There is the hiss of the steam and the smell of fresh laundry; the mist of the starch before it stiffens. Her movements are methodical. She lifts and turns the shirt just so, pressing the point of the iron into any nooks and crannies. She smokes a cigarette while she irons. The glass ashtray sits on the edge of the board. Her cigarette spends more time dangling from one corner of her mouth than being smoked. She only waves it over the ashtray seconds before the accumulated weight of ashes fall. Her husband sits in his black slacks and white wife beater at the Formica kitchen table. He is waiting, reading the newspaper too close to his face. ~When I am given this image of my grandmother preparing for her husband’s workday, the smell of the smoking cigarette seems to be missing. I sense they were relieved from the shame of showing up anywhere smelling like smoke, because everyone around them smoked. To smell a cigarette now is rare. I have grown up and away from hugging people that smell like smoke.
There was one evening years ago in NYC, I will never forget. I walked quit the ways down to the West Village to meet a guy for dinner at a lovely seafood restaurant. Feeling a bit anxious about my over-heated presentation, I show up to him seated at a table outside, waiting. I have no opportunity to go in first to the ladies and fluff myself if need be. When he stands up to greet me, I see he is wearing a t-shirt and khakis. This had to have been disentangled from a ball of clothes out of a plastic hamper -is what I’d imagined. A wrinkled mess. I am disgusted. Who cares what I look like at this point? I don’t recall the conversation other than having little in common politically. I never acknowledged him afterwards; was so turned off. First impressions.
We walk away with only impressions. This comingles the story we have told ourselves about ourselves, and the story we have told ourselves about the other person.
In one of my trips to Chicago, I flew in for one night to eat at a famous restaurant, Alinea. I was told when booking the hotel room that an iron and board were available. I always like to press things after they’ve been folded up during travel. I was not told that the whole setup was actually in a linen closet, the size of a broom closet, at the end of the hallway from my room; only accessible by housekeeping staff. I made a fuss over the phone and they unlocked the door for me. I took myself right down there and ironed my slacks for dinner. Yes I did. Effort. Put it in.
I have known my tailor for fifteen years. She still apologizes, demurely, every time she pulls the receipt for me sign. And I tell her every time, never apologize. It’s worth it; it’s always been worth it. It will always be worth it.
A wardrobe is the whole matter of what to wear
Around whom and for whom
To do what and for what occasion
Always suit the setting
If one is to complain about the cold, they are told
Dress for the season, all terrains
Be prepared for anything
Each character in every scene
All these manners and all these matters
Of carrying on and presenting oneself
In days with many wrinkles and days as sharp as a crease
Effort is not for naught, as one can play up the role
In all the scenes.
The weather can change.
She is adaptable to various settings.
Or appear as a different person around different people.
There is an art to all the dressing and presentation
First came the thought, then the action
She shows up as a final feeling
Underneath, she is always impressing upon
Underneath, she is always starched and proper
She is buttoned all the way to the top
The antithesis of cleavage displayed
She hears the hiss from the steam and smells of fresh laundry