The traditional warm week in January has lasted all month. It is a Saturday at five-thirty in the afternoon and the 99th street lights are coming on when I enter the wormhole, through a back door marked 'Capital Tailors.'
In from the outside world where people try to live up to their possessions, I descend carpeted stairs. Out of the company of those engaging in regimens of self-improvement in preparation to welcome a new dress, I come inside. Down into the basement, into the earth, on whose surface people are building a parlour because they bought a new couch, I go. As the atmosphere changes, my glasses steam up.
At the bottom a counter is heaped with hemmed pants. The counter is a clogged gate to the fluorescent work room beyond. There are at least two women in there, at least two clacking machines. In this reception area at the foot of the stairs, there is a coat rack and a peripheral impression of fluttering carbon receipt slips. If, when you fix them with your eye, they appear to lie still in piles on the counter and pinned to plastic-wrapped bridal gowns, you can still hear them shifting, like wings brushing your ear. Racks of repaired clothing of slump against the wormhole's walls, supporting them or perhaps, with their weight, causing them to cave in.
A little man whisks me leftwards, under ceiling tiles etched with Chinese flowers and filigree and into one of two little dressing room alcoves covered with red curtains. I am not sure how I arrived so quickly but I put on the black dress I brought. It is brand new but too big in the top for my breasts, each the size of a good handful of dirt. Across from my cubbyhole, spacetime expands into a mirrored wall. Shyly, one steps out to face oneself. A double row of high heeled shoes for trying on appears at the baseboard. A little woman is at my side, nipping in the dress.
All this time, people having been coming in and out, up and down the stairs. I can see why the racks of clothing sag so badly. A short young lawyer is having a pair of dress pants hemmed. The little woman has pinned up four inches of cloth. It is clear that, before descending to the basement, the lawyer must be unable to walk in any given pair of pants she buys. There is a fat school teacher who, far from stocking up on clothing in her goal size, is having seams let out. There is an older couple waiting for something to be done while-you-wait, and they are examining knitting patterns.
No one is the least concerned about the boutique integrity of their clothes. The clothes were made for a strange mannequin race that lives in white rooms under white throwblankets and makes coffee in bare marble kitchens, so the clothes are pinned without ceremony, sliced up and rejoined and folded in and ripped out. Only the sturdy pieces--wool and real denim and silkworm silk--survive. In the subterranean world of the tailor they grow and morph on metal racks until they fit the inglorious bodies of the tailor's customers, all sausages and marshmallows in their winter coats, and sweating as we climb the stairs.