Being in a theater posse right now is like being a champion hot dog eater the week of Nathan’s Famous July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Contest, meaning it has no impact on your ordinary life whatsoever until one day you are sitting on your couch eating macaroni and cheese directly from the pot and all of a sudden you are called like Batman to rise to the occasion. What occasion? The Tony Awards, which air this Sunday, June 11, 8P.M.ET/PT only on CBS.
I have no less than three parties to attend leading up to the event, starting with an informal affair tonight (sponsored by Budweiser, always smooth, never watered down). But two of the events I have to dominate with my masculine lack of theatrical knowledge this weekend require formal dress, which is sort of a problem because I have precisely enough formal dress (one black suit) for one occasion.
I know, it’s disappointing. I imagine myself to be the kind of guy who owns at least five suits, if not a tuxedo. Instead, I’m the guy who bought a black suit when he needed something to wear to a funeral and remained content with that for a couple of years, never really feeling like I needed variety because “black is the old every other color” and I appreciate history.
But now I am faced with back-to-back events, Saturday and Sunday, both of which will likely have many similar attendees. And I will be a lot of things in this life, but I refuse to be “the guy who wears the same suit with a different tie to a gala the day after he wore the suit to a separate gala the day before.” Just like I refuse to be the guy who falls for his favorite hooker. It’s tacky.
So on my lunch break today I walked over to Century 21, which bills itself “New York’s Best Kept Secret,” and I guess they would be right if they were only trying to keep the secret from normal, socially adjusted upper/upper-middle class people. But I guess it’s true what they say, you really can’t keep a secret from a European tourist, because this place is the modern day Ellis Island. An actual conversation I had with someone while I was looking through the tie section:
Tourist: (holding up a tie) “What tie this like?”
Me: (confused as to what he means) “It’s like this one?” (I point to another one of the same tie on the rack, as though we were playing a children’s game.)
After I ran away from that awkward situation, I went upstairs to the vast expanse of steeply discounted designer men’s suits. My plan was to get a medium gray suit, something a shade lighter than business and a shade darker than Ryan Seacrest on “American Idol.” I have a specific idea in my head and am intent on going through quickly to look for precisely this. I get halfway down the first aisle of suits, bend down to look at one on a lower rack and, out of the corner of my eye, see a salesman fast approach. I have my iPod on, and as I wrote before, my ear phones prevent me from hearing any of the outside world. My standard procedure is to briefly remove one ear bud, say, “I’m just looking, thanks,” put the ear bud back in and go about my business. Usually, when speaking to sane people, it works fine. However this guy was insane. So insane, in fact, that at first he appeared sane. He was the kind of insane that people refer to when they are questioned about the serial killer who used to be their neighbor and they say, “He always seemed so nice, so normal.”
So he approaches quickly and I give him my best “I’m just looking, thanks,” and he immediately extends his hand and says, “What’s your name? I’m Sean.” Suddenly we’re friends and in five seconds he has a tape measure wrapped around my chest and all I can think is, Where the hell did that tape measure come from?
I figure I may as well go along with it and let him do his job. I tell him that I am looking for a gray suit and before the sentence is finished he is sliding a black suit jacket up my arm. He moves with the quickness of a woodland creature and, I only notice now as I peer at him through the mirror standing behind me, the same wide, rabid eyes.
As I stand there, unable to comprehend what is happening, he is ordering me to swing my arms and saying things like, “Tennis players develop uneven arms,” and “You seem active, are you active? Do you play ball?” all the while holding my elbows, manually swinging my arms for me and letting them go, interrupting his own sentences to yell “LET THEM HANG, LET THEM HANG!”
This is where I tell myself, You need to get out of this. One of my problems is I am extremely polite to strangers. I talk to bus drivers, waitresses, deli counter workers, etc. And especially when someone is performing a service for me, I feel indebted to them. (The first time The Girlfriend had Fresh Direct delivered to our apartment, I tipped the delivery guy $10 because he looked like he might die after carrying two cases of water up the five flights.) So when a situation like this gets out of hand, I have a hard time simply stopping and saying, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to look around by myself now.” God, if only I had said that . . .
He takes the black suit and says, “OK, we’ll try this on.” I reiterate that I am looking for a gray suit and he pulls a navy suit off the rack saying, “This one is your size.” I imagine this is what it would be like to interact with a dog if there was ever invented a device to translate “dog” into “human.” He takes the blue suit and we begin walking towards the dressing room. I realize that the only way out of this situation is to leave, so I decide to do whatever will lead to me leaving the quickest. I follow him towards the dressing room. After two steps, he turns with one of his rapid movements and says, standing no farther than four inches from my face, “Do you have any brothers and sisters?”
