New Spring Story 4
The only person who holds all secrets is your tailor. They build your armor and know your weaknesses; they accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative with cold emotion and without judgment. The friendly confines of a tailor shop allows you to recharge, renew one's youth and steel yourself to the outside worth. He or she holds your measurements; your girth or unplanned expansions professionally resolved with the drape of a fabric or the distracting tactic built into a pinstripe or generous measurement across the beam. The cruel physics of life are constantly being matched by a tailor's wisdom but, as all cutters know, there comes a time when reality will win, no matter how elastic the heroics.
This town had one tailor; a tailor who could not or would not refuse business. A athlete's letter jacket needed an industrial sewing machine, a luggage strap needing reinforcement, a pair of pants quietly let out or a dying man's suit expertly taken in to draw attention from a frail frame. A tailor held all the secrets of his customers: he knew their fears and their plans and as he sewed, he judged no one and focused his energy in resolving issues regardless whether it was requested by a victim or just a person looking for an easier way out. The tailor had estimated one day that he had pressed and hemmed over fifty thousand pants in his day and wondered when it would end. He had already noticed a drop-off in his traditional, custom business because no one dressed up like the old days and many of his old, reliable customers were now dead. Dead was a tragedy for many reasons including the loss of a few friends, the loss of many customers and mostly, because he saw the beginning of the end and he wasn't ready for it.
Jimmy "Malts" Malten looked out his front window, watching the pedestrians wander up and down the main street. His shined shoe was resting on the back lip of his display window; the window was lightly adorned with two mannequins in custom Spring suits. He stopped with elaborate displays years ago because there was not worthwhile in regards to increased sales and the resulting sun-bleached fabrics. He knew what he "showed" was not going to entice a potential customer to walk in and request a custom-built suit at three times the going rate of something off the rack. Some people in the crowd understood the power of a tailored, custom garment but unfortunately, the remaining ninety-nine and nine-tenths did not.
A tailored suit was built to compliment a customer's unique body frame and their resulting few strengths and many weaknesses. A custom suit coat garment was created individually with the matching pants created independent of the coat's findings. When one bought a standard suit, such as a 42 regular, the pants would be created in proportion with a 36 waist. While the pants were always hemmed to a custom length, most pants were left alone on the waist and only reluctantly taken in or let out depending the size of the caboose. The only other result, which faded with youth and initial leanness, were athletes who were forced into sport coat and contrasting pant combinations due to their inability to find a 42 regular with 32" pants. However, this was not as much of a formal problem as one of the many rites of passage, along with higher insurance rates, quicker turnarounds on hangovers, resistance to sleep deprivation and an inability to resist peer pressure.
As he continue to look out his window, he became anxious about the future. He had not had a panic attack before but this uncomfortable, anxious feeling which surrounded him must be one and he tried to steady himself and try to manage the situation. He was almost fifty years old and a majority of his work was either at a thrift shop, buried in the ground or hanging up in the back of his shop. Almost forty years of cutting cloth and he had not much to show for it and that must be why he was short of breath. A honorable profession, a tailor was necessary for many people but unfortunately, time was changing and he had to decide whether or not he wanted to fight the trend. His equipment was paid off decades earlier, he owned the building and most of his material was sold on spec so his only upfront investment was that of time...but time was getting to a point where it was known to be finite. The days of several fittings a day were so long gone, he couldn't remember when he had more than one or two suits in production. The advent of casual dressing and warehouse apparel locations took most of his discretionary customers but his finished good costs were approaching at least five times higher than a off-the-rack suit and ten times higher than some throwaway piece of crap which the younger generation embraced without resistance. He was either an idiot or a throwback to a time where quality was important but he couldn't figure out which one it was.
He needed to decide what was next in life; he was still young enough to make a career change but didn't know if these was some epiphany or just the whining of a bored, older man. He needed to get a second opinion about these thoughts and he knew just the person. His pal was a great listener and had only his best interests in mind; he could also trust her to be quiet as it was obviously in her nature to keep her mouth shut. He never asked her why she always seemed on the quiet side because it was her business and he rather enjoyed the general quiet which followed her around. What made her even more interesting was her occupation: she was the town's only salaried fire fighter and if you didn't know that fact, it would have been safe to assume her occupation was more of a librarian or accountant because her demeanor appeared to embrace solitude and things non-flammable.
He also knew she had escaped from her own set of issues but circumstances had never been appropriately aligned enough to ask her the gory details. Perhaps as he opened up to her and began to strip away the shields of ego and self-esteem, she would feel compelled to do the same but he had no idea if these was going to be a mutual support conversation or the "what the hell is wrong with MY life" chat. Time was going to tell but he wanted to take control of his life and move forward. Truth be told, he didn't care one way or another about leaving his profession but the obvious limbo pool he was currently swimming had become tiresome. Malts had a friend for many years who had become a famous commercial spokesperson. After ten years of slaving away on Broadway as a stand-in or slaving away on off-Broadway as a main character in a play which less than a thousand people would ever see, his friend fell into a long-running relationship with a cleaning company. They cropped his hair, encouraged him to further rasp his already raspy voice, stuck him in a lab coat and had him film hundreds of commercial spots over the years as a live parallel version of an ersatz Mr. Clean™. At that moment, he was a working actor and began to bank impressive amounts of money thanks to an aggressive agent, hundreds of commercials and thousands of personal appearances. For over forty years, his friend was immediately recognizable as the company spokesperson and no matter his efforts or desires, was hopelessly typecast in that role for perpetuity. Every time Malts saw his friend, he was moody and guarded because the only thing he wanted to do was work as an actor but circumstances tied him up with large sums of money and no opportunity to work anywhere except in the shiny commercial sets of the cleaning company's sound stages.
Malts never had an opinion on his friend's journey as one has to eat and provide for his family but he always felt sorry for him because while his creature comforts were taken care of daily with piles of money, he was unfulfilled as an actor. He never complained about his dodgy existence while as a stage actor in New York but for the last forty years, he couldn't get an audition for anything legitimate and thus, grew moody and grouchy to the point that Malts avoided him as a general rule. Every once in awhile, his name would appear as part of a regional theater troupe, playing a version of clean, televised self. He had played Daddy Warbucks countless times, a few genie-type roles but every attempt to disappear into a generic well-written character was denied early and often by casting agents. While they technically sympathized with his plight, they had no genuine concern but he was rich and a working actor which was a rare commodity in a profession which more than ninety-five percent of all working actors were non-working.
Malts had brought up these facts several times but his rich, brooding friend would have none of the logic. He felt he was shacked to his role, he liked the lifestyle and had no thought of walking away from the role. Once Malts realized the conflicting logic, he stopped caring but the actor could not have it both ways and that was the end of the discussion. While considering his friend and his choices, he felt his circumstances were similar except for the wealth part. A tailor makes just enough to get by; off the rack clothing was not improving as much as the customer's desire to save money and the trickle down influence fell on the creator and supplier of fine clothing. People don't need fine tailored garments unless it was programmed into their psyche as a youth and this minority of clothes horses was shrinking everyday due to economic influences and mortality rates. It was an old-fashioned craft and Malts knew it was time to make his move. He put on his coat, flipped his shop sign to "CLOSED" and walked down the street to the firehouse for some strategic conversation.
It is fascinating what you see when you are not looking for anything in particular.
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