The Smug Tug

Men of New York! Why are you no longer throwing your scarves carelessly, rakishly over your shoulders, ends trailing in the wind?

Why are you now pausing to double those scarves, holding the looped end at one side of your necks, then drawing the ends primly through so that they form a little bundled knot in front, then perhaps tucking the whole business into your coat?

“It’s a little less constricting on my neck,” said Jonathan Hart, 25, a marketing consultant who was carrying groceries away from the Union Square Whole Foods on a frigid Thursday. He was wearing a black peacoat and a red-and-beige-striped scarf tied just so. “Where I learned it from? I think I probably just got it from looking at other people on the subway. Actually, the way I usually tie my scarf is the same way that an ascot’s tied.

“It’s a little bit of a complicated process,” he admitted.

“It stays on better,” said Chris Nigro, 29, a photographer who walked by in fleece, jeans, visored black cap and neatly arranged scarf. “I was taught how to tie it by a girlfriend a long time ago. I’m pretty hopeless.”

“It bridges the little gap right there,” said Matt Stranko, 33, a physical therapist, pointing to the delicate hollow in his throat, which was covered by a red knitted scarf he said his girlfriend had given him for Christmas. (The rise of knitting among Manhattan’s new generation of feminists is surely in part responsible for the trend.) Who taught him to tie it that way? “I have no idea.”

Can Banana Republic take some of the blame—the blank gaze of its mass-produced mannequins penetrating our sartorial subconscious?

“One of our head designers is often seen wearing a neatly looped scarf around his neck,” admitted spokeswoman Janelle Wiggins.

From the warmth of our cubicle we did a little research and found out that the loopy new trend has a name: the Hoxton knot, after the hipster district in London. It’s also known by the even poofier, vaguely scrotal-sounding moniker, the Snug Tug.

Whatever it’s called, we don’t like it. The old way of tying a scarf suggested that a fellow had somewhere to go, even if it was only a college-football game, and more important things to think about than meticulously showcasing his knitted goods. (And the old non-method madness also meant that he was ready at a moment’s notice to whip it off and offer it to a lady.) Whereas the Snug Tug, well … it’s more like the Smug Tug: self-satisfied, static. Luckily, spring is nigh.

Conversations With Mr. Cavett

“What are you going to do with that brush?” Dick Cavett asked me.

“I’m going to arrange your hair,” I explained.

“Oh,” he replied, in mock-surprise. “I had a punitive aunt when I was a child. Aunt Lily. If she held a brush like that, it meant she was about to whack me on the neck.”

“That must have hurt.”

“Indeed. Once I was paralyzed for 12 seconds.”

“What would she whack you for?”

“Charades,” Dick explained. “For some reason, she hated charades. She wasn’t religious, but that game riled her. She would sneak up behind me when I was in the middle of miming the word ‘barrel’ and attack.”

“She came to your house a lot?”

“Yes, she considered my mother an excellent cook—which was true only in comparison to herself.”

“You ate your Aunt Lily’s cooking?”

“Yes, we went to her house for Thanksgiving; I’m not sure why. She could roast a turkey until it tasted like a tennis racket.”

Dick Cavett, for those of you who are young, was a famous talk-show host on TV. I worked for him for 14 months, 1972-73.

“What kind of music do you listen to?” I asked him once.

“Oh, lots of things. Telemann, Bach.”

“What about rock music?”

“I can’t abide rock,” Mr. Cavett admitted. “To me, it all says the same thing: ‘Come back to my dressing room after the show.’” (I never heard him say a crude word.)

“There’s some really good bands,” I tried to explain.

“Perhaps, but I can’t accept them. I hear their personalities.” Mr. Cavett said this with real pain.

“But you’ve interviewed so many of them!”

“Yes, and I’ll tell you a secret: Almost all of them have bad breath.”


“It must be the drugs they take. Many of those pills damage the tongue.”

Sometimes he would complain about his appearance.

“I think you’re lovely,” I’d say, with real conviction.

“But I’m a little short, wouldn’t you say?”

“No, Mr. Cavett. Height would be wasted on you.”

“You’re right. I’d look like an extremely elongated tiny person.”

He was funnier off-camera than on, I always said.

Once he announced to the mirror: “I resemble a ventriloquist’s dummy.”

I was never sure what his politics were. I only heard him make two statements you might call political. One was: “I make way too much money.” The other was: “President Nixon is a better piano player than people realize.”

“Did you see the ostrich egg?” he asked one day.

“No, I haven’t,” I answered.

He rushed to his dressing room for the egg. “Feel that,” he said, handing it to me.

“It’s quite heavy,” I replied.

“Yes, ostriches are dense creatures—even in utero!”

“Are you familiar with pi?” Mr. Cavett once asked.

“The dessert?” I replied.

“No, the mathematical concept.”

“Did you ever study mathematics, Mr. Cavett?”

“Yes, for about 25 minutes in college, I considered being a mathematician.”

“Then what happened?”

“I took topology.”

A look of hooded sadness came into his eyes.

“What is topology?” I asked.

“The study of surfaces,” Mr. Cavett said wearily.

That Christmas, I received a hand-drawn card from Mr. Cavett. Inside a drawing of an apple pie, he wrote the value of pi to 83 digits.

I met a guy named Frank at a bar on 38th Street, and we were married. Soon after, we moved down to Fort Pierce, Fla. I had to leave The Dick Cavett Show. Mr. Cavett sent me two more Christmas cards, then we lost touch.

I never had the courage to write back. I was only his hairdresser.

Sparrow The Smug Tug