1 Shirt for Me, 1 for the Universe


I’ve been known to take of my shirt.

I’m not that guy. I’m just a dad of three sneaking up on his mid-40s. I’ve never been a lifeguard. I am, however, up for sharing my pizza, doling advice or tossing you the shirt off my back.

You might have noticed – many of us dudes wear two shirts. The painstakingly skinny and the profusely sweaty both will double-bag themselves. The extra layer adds bulk and absorbs sweat.

It allows a guy to tuck one shirt in. This is handy when a dad has to reach to the top shelf for a box of Frosted Flakes, and can keep his belly covered.

This one time, in Nashville, that double shirt became a story.

A counselor for NOISE! camp – a Muzak creation to show talented teens from around the country how the music biz works – I got double swag. I wore both camp shirts with the cool logo for a morning visit to a Nashville radio station.

Celebrity disc jockey Cody Alan showed us around the CMT studio, interspersing calls of “those are awesome shirts!” every few sentences. As we filed out after the tour, I peeled off my top-layer T-shirt and tossed it at him.

Totally like Mean Joe Greene in that Coke commercial.

No big deal, right?

The shirt was cool – Cardinal red, with the camp name NOISE! across the chest. Amazed and relieved I had another shirt beneath, the camp kids told me how cool that was.

I just gave it away, without expectation of anything in return.

Alan tracked me down in the hall. “Fair trade?” he asked, as he tossed me a shirt from his radio show. Suddenly I’m the kid who gave away the bottle of Coke. Yeah, fair trade, Cody.

So this giving away of shirts – it’s a good thing for a man to do, right? Soccer players exchange their shirts after an important match in a sign of respect for an opponent.

photo credit: Sausage and Mushroom via photopin (license)
photo credit: Sausage and Mushroom via photopin (license)

Years later, I’m in my two-shirt glory, in a pizza parlor with my girls. A woman notices my shirt – three little birds, in homage to Bob Marley. She waxes poetic about Marley and love and the meaning of the song and she’s just a happy hippy sharing the memories.

I get to the car, and turn around.

What are you doing, dad?”

“I should give that woman this shirt,” I say. “It’ll mean something to her.”

“No!” they said and actually lunged toward me, a wall of riot cops with pizza breath. “We picked that for you!” And they had. Straight of a clearance rack at Walmart, a plain black shirt with three birds – three, like them.

If featured the singsong words “Every little thing’s … gonna be all right …”

Our friend might have enjoyed the shirt. My girls loved the meaning. Years later, after my girls gave me other shirts with more meanings and some with maybe not as much, three little birds became yesterday’s news.

And so it was that I still had it when someone else came through my life who took it on a trip to the coast and it meant something then, too.

The shirt went, in my stead. I’m glad it did.

Who knows what would happen in life if you gave every shirt away the first time you could.

I’ve been known to take off my shirt. That’s not a bad thing.

It’s also a good thing to keep it on.

You just might find a place it really belongs.

marley quote


  1. What can I say, but you really are just a great guy all around and if I didn’t know it before I do now! Great story and most definitely think you were right to keep the shirt though in the latter part of this post.

    1. Oh, that’s not even it! I think it’s just being in tune with what the universe needs and what it’s giving you. There’s a lot more gleaned when you give, sometimes, than what you take.

  2. Like it wasn’t already a great story, it had to have an amazing song involved too.

    The world needs more people who would even consider taking the shirt off their back. I’m glad you are one of those, CD.

  3. love this and i often confuse you with mean joe green by the way. p.s. my girlfriend traded her shirt in a bar once when we were together, with the man/stranger who would become her boyfriend.

  4. That’s awesome to give someone your shirt. Things are just things, but when you tien them into joy and seeing someone else smile…. well you can’t place a value on that. Had to laugh at the 2 shirt thing…. belly covering isn’t just for coach daddies, haha

    1. I think it’s just awesome to be placed in a spot to do something like this. Something happened at work in a similar way.

      I won the right to do something that would mean a ton more to someone else. It’s a no-brainer to give it up. In cases like that, even gratitude doesn’t feel necessary, you know? You just what you should.

      All of our bellies can get chilly, right Janna?

    1. Just in the right place at the right time, that’s all. I’d been planning this post a while, and the timing was, it turns out, a bit off, but I wanted to share it anyway.

  5. It’s beautiful to give away your shirt. It would not be beautiful if the belly shirt weren’t part of the standard package. I wonder if I could convince my husband to start giving his hats…might as well ask him to give up his left pinkie.

    1. I remember giving away my hoodie to chilly girls in college classes, or my shirts to my girls when they’re cold (one outright refuses shirts from me, and I find it endearing, that attitude.)

      He’s a hat guy? I used to be. It’s a phase. he’ll outgrow it. I did, by age … oh, 40?

  6. I love seeing the futbol players trade shirts at the end of a match. I’m slightly jealous of them, too. I can’t say I’ve ever given away a shirt before. But I will now! Though I’m a little guy so it may not fit too many people.

    1. It’s a good sign of respect, and can you imagine the shirt collection some of those cats have? I’d like just a few of them, please.

      I had a chance to give my shoes to a homeless person once. I had the idea. I gave him a drink and noticed his shoes were shot. I would have worked that day in bare feet. I regret to this day that I didn’t offer. I think our shoes were similar in size, even.

      1. I have a jersey from Ireland but I had to buy it, no would trade me my t-shirt for it. I have one from S. Korea, but that was a present. Perhaps I’ll start wearing two shirts now in the hopes I get to give one away. And giving your shoes away would be the greatest sign of respect… You’re selfless, man.

      2. I think it’s a good idea to keep some extra stuff in the car, jacket, gloves, shoes, etc., that you don’t need anymore, in case you can dole them out.

  7. You know what I really love about you, Eli? The fact that you not only know who Mean Joe Greene is, and you remembered that commercial, and finally that you use both of them in a blog post as if they are still totally relevant in the world today. I’m really glad to be in your world, Eli! You’re a super nice guy!

  8. Scarlet asked me why I always wear two shirts! It’s true. I always put a camisole under a sweater. I told her it’s because if someone needed my sweater, then I wouldn’t be naked when I took it off. Ya know?

    And I get cold in the winter.

  9. I’ve found my new name in the world wide web, “The Happy Hippy!” Love that! Definitely gives new meaning to giving the shirt right off of your back! Hey let me know what the theme is for the 6 word this month this month when you get a chance.

    1. I hope I have a little happy hippy in me, actually. Someone I love once told me I’m a hippie soccer coach. I’ll take that.

      Six words: November is National Memoir Writing Month. You don’t have to write your memoir – just the title. What would it be, in six words?

      Just email me your answer, Rena!

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