Thursday, December 31, 2009
#39 – CLOTHING
I was sitting at two tables put together in a raised corner section at the back of a big coffee shop on 7th Avenue near 15th that I must have passed often though I had not noticed till very recently when it became one of our after-meeting hangouts. I was with Lena, whose sister had an art gallery for dealers, Annie who was breaking out of too many years being only a nurse, and Lewis Greenberg who had retired from teaching, and Arthur the art photographer, who said he was glad I had joined ACOA because "we need successful people too," and a pretty dark haired girl, so young she seemed to have baby fat, who was in the city as a nanny, and Sally the therapist who was looking less hang dog each day, and Paul, who looked pure preppy though his particularly vicious father lived and did bad things in Spain, and an enclosed, tense man named Jimmie who just seemed lost, but came anyway. The were all congratulating me on a white windbreaker jacket I had picked up that day at the army-navy store down Eighth near 13th. And I was also wearing an expensive, for me, green checked flannel shirt I had picked up at Saks, and also a thick blue checked wool scarf I got from Lord & Taylor, and in addition, from a store on 8th Street, a new Woolrich denim shirt and new Docker’s made of blue denim giving the allusion of Levi’s. The latter I liked best but I had credit cards left over from the marriage for Saks and Lord & Taylor, and what they had was anyway far better than what I was as used to.
For one day recently as I woke up I had realized that I hated the way I dressed. Prissy Wasp clothing that I had always detested but wore anyway. Like those clothes I had wound up wearing at Princeton.
At first in college I kept my hair a little long and slicked back, and I had worn ordinary shoes like my father’s military surplus shoes that you could buy cheap at Modell’s in Grand Central, and I avoided the thin, humble neckties that were in fashion then. This was was my style still one night on Christmas vacation in my first year when I had a movie date with a girl named Trish in Stamford who was a distanct cousin of Elysa’s and like Elysa went to Miss Hall’s up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
We came in late at Trish’s house, where the lights were on but very dim. Her father, who looked like an off-duty CEO, was sitting in the living room in pajamas chain smoking and taking little white pills. Trish and I went down to a warm, plush basement room, which we kept very dark, and it was my first time really getting under a girl’s bra, and Trish was what I had hoped for. The feel of skin. The girl scent. We rolled around on cushions on the thickly carpeted floor accompanied by Frank Sinatra on the console.
When we went upstairs at around 3 a.m. we were waylaid by the pajama-clad, pill-popping father who said he had something important, to tell me.
You don’t have that short hair yet, and you’re not wearing white bucks or cardigans, and you don’t have a charcoal gray suit jacket and khakis. And your shirt is not a button down and it does not look like Oxford cloth. You aren’t in uniform yet. He paused for another pill. But you will be soon, he said. Everyone at Princeton gives in. His eyes gleamed in what might have been triumph or might have been the pills.
Up till this time in early 1986 I had had prissy wasp clothing. I wore humble shirts (athough no longer Oxford cloth) that mixed fake fibers with cotton, cut-rate office clothing (though I had no office) from a chain of small stores named Bancroft that were spread around the Rockefeller Center area. When I started going to meetings it was before Saks and Lord & Taylor, much less that army-navy store down near 13th Street and a store on 8th Street that carried Woolrich. I was not wearing neckties, but I wore a sport Jacket with my old anonymous khakis of the sort for which I had no affection but which I had been wearing for 35 years. I owned very little. The two jackets I had, one a brown near Harris Tweed, the other an actual Navy blue blazer that had brass buttons with embossed nautical anchors, came from a thrift store near the 50th Street 8th Avenue subway stop. The sort of thing people wore way back in the flat Eisenhower era, but not so much now all these years later.
Why hadn’t I owned a decent scarf? The one I had before the blue Lord & Taylor one was dirty brown, so worn and thin a wind would go right through it. And caked with something that could be gum or coagulated gravy. It had probably belonged to my father 40 years back. These were death clothes, it now seemed.
I felt light the moment I started throwing my regular clothes out. Why in the world did I wear these jackets and shirts if I had not been in a real office since the last time I was a job holder, which was briefly at Time-Life in the 1965 just before I flew off to Bangkok. Just before I began my life on the road.
My ex-wife had sent down a box filled with things I had left in our apartment when I departed. They had arrived in a box which had contained a color TV set, which told me that now she was able to have the kind of television she wanted. In the box I found a wool sweater. It must have been an old Christmas present. It was a sort of muted dark turquoise. Which was as stylish as L.L. Bean ever got. I went to a meeting on the West Side wearing no jacket, just the sweater, and felt I had taken 20 years of my age.
At coffee afterwards at a place on Broadway this very lively long-haired ACOA young lady at my table said how great it was that the sweater matched the color of my eyes.