Symphony

I’m going to go on Merrimack TV and I don’t have any shirts and ties.

Got invited on Chattin’ with Jeanine to talk about my book.

I used to have shirts and ties, though.

The last time I wore a suit was for a wedding in May, 2019.

After all, at many jobs, you only need the suit at the interview.

But where have my shirts and ties vanished to?

Some ties were snagged by scavengers in Brooklyn after an argument that ended with clothes getting thrown out the window.

Some shirts are dressing someone poor or thrifty in Florida after I dropped boxes off at a Goodwill before moving.

At least one shirt is sitting in the trunk of taxi cab in Medellin.

Now here are I am with a suit jacket and pants but no shirts and ties.

And the closest Macy’s is an hour and twenty minutes away by car. Rush hour traffic is slow. I will barely make it there before closing time at this rate.

The Macy’s is almost empty when I arrive.

I find the section with the men’s dress shirts.

Rows of identical shirts with sets of three numbers. Measurements, of course. I don’t know mine.

Signs are posted everywhere.

“We’ve suspended our fitting assistance services as a COVID-19 safety measure.”

I pick up a shirt.

It’s held stiff by a piece cardboard stock. It is filled with lethal pins. Tissue inside it crackles. I hold it up over my chest and glance in the mirror.

“Need any help, sir?”

A woman with a name badge asks me.

“Are you the one who helps people dress themselves?”

What a dumb way to ask that question.

“No,” she says.

“I don’t know my measurements at all.”

“We stopped helping with that for COVID-19.”

“Thank you, I saw the sign.”

“Let me know if you need anything else. We close soon.”

Loud speaker announcement overhead: ten minutes to close.

I look around.

This store is a big, lonely, unhelpful, place.

And I’m not going to get my shirt and tie before the television show tomorrow, am I?

“Perhaps I can help,” says a thick accent. Hard to say where the accent is from.

The speaker is an older guy. Argyle sweater, black slacks. Macy’s name tag.

“The sign says you can’t help me with the measurement.”

He stands six feet away. Squints his eye. Holds up his hand with thumb and forefinger apart like an old carpenter who doesn’t use rulers anymore.

“Seventeen, thirty-two, thirty-three,” he says. “Now stand shoulder to shoulder with me in the mirror.”

The starting COVID formalities are over, thankfully. Apparently, tape measures are what really spread disease.

“Would you say your neck is bigger or smaller than mine?” he asks me. “In thickness.”

“They look pretty similar, to be honest.”

“I agree,” he answers.

He brings me two a table of shirts of the right size.

I show him the grey suit I’m going to wear.

He grabs a cream color shirt and black tie.

Tucks the shirt into the suit and lays the tie on top. He gestures over the pairing.

“Here there is melody and counter melody,” he says.

His accent is too thick to ignore.

“Where are you from?”

“I am Armenian,” he says.

I shift my head and look at the dark tie.

“Hey. I didn’t notice it from the other angle, but there’s little glitters in there.”

“Where?” He shift the tie back and forth in his hand. “Ah, yes. It is wrong for you.”

He replaces the tie with another one.

“Here there is melody and rhythm.”

“It’s for a local TV show. That one might look weird.”

“Ah, nothing to make a rainbow in the camera.”

“Exactly.”

Loud speaker: five minutes to close.

“I know this rule,” the Armenian tailor says. “I was on TV once for music.”

“What do you play?”

“Symphonies, concertos, so on. Piano.”

“Very cool.”

He puts out a final shirt and tie pairing.

“Here there is melody and harmony.”

He makes a conductor’s grand gesture.

Yeah, that’s the best looking shirt and tie pairing he’s done.

“Ok, I’ll take it.”

We go to the cash register.

“They took away our commissions,” he says.

The bay lights overhead clang off. There’s one little lamp behind him.

“They want you to work with no tape measure and no commission?”

His forehead furrows and I can tell from his cheeks there is a pained smile under his face mask.

“Exactly, sir.”

I look up at big, dark Macy’s.

“Hey,” I ask. “Do you write your own music, too?”

His eyes crinkle.

“I don’t like to say so, but since you ask,” he says.

He pulls out his phone. Plays a video on it. It is a symphony he wrote. A violin is playing. Then come deeper clarinets and cellos to harmonize with it. The music crashes into a big all-together repeat of the thing the violin was saying at the start.

“It’s amazing,” I say.

He tucks the receipt in the bag.

“Please enjoy your evening sir,” he says.

“Thank you, you too.”

He pauses the symphony on his phone, and tucks it into his pocket.

I leave the closed store, finding my way by the few security lights.

You could be like me

Uganda Political Pin Back Button of General Idi Amin Dada | Pinback, East  africa, Pin backs

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It’s a warm evening on South Beach.

Fish bowls of blue cocktail drink on the table, and friends from back home visiting.

Reggaeton blasting. Crowds of people tramping up and down the block.

The beach is just across the street. You can’t hear, smell, or see it under the music, cooking food, and darkness, but it’s there.

Steve and I are raving drunk. Laughing about something moronic. Our dates are getting to know each other.

“Buttons for sale, buttons for sale.”

A Rasta man with his head in a giant wrap wears a coat completely covered in pin buttons.

He rattles one lapel at me.

“Buttons for sale,” he says.

Jesus, Sinatra, Hailie Selassie, Marley, Marylyn, Elvis, Bogart all on buttons.

“Hey!” I say.

Lurching a little at this point.

“That’s Idi Amin! He’s on your jacket with Elvis and Jesus and whoever.”

“So what?”

“He eats people!”

“So what?”

“So Rastas don’t even eat meat but you got a guy who eats people on your button.”

“That’s not my problem!” he says.

I think about that. Deeply drunk, it sounds like logic.

I mean, who’s problem would it be, then?

“You want to buy that man eater button?”

“No man, I’m good.”

“Can’t be thinkin’ you’re above other people,” he says. But with good humor and a smile.

“I don’t, in fact, I was probably a guy like you in another life.”

Steve drunk laughs at the mental image. My date looks at me suspiciously. I think I’m slurring my words a little.

“You could be a guy like me in this life, too. You don’t need your things.”

“You’re right, take my jacket,” I say.

I unhook it from the back of my chair. Shove it right at the Rasta man, who is shocked.

Steve puts his hand on my jacket.

“You sir, are officially drunk,” Steve says. He’s swaying a little himself, though.

The Rasta man is laughing hysterically now.

He walks away, still laughing.

You can hear his jacket buttons jingling for a mile.