I’d recently discovered the alterations hole behind the Taco del Mar, after spending too much paying Nordstrom to do the few I needed. No way was I turning loose their Asian fleet on my Target purchase. And even though it’s just a cheap dress probably
made in China by children (of which I don’t approve, of course), I liked it enough to put a few extra bucks into it so the bodice fit right.
The tailor was Russian – elf-like height, bald, with a white beard, some missing teeth on the lower, always in a pressed shirt. His shop featured more than alterations, it included the sale of men’s consignment – racks of sport coats surrounded the three-way mirror and shoes were lined up neatly on shelves below. He worked behind a louvered swing door, like a saloon. I’d brought him a more expensive dress to alter last month and I’d liked the results.
This alteration gave him more pause, though it was essentially the same alteration, my late dawning of how short-waisted I am and frequently in need of a hike on the shoulders. He hemmed and hawed a bit, I offered to forget it, given its cost, the Mossimo tag glaring out from the neckline. It wasn’t like I couldn’t wear it, just me noticing. Then he said “I’ll figure something out.” He waved his hand in the air, pulled out an unbent Calvin Klein tag off some other garment, and scribbled my phone number. A Russian calendar was on the counter and he gestured to it, asking when I wanted the dress. I told him to pick the day – the weatherwouldn’t be warm enough to wear it for weeks. “Ookay zen, May 8th,” he said. Then he clucked, tapping the date box with his pen, “My birthday,” and I saw my first glimpse of an eye-twinkle.
Wednesday rolled around, of course, like the future does, and I made sure I had time in my work schedule to pick the dress up. Before that, I went to the grocery store and bought a tiny green striped pot pre-planted with a bright orange flower. I had no idea if it would grow over time, but it was festive.
In the shop, the Russian was on my side of the counter, straightening some clothes. I was glad to not hand him his birthday gesture across a counter. It seemed less of a
transaction not to. “Happy birthday,” I said, fleetingly wondering if he’d made up his own holiday, because I was just a stranger after all. I held out the flower pot.
His normal stoic Russian-ism drained from his face and his eyes became circles of disbelief. What does that exactly look like? I don’t know if I can describe it more concretely and though I’ve seen it in movies and read it in books, I’d never witnessed it
overtake someone’s face so completely. You’ll know it someday when you see it. He smiled like he hadn’t yet in my presence, and stammered nonsense. I think “oh,” “I can’t believe it,” and “oh” a few more times were in there. He went around the counter, shaking his head. “Not in twenty years, has someone…” Then chuckled, adding, “Of course no one has known.” He couldn’t take his eyes off the gift. I had the cash with me to pay the amount he’d quoted. In his fluster, he didn’t know which dress it was, and there was no reason he should be memorizing my clothes and me. I pointed out the dress, and wished him well on his important day, leaving him the flower. I was flooded with joy.
This is not to toot my own horn about how thoughtful I am. It was, in fact, a very selfish gesture. I felt so good afterward. Joyous acts can last for hours and while I didn’t do a dance all afternoon, somewhere in my day the pleasure of our transaction was with me. Not just one person was pleased in a day, but two. Be selfish. A nice gesture, whether a thing or an act, is happy impact. You're both the beneficiary.