The place was hard enough to find, buried, as it was, within the parking structure itself. As I left my car and approached the storefront, marked simply "Tailor," it seemed to me that the shop had been there forever, that perhaps after a long and protracted battle, the Corporation had simply given up and built the Super Mall and its parking around it.
I entered the empty front parlor and waited to be acknowledged. As I did, I took in the surroundings. A typical tailor’s shop: potted plant…counter and register…tape measures on the wall…the floor length mirror…the dressing room. Through the doorway, the sewing room, with a wall-sized poster of "The Tailor of Panama." Surely, I thought, this movie is to tailors what "Edward Scissorhands" is to barbers. I chuckled.
At this, he finally entered the room. A wiry, gray-haired, neatly dressed gentleman. He sized me up as well. As he did, a sour expression appeared on his face. Later, on my way home, I would try to convince myself that this was a result of a bad lunch, or possibly some ethnic affectation, and not a personal reaction to my appearance, as the expression never left his face the entire time I was with him.
I waited for him to speak.
Finally I stammered, "The man from Boston Store…he told me to see you…" I hoisted my suit bag.
"You are the vun hoo called." It was a statement. I nodded. "Please, to put on."
I went into the dressing room and began to change. As I did, the band came off of my watch and it flung itself to the floor. I cursed to myself and went down to pick it up and attempted to put it back together with one hand while I held up my pants with the other. The watchband was new. I don’t know how old the watch was. Maybe it was time for a new watch altogether, I thought. The tailor was witness to none of this, thankfully. I could only imagine what new contortions such a spectacle would bring to his features.
I emerged and stood in front of the mirror. I looked at myself, thinking I don’t look quite as dashing as I though I would. Again, in retrospect, this is actually a compliment to the cut of the suit, as usually I look at myself and think, I have GOT to lose weight.
The tailor returned from his inner sanctum and clearly was not impressed. He scowled further and said, "You hev jacket?"
I returned with the jacket in hand. "The man at Boston store," I began again, "he said that the collar should be pinched…" I attempted to pantomime the effect. He waved me off.
"Put on…please." Clearly he had no interest in what the Man from Boston Store thought. I wonder if the MFBS would continue to send him business if he knew that.
Immediately I felt him go to work with the marking chalk. Hacking and slashing at my back as though it were a dagger, or maybe a scalpel. I tried to think of my grandfather. He was a tailor. I remembered finding a box full of the little rectangular chalk in his office. At the time, I thought it was hotel soap. The tailor spoke and brought me out of my reverie.
"OK, take off…please."
I obliged. He looked at my waist. "How is waist."
"A little snug," I replied, immediately thinking I should have said "tight", because maybe he doesn’t know what "snug" means. No matter. Again with the slashing on my backside. I could only hope that meant he would let it out a bit.
I have had trouble with suits for many years. Before my wedding, I went to Syms on Queens Boulevard and bought a black suit off the rack. It required no alterations. I beam from my wedding photos in that suit, a smooth-shaven, white-toothed, lean Adonis of a youth, embracing his new fashion-model bride. I don't know where that guy went. Some time after the wedding I turned into the shlump staring back at me in floor length mirror. The one with the orthopedic shoes, who has to buy suits either too big and tailored down or too small and tailored up.
The tailor crouched now, like a tiger, and looked at those shoes. If dyspepsia was something that could be seen, his face was now the very description of that term.
"You vill vear these shoes…?"
I attempted to answer, but only a faint grunt emerged.
He persisted. "You vill vear…these…shoes…vith this suit…?"
I felt like I was trapped. Caught in a cross-examination, with the light burning into my eyes. There was no escape. Briefly I thought I would explain my spine issues to him, my scoliosis, my leg-length discrepancy, my years of hoisting amplifiers over my head, the hours standing in shul, the miles of hospital corridors I walk daily, my increasing conviction that comfortable footwear with appropriate inserts can cure back pain. Somehow, I reasoned, none of this would impress the impeccably dressed man from the former Soviet Union.
Instead I answered weakly, "yes."
Satisfied that he had broken me, he proceeded to mark my cuffs.
I changed back into my street clothes, the bright aquamarine shirt and brown tie, that I had fielded questions about all day. "No, it’s not turquoise." "Yes, it is bright." "My wife bought it for me." That generally shut them up. I supposed he wouldn’t be impressed if I told him that it was $3.99 at Penny’s with 30% off. No, I didn’t suppose he’d be impressed one iota.
I left the suit on the hook for him. When he reemerged from his chambers, he eyed the suit in disgust. "Vhere is hanger?" he demanded.
"Oh…I…" He shoved me aside and expertly folded the pants, replaced the jacket, and pulled down the suit bag, all with one hand, and I’m not sure, but possibly without looking, because it seemed he managed to beam me the evil eye at the same time.
Finally, the time came for reckoning. We moved to the ancient cash register. He pulled out a card. Now, for the first time, I could see a smile emerging on his face. He eyed me again, up and down. Taking in the aquamarine shirt, the pens in pocket, the mismatched tie and Dockers pants.
He knew he had me. I was defeated. He was the victor. There was nothing I could do.
"You vill return in two veeks."
Yes Master, was all I could think.