I still remember my first pair of cycling tights. I bought them at Freewheeling for $32, which was incredible because they were so expensive, incredible because they were made of some woolly-fuzzy material, and incredible because it was like I was back in Third Grade.
In Third Grade we had a Christmas program. Young folks won’t know or believe it, but that was when the entire school celebrated Jesus and sang Christmas songs and prayed to Santa, the dog of presents. We had Jewish students, non-Christian Chinese students, Indian students, and we lorded it over them, literally. Our dog was better than their dog because, presents.
No one cared about their sensibilities, either. No holy Jesus Present Day in your religion? Sucks to be you. The Jewish kids, especially my girlfriend Joy Silverstein, always tried to talk shit about Santa and Christmas. “We have eight Christmases, it’s called Hanukkah. We get a present every single day,” she’d say.
“That’s only eight presents,” I’d sneer. “Santajesus lets us have as many as we can get. Plus ours are all in one big pile.”
“Jesus was actually Jewish,” she’d retort.
“Why’d he leave and become a Christian, then, if it was so great?”
That always put an end to things until we got our math tests back and she’d be able to lord that over me, along with reading, spelling, and lunch.
In our Christmas program that year, I was an elf, one of Santajesus’s helpers. My mom had to make me an elf outfit out of green felt. Young folks will not believe it but parents were given homework like, “Make your kid an outfit. Here’s the pattern.” The parents, that is, mom, would then have to buy the fabric and sew it. Didn’t matter if you were a fucking M.D., which mom was. You still better be able to sew an elf suit if you was a lady in Texas.
Mom was a better doc than a seamstress, because the little felt onesie was a tad on the short side. But the weirdest thing about putting on girl’s clothes for a performance in front of the whole school and their parents were the green panty hose I had to wear to match the onesie. I still remember pulling them on and how they form fit over my skinny legs. It felt pretty good.
Anyway, on the night of the big program, all of us elves had to make a big circular huddle, lean in, and hubbub about the upcoming sleigh trip Santajesus was about to take. My back was to the crowd. I bent over, and the entire crowd roared with laughter.
“Man,” I thought, “us elves are killin’ it. We are funny AF.” The laughter got even more intense as I chuckled to myself. “Man, us elves are stealing the show. Santajesus ain’t got shit on us.”
The huddle ended but the laughter didn’t, and it wasn’t until afterwards that about 200 kids took the opportunity to come up to me after the program and tell me that I’d shown my ass to the whole crowd in my see-through pantyhose.
So buying those first cycling tights at Freewheeling brought back cross-dressing, exhibitionist memories of an ambivalent sort. I bought the tights anyway because Austin used to get cold in January, before we humans melted winter.
And the thing about those tights is that they wouldn’t stay up. You’d pedal a bit and pretty soon they’d be sagging in the back and bagging in the front. One day Fields, whose tights were Lycra and always perfectly snugged, saw me with my fuzzy droopy tights. “What’s up with the sag?” he asked. This was decades before people intentionally wore their pants around their ankles, something that never caught on in cycling.
“Aren’t you wearing suspenders?”
Fields rolled his steely blue eyes, sat up in his saddle, and hoisted his jersey to reveal a pair of world-champion-stripes suspenders with a Campagnolo motif clipped to his tights. I ran out and bought a pair, and immediately realized that you could now tell who was in the club and who wasn’t. The freddies were saggies, the roadies were suspendered; you knew it from the way their tights fit and from the faint outline of the straps under their winter clothing.
On my last trip to Austria I was walking all the time and stress dieting and my pants eventually began falling off. My belt was max cinched and even so, every few steps I’d have to hitch my jeans up by the back belt loop. It didn’t bother me much until I got to Innsbruck and started hiking in the Alps. The sweat quickly soaked my jeans, weighing them down and forcing me to walk with one hand on my pants.
After I got back down the mountain I stopped into a ski shop and bought some suspenders. Now I wear them almost every day, which is pretty proper for an old man. When the weather gets cold, I’ll miss not clipping those suspenders to my tights and pulling the straps over my shoulders and having one of those subtle markers of “roadie,” discernible only to those who know.
We have better equipment now, but like every improvement, with rainbow-stripe suspenders we had to give something up along the way.
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