There’s an old joke about a guy who moves out of town and a year later discovers a ticket for a shirt he left at the dry cleaners. On a business trip back to the town, he decides to stop at the cleaners, where he presents the ticket. The attendant checks, comes back, and tells him his shirt will be ready “next Tuesday.”
I had a similar experience this week with a full-length, woolen overcoat that I bought in the mid nineties. I have traveled a lot since then, moving around in multiple places on both coasts. I kept the coat with me wherever I went even though it came in handy only twice. Both times involved shoveling snow; once in Silver Spring, Maryland when eighty inches fell in two days, and once in the Bronx.
I liked the coat, although I can’t explain why. Even if the weather warranted wearing it, fashion did not. It looked strictly out of an earlier age, like those overcoats of the Winkie Guards, the Wicked Witch of the West’s foot soldiers from The Wizard of Oz (1939). I may even have stomped around chanting “Oh-Ee-Yah! Ee-Oh-Ah!” after a few nips of brandy from my flask.
After all this time, I still struggled with whether or not to keep it. I don’t like to throw things out and have kept diaries and journals dating back to 1970, newspapers from the JFK assassination, blue book exams, manuscripts, letters, cards, calendars, old boxing gloves, a three-speed Schwinn, and all manner of things my kids made in grammar school from paperweights to bookmarks, napkin holders, drawings, essays, and something we nicknamed “the slab.” No one knows what it is, so we use it as a doorstop.
I pulled the overcoat out from the bottom drawer where I had tucked it away for the past four years. It was made in Hungary from pure wool. Unfortunately, something had been eating it, which is what happens when you do away with mothballs in favor of sachets of cedar shavings.
In the end, I doubled down. I took the coat to my dry cleaners a block away. They know me. I explained in short phrases and hand gestures that I wanted it hemmed just above the damaged part. The owners, a Vietnamese mother and daughter, understood and eagerly took on the job. They wrote it up, gave me a receipt, and told me “next Tuesday.”
By the time I got home I knew I had made a mistake. I didn’t want the coat. I already had a cashmere overcoat (mid length), a winter coat from London Fog, a pea coat, jackets, and sports coats. I needed to simplify, not complicate, my life. So, I ended up doing what I do in these situations: nothing. I let Tuesday come and go. Then I let the next Tuesday come and go. I did this for six months.
I am not an irresponsible man. I try to keep my word. In this case, though, it was hard to do since I did not pay in advance. That is, I could get away with forgetting about the whole thing, and it wouldn’t have cost me a dime. Not right away at least. But my conscience got the better of me, and I decided to man up. I had to pick up the coat.
I waited until I had something to take in. I handed the item over and then showed the mother my crumpled receipt for the overcoat. She checked the computer and, not finding a match, opened a drawer in the counter. She pulled out a wad of receipts held together with a hair clip. She went through each one slowly, comparing them to mine. After a few minutes, she called the daughter over. They had a brief exchange. I tried to interject the same short phrases and hand gestures from six months earlier.
Finally, the daughter looked at me and said, “Sorry, too long, too long.” “What do you mean?” I asked, knowing full well what she meant. “Coat gone, coat gone!” she said excitedly. “What, you got rid of it?” “Yes, yes…coat gone!”
The relief was instantaneous. I felt unburdened and as clean as if I had just left the confessional. All I could do was laugh. The daughter laughed, too, and returned to her sewing machine. The mother rang up the bill but did not charge me for the overcoat. What luck, I thought. Then she said, meekly, “You pay now, yes?”
I paid. It was the least I could do.
Image credits: feature by Sebastiaan Stam; cleaners by Alex Simpson. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” This post is dedicated to fellow writer, George Young.