Thursday, May 07, 2009

Raus, eine kurze Hose (Out, Short Pants)

They’re not just for show, although holidays and festivals bring them out of closets in droves. Lederhosen often could be spotted gracing the frames of Teutonic men during our recent four-country auto tour from Baden to Switzerland and Liechtenstein and across Bavaria and Austria.

Lee has been fascinated by the leather shorts for several years. When we reached Salzburg on April 12 he found just the right store and after an hour or so of expert advice from the Austrian shopkeeper and Karen and Sandy, he was outfitted in elegant style.

Lederhosen are among the most versatile forms of clothing. The leather pants come in various lengths, from very short to those that cover the knee. They can be worn with or without suspenders or belts. Any sort of shirt is OK. Men wear them to work on farms. With linen or other expensive coats or jackets, men wear them to work in offices. Men, sometimes sporting ruffled shirts and ties, get married in them. But, men never wear them in Vienna’s State Opera House. We learned that the hard way.

Lee received admiring, and occasionally quizzical, glances (when he spoke English) as he wore his Lederhosen throughout a full day of sightseeing in the old imperial capital. We planned to cap off a grand day by attending a ballet version of “Die Fledermaus” at the historic opera house.

As we waited in line for admission, a uniformed attendant tapped Lee on the shoulder, pointed at his pants, and intoned, “Lederhosen, nein.” We had driven in from the city of Baden, and left our luggage there. Sandy saved the day. She remembered stowing some of her dirty clothes in one suitcase in the car.

Lee and Karen hustled away to see what was available in the laundry as Sandy and I held our places in line. They returned with Lee wearing a pair of Sandy’s slacks. With a six-inch gap between the top of his shoes and the bottom of the slacks, he wasn’t a pretty sight, but he passed the opera house’s pants test.

As our line moved forward, the attendant administered the shoulder tap to a young German man just ahead of us who was wearing regular walking shorts. “Shorts, nein,” was the command this time. The young man promptly stripped to his underwear, pulled a pair of wrinkled trousers out of a backpack, put them on, and smiled in triumph at the official.

Another tap and, “Packs, nein,” wiped away the smile. Everybody got in eventually. The ballet was wonderful. Everyone in the audience wore long pants.

Lee is not the first Klade to run afoul of short pants sanctions. In 1987 I was with a half dozen fellow Forest Service employees who were led by a local to “the best Mexican restaurant” in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after a day of meetings. I had completed my freshening up process before dinner by changing to a pair of walking shorts.

The doorman said I could not enter the restaurant. Plaintive pleas by me and my associates, which were elevated to the manager level, did no good. Shorts were forbidden, whether worn by men or women.

The manager finally said he had a way to solve the problem if I would go along with it. He produced a gaudy embroidered skirt, one usually loaned to women who showed up in shorts. It was a dazzling Hispanic red, yellow, and white creation, with a “one size fits all” elastic waistband.

I put the skirt on, entered with the group, and all sorts of innovative comments about my appearance flew about throughout our meal. The climax came when one of the more fun-loving Forest Service men loudly asked me for a dance, and we got a round of applause after a few whirls around the small floor in the center of the restaurant.

When we left, we moved through the door in a tight group concealing me in the center. The manager was leaning against a pillar a few feet beyond the exit. “All right,” he said, “hand over the skirt. I knew you Forest Service guys would try to sneak it out of here.”

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