Off the rack

MY father taught me how to tie four-in-hands by making me practice on a bedpost. He taught me how to tie a bow tie by having me wrap a ribbon around a cardboard box. He taught me how to tie a Windsor knot, but I've forgotten how. What my father did not teach me was where to obtain an adequate tie rack.

With the vast technical ingenuity available in this day and age, one might expect to find usable tie racks everywhere. Not so. After hanging ties in a closet for nearly 20 years, I have yet to own a rack that doesn't willfully dump my collection of neckwear on the floor like a nest of coral snakes.

For the first few years that I wore neckties I draped them over the closet rod. And then I redraped them a few days later. If a closet rod is meant for neckties, a saddle is meant for a pig.

Next I graduated to a coat hanger. A coat hanger supports sleeves perfectly well, but trying to keep neckties on it for longer than 24 hours is like trying to pin tapioca to a bulletin board.

For a while I tried laying my ties in a dresser drawer. I had read somewhere that certain kinds of ties -- I was never quite sure what kind -- should be laid flat, instead of being suspended. Placing ties in a drawer, however, and struggling to keep them away from the undershirts and thus remain wrinkle-free, is like trying to dodge raindrops in a hurricane.

A friend once revealed that he never undid his neckties at night: He hung them up while still knotted. He loosened his ties, lifted them over his head, and then hooked them to little nails he had pounded into his closet wall. I tried that, but after a while the knots became permanent and the ties limp as fettuccine. I also ran out of nail space.

My wife has given me several tie racks. One with bobby pin-like holders kept my ties so impossibly stacked up I felt like an air traffic controller at O'Hare. Another rack had wooden pegs and hung on the inside of the closet door like a coatrack. It worked well enough: My ties stayed put. I just had to remember not to open or close the closet door. Ever.

Still another tie rack gift was shaped like a xylophone. It dangled from the closet rod. On each little note of the rack was a rung on which I could slip ties. But the rungs were made to hold only ties of a certain width. Ties too narrow slid off like toboggans.

Not long ago I saw a tie rack advertised in a gift catalog. It was called the ``Handy Organizer.'' It cost almost as much as two good neckties. I sent for it anyway, believing the catalog's claim that ``you'll never need another after you try this one.''

A few weeks later the mail order company informed me that the Handy Organizer had been discontinued. ``Your item has been found to be unsatisfactory,'' a form letter explained. ``We are in the process of developing a more reliable product. When available, you will be notified.''

I can wait.

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