Yes, we do.
I don’t know how often you think about it but it would be worth it for your career to make sure you have a good one. The reason I say this goes back to an infamous story my friends know as “The Zipper Incident.” And it starts at the clearance rack.
This section of retail real estate was my best friend back in late 1998 when I was young, single, hilariously poor, and a few weeks in to my new post as FORUM (known as Indiana Telco at the time) Credit Union’s new Corporate Trainer. After 10 years in the banking world, I was FORUM’s first full-time employee in this role, hired to build their training function from the ground up. To say that I was fired up about this new chapter in my career was a “Miley Cyrus has a passing fancy for demolition equipment“-level of understatement; I was a signature away from commissioning a “TRNR MAN” license plate from the Indiana DMV, for goodness sake.
But that vanity required much more cash than I had on hand and I decided it better to invest in pants instead of plates at this phase of my career. Hence the affinity for the clearance rack.
One rack in particular had a glut of khaki dress slacks. In my size, no less. This was huge because, well, so was I at the time: 6’4″, 225 pounds with a 38″ waist and 36″ inseam. Finding pants that claimed to fit my girth was good enough for me to scoop them up by the armful with nary a second thought.
Would I try them on before buying? You’re kidding, right? Men don’t use changing rooms at department stores. Once we find something in “our size” (a decidedly amorphous measurement that is a few dozen pizzas behind reality), our version of “trying something on” is holding it up in the general vicinity of the body area in question, eyeballing it for a whole 10 nanoseconds to make sure the piece in question actually has an intact crotch or armholes (Pro Tip: any piece of men’s dress clothes that have both = FAIL), then grunting in satisfaction at having found clothes in the same amount of time as we spend considering a drive-thru lunch order.
This is how I’d purchased all of my dress clothes and would still be doing so today if it weren’t for what you’re about to read.
Clearance Rack Khakis made their FORUM debut the next day. They looked decent, fit well, and kept all necessary parts of TRNR MAN covered. Until I arrived at the office.
The trouble began when I walked up the stairs to my office that morning and noticed my zipper was not in its full upright and locked position. I almost spilled all 44 ounces of convenience store Diet Coke into the gap in the act of re-raising the shields, as it were, before exiting the stairwell. I attributed the wardrobe malfunction to a hasty morning dressing routine, and moved on.
This conclusion was a mistake.
A few hours later, I needed some information from my boss, Jenny Budreau. With her office directly across the hall from mine, I decided that an email query would be a bit silly so I knocked on her open door, walked in, and asked my question.
Fulfilling my request meant Jenny had to get up from her desk and go hunting through the vertical file cabinet along the back wall of her office. As she shuffled through the drawers with her back to me, I thought this would be a good time to surreptitiously make sure the most vulnerable area of Clearance Rack Khakis hadn’t failed as spectacularly as it had in the stairwell that morning.
Yes, it had.
That’s right, friends: I was standing in the middle of my new boss’s office with my zipper down. My new boss who is a woman. Oh, and – HAHAHA THE LAWYERS WILL LOOOOVE THIS – the head of HR.
No life experience could prepare me for this singular moment of unadulterated terror. The only words flying through my head were “MAKE A ZIP/NO ZIP DECISION!”, which sounded like an outtake from Apollo 13 with one side of my overheating brain screaming “NOT ZIPPING IS NOT AN OPTION!” in Ed Harris’s voice as Tom Hanks is barking “IF YOU ZIP, YOU WILL HAVE A PROBLEM.”
Since Jenny’s back was still turned, I went with Ed’s suggestion and zipped up as fast as I could. I learned three things in that moment:
1. Tom Hanks is right about everything.
2. Jenny Budreau can hear things when her back is turned.
3. In the silence of an average-sized office, the zipper on Clearance Rack Khakis will emit a sound equivalent to a thermonuclear bomb.
At the conclusion of lesson #3, Jenny squeaked “Whaaat are you doing…?” as she kept her gaze fixed on the filing cabinet she was surely prepared to fling over her head at me in self defense.
Embarrassed in a way that shouldn’t be humanly possible, words began falling out of my face like ‘tween screams at a One Direction concert: “OhmygoshJenny I’m so sorry I was just trying to zip up my pants I didn’t know what to do I’m not a pervert THEY’RE CHEAP PANTS APOLLO 13 JENNY OH PLEASE GREAT AND MIGHTY JENNY DON’T FIRE MEEEEEEEEE!”
Clumsy as it was, my confession comforted her enough to let her turn around and not have to call security. A good laugh ensued, as did a 14-year working relationship with the best leader I’ve ever known.
So if you must buy cheap pants, please test the zipper thoroughly first. You’re welcome.