I figure rather prominently on my wife, Hedy's, list of life's absolute essentials.
I rank third, I believe, behind the grandchildren and the family's Reyn Spooner collection.
What, you ask, is a Reyn Spooner?
Surely you can't be from here. Not Newport-Mesa. At least not originally. You've probably hitched in from Bangor or Tulsa or Pocatello, right? Every true Californian recognizes Reyn Spooner.
The Reyn Spooner brand is a preppy, button-down, sun-faded, salt-bleached aloha shirt. Its distinctive washed-out look features an inside brighter than its outside. It's the epitome of "cool," particularly for guys of a certain age and girth. Like me.
I probably have 25 Reyn Spooners in my closet, accumulated over the last three decades.
Miss Hedy has purchased them all, including the most recent, the Christmas Spooner acquired last December. That one's been worn only twice, but it is tentatively slated for a host of holiday gatherings in November and December.
Lest I be misunderstood, I'm not complaining about Hedy's predilection for Reyn Spooners. Every Spooner I have is still wearable. Each is an old friend. None has been put to pasture (except for one that went out in a blaze of tatters years ago, but that was an anomaly).
I bet I've worn some of my Spooners 500 times. Not without launderings in between, of course. Like the durable old Timex watch of my youth, a Spooner "takes a licking and keeps on ticking."
Not much in our society outlasts a Spooner. My uncle was looking through some family photos recently and noted that I was wearing the same shirt that day that I had on in the photo 15 years earlier.
Now that I'm retired, I wear a Spooner virtually everywhere I go. It's my look du jour, and it is acceptable in most settings. Any venue that discriminates against Spooners is swiftly expunged from my preferred destinations list.
Miss Hedy and I are often on the East Coast because four of our eight grandchildren reside there. I wear Spooners in suffocating humidity as well as 20-degree ice storms. I've never — and I mean never — spotted another Spooner in the rural North Carolina community where my kids live.
I've seen lots of T-shirts, hoodies and overalls, but never a Reyn Spooner. Carolinians are missing out on one of life's existential wonders.
My kids' neighbors know me as that odd duck in the faded flower shirt. Laugh at me, if you must. There's deep wisdom behind my alleged quirkiness.
I used to wear a tie to work every day. I've worn a tie exactly once in the past five years. I spoke at a funeral. I am not likely to wear a tie again because, frankly, I've forgotten how to tie one. Do they still make clip-ons?
The Reyn Spooner brand dates from 1940s-era Catalina Island and 1950s Waikiki Beach. Designer Reyn McCullough and seamstress Ruth Spooner founded the company in 1961, my junior year at Costa Mesa High School.
By the way, Reyn is pronounced "ren." For 20 years or more I pronounced it "rain spooner." I was wrong. Hedy had it right all along, and she never lets me forget that. Still, I occasionally slip and call it "rain," but as 90% of Reyn Spooner aficionados are willing to concede, "It's all good."
When I'm out and about, I let the shirt speak for itself. I'm not one to nuzzle up to a dude in a supermarket checkout line and say, "Like my Reyn Spooner?"
But Hedy is not nearly so circumspect. She sees a geezer in a Spooner and she's Miss Congeniality.
"I love your Reyn Spooner," she'll purr.
He's usually caught off guard.
"My ren-what?" he'll stammer.
"Your shirt," she'll respond. "It's beautiful. My husband has the same design but in blue."
"Oh, uh, yeah … uh, thanks," he'll mumble. Frankly, without looking down at his chest he can't recall what the heck he slipped over his head that morning. "I have a closet full of 'em," he'll remember. "The wife buys 'em."
Yeah. There are a ton of devoted Spooner wives out there.