A Leisure Suit Christmas, Part One

Let us now discuss the leisure suit.   The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a leisure suit as, “consisting of a shirt jacket and matching trousers for informal wear”.  Which sounds harmless enough.  But in the mid-7 0’s leisure suits were often made in pastel colors of substances that glowed in the dark.  And the trousers were bell bottoms – like boot cut pants on steroids. I once saw a leisure suit fly through the air.  But more on that later.

You know by now that my love and respect for my brother is endless so it pains me to inform you that there was a time when he bought a leisure suit.  For his boyfriend, but still.

The time was Christmas 1975, the place was New York, the crime to fashion was stunning.

It began innocently enough on Christmas Eve.  It was a pleasant domestic scene, save for the mid-70’s aroma of marijuana in the air, with Howard baking cookies while Stuart sang O Holy Night, loudly and entirely off key.

Stuart was charming and a talented director and actor.  He was a handsome, Christmas pixie with tight jeans and a sexy smile and he could not sing a note.

“The stars were brightly shiiiinniiinng…” Every note was as flat as the singer was high.

We were planning to take the train to Baltimore the next morning – me, Nan, Howard, Stuart and, our friend, Kyle.  That’s where we planned to exchange gifts, too.

Neither Howard nor Stuart was known for promptness.  No, let me rephrase that, both Howard and Stuart were perpetually late.  It was their natural state of being.  Or at least I thought it was until years later when I noticed Howard started showing up on time.  I asked him what had happened, why the sudden change and he lifted his wrist and pointed.

“Got a watch,” he said.

But I digress.

Nan and I, consistently early for everything our entire lives, had fallen into the habit of tacking a good fifteen minutes onto any ETA we gave Howard or Stuart.

Which was why we told them the train left at 7:00 instead of 7:15 the next morning.  And which is why they arrived, barely at 7:00 just as the train was being announced.

There they were, three figures strolling casually through Penn Station, loaded down with shopping bags and bundled in their winter coats, Kyle with a backpack, cameras and lenses.

“Hey,” Stuart dropped his bags and hugged us as though we hadn’t seen each other for a year.  “I just need to get a cup of coffee.”

This I think was part of the game, the casual ignorance of time.

“You’ll get coffee on the train,” Howard said, rolling his eyes and hefting up his suitcase.

We found seats and Stuart stood up to take off his coat, displaying for the first time – the leisure suit.

Grinning, he strutted down the aisle, oblivious of the other passengers.  “You like?” he turned his slim dancer’s body so we could see all angles.  “My Christmas gift.”

The suit was green.  It was corduroy.  It had bell bottom trousers that grazed the floor.

“I have to get the pants shortened but I couldn’t wait to wear it.”

Speechlessness was not a natural state of being for any of us but even then…even when leisure suits were all the rage, this was a little much.  Stuart didn’t care, he was happy, thrilled, beside himself.  And ready for a merry Christmas.

Howard and Kyle struggled with our bags, putting everything in the overhead racks while Stuart went off to the bar car for coffee and rolls and the train began its chugging trip south.

Taking the train from Baltimore to New York was an old family tradition – certainly as old as our family tradition of hiding a Christmas tree in the basement and calling it a Channukah bush.   Howard and I indulged in our favorite conversation, “What are going to do about Mom,” while we whiled away the four-hour trip to the place we still called home.

The train platform in Baltimore was cold and barely lit.  Mom was waiting for us in the station upstairs (Howard and I never did resolve what to do about her).  We gathered our bags, got off the train and were heading upstairs when Howard turned to Stuart,  “Where’s the Macy’s bag.  The one with Susan’s present?”

Stuart froze.

And then he ran back onto the train green corduroyed leg disappearing into the train’s closing door.

Once more speechless, we watched as the train began to pull out of the station, heading south to DC, Howard running after it, calling “Wait, wait…there’s someone still on the train.”

And this is when I learned the flight characteristics of leisure suits.


To be continued…