Snowmen that showed up in the Douglas roundabout. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Snowmen that showed up in the Douglas roundabout. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Slack Tide: My evolution to becoming Winter Shorts Guy

Yes, I’m that guy.

I hate wearing pants. For one, they stifle my creativity. More importantly, I can’t stand wet cuffs (and tucked into knee-high XtraTufs makes me look like some old-time golf caddy). And so, I’ve become Winter Shorts Guy.

Yes, Winter Shorts Guy, that specific variety of Alaskan male who dresses like it’s always summer. Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night stays Winter Shorts Guy from baring his pale, fleshy, spider-veined legs 12 months a year. Not even Perpetually Embarrassed Spouse can coax Winter Shorts Guy into seasonally appropriate dress.

In fact, Perpetually Embarrassed Spouse is starting to turn into Exasperated Resignation Lady regarding all my clothing choices. As long as it’s not mesh lacrosse shorts, which trap odor like nobody’s business (in a bodily region that’s also nobody’s business), I can wear whatever I like wherever I like, even if I’ve slept in it. Or gutted salmon in it. Or both.

I’ll put it another way: the other night we went out to celebrate our anniversary. Her exact instructions: “just dress like you live in a house.” I thought I looked quite at home in that Carhartt hoodie and cut-off jeans. She disagreed. Perhaps if I’d selected a pair with fewer coffee stains?

I’m not trying to prove how tough I am — or how tough I think I am (there’s a difference). I simply find shorts “liberating.” Plus, I work in an office with an extremely relaxed dress code. In fact, it’s my home office, which means I can work naked if I want. I mean, I don’t — vinyl desk chairs really stick to your skin— but I could.

Also, I live with three roommates … “family members,” some might call them, but here, I mean my wife and kids. Now, the moment more than one person occupies a space, they’re bound to disagree about the temperature of that space, especially if the people are of different sizes and/or sexes. For instance, in college, I dated this teeny-tiny girl who lived in a teeny-tiny apartment she perpetually kept at 90 degrees. I didn’t sleep for a whole semester, and not for any good reason. We had no choice but to break up. Also, her guinea pig died and she felt I wasn’t duly mournful.

Anyway, my wife’s ideal thermostat is a much more reasonable (but still unbearable) 75. Even at 72, she’s cold. But she zips herself into an Arctic sleeping bag and deals. At 72, I’m sweating like a Bikram instructor at a chili cook-off. But I put shorts on and deal. Solid relationships are based on such mutual willingness to deal.

Now, everyone up here has a “What I’m Doing in Alaska” story: I took a job; I followed a girl; I watched too much Discovery Channel; I crossed a land bridge from Asia sometime between 60,000 and 50,000 BCE. Me, I came for the casual attire (I stayed for the prospect of never shaving again).

Seriously. For once in my life, I actually feel in-synch with the prevailing aesthetic. Back in New York, nightclub doormen routinely turned me away. One spring morning, while sipping coffee outside, a woman walked by and dropped a fistful of change into my cup. Not only did I find that insulting; it ruined a perfectly good latte.

Still, even in Alaska — where it’s perfectly acceptable (and sometimes advisable) to wear full crabbing gear to a wedding — there are some sartorial lines I won’t cross. For example, I won’t clip any electronic devices to my belt; they get in the way of my utility knife (this, I wear to prove how tough I am). Also, I won’t wear shorts with socks. That’s way too Soccer Dad, and I can’t be Soccer Dad, even though, of course, I am Soccer Dad.

For this reason, being Winter Shorts Guy also forces me to become Winter Flip Flops Man. Even I see the idiocy of flip flops in the winter, and yet, it’ll do at least one solid yard-sale on ice — which hurts a lot more with bare legs — before I bite the bullet and put on actual shoes (still sockless, of course). Although, last weekend I nailed some studs into my Crocs. I’ll let you know how they work.

There’s more. Because I can’t very well wear a winter coat with shorts, either — I mean, I wouldn’t want to look ridiculous — this restricts my choice of outerwear. So now I’m also Puffy Vest Dude.

I’m not sure I get the point of puffy vests. They’re not warm, they’re not waterproof, and the pockets are a lost set of keys waiting to happen. Come to think of it, my puffy vest isn’t really good for anything, aside from reminding me to go easy on the Nutella if I’d like to keep zipping it.

What’s the point of all this, you ask? I’m not sure, actually. One thing I can say for sure: I’d much rather be Winter Shorts Guy than Mistaken for a Vagrant.

Thank you, Alaska, for enabling that life change.


• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears every second and fourth Sunday in Neighbors.


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