Sometimes you just have to go with a recommendation.
As I step from the cobbled sidestreet into the musty shop, I wonder if I’ve been given bad information.
The place looks tatty. Distressed wooden panelling gazes indifferently past stacks of yellowing paper, while dusty sunbeams pick at the threadbare green carpet. A forgotten tale of spiders is written in the webs at the high corners of the room.
It’s not Savile Row, that’s for sure.
The future orbits gently on a turn of my heel. But before I can retreat, an elderly Jewish tailor steps from a stock room behind the counter. My instincts tell me that this evaluation is stereotypical or clichéd, but I don’t choose this reality; he is what he is. A dark skullcap, a thin beard and round spectacles, and a tape measure draped around the shoulders of his chalk-marked waistcoat.
The tailor regards me with polite intensity for a moment.
Good afternoon, Sir, he smiles, I’ll be with you in just one moment.
And that said, he steps back into the stock room and out of sight.
I’m taken aback by this abruptness, but take a few even breaths and let it go; it’s possible I’m feeling a bit tired and impatient today. I look about the place, hoping to see new details and subtleties that will soften my harsh first impressions.
And then I hear a sewing machine strike up its rhythm in the back room. I glance at the door and once again wonder about leaving. But the old man returns to view as the sewing machine continues; there must be someone else back there. He places a neat stack of items onto the counter before stepping out to serve me. I note that he’s quite a bit shorter than me.
Right Sir, he says without apology, wielding the tape measure, perhaps you might like to tell me your thoughts.
A business suit. I state simply, though I doubt he sells casual ones. Something in a dark navy blue. His face is neutral, and I feel more explanation is necessary. I know what I like.
I see, Sir. Double-breasted, Sir? asks the short figure as he manoeuvres around me, moving both my limbs and the tape measure expertly. I grunt an affirmative as he measures my inside leg.
We continue in this vein, back and forth.
Will you be needing a waistcoat, Sir?
Yes, same navy blue as the suit.
Belt or braces, Sir?
Braces. I’m not the shape I used to be.
Perhaps a slightly higher waist, Sir?
Yes, exactly. Same reason.
Inside pockets, Sir?
Just one, on the left, as close to the armpit as possible.
Colour of the lining, Sir?
Blue, but lighter than the navy.
Turn-ups on the trousers, Sir?
Coin-catchers? I’m not sure. No.
As we finish, the distant sewing machine stops. Seconds later, a gangling youth in a pinstripe waistcoat steps from the back room and deposits another item of clothing onto the pile at the counter. The tailor turns and nods, before waving the lad out of sight again.
The old man returns his attention to me, raising an gnarled finger.
I have exactly what you want, Sir! he enthuses, heading back to the counter. Step right this way. I follow, admitting to myself that I’m impressed by his thoroughness, and the fact that he didn’t write a single measurement down.
He indicates the clothes on the counter. Here you are.
Right. Wait. What?
I don’t understand. We’ve only just measured me up.
Yes Sir. He shrugs with a hint of self deprecation. I was confirming the measurements I noted when you came in. My nephew has already made a minor change to the venting on the waistline of the trousers that’s needed.
I don’t know whether to be angry or in awe. I settle for flabbergasted.
In this light, it looks more black than navy blue.
He nods his head. The suit is black, Sir.
It’s curious, I observe, scratching my nose, as much for irritated effect as to salve an itch, but I imagined I would come along, get measured up, tell you exactly what I wanted, and you’d sort me out.
Well, of course, we’ve done all those things Sir. he says smoothly, reassuringly. I hesitate.
Well, I suppose we have. I just figured I would be in the chair, so to speak. I fumble for a rationale that sounds assertive but not petulant. You know, that I’d be The Customer. The one who’s Always Right. My voice tails off somewhat; I don’t think I nailed it.
His eyes exude kindness.
I have always considered it my duty as a tailor, he begins, with genuine humility in his voice, to provide the customer with something that they have not yet realised that they want. And this suit is one of my very best, Sir.
And he proudly raises the suit from the counter for my inspection.
Three pieces. Finely woven black wool. Double breasted.
As suits go, it’s pretty tasty.
Without fanfare or flourish, he slips a crisp, white, double-cuffed twill shirt and a striking three-shade gold necktie next to it.
I’ll give you a moment to change, Sir, he says, seeing my eyes glitter. He points towards the changing room. Oh, you’ll need these. He hands me a pair of gold cufflinks.
In the space of two minutes, I’m in the new suit, I've double-Windsored the necktie, and I’m slipping in the cufflinks. The tailor appears again as I check myself out in a full length mirror.
Sold. I say, decisively. I try to suppress my goofy smile.
Without a word, the elderly craftsman gathers my discarded clothes up. A moment later, back at the counter, he neatly folds them into a bag as I settle up the account.
I have to ask, I say quietly. But are you a metaphor for my resistance to a new approach in my ongoing mental healthcare? And my dogged insistence on what I believe to be the correct course of treatment?
He seems to consider this for a moment.
A dog does not bark in the distance. But it’s one of those moments.
No Sir, he concludes happily, I’m an elderly Jewish tailor. Remember?
Well, thank you. It’s perfect.
No Sir, thank you. He gives me a easy salute. Until next time.
We shake hands, and seconds later I step back into the world a smarter, happier man.
And I didn’t even realise that’s what I wanted.
This blog entry is protected by copyright © Indigo Roth, 2011