Personal Space

Over the past year or so I have had nearly every single shirt I own tailored by my dry cleaner. I'm a skinny guy so he takes it in on the sides and makes the sleeves a little slimmer. He's asian, and even though he's been doing it for 40 plus years, I'm not sure how many of those years have been in the US because his English isn't very good.

He also seems to think he remembers me from when I was a child, which is impossible, because I've only been going to him for five years.

Whatever, nonsense aside, we communicate fine. He's friendly and he does good work.

What usually happens is this:

I walk in with a couple of shirts and tell him I need them tailored. He turns on the light in the two foot by two foot "dressing room" ( storage space) and I put on my different shirts. I then emerge and stand in front of the mirror with him behind me. After rifling through a box of safety pins on the floor, and taking out a couple the procedure moves forward exactly the same every single time. Without fail it goes like this:

Just take it in on the sides please.

Ohhh yea. Skinny, skinny.

Haha yep.

Not too much. Not too much.

No just bring it in.

Sleeve too.


Then he turns me around and unbuttons my shirt for me.

In the middle of the store.

Sometimes there are other customers there, sometimes it's just his son who also works there, he's about my age.

But at this point, having my dry cleaner unbutton my shirt is only slightly awkward. I tack it up to him providing full service tailoring. I mean, who doesn't like full service. When you get a suit tailored they put your jacket on for you. I think of it as just an extension of that.

Granted, the fact that he then taps me on the chest once my shirt is open and says

Too skinny,

That I could probably do without.

He then writes up my ticket and asks my name. I tell him and he says the same thing every time.

Ah yes Rich man.

Not yet I say. Not yet.

And I leave the store, or transaction over without me ever commenting on or reacting to the awkwardness of his practices.

At this point though its almost tradition. and plus, I'm pretty much had all my shirts tailored.

I'm sure it's some sort of cultural divide. Though I'm not sure that asian dry cleaners are known for being extremely hands on. Maybe it's just him.

I can practically see you nodding along with that last statement.

I wouldn't say I get special treatment on the regular, not that a handsy dry cleaner is really special treatment, but once in a while people pay extra attention for me. And it's nice. It can feel good to stand out amongst an expanding mass.

When I was a kid, my elementary school was shaped like an L. Two floors. Not a big building by any means. The main office where the principle and other school officials ( who else was there?) was on the first floor. It was where you reported for two reasons. One, when you were in trouble. Two, when you were getting picked up early.

The main desk in the office was operated by a sweet middle aged lady with a voice that was built for the ears of children.

It was accented with a bit of Long Island and sprinkled with a little bit of sugar so that every time you talked to her, you felt like you were getting some kind of special treatment. Or at least I did. Then again I was a semi-cute kid, at least in the eyes of adults.

I liked her for the same reason you like most adults as a child... I just did.

I probably rarely saw her outside of that office or desk. I don't even remember how tall she actually was. She was always there though, like a comfort fixture. Makeup and perfume and hair always the same. That voice the anchor of the office.

I remember being sick one day while my class was using toothpicks to excavate the chips from chocolate chip cookies. (I have no idea what the lesson of the day was). After my illness was confirmed by the most prophetic of education officials (the school nurse) my mother was called and I was sent to the main office to wait for her to arrive. I shuffled in and Mrs Parisi said something in the sweetest voice that has reverberated softly in my ears for the last 20 years.

Whats the matter Butch?

Now of course my name isn't and wasn't butch. It definitely wasn't a nickname of mine. And it wasn't even the name of anybody in the school. I'm not sure I had ever heard the name before she said it.

But it sounded wonderful coming out of her mouth. It confirmed my weakened, sickened state and made me feel special.

I'd say I always wanted to feel special as a kid, but really, that hasn't changed much.

Now, it's very possible that's what she called every little boy in the school. After all, remembering the names of kids who weren't chronically ill or bad couldn't be easy. But that didn't matter to me because that thought never crossed my mind.

All that mattered was that I was Butch and I was sick and I was loved and I was going to get a little bit of extra attention from somebody I liked.

If only she were my dry cleaner.