Adventures in Jacket Rentals

We had our performance today: our church choir, along with a high school choir and two choirs from a local University, performed Haydn’s Theresemeisse Mass in B Flat. Sounds fancy. Actually, it was a pretty good concert, and I had a blast.

Most of the anthems and performances that our choir does are small affairs. We wear jeans and nice shirts at church, slacks and solid color shirts for community performances, that sort of thing. For this event, we needed to go all out formal. Black suits. White shirts. Bow ties. I own a shite shirt and a pair of black slacks, but I don’t own a black jacket. So last week, I realized that I needed to rent one. I called a tuxedo rental place in Vacaville.

“If I ordered a jacket today,” I asked, “would it be ready for pickup by next Saturday?”

“Why sure,” they replied to me. “Just come on in within the next half hour, because we close real soon.”

Not a problem. I saved the story I was working on and headed over to Vacaville and took myself to the tuxedo rental shop, which actually turned out to be a bridal shop that also happened to carry tuxedos. I stepped inside; there wasn’t a single tuxedo in sight. There were wedding dresses galore, though; all kinds of dresses, from sheer satiny things that looked more like slips (perhaps they were — what do I know about women’s clothing?) to something truly epic in proportions, with ribbons and veils and a train that would put Union Pacific to shame.

I was immediately approached by a woman dressed up to do customer service; she had a proper looking suit on, nice jacket, short skirt, and all, but she was barefoot. She asked if I was the guy who had called about the jacket, and I told her that I was. She smiled and took my hand. I should mention here that I do like going to look for clothes in situations like this; the women who work in these stores always flirt with me. Granted, it’s what they’re paid to do. She says, “Why, that jacket looks SO much better on you than this one which is two hundred dollars less in price,” and the guys says, “Wow, she’s hot and she thinks I’m hot so I’d better buy this $500 jacket. Probably two, just in case.” It’s salesmanship pure and simple, but, you know, sometimes a guy likes to pretend.
“What are you looking for in particular?” she asked.

“I dunno. Black. Simple. Cheap.”

She laughed took me over to a catalog. We looked through it together, and she turned to the section with business suits. “There,” she said. “How does that look?”

It was simple and it was black. “Looks good,” I said. “How much?”

“Uh…” She pondered. Turns out the price in the book was based on the assumption that you’d be renting the whole suit, and not just the top half. She did some quick calculations and quoted me a price of $75 for the jacket. Sounded good to me.

“So, do you know your measurements?” she asked me.

Uh. The last time I’d been measured for a tuxedo was for a friend’s wedding, and that was six years and thirty pounds ago. So I told her no, I didn’t.

I know that women go through mental agony whenever they have to be measured for something like this, but I need you to know that men suffer through it as well. Especially an overweight guy like myself. Especially when the woman doing the measuring is pretty and has been flrting with you in a professional manner all along. There’s a tremendous temptation, you see, to suck your gut in so that it reaches your backbone, giving you some semblance of fitness. Women know that guys never look thinner when they suck in their guts, but guys do it anyway. It’s our thing. But I knew that if I sucked in my gut, the measurements would be off, and then I’d end up standing for forty-five minutes in this concert with a jacket that was almost, but not quite, as uncomfortable as a girdle.

So I ended up letting it all hang out. Flop over my belt line.

It was humiliating.

“Wow,” the woman said after measuring me around the shoulders and chest. “Fifty-eight inches.”

I was flabbergasted. “I remember when it was forty-eight!”

She said nothing, just stared at me.

“‘Course, it’s my own damn fault,” I muttered.

She nodded, smiled, and did the rest of my measurements. I really wanted to suck in my gut.

The measurements were finalized, and I paid a deposit, smiled once more at the clerk, and left.

This was all on Saturday. On Tuesday, at about five in the evening, I got a phone call from the shop telling me that the jacket I’d ordered was only available for purchase, and not for rental. Of course, they closed at five, so I couldn’t call back until the next morning. I wasn’t going to have another chance to go in to choose another jacket, so I just told them to pick out something different for me; something cheap, black, and simple. And please have it ready by Saturday.

“It is prom season,” the woman said to me over the phone. “So we’ll need to do a special order.”

“Will it get there by Saturday?”

“Well, we’ll certainly do our best.”

They got the jacket in on Friday night, and I picked it up yesterday. It fit just fine. A bit tight around the gut, but there wasn’t much anyone could do about that. I paid, then spent an hour or so at the Middle Earth Festival.

