Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Not-So Sinister Shirt

"It was a seriously sinister shirt."  

That's the opening line from EGGMAN, the novel I wrote about a guy named Clive who devolves from consultant to bike messenger in a jittery post-9/11 NYC  and in the process gets back everything he's lost.  (Or something.)  

Clive needed the Right Shirt for his new job.  He "researched, located, ordered and purchased the most deadly shirt available." He found it at Biscotti Bros. in NoLiTa, "formerly a bakery and now this, bespoke tailoring, word-of-mouth client list, original tile floor, vicious attention to detail and a deep belief in sartorial violence."  I made up the shop because I needed it for the book.

But now I needed a shirt shop.  I needed a shirt for a speaking gig in London.  Not the most deadly shirt available but one that fit, one that I could believe in, one that would eliminate one source of doubt and leave me freer to do my thing with confidence.  I didn't have a shirt like that.  

I started looking online.  I'd seen a very nice shirt at A.P.C a while back so I checked them out.  Also agnes b because they had always interested me, especially after reading about agnes herself.  I looked at Paul Smith because he likes bicycles and designes nice eyewear.  And Barneys.  I figured I could walk into Barneys and somebody would happily sell me an expensive shirt.  But here's the thing with mens's dress shirts:  They're blue. And white, grey, pink, gingham, black, but mostly blue.  Which I already knew.  But I didn't want a blue shirt, and I didn't want to pay two hundred dollars for one either.  Or three hundred.  Which is easy to do, it turns out.  

I mentioned my shirt quandary to Dave.  Without hesitating, he said, "Peacocks." Peacocks?  "On Clinton Street.  Go to the Peacocks."  So I did.  20 Peacocks on Clinton Street.  Not NoLiTa, but close enough.  This keeps happening—I make something up for a novel and then it appears in my life. Performance art in an abandoned swimming pool, exclusive basement sushi and now this.  
(This must happen to William Gibson on a daily basis.) Some things just have to exist.   I walked there in the rain.  It was farther from the Broadway Lafyette stop than I remembered.  It was also different than I remembered from dropping off my drummer at his place at 4 in the morning back in the day.  The Hat was still there (thank god) but the heroin dealers hanging in doorways had been replaced with Europeans on iPhones and I coud now buy a laptop there instead of having mine stolen.  

20 Peacocks was closed.  There was a note on the door.  "Gone around the corner.  Back in a few minutes.  Minna" With a phone number.  I texted the number.  Hi.  I'm at your shop.  I'd like to buy a shirt.  Thanks!  Nobody came or texted back.  I gave Minna 15 minutes.  I looked through the windows at the shop and the shirts on the racks.  They looked good, I was definitely predisposed to buy one.  I'd walked all the way there, and now waited in the rain for the chance to even see one.  I'd read up on the place before I came.  They did custom shirts made in Italy.  They measured you up, you chose from a thousand fabrics, you picked buttons and threads and all that.  A few weeks later you got your shirt.  I respected this process but didn't have time for it.  They also had a few shirts you could buy off the rack. That's what I was after—If Minna ever showed up. 

I was about to leave when she finally arrived, holding a package of toilet paper.  She wasn't indifferent to me, a customer, being in her shop, but she wasn't apologetic for making me wait while she ran errands or particularly engaged either.   Minna has very intense blue eyes and an accent I couldn't place.   She let me in and put the toilet paper down somewhere.  Then she showed me the shirts.  Her attitude was "you found this place, you know what you're doing, buy a shirt."  It was a test.  Could I find the right one? She didn't sell me on anything.  She sized me up by eye and pulled the relevant choices.  There were two racks in play.  One held samples and custom shirts that had been ordered but never picked up, the other had the ready-to-wear shirts.  She sort of shrugged off the samples and pointed me to the ready-to-wear jobs. I went through them quickly and landed on a light blue one with yellow and darker blue lines that made squares. The changing room was a triangular corner next to the door behind a flimsy curtain. It fit perfectly.  It was $149 but Minna said that there was a father's day sale coming up soon so she would give me 20% off ahead of time.  

But when I tried it on again at home I wasn't feeling it.  Something about the yellow? The blue?  It was pleasant enough.  But it was weak.  There wasn't any point in buying a weak shirt no matter how well it fit.  I wanted this shirt to eliminate doubt, not add to it.  The shirt didn't work.  It had to go back. 

I returned the next day, in the rain.  Minna was there this time, and she didn't look surprised to see me.  I told her the shirt wasn't working for me.  She shrugged,  Minna didn't care, but was happy to let me choose another one.  But there wasn't another ready-to-wear that would work, we'd been through them all yesterday.  I drifted to the samples.  The slate grey one needed cufflinks.  I have never owned cufflinks.  I couldn't handle shopping for cufflinks on top of finding the Right Shirt (and let's not even go into the Shoe Problem). Dispair hung like a wave over me, about to crash down.  I had failed.  The Peacocks had failed.  I would be clothed in doubt and fuck up my talk. 

But.  There.  The blue one.  I'd ignored it because I was determined not to by a blue shirt. But this one had contrasting black buttons.  It was short-ish so it would look good untucked, which was my usual mode.  When I pressed her, Minna reluctantly conceded that it fit better than the one I had bought the day before, looked better, was better made and in fact was the proper choice all along.  I could tell that she knew this was true yesterday but felt deeply that it was something I had to discover for myself.    Yes.  This was the Shirt.  I asked for the exchange.  And this shirt was on the $89 rack!  Could I have the difference applied back to my credit card?  Minna indicated a minuscule sign on the wall behind her that I swear hadn't been there before.  I couldn't read it but I didn't have to.  I wasn't getting the money back on my card.  Minna wrote me up a receipt and a note.  I have a credit at 20 Peacocks.  Maybe someday I'll have a custom shirt made, with contrasting thread and triple-buttoned sleeves.  In bright orange stripes.  It didn't matter. Because now I had the Shirt. 

But I still fucked up the talk.  

from Paul Clarke's flickr 

(When I got home I noticed something else about the shirt.  It was monogrammed.  There was a small AZ on the right sleeve in contrasting thread.  The shirt had been ordered and never picked up.  Perhaps it was due to the economic crisis, or the guy exactly my size who had ordered it died.  Whoever you are, AZ, thank you. It's a fine shirt.)

UPDATE: On April 5 I got a text from Dave.  "Peacocks Dead."  So now where do I go to get my shirts?