for the cut-up technique? He also invented this thing called 'the dream machine,' which activates the alpha waves in your brain so you can see patterns of light with your eyes. Brion Gysin ran a club in Tangiers called 'The 1001 Nights.' Ever hear of the Master Musicians of Jajouka? They were the house band."
"That's interesting," I say. "What about Howard Dean?" While this is not an obvious conversational transition, I suddenly realize that it is after 5 p.m. and I have not yet engaged in the day's "national chat," about Howard, as I had promised weeks ago, as a Vermonter for Dean, to do.
"I'd like to think that Howard is pro-jeans in his heart," Timm says. "But I'm a little concerned about Clark. The other day I saw a photograph of him being interviewed on a television talk show. From the waist up he was wearing a dress shirt and tie. From the waist down he had on jeans and loafers. The thing is, he knew people would only see him from the waist up. Which says to me that he is, personally, pro-jeans, but he may be trying to hide it. He may not be comfortable with it, publicly. Which is not good."
Back home my daughter says that the dress rehearsal "was terrible, which is good, if you know what I mean." She asks me to wash her lucky socks before the next day's performance. She takes them off and hands them to me just before Bill, his mother, and I settle in to listen to the baseball game. They are still in my possession, many hours later, when the Red Sox beat the Yankees, 5 to 2.