A necktie named "Hairy Rainbow" has won the coveted Ugliest Necktie in America award. Hairy beat out 10,000 less star-crossed ugly ties in a nationwide contest, held in New York City by the National Association of Men's Sportswear Buyers.
The award was announced last Tuesday. On Friday, Hairy was back where it belongs: around the neck of Robert Lundahl, 80, of Bradenton.
The ugliest necktie in the United States takes some getting used to. For its awfulness is subtle and restrained, while you are, perhaps, expecting something more immediately gut-wrenching:
Nixon saluting the flag?
So at first, you may not appreciate Hairy Rainbow's earnest and deeply reasoned aura.
The tie is silk, of reasonable width, and it is a while before you realize that the restrained yellow in its background actually portrays a long road paved entirely with scrambled eggs.
The eggs seem nicely prepared. But something you would rather not think about is growing out of them.
Hairs. Not enough to comb, but too numerous to ignore. Hundreds of blond quarter-inch silk hairs.
"People are always telling me to get my necktie's hair cut," Lundahl says.
Reassuringly he adds: "I don't wear it often. Only when I need a conversation piece.
"See, I'm a peddler. I was sales manager of four companies, but don't call me salesman. Call me peddler."
One of his bosses brought Hairy back from Tokyo 30 years ago as a gift for Lundahl. But the tie never competed in the Ugly until it won this year's regional, sponsored by the Bradenton Herald.
Then Lundahl packed it in a cigar box and sent it off to the finals in New York _ and forgot about it, until a phone call Tuesday.
"At first, I didn't even let the man talk. I told him, "I'm retired and on Social Security, and I don't want whatever you're selling.'
"So he says, "Listen to me, you old coot. Your necktie has won the contest, and first prize is $500.'
"So I says, "Speak on, I never interrupt a man who has something worthwhile to say.'
Lundahl is about as active an 80-year-old as you are likely to run into. Though he retired years ago, he has started a toy business that he attends three times a week in a flea market near his small condo apartment in Bradenton.
He also water skis. "I pull him after my Cougar at 55 miles an hour," says his friend Jim Rickey.
"Even so, I'm a lonely man," Lundahl says. "Been married most of my life. Ten years and two children with the first wife.
"Then I met a pretty little Irish girl with three children of her own, and we were married for 33 years. But I lost my Alice, three years ago. We fought a lot, but it was so much fun making up."
He smiles at a memory. "The last thing she said to me was, "It's time you quit smoking and swearing.'
"No," he says to the unspoken question. "But maybe I'll quit one of these days. Meanwhile, I'm so damn lonely."