Thursday, June 16, 2011

For the sniff of a pound

Now I love a bargain just as much as any post-war immigrant, and if you throw-in a bit of flattery to boot, I'm anyone's.  So with the sniff of a discount on the frigid morning wind, I found myself shivering on the shady side of the street last Saturday at 10.02, surrounded by a bunch of Greek yiayias and Italian nonnas waiting for the cheap shirt factory outlet to open its doors for the weekly octogenarian stoush between the Aegeans and the Mediterraneans, as they fight over the limited selection of excess garments for their husbands, sons, grandsons and more than likely, their great grandsons.  My plan was to get in and out as quickly as I could before the garlic-laced snarls began and the elbows and walking-sticks started flying.

The bloke who runs the place is of similar ethnic stock to his elderly customers, with both the look and manner of a cruise-ship crooner.  As his trade would dictate, he is always impeccably [over]dressed in a fine, tailored suit and massive cufflinks, and his thick, dark hair is bolstered above his head in one gigantic wave which, if not for the Gulf of Mexico-sized oil slick holding it in place, threatens to crash down on anyone within 6 feet like a devastating, deep-fried tsunami.  His olive skin and hands look impeccably manicured, and this rather dated, visual ensemble is capped-off with a kind of forced affability which is no doubt a winner with the early-morning ladies, but not quite what a fashionably awkward, moderately hung over Donkey is after at this un-Godly hour on a Saturday morning.

Or so I thought, until this Casanova de Couture decided to redirect his charm offensive from the aggressive hoards going mole-covered-head to mole-covered-head on the other side of the store, to quiet, unassuming Donkey who was pretty certain he knew his business when it came to buying a plain, single-pastel business shirt and matching tie. 

"Just these thanks", I mumbled as I unconfidently placed my items on the counter, the correct change in my hand ready to handover as I prepared my bolt for the door.

"A 43, Sir?", he queried with a friendly smile, "Sure, you've got a muscular, manly neck, but you cut a much finer figure than a 43".

Oh shit ... confrontation!  What do I do now?  "Ah, um ... I always wear a 43 when I have to wear a tie", I whisper lamely.

"Sure, you can if you like", he oozes, casting an appraising eye up and down, "but I think it far better to show off, not hide your fine torso.  I would suggest you go with the 42, and if you have trouble with the top button, just pull it off and sew it a bit closer to the edge".

Paralysed with fear at this unexpected buoying of my chronic low self esteem, and with all of my brain's reason-centres completely flaccid, all I can hear are the words, "fine torso" being sung to me in celestial operatic crescendo.  With my vocal chords strung-out like the neck of a rubber chicken, I dumbly accept the 42, hand over my cash and stumble out the door past two gnarled, elderly dwarves having a tug-of-war over a long-sleeved, paisley retro number.

Once across the threshold, as the cold air rushes my cheeks and begins to clear the cotton wool from my flattery-addled brain, I exhale my puffed-up, manly chest that had been swelling with each utterance from the salesman, and with that expulsion of gravity-defying hot air, I assume my usual, stooped slouch as the dread at what I had just done washes over me.  Against all my now-returning reasoning, I was too embarrassed to go back inside to change the size as I knew I ought; I'd been conned, plain and simple.  So, feeling as low and disgruntled as I always do after having bought clothes, I headed home to bury my shame under the doona.

The reason I had broken with my instincts that morning to venture out into the world to buy clothes, was that I had been invited to a very special luncheon this week with the Prime Minister of Samoa; obviously not something which happens every day, and something for which, I believe, requires just a little bit more effort in the wardrobe department than my usual shorts and thongs.  Unfortunately, I allowed my usual lackadaisical, "she'll be right" approach to my work infiltrate my preparation for this luncheon, and so here I was, in the last hours before the city retail outlets shut down for a long weekend, buying an outfit for the event.

The importance of the event, and my ill-preparedness for same, makes my decision not to return to the store for the 43 all the more unforgivable.  "Not to worry, Donkey.  You've got plenty of time over the weekend to sort the shirt and buttons out".  Of course, you're right ... but did I mention my lackadaisical, "she'll be right" attitude to everything?

At 11pm on Monday evening, literally 12 hours before I was due to shake the Samoan PM's hand, and share with him a pre-lunch sherry in the palatial reception hall of Government House, I sat with shaking hands trying to sew a button on my new shirt such that I would be able to do it up and adorn it with my new tie.  No worries – all done by 11.45pm; thread broken, shirt put aside, and off to bed.  Absolutely no need to check if I'd done it right.

