by Douglas PageŠ
There's one sure way to add fashion anxiety to your day. Accept an invitation to have breakfast with a Saudi prince.
Yesterday the publicist for Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar bin Saud offered me the chance to have breakfast with the Prince
in connection with a story I'm researching. I write about science. Prince Bandar serves as the secretary general of the King
Faisal Foundation, which attempts to disperse generous portions of Arab fortunes in the form of monetary prizes for worthy
science. It's the Islamic version of the Nobel Prize.
I happen to be researching a profile of one of its recipients, a Princeton University mathematician named Andrew Wiles,
who was awarded the King Faisal International Prize for Science a while back - presented by Prince Bandar at a dinner in Riyadh
in the form of a 22 carat medallion, $250,000 cash and a nice plaque for the trophy wall. Wiles, it may be recalled, solved
Fermat's Last Theorem in 1995, a 350 year old math riddle, which held that no integral value of x, y or z can be found to
satisfy the equation xn+yn=zn if n is an integer greater than 2. It took Wiles nine years to develop his proof, working in
the musty solitude in his attic, to the neglect of nearly all other events, including the growth of his own children.
This advanced level of obsession is what attracted me to Wiles. I can relate to well-nourished obsessions. I have one I've
been fattening for what seems like nine years trying to understand menopause.
Prince Bandar's publicist called me from New York, said they would be in Los Angeles early next week, and would I like
to meet the prince, perhaps for breakfast in Beverly Hills.
I said yes. Most mornings I have an oatmeal, melon and dry wheat toast breakfast on the dock at a cafe called Polly's-On-The-Pier,
in Redondo Beach, next to the sportfishing fleet. Dining once without sea gulls, on a posh veranda while perhaps being fanned
by a vassal, instantly appealed to me.
Immediately I started obsessing on what to wear. Suddenly I understood women and the clothes thing. Normally, before interviewing
a profile subject, I stress over what questions to ask, driven by the fear that I will fail to uncover essential information.
This time I'm quivering like Beau Brummell over clothing. The only question that comes to me is, How do I look?
I don't spend much time worrying about clothes. It's never been necessary. I've spent much of my professional life first
as a sportswriter and then an aerospace engineer. When TRW was through with me I looked like I'd been dressed by Newt Gingrich.
Since leaving aerospace five years ago in favor of the writing life, I've worn nothing but tank tops, shorts and sandals.
Sometimes I write naked. I'm the envy of all my friends with real jobs. Last month, my friend Gary offered me a job at IBM.
I told him thanks, but I didn't think I could find my shoes. It was only a slight exaggeration.
It's not that I can't decide what to wear to breakfast with the prince. It's not that complicated. I have nothing to choose
from. There's nothing in my closet but a 17 year collection of aerospace clothes - permanent-press trousers, short-sleeved,
button-down Arrow shirts, striped ties and wing-tip shoes. Wearing something that tasteless could ignite an international
incident. I should get rid of them, but no one will take them. I tried to give them to a lady I know across town who takes
care of Foster kids, but she said the children have suffered enough.
One or two women I know well have given me spirited fashion briefings in an attempt to incite me to an appreciation of
what's vogue. They mean well. They have even helped me upgrade my wardrobe from time to time, but ultimately it becomes apparent
this is like painting an M1 surplus jeep. It may be blue now, but it's still a jeep. Even Calvin Klein has failed to design
Science-Writer Chic. Banana Republic came close, if you don't mind looking like Indiana Jones.
Once in a while, for a speaking engagement or movie premier, I put on a pair of clean Levis, blue work shirt, Jerry Garcia
tie and linen jacket - attire more suited for chamber mixers or cattle auctions than a royal brunch in Beverly Hills.
Desperate, I asked some of my lackey pals down in the village for advice on this matter. This is like consulting the pages
of Playboy for the meaning of life. The discussion with these gentlemen - a troupe of artists and other unemployable characters
who collect around La Salsa's sidewalk tables late in the afternoon hoping to be noticed by yuppie coquettes leaving Trader
Joe's - quickly deteriorated into remarks about camel hair jackets, turbans, tarbooshes, fezzes and some business about not
eating with my left hand.
In the absence of more substantial direction, I am left once again with nothing more than Page's Precept for guidance:
Smile a lot and act stupid.