I am thinking, “He could stab me and I would not be surprised.”
I tell him that I have two sisters and he proceeds to say, “Your girlfriend will really like this suit on you. Or are you still young? Still playing the field? Don’t get greedy though, what happens when people get greedy is they end up alone. Because one day you look for a nice girl and all the nice girls have been taken. But then the problem is that you marry a nice girl and she’s wondering where you are all the time because you work 13 hours a day and, I mean, she can’t have it all, you know?”
He goes on like this for some time and the story evolves into a personal experience of his, the details of which I am fuzzy on because I am using all of my mental capabilities at this point to a) figure out what is going on here, and b) get out of it alive. I try to make my way towards the dressing room, doing that slow walk people do in the middle of a conversation that politely suggests, “Let’s walk while we talk,” although my steps are larger and more frenetic, suggesting maybe, “Let me run and I promise I won’t scream.” He takes a step or two with me, talking the whole time, before stopping again and gently touching my arm to suggest, “Let’s stop and talk, because what I have to say is important,” whereas I take it to mean, “Let’s stop, it’s harder to hit a moving target.”
My next thought is to pretend to look at suits, because after all he is a salesman and he would want me to look at suits. We make it over to a rack in the stunted two-step we have developed, and I begin to thumb through, looking up every so often to say, “Uh huh.” He has now moved on to a story concerning a friend of his who bought a motorcycle and stopped paying child support. He asks me if I come from a broken home and I reply, “Does this come in gray?” holding up a Hugo Boss. He steps closer and says, “Listen,” and I am suddenly wedged in between two racks of suits backed up against a railing, below which is a 50 foot drop to the first floor. I consider jumping, while at the same time considering that I am living an early Tom Hanks film.
After five minutes of intensely close talk, mostly about how overpriced a Rolls Royce is, he backs off and, like reaching the eye of a hurricane, politely says, “Let’s try those suits on.” I finally get a good look at more of him than his nose and notice that what I previously considered to be a nice, progressive outfit is actually the dress of a lunatic. There is a large stain on the stomach of his pink shirt and his yellow polka dotted tie is slightly askew, giving off the air of a clown, or of a man who hastily put his tie back on after strangling someone with it in the dressing room. Only now does it cross my mind that this man might not even work at Century 21.
I rush to the dressing room and he stands at the entrance like my mother saying, “Come out and show me!” I try to make eye contact with someone else to blink SOS, but everyone is fully engrossed with the discounted designer fashion. I close the curtain behind me and compose myself.
My first thought is to write on the wall, “HELP! SALESMAN IN PINK MURDERER!” but all I have with me is chap stick, which would probably show up with some ultraviolet light from “CSI” but it would certainly be too late by the time they got there. Instead, I steel myself to the fact that I am going to have to be bold and rude and aggressive and simply force myself out of this store. I amp myself up and storm from the dressing room. The dressing room attendant says, “Sir, you need to take your clothes with you and place them back on the rack,” and I reply, “Oh right, sorry. OK I’ll get them.” I am cold-blooded assassin.
After retrieving my clothes, I make my way out of the dressing room again and stealthily move through the store. The crazy salesman is nowhere in sight. I speed up, turn the corner, thinking I am free. Then I see him, on the phone behind the register. I realize I forgot my water bottle in the dressing room. I can’t go back. It’s now or never. I walk past the register quickly, looking down at the suit in my hand as though I hadn’t noticed it was there. I am moving towards the stairs, race walking, and I hear him behind me. “Sir, how were those for you?” I refuse to turn around. In a move equal parts deft and desperate, I hang the two suits up on a rack without breaking stride and head for the stairs, which I consider to be the barrier through which a men’s suits salesman may not pass, like running for the American Embassy gates in Cold War Russia. I hear it again, vaguely, “No good, sir?” I have put distance between us. I practically bound for the steps, running down as if escaping a fire. I don’t look back as I make my way to the store exit, until of course I remember, two seconds too late, that I am holding a tie that I planned on purchasing. And that tie sets off the alarm at the door. And I stand there, setting off the alarm, sheepishly looking at the security guard, trying to convey the entire story to him with my eyes, which may have actually worked because all he says is, “You gonna pay for that?”
And I think, More than you know.