When you're a child, it's a given that you'll spill shit on yourself. A bib can be used to minimize the damage, but anything beyond that is written off as a playful accident. Eating as a newborn is nothing more than a Matrix shoot-out, during which globs of food whiz toward an infant hero making very little effort to get out of the way. Yes, you spend the first few years of your life covered in enough food to feed an island nation, and this is not only acceptable, but in many cases adorable.

Thing is, a short time later – say, twenty years – it stops being so cute. Fortunately, as I readied myself for a trip to Albany a few weeks back, "cute" wasn't the look I was pursuing. Neither was "stain-addled drunkard," but that point is moot. I was heading upstate, specifically to Saratoga, for the Travers Stakes, which is a thrilling time of year when we Albany natives all congregate at Saratoga Race Track and drink ourselves amnesiac. This tradition is conducted with little regard to horses, racing or the general welfare of garments.

That's not to say I didn't try. Horse races are generally classy affairs, and ignoring the fact that I was going to spend the afternoon playing beer pong in the picnic area, I did my best to dress the part: in addition to a yellow button-down, I sported brown slacks and boat shoes, which are a tip-off that I'm bringing my high society "A-game." Not once did I consider the stain potential of combining a thin, light-colored shirt with an afternoon spent eating messy meat sandwiches and falling over fixtures alongside an equally-inebriated "Voetsch."

But I should've. I have messy affairs with renegade drops of ketchup and the buckshot spritz of an opened soda on a near-daily basis, so I can't claim naivety. Somewhere, deep in my subconscious, I knew my fate. That a stain took as long as it did to emerge is the only surprise from that day. My ill-advised yellow shirt – which, in retrospect, is probably pretty ill-advised in any situation – survived bouts with Beirut and sloppy hot dogs, but that luck ran out when I decided to share a fateful Dove Bar with a pair of nice gals; The Lovely and Emily. Just a few bites in, we all watched in horror as a spot of melted chocolate broke off mid-bite and cozied up on my shirt.

Immediately, misguided instincts kicked in.

I looked down at the small dribble of chocolate and instantly decided to clean it in the same fashion that I do my hands, shoes and open wounds: I spit on it. Now, if my saliva had any sort of purifying qualities, I would presently be living the blissful life of a man who does laundry by spitting on his clothes while watching football. Instead, that chocolate-laced loogie was a miniature Exxon Valdez crashing into my sternum. The stain quadrupled in size.

Upset that the right side of my shirt had Wonka volumes of chocolate running through it, I threw my hands down in disgust. Among those hands was the one holding the ice cream bar, which caused a giant chunk of chocolate to break off and fall onto our blanket. This prompted Emily, an ever-vigilant stain-fighter, to panic. Demonstrating why so few sports involve the tossing of chocolate globs, Em lunged for the gooey mass and hurled it with all the grace and accuracy of tossing a porcupine. From roughly a foot away, Mrs. Clean drilled the other side of my shirt with a handful of milk-chocolate goodness. The original pin point of chocolate had become a thorough, equal-opportunity staining.

More Dove Bar than not and equipped with the laundering abilities of livestock, I figured the forecast for my shirt, and dignity, looked grim. Dumping an entire glass of water down the front of the stain accomplished nothing, save for turning my yellow shirt a striking shade of invisible. Equally futile was scrubbing the shirt with my fingernails, though it did cause the vendor at a nearby lemonade stand to laugh herself incontinent. Seeing the mountain of lemons behind the cart, I instantly remembered that lemon juice can remove chocolate stains, a fact which is not actually true. Nevertheless, my chuckling associate was happy to provide me with handfuls of lemons, which I began violently scrubbing against my chest.

Then I paused for that ever-crucial self-assessing moment. There I was, standing amid a throng of formally-dressed track-goers wearing a transparent, soaking wet, chocolate-patterned yellow shirt. To my left were the Lovely and Emily, the Pedro Martinez of chocolate. To my right was a lemonade salesgal gasping for breath. Between them, I was vainly attacking my shirt with a fist full of lemons that were quickly disintegrating into a vest of aromatic pulp. At that point I decided that cleaning my shirt, much like dressing nicely in the first place, was a lost cause. Defeated, clad in chocolate-citrus soup, I went off to find "Voetsch" and more beer.

The episode was troubling for volumes of very obvious reasons. But what bothered me the most wasn't that I was trudging around the Travers with enough foodstuffs in my shirt to open a smoothie stand. Instead, it was the battle of attrition that my eating had become, and that I now had to add another brave solider to the list of casualties. I realized at that instant that I needed to grow up. The sloppiness had to end. It was time that I began composing myself in a more professional, distinguished manner.

Or wearing a bib.




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