I walked into the non-air conditioned tailor shop, sweating as it was, struggling with the six suits slumped over my shoulder. Despite they're just being cloth and buttons and thread, they were still heavy and burdensome. But I had been pushing this day off for quite some time and it had to get done.
I was there, in this random strip-mall location, because I was getting my father's suits fitted to my specifications. And it only seemed appropriate that I get them done at the same place my father used to bring his newly purchased suits. I was also sure that it would cheaper in New Jersey than at the cleaners in New York City who had a tendency to rip the shirt off your back and then dry clean it.
The tailor, his name I can't remember, was a large tall black man with an accent of some kind (he said later on that he was from the Caribbean). He had a gold chain around his muscular neck and a gold bracelet hanging from his wrist, he wore a sweaty white shirt with the first few buttons open and the sleeves rolled up. I had never been there before so he asked me who I was.
"My mom lives around here," I said. I explained that these suits were my dad's and I now had them to wear. Except they were obviously too big on me.
"Did your fahtha leeve around 'ere?" he asked.
I said, yes, and in fact, he had been here before.
"Oh, 'oo is your fahtha?"
"Oh yes, I know eem. What a wonderful mahn. So friendlee. 'Ow is he?"
Apparently, no one had told him. And why should anybody have. It's not like the local tailor gets the synagogue bulletin. This exchange is one that I always dread having. The one I want to avoid desperately. How do you tactfully tell someone your father has passed away without making him or her feel bad? I didn't know. Not then. And I still don't.
"He actually passed away a few months back," I solemnly said but not too solemnly so as not to upset my friend with the measuring tape and needle in hand.
"Oh, dear. That's terrible. I'm so sorry. How 'orrible." And he then went on with all the fond memories he and my father shared. As if my father's occasional visits were the highlights of this man's career. In truth, I wasn't paying much attention. I was too busy focusing on how crappy this whole scene was. My standing in the tailor, my father's tailor, trying on his suits, the suits he used to wear. All because he no longer had use for them.
We eventually changed the topic, still mentioning my Dad every so often.
"Your dad always had nice tayste," the tailor said while examining the suit I was wearing. "He always brought in such nice suits. So proud that 'ee found 'em on sale. Ha ha."
Ha ha. I laughed along with him. So true.
I went back and forth into the changing room, putting on another pair of his pants. Then his jackets. I had never noticed how much larger my father was than I was. I guess I never paid that much attention to his waste size.
As I continued to put the pants on (it seemed that I was now the one to wear pants in the family), I would discover something in the pockets every so often. I could always count on my father for many things but one particular quality that he always delivered on was tissues from his back pocket. An admirable habit considering he never used them--they were always for others to use. And I used them quite frequently. "Why don't you get your own," he would joke. Because as long as your around, I don't have to.
But on this afternoon, hot and humid, air condition-less, I took them out, dropped them on the floor and saw his tissues pile into a makeshift memorial to his reliability. All those tissues, all of them for other peoples' noses.
I stood there, looking in the mirror, seeing myself in a suit I had once seen my Dad in, not too long ago. And I got a bit creeped out. It was eerie. It was almost ghostly. Like in the movies, when someone gets sent down from heaven and put into someone else's body to save a family fortune or to tell his wife he loves her for one last time (or in an M. Night Shymalam movie, to solve a murder). One minute your person A but then you look in the mirror and you're person B.
I came out wearing the final suit that I would try on that day and stepped up onto the platform positioned before the triple angled mirror. The tailor began working on what would be his final Steven Dworken suit.
With pins in his mouth, he looked up and said, "your fahtha was truly, truly a wonderful mahn. You 'ave some large shoes to fill."
And unfortunately, it seemed, as I looked at my reflection one more time, some suits as well.