The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 3 (June 1, 1940)
“Bust My Buttons”! — The Martyrdom of Man
We know what makes the world go round, but what makes it go flat? Why does man continually slip on the orange peel of ambition and break his record? Why does he prefer multiplication to simplification? What is the reason, in general, for the martyrdom of man? Essaying an answer to these riddles, philosophers have applied a solution of philosophate of opprobrium without success. Sociologists have pondered the paralytic pranks of the human will and won't, without profit. Psycho-analysts have performed postmortems on living brains to discover what makes them move in the opposite direction, without result.
But we, in our wisdom, know that these things are the result of sheer exasperation with the tiddley-tootling trials of our daily persistence.
Take the tyranny of top-dressing, the comedy of clothes! In this, strangely enough, it is the male of the human “speechies” who is the special victim of the cover design. The male has to worry because he has too much to wear; the female kicks because she never has a thing to wear; but she gets her kick out of her kick. Of course a man couldn't reasonably expect to moult off his winter suit and moult on his summer suit like many of the other animals to whom he is sometimes likened; but it is a pity—chiefly because the more fortunate fauna have no buttons to complicate the art of dressing.
It might almost be taken as a truism that the man with the fewest buttons has the most success. Going back a mite, there were no buttons on the breeks of the Greeks, and look what they produced. The Roman legions were as buttonless as a bare majority, and look where they got—that is, before they got. The Zulus and Hottentots and Oozey-Woozeys were the happiest of folks in nothing but the old school tie; but that, of course, was before their energy was sapped by buttons, aided by mouth organs and gin. On the other hand all the Nazis are practically asphyxiated by Buttons, which is perhaps the greatest indictment of buttons possible to imagine. In the words of the Buttonless Bard:—
Men boast that they're fully aware of their muttons—
The good and the bad, and the fat and the phut ‘uns—
And yet they're in trouble the most of their time,
Their policies palsied, their verse out of rhyme.
Some say that the reason such policies vex
Is merely that living is far too complex. Some say it's the fault of the opposite sex;
And others that Progress has taken the fence
And galloped to glory with man's common sense.
But don't you believe it! The reason why man
Is constantly leaping ‘twixt embers and pan
Is merely that he, in extreme agitation,
Is faced every day with a devil's creation.
His temper is frayed ere he faces the fray,
His passions are purple; his outlook is grey,
Through twisting and turning and grunting with pain,
While buttoning buttons again and again.
The reason why men make a mess of their muttons,
Is mainly that moderns are gluttons for buttons.
Thus, dear lady, when your connubial flat-tyre arrives at breakfast with a face like “Storm clouds at Grimsby” and an eye like a hard-boiled snake's egg, remember that he has just completed his matutinal mat-maul with about twenty-four buttons, not to mention a brace of studs as nimble as the jumping bean of Mexico, and a possible pair of cuff-links designed by a Maltese juggler. If he appears to regard the new day as a crime against decency and a threat to the “status quo,” remember that he has prepared himself to face it with as much pain as the Spartans who used to park the palliasse on the rock-garden and bath with a bunch of porcupine quills before lining up for a spot of frightfulness on the “sock” exchange. If he lacks the Stoic restraint of the old Spartans, recollect that the only part of a Spartan that buttoned was his pride.
It seems that men's clothes are part of Adam's punishment. Nature must have said “O.K.! If he will be a sissy and do a sheep out of its overcoat, let's make it as tough as we can for him.” So she bribed the tailors by allowing them to sit on tables (which is something we have all longed to do but have never had the nerve), to inflict men's clothes with a blight of buttons.
“Not a Thing to Wear.”
Contrarywise, women (who usually are) employed their cunning which has privileged them to boss man and claim his protection at the same time, to the task of coming unbuttoned. They discerned some years ago that a girl couldn't continue to capitalise the swoon or succeed with her traditional “shrinking violet” act with a barrage of buttons up her back that would make a blacksmith blanche and a contortionist come unjointed. So she completely debuttoned with the result that, to-day, women's clothes stay on by sheer luck and elastic. To-day, a buttoned girl is as rare as a zipped banana. And the time she saves by leaping into her petals she uses to prove how little Nature knew when she designed the female face.
Slip-ons and Pull-overs.
But why does man continue to submit to the blight of the button? Isn't life sufficiently complex without beginning the day with a practice as arduous and exhausting as pushing pickled onions through a keyhole? It is all so unnecessarily heroic; and all he gets out of it is a reputation for amiability that would cause a hyena to blush and take up folk-dancing. Man submits to it because he lacks the courage to cut himself adrift from buttons. He fears that such an action might result in a come-down. But this is not necessarily so. We have a solution which is not a dissolution. We will probably have the button-makers, the liver pill merchants, the divorce lawyers and the psychoanalysts, who all batten on buttons, after us; but we're all for buttonless boys, elastic-sided lads, bonny breakfasts and clothes that cling. We know that there are many who will reply: “What was good enough to hold up dad's pants is good enough for mine.” Our answer is merely: “How pants the hart!” And, after all, the hart could have saved his pants without actually depanting if he could have had the advantage of our advice. We say that you can't slip up if you slip on; or, to be more explicit (for, after all, we are not actually advertising our idea) we advocate a combination of kilt and sailor suit. How easy to fling on a kilt and slip on a blue-jacket blouse. We submit that this would definitely take the “but” out of buttons, close the breakfast breach, cause little children to disbelieve the legend of the Hooded Horror, and practically solve the riddle of the universe. You might say that a man garbaged in such a manner wouldn't know whether he represented “Scots wa hae” or “Nelson's drum.” But what would it matter if he looked a bit ambiguous and amphibious? There are men walking about who probably look much better but feel much worse.
We are warned that to achieve full freedom we must burst our bonds. We go further and submit that to gain the full fruits of freedom we must “bust our buttons.”page 44