The Philosopher of Bensonhurst

A Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto

   Buddy Wilson lanky and bony, on the verge of graduating high school, loped around the corner of Eightieth Street to Mr. Z’s messy tailor shop where his family had been having their clothes cleaned and pressed ever since they moved into the neighborhood ten years ago. On the quiet May afternoon under the hide and seek sun and the filmy blue sky, his ambivalent emotions were concealed behind a pair of glinting shell-rims. Dressed in a white T shirt, worn blue cords, and black sneakers, his dark hair was plastered down, parted in the middle. Passing before the plate glass window with the legend ‘Amos Zelig, Tailor’ and in smaller letters beneath, ‘Cleaning, Pressing, Repairs’, Buddy entered the open doorway into the cramped premises.

   “Hello, Mr. Z,” he said. The worn out counter, the racks hung with mostly men’s dark suits, and the musty odor of fabric were familiar to him the moment he walked into the crowded shop. The ungainly bulk of Mr. Zelig squatted, his backside overlapping the rickety chair in front of the counter where he sat to catch the daylight, his pale, jowly cheeks punctuated by two brilliant black eyes peering into the small spectacles perched at the end of his wide nose. Working near the window, Mr. Z with needle and thread in his meaty hands, glanced up over his glasses.

   “Well, look who’s here,” he grunted in feigned surprise. “Tell me, why is a boy who’s graduating like a tight pair of pants?”

    Buddy puffed out his cheeks, thinking. “I give up. Tell me.”

   “Because they’re going to let him out,” said Mr. Zelig

   “How did you know?” Buddy asked.

   “A little bird told me,” Mr. Zelig said.

   “My mother,” Buddy guessed.

   “She’s a bird?” the tailor inquired.

   “I bet it was her,” Buddy replied. “Did she tell you what I needed?”

   “It’s practically ready already,” said Mr. Z.

   “How could it be ready already? Don’t I have to have a fit?”

   “You’ll have it when you hear the price,” Mr. Z said rising heavily from the squeaking chair.

   “How much is it?” Buddy asked.

   “For you twenty five dollars.”

   “What? For only one night?”

   “A graduation dance is only a once in a lifetime,” the tailor pointed out as he brushed threads from his vest. “Think of it this way. If you live forty more years it only comes to sixty cents a year.” He placed the work in hand on the counter and lifting the counter board trundled through behind the counter to the racks where he slid a few hangers forward and plucked out a garment.

   “Go into the dressing room and try it on,” he said.

   Buddy came behind the counter, took the hanger from Mr. Z and sidled into the dingy cubicle about the size of a coffin at the rear of the shop. He pulled the dangling string giving life to the twenty five watt bulb.

   “Why do you need the light? There’s plenty light from the front window,” Mr. Z said.

   “I got to close the curtain and get undressed,” Buddy replied.

   “You’re ashamed of your naked body?” asked Mr. Z.

   “I’m not naked. I wear underwear,” Buddy informed him as he pulled the curtain closed.

   “You’re ashamed of your underwear?” Mr. Z inquired.

   “Underwear is not my problem, Mr. Zelig,” Buddy answered removing his pants and banging his elbows in the narrow space getting into the tuxedo. He emerged to find Mr. Zelig back in his flimsy chair at the front of the counter. The tailor pursed his lips as he examined the fit. “Where did you get such long arms? I’ll have to let the sleeves out.”

   Buddy turned to gaze at himself in the full length mirror. “I look like an ape in this jacket,” he commented.

   “That’s the closest anybody could get to look like a human being. You would maybe rather look like a hippopotamus?” Mr. Zelig asked, using his tape measure. As he observed Mr. Zelig chalking the jacket it occurred to Buddy that Mr. Zelig himself looked more like a hippopotamus than an ape.

   “Can you get these sleeves right, Mr. Zelig? They’re so short. Is there enough material?”

   “That’s my problem, not yours. When I’m finished you’ll look like the prince who found Goldilocks at the ball.”

   “That was Cinderella.”

   “Is that so? Well, it shows what a high school education can do for you,” Mr. Zelig concluded. “So tell me what is your problem?”

   “Who said I had a problem?”

   “You said. When you came in.”

   Buddy took a deep breath. “Well. I have two girls I can invite to the prom and I’m going nuts trying to make up my mind which one.” He removed the jacket.

   “Take them both,” the tailor said as he threw the jacket on the counter and checked the length of the trousers.

   “Take them both?” Buddy broke into a laugh. “How can I do that?”

   “One on each arm.”

   “Nobody ever did that!”

   “You’ll be the first! From now on and maybe forever you will be the one who everybody will think of whenever they make a graduation dance. Buddy Wilson had the chutzpah to invite two dates to the graduation dance! Also suppose you ask one and nobody asks the other. This way you’ll make two girls happy. That’s a real mitzvah. And then all the boys will look on you and think, that Buddy Wilson, how come he has two girls to dance with and we have only one?”

   “But the girls are friends-”

   “That’s even better. One won’t mind if you kiss the other. Instead of they’ll be jealous, they will share you, and everybody will look on you and say, that’s a Valentino like we never saw.”

   “Y’know, Mr. Z, that sounds wild! That’s just what I’m gonna do. It’ll knock ‘em for a loop. If the girls agree. You got to fix me a tuxedo like nobody else’s.”

   “Nobody will look better. Not only that I’ll provide you a cummerbund free.”

   “What’s that?”

   “You don’t know what’s a cummerbund? It’s a wrap around the middle. You’ll look like a bullfighter. Come in Monday for the final fitting.” They shook hands. Buddy departed in a glow.

   Mr. Zelig watched him loping down the street then picked up his telephone. He gave the number to the operator. A girl’s voice answered.

   “Hello,” she said.

   “Beverly? That’s you?”

   “Uncle Amos?”

   “Yeh, yeh, it’s me. He’ll do it. Tell your friend Judy….What…? No, no, no. Don’t worry. The way his mother explained it he’ll bring two bouquets.”

-Al Geto




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