The next morning was the usual, pre-work flurry of breakfasts, showers and cleaning Hambones' projectile porridge off the dining room wall.  As I got ready to leave the house, I decided not to wear my tie on the tram, but rather preferred to leave my top button undone until I was due to head to my luncheon.

Upon reaching the office, it was all wolf-whistles and lewd remarks from my workmates who were astonished at my lack of open footwear, and I was urged to don the tie for a squiz.  "Too busy!", I scoffed, and went about my work.

At about 9.30pm, I got a call from the big boss requesting a word about something else, and only then did I decide to put on my tie, and present the full ensemble.

No worries – the button did up easily, the tie slid on and I went on my way ... NOT!  Now THAT would have been a shit story!  What really happened, as my huge, bratwurst fingers wrestled with my collar, was that my knees started shaking, my "oh-so-buff" shirt became drenched with sweat and my already ruddy face became aflame with embarrassment and shame.  What the fark was I going to do now?  I was due to meet the Prime Minister of Samoa in just over an hour!

Immediately I set about trying to find a needle and thread ... but this was a modern, Australian office, not the set of Mad Men; there were no hot secretaries to be ever at the ready for any kind of crisis, with a secret stash of aftershave, freshly-ironed trousers or a sewing kit.  No one had anything like that – I was totally screwed.

Forty minutes later, after having jumped on a tram to fashionable Chapel St, been swindled by possibly the only designer-label sewing shop in the Southern hemisphere, and having legged-it 1.5 kilometres back to the office, I was sitting, shirtless on a toilet seat, squinting in the dim light as I tried to thread the expensive cotton through the needle.

With the precious seconds ticking like a great, booming base drum in my ear, I fumbled again and again with the pointy implement, but finally emerged from the cubicle, ready, like a champion female weight lifter from Eastern Europe, to attempt a final clean and jerk to affix my top button.

Again and again I extended my neck, screwed-up my face, sucked-in my breath, wiped my sweaty hands ... all to no avail.  It was about five millimetres too tight ... I was totally screwed; the first ever cretin to be invited to lunch with a national leader, only to be refused entry through inappropriate attire.  In a final burst of desperation, my eyes burning with humiliating tears, I reached for the scissors and cut along the button-eye, extending the hole by the required five millimetres.  My shame burned hotter than ever as I saw the frayed mess I had created, and with little enthusiasm, I twisted my body into one final attempt ... urgh, argh, uuurgh ... yes!  It went in!  It went in!  Aaaargh!  Noooo, it slipped out again; my sharp-scissored handy work had made the hole too big for the button.  That was it.  I was done for.

And just at that point, as my self esteem plummeted into the depths of dark despair, some kind of physiological, auto-pilot thing took over, and against all reasoning, I decided to give it one more go.  With my body convulsing in audible sobs, I pushed, and twisted, and sucked-in air, and wrestled and again the button went in.  This time, I was too scared to let go, but with the wall clock now indicating 'Time', I had no choice.  Very slowly, I exhaled, and one at a time, I took my trembling hands from my neck.  It stuck.  Just as gently, my face turning from shameful red to oxygen-starved blue, I slowly secured my new tie, and only when all was in place and seemingly staying together did I dare breathe.

I'd done it!  Off I went to Government House, and after presenting my credentials at the gate, I glided into the ornate reception hall and to the warm handshake of the Honourable Prime Minister and his entourage of Samoan Parliamentary Ministers.  As the PM and I exchanged platitudes, I was again struck, as one often is after having not been around Samoans for a while, just how massive they are; big armed, big legged, big bodied and big necked.  Hang-on!

And suddenly I was reminded of the difficulty that many senior government officials in Samoa, as the few amongst their countrymen who ever have occasion to wear ties, wrestle with every day.  Due to the sheer impossibility of finding a shirt that could ever reach around those massive necks, every one of them gathered there that morning wore his tie at half mast, having tried in vain to secure them as high as possible, without having been able to affix their top buttons.

I'll never, ever try to save money on clothes again.*

You try getting a shirt around that neck.  Pic:

* - I have absolutely no intention of honouring this pledge.


Anonymous said...

Bravo.obligation met.
challenge faced down.
lesson learned.

Now, about sewing on a button.
I can change a flat, even if the tyre place has tightened the bloody nuts beyond sense.

The key element for succesful needle threading is a clean cut of the thread. good luck in future.
X X annie O'D

Ann O'Dyne said...

... and Samoa? I just read an Alan Bennett story which mentioned it. funny, that.

Amber Crumer said...

The key element for succesful needle threading is a clean cut of the thread. good luck in the near future.