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They’re just a pair of PJs. Or are they? My case for the silly things that soothe the soul

Christmas PJs
The silly things that bring us comfort, such as seasonal PJs, can lighten the load in life.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Tell me, what’s the statute of limitations on Christmas pajamas? How many months can you wear the pair your daughter gave you because they mean a little extra. Silly and flannel, dopey little Santa faces everywhere. Warm as chowder.

I mean, what’s a guy to do?

I say four months on the Christmas PJs, though that may violate some sort of fashion dictum. I’ve made a life of violating dictums, so why stop now? I may wear the pajamas til October.

In such miserable conditions – in the face of flu season and the end of football -- I should still be comfortable, right? Like wearing high-tops to a wedding. Or a ball cap to a stuffy family feast.

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Personal growth has always been important to me, hence the concern over Christmas pajamas and fashion in general. I insist that “clothes make the man” – not character, not accomplishment. This is Los Angeles, after all, the place of pretty surfaces.

Even at home, I’ve tried to instill a sense of style in my children. No style is a style in itself. If I wear the Christmas PJs til October – now I’m thinking November -- that’s a fashion statement, right?

What’s a guy to do?

A certain nerdiness informs all my fashion choices, even my life. So my closet is filled with dorky PJs, college sweatshirts and Top-Siders from the 1980s. Fashion tip: Old leather is good leather. What’s more fetching – the patina of an old baseball, or the linoleum shine of a brand new one? Sometimes, scratchy little truths reside in such wear and tear.

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My children mock these choices. In fairness, mine is more a semi-style than an actual style. It’s also more of a world view than a fashion statement, an aversion to hubris and pomposity while I’ve raised them in the most pompous place on the planet (outside of New York, of course).

They remain mystified by me and the soothing happiness I get from the simple things -- raking leaves or bumming around old bookstores.

To this day, the kids are more about the latest phones and jeans with the proper pedigree. That’s all good, but what I’m trying to get across to them is that personal nerdiness is OK as well, with quirky preferences that shun the norm and unstylish little asides. The sort of stuff that burnishes our souls.

They remain mystified by me and the soothing happiness I get from the simple things -- raking leaves or bumming around old bookstores in search of scratchy old leather.

Yet, in the same vein, the lovely and patient older daughter has developed a fondness for vintage cameras, and the older son likes nothing better than a long weekend in the woods.

I see in that small signs of great success (and hints that they might be mine after all).

From the heartland this week, tragic news about a father I knew only distantly. Like a bad cloak, depression darkened his mind. Now a widow weeps and three sensational daughters no longer have a dad.

I am heartsick over this awful news -- deeply saddened, mystified, and without words for what I’m feeling for his family and his friends. It makes me want to hug everybody I know. It makes me want to call old buddies, take the kids on long walks in the woods, even on sodden winter days when the sky looks full of soup.

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Because what I’m hoping – from the PJs, the nerdiness, the utter lack of cool – is that my kids develop perhaps the most important things we can wear – an authentic soul and a charitable spirit.

An eye for others.

The other day, a stranger in the grocery store gave me some hard-luck story about being without a job and the funds to feed his family. Right away, I knew something was up because the stranger smiled warmly when he approached. The holidays had passed, as had the season for such unnecessary flourishes.

“Hey, buddy, can you maybe lend me a hand?” the stranger asked by way of introduction.

I may be a soft touch, but I’m not an idiot. I listened to his tale about living in a cold RV and relying on church meals. I nodded. I shook my head. I shrugged a little. Yeah, sure.

In the end, I gave him 20 bucks. He was probably a con, but I bet the long shot; I wagered that he was just a father facing some very tough times.

I mean, what’s a guy to do?

Chris.Erskine@latimes.com

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Twitter: @erskinetimes

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