Slice of Life Story -The Ties That Bind

I was sitting in Via Boffe enjoying a coffee and reflecting on the funeral for a friend held the previous day. One of his quirks was to request the same cup for his second cup of coffee. He was among other things –an energy conservationist.

As I sat there in my favourite position near the front window, in walks the café owner’s son, Josh, resplendent in a suit. It is about 11.00 am and the café is filled with customers dressed casually to reflect the relaxed mood of the weekend. Josh stands slightly ill at ease. The suit and he share an uneasy relationship. In his normal work as a chef there is little call for tailored threads. A hand raised to his neck indicates that he feels a little collar proud. In a short while Josh will head off to a wedding- not his own. Little does he, or the bridal party for that matter, realize that later in the day Melbourne will experience one of its most violent storms in recorded history. It will be a memorable day in so many ways.

Staff and customers alike readily compliment Josh on his appearance. The hint of a grin surfaces on his face. In his hand he is holding a carefully rolled up neck tie. With a slight gesture of his hand Josh indicates that he would like some assistance with attaching it. He looks directly at me and mutters quietly, ‘Do you know how to do a tie?’

‘I sure do’ I reply and stand up to assist the young man. I gently lift the collar of his shirt and he hands me the tie in a show of trust. I place it around his neck and he smiles. At the precise moment that I begin looping the ‘tie’ I am struck with a strong sense of déjà vu. As I continue the task, I quietly share with Josh my excavated memory.

‘Josh, doing this for you reminds of a small moment I had about six years ago as I was walking along Adelphi Street in Brooklyn. I was walking toward de Kalb Avenue to buy my lunch at the Clinton Hill diner, something I did most Tuesdays. A young man was sitting in the passenger seat of a car parked beside the kerb. He wound down the window and with a voice that suggested  he was unsure about approaching me said, ‘ Excuse me sir, do you know how to attach a tie?
‘I’ve had a bit of practice’ I told him, ‘Why?’

He held up a forlorn looking tie and asked me would I mind helping him with it. ‘No problem’ I said. He informed me that he was about to present for an interview and he had never worn a tie in his whole life. So there I was, standing on the side of the street leaning through a car window helping a stranger to organize his outfit for an interview. He was so grateful. He was also palpably nervous. He must have repeated the phrase ‘Thanks man, thanks brother,’ about a dozen times. No worries, I told him in that off hand Aussie way.

I wished him the very best of luck with the interview before we shook hands and I continued on my way to the diner. -A chance meeting connected by a tie. I always hoped he got that job, but I never got an answer to that one.

I completed attaching Josh’s tie, then checked that the mandatory knot covered the top button of his shirt, that it sat evenly and comfortably, and that the end of the tie met with his belt –all important issues for a proper neck tie. ‘Should I do up the waist coat?’ he asked. ‘Do that later’ I confided. ‘For now, just relax as much as you can given that you’re wearing a suit.’

A relieved young man expressed his gratitude. My wife, Vicki told him how handsome he looked and how well the tie matched the rest of his outfit. He blushed. Nobody in the café blinked as all this was taking place. Josh downed two quick espresso coffees, bid farewell to us all, and was on his way to the wedding.

As I’m writing this, another tie to my past is suddenly reprised. This one comes flooding back after twenty years. I am teaching Grade 3 at Mount Martha Primary School and we decide to have a tie day!  I, along with every one of my students wore a special tie as part of a special day we organized for ourselves. We measured ties for length and width. We calculated the total length of our ties. We classified them for dominant colours and we voted on the most unusual tie. We took photographs and told stories about the history of each tie.

Ah yes, the ties that bind…


  1. I love your conclusion and the figurative twist on your slice. It's fun how writing leads to more writing. And I'm sorry about your friend. Such occasions make us all the more aware of the ties that bind us, in small and big ways.

  2. This piece of writing in the moment takes you and us many places. I was marveling as I began, that you could write in the moment of sorrow. Wonderful Slice Alan. I loved being in the moment with you even if was a sad one,

  3. You found a golden nugget in an otherwise very sad time. That is what life is all about, doors closing and opening. Thank you for your piece and the connection to your 3rd grade class. Imagining what the kids all looked like put a big smile on my face and I am sure it did on yours as well.

  4. What a lovely slice, full of connections and memories. I love your descriptions of the two young men who needed help with those ties.

  5. I've tied a few ties for my sons, and I was impressed that you could do it "backwards." I didn't have it as a body memory like you must have, a male in today's society who on more than one occasion has had to put on a tie.

    I did, on occasion, wear one of my father's old ties to high school as I grew up in the hippie era and a woman wearing a tie was not only counter-culture, but also an imitation of Jean Shrimpton, a fabulous model in the fashion magazines of that time.

    And who can forget Dianne Keaton in Annie Hall, and her ties?

    All this--from a strip of cloth.

    You know, we almost came to Australia this July, but wanted to wait when we could come in your spring. My school breaks seem to prohibit that now, but I'm working on it. . .



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