Anyway, the concert went great. I can now say that I’ve sung in a big choir concert in a major arts venue. That’s one more item off the “to do” list that I didn’t even realize was there.

An Intangible Crossing

About three weeks ago I sent my short story “Tumbleweeds” off to Weird Tales in the hopes that they’ll agree with me that it’s suitable for publication there. Last night, I dreamt that they sent the manuscript back to me, along with a contract and a check for $1,000. I like pleasant dreams like that.

What sucked was this: I remember thinking how great it all was, how excited I was to have made my first professional sale, how I was planning on telling my friends and family (heck, I was already composing a message to post to this blog), when I suddenly realized that I’d been awake for several minutes. I’d crossed that line between dreaming and consciousness without even realizing it. My heart just about broke.

Ah, well.  Off now to pick up my jacket for tomorrow’s performance and to spend a little time at the Middle Earth Festival in Vacaville.

Writing Update

I’m currently working on several different projects.  Some are brand new, some are just revisions of older projects.  And here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Fred, Again.  This is the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo this past year.  I’m still revising it.  I’ve been talking to a woman I know who’s a retired police officer and picking her brain for information such as how crim scene investigations are conducted.  I’m trying not to get myself stuck in Revision Hell, but progress is still slow.
  2. “Indications”.  A story I wrote a few years ago which I thought was finished, though  recent comments from editors I’ve submitted it to suggest otherwise.  So, I’m putting some more polish on this one.
  3. “Burying Uncle Albert”.  I wrote this story about three years ago, and I’m still finalizing it.  I like it so far, but there’s a serious tone shift in the middle of the story that I need to fix.  My question is how I want to handle it; do I want to make the first half more serious, or the second half more funny?
  4. “Tumbleweeds”.  A short story I wrote a couple of weeks ago.  This one just needs a few final touches before I feel comfortable sending it out.

My biggest time sink right now, though, is the rewrte of a short story I wrote a year or so ago called “Hollow”.  This one is particularly challenging because the main character is a young Hispanic woman, and I don’t resemble a Chicana by any stretch of the imagination, not even when I shave.  So I’ve been reading blogs written by such women, checking out some forums, and reading books.  What I really need to do is find a Chicana who can act as a sort of collaborator on this story; who can say, “Uh, no, you racist nitwit, she’d never say something like that.”  I’ve been stressing a lot about that.

What I haven’t been stressing about, though, is the fact that her husband is Irish American; and at last night’s writers’ group meeting, my ignorance of other cultures showed up most prominently there.  I’d been operating under the assumption that Irish American culture is pretty much like most European-American culture, which is pretty much like the culture I came from.  Imagine my shock when my fellow writer M. pointed out that the slang word I had used — “plonker” — is not a word that this guy would have used at all (she has authority on this, being married to an Irish man and having spent some time in Ireland herself).  Now, I admit I was lazy; I just looked up a website of Irish slang, and didn’t bother checking on how current any of that slang was.

I guess that should be a lesson to me and any other writer who chooses to create characters of different cultures and societies.  You can grab words and broad elements of the culture from popular impressions or through cursory research, but it’s the subtleties that will come back to bite you.  A European writer writing about a modern American culture might mention that their character likes to grill with charcoal, for example, and completely miss out on the entire conflict within that BBQ’ing subculture over the value of charcoal vs. gas for cooking (I’m a charcoal man, myself).  Such subtleties may not figure into the story at all, but if the character gets involved in some sort of grilling contest, then our European writer had been know these kinds of subtleties.

Characters have a life of their own.  At first I thought I could avoid these issues by simply making Francesca a white woman and her husband a regular American guy, but neither of them would budge on this issue.  I figure I’m stuck.

Stories frequently take on lives of their own as well.   I wrote “Hollow” almost a year ago, figuring on it being part of one “universe” of stories.  I knew I had to rewrite it, though, but it wasn’t until I realized it was more properly a “Mollyverse” story that I began to know what to do with it.  And last week, I discovered that the story was starting to take on a new title; I’d recently started reading Veinte Poemas de Amor, Pablo Neruda’s collection of love poems.  The first poem in that volume is “Cuerpo de Mujer”, which means “Body of a Woman”.  And because of the nature of the story and the identity of the main character, this title feels a lot more natural to me.

The story will get written.  I’m excited about it.

In other news, I recevied a rejection notice today from the magazine I’d sent “Joe’s Salvation” to.  They were happy with the work, I think, and almost apologetic that they couldn’t take the story, but they did ask for more contributions.  That, at least, makes me feel less pained about the rejection.