“I got up one morning and couldn’t find my socks, so I called Information. She said, ‘Hello, Information.’ I said, ‘I can’t find my socks.’ She said, ‘They’re behind the couch.’ And they were!” – Stephen Wright
It is a widely held notion in academic circles that the psychological prototype for Mr. Fancy Socks developed as a way to assert and maintain social status among rival males, much like the antler-clashes of elk, or the knife-fights of New England lobsters.* In every university library, for instance, there is one male staff member who is taller, better-dressed, and more learned in the fields of pop music and Greek food than any other staff member. He wears his heart on his sleeve, his sleeves unbuttoned, and his glasses on a cloth chain hand-braided by the women of a small Tibetan village. Many of the female university population harbor secret and fantastic crushes on him, and many men jealously believe him to be a homosexual. Clearly, there is only room for one Mr. Fancy Socks in this Library Town; and yet, there is always a corresponding Double in the university faculty, an English or Philosophy professor who is similarly tall and coiffed, an expert on pitas and Proust. Who is the better man? That depends.
Who wears fancier socks?
It begins with harmless show-boating: a pose struck with legs crossed, a second too long spent tying his shoes. If he is feeling saucy, which Mr. Fancy Socks almost always is, he’ll click his heels together to let you know about it. He is a cashmere coyote in a pair of road runners. On warm days he wears tennis anklets that whisper passages from ‘Lolita’ to no one in particular. But what begins as leisure and light soon escalates into full-blown war, until eventually Mr. Fancy Socks is resting a leg on some poor unsuspecting librarian’s card catalog and rolling up a pant cuff so that the full length of the sock is revealed ad infinitum, at which point the rival will 9 times out of 10 suffer devastating and irreversible heartbreak. The alpha male will make his victory known by smacking the reference librarian square on her fanny. “Bought ’em off a hobo in Prague for a bottle of mescaline,” he’ll say, and chuckle to himself. And you won’t even bat an eye, because you just know – you just know, just looking at him – that Mr. Fancy Socks did inconceivable amounts of mescaline in Prague. His status assured, the rest of the semester will sail by like a dream inside of another dream, or like a barrel full of mescaline floating down the Vltava river in Prague. For a while, he is King.
These men, though they appear as infallible lions in a savanna of social perfection, are inwardly the most vulnerable of meerkats. According to my Almanac of Statistics on the Use of Fancy Socks as a Psychological Defense, 87% of them have had their sexuality questioned in public, 90% of them have undergone a tempestuous love affair with pesto-flavored mayonnaise, and a whopping 96% of them have had their taste in foreign films and/or ethnic foods insulted at a dinner party.**
So next time you see one of these gentle bohemian beasts lounging book-side, remember the silent language of fancy socks: argyle spells anxious, paisley means divorce, and silk blends spell unresolved sibling rivalry issues, possibly brought about by early childhood trauma. Have compassion. Be kind. Say, “Hey, Mr. Fancy Socks. I see you. I dig your digs. I’m picking up what you’re putting down, and I know you’re a good man.”
**For more on this subject, I suggest ‘Barefoot In The Snow: The Souls of the Sockless, Shoeless, and Otherwise Spiritually Fried.'(Vikingman Press, 1998.)
Editor’s Note: For information regarding the other type of Sock War, wherein prepubescent boys roll up their socks into balls and hurl them at each other until they physically exhaust themselves, please see “Blood, Bleach, and Masturbation: The Suburban Sock Wars of the 1990s.” (Everyman Press, 2002.)