Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Spotless Cleaners ~ A Christmas Story

Fifty one years ago, this happened on 83rd Street. It's one of fifty three stories in my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys ~ tales of a scrappy New York boyhood."

Nearing the 1964 Christmas break during my fifth grade, thirteen inches of snow blanketed my street late on a Thursday evening. Losing a school day to the elements was a beautiful thing.

Friday morning, my friends and I mushed over to Central Park towing our sleds through the middle of the street. Milking the day to the last of the light, we rode every hill until our feet froze. Back from the sleigh ride, I plopped down outside my apartment on the hall stairs and began undressing. Mom refused to let me undress inside the apartment. She, slush and dog poop were mortal enemies. As I worked my top layer off, I heard my father's familiar step right below me coming up the stairs.

He mumbled to himself, "Damn, I forgot the suit." Noticing me, his eye focused on my half untied snow boots. "Tommy here's the ticket, hurry to the cleaners. I need that suit for the wedding."

OOOOOOOOOOhhhhhh, left my mouth as I dramatized the act of rising slowly.

"Go!" Dad ordered.

I death marched down the stairs. Dad behind me, "FASTER they're going to close in 5 minutes."

When I got there, Joe, the Spotless Cleaners manager was turning off the lights. Smiling with an edge he opened the door. "Come in Tommy, be quick, I want to get out of here."

Deed done. I earned a slow walk home. A slow meandering trek through every snow pile between the store and my building. Walking deliberately, I was one of Hannibal's elephants moving over the Alps. I went knee deep with every step. A resourceful Gunga Din, I moved the suit to the back of my pea coat, resting the hanger's hook on the back of my collar. This left my hands free for better balance. My serpentine trip created desire paths over each snow pile. Calculated attention paid to each pile stretched my normal five-minute trip back home to half an hour. With the satisfaction of a Sherpa's job well done, I danced a jig and rang the bell in the vestibule harking my return and an incredible urge to pee.

Running up the stairs, Dad met me at the door, "Where the hell were you?"

I said nothing, smirked and turned my back. I offered Dad his suit from its resting-place on the nape of my neck. I ran into the bathroom, worked off my jeans, long johns, and two pairs of underwear just in time to go.

When I stepped back into the kitchen. Dad met me face to face at the bathroom door holding up the suit.

"Nice jacket. Where are my pants?"

"Huh", I mumbled.

"My pants, where are my pants?" Dad voice higher this time.

A clothes hanger never had as thorough an examination as the one I put that hanger through. The pants were not on it, in it; on top it, under it. There were no pants. The jacket, the jacket was good. Two sleeves, pressed cleaned, all that. But the pants, the pants made no appearance despite multiple prayers under my breath. I was the baffled volunteer from the audience looking for the rabbit in the hat and finding it unbelievable it was gone.

Dad put his slacks on and said, "Lets' go."

Down to Hades we descended, third floor, second floor, first floor, no pants. Hallway, no pants. Down the building's front steps, no pants.

Dad, "So which way did you walk exactly?"

This is where it got tricky. I set a new record for a dramatic pause. My mouth agape, he asked again, "Exactly - where - did - you - walk?

Words failed me. I didn't even try. I owned too many fruitless experiences responding to similar requests from my father. Trying to answer unanswerable questions, to even begin thinking about opening my mouth. Left with nothing to say I showed him. I showed him my exact path. Every nuance. Every turn. Every double step. At one point, I did the cha-cha one up, two back, one up, two back. I was possessed. I mimed my entire walk never measuring how pissed off my path of greatest resistance home was making Dad. When Dad and I had these special moments an eerie stillness set in. No yelling, no accusations. Only the 'look' with sharp orders.

"Stop." "Go left." "Here?" "Are you sure you were not under any cars?"

Hill after hill we climbed towards the avenue, policing the ground looking for sign of pants. Despite the fact Dad's pants were charcoal and the streets contained nothing but white snow, he insisted we walk very slowly. The Cleaners were closed.

Walking back to our building, same story. Every hill walked serpentine with the look and the short barked orders. At our house, one last look under the car directly in front. Into the lobby we began our ascent to Hades, second floor, third floor, fourth floor, into the apartment. Passing through the front door, Dad gave Mom the look and then me one more look for good luck. Dad went directly over to his jacket on the hanger with the plastic still over it. He held it up to take a good look. Together they resembled Michelangelo's Pieta. I think he was saying goodbye. It might have been my imagination, but I thought I saw him talk to the jacket.

"We have closed many bars together old friend." Dad sighed, then continued.

"I will miss the way the secretary at Pepsi looked at you, on me, when we did our sales calls."

Dad said no more about the suit.

Two weeks later, I'm playing in front of my house and Dad comes walking up the street. Getting closer, I see he has a charcoal jacket on. I'm thinking he bought the same suit again. Not good for me. "Hi Dad, is that the suit. It looks great. Did you buy it again?"

"Nope, same one." Dad said with a smile. "Every suit comes with two pairs of pants."

Do you need a gift for an ageless kid? Then check out my 1960s memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." at Logos Book Store, or purchase the book online at Amazon (113 five-star reviews out of 113 posted) or Barnes & Noble. 

You can also buy "River to River ~ New York Scenes From a Bicycle" my photography portfolio online.

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