A manufacturer produces a corduroy fabric. Machines roll them into bolts of cloth then are shipped to their merchants. What becomes of the fabric can become an adventure that its creator could have never imagined.
A fractional bolt of brown corduroy cloth ended up at a mini-store in the East Bronx, then this tale began.
What was the stylist thinking when he invented knickers? Stockings up to the knees were compulsory. With a belt around the waist and fixed to the knees by jersey cuffs there was no space for gas to escape, and because of their balloon-like legs anyone shorter than six feet appeared to be a dwarf.
Corduroy knickers was state of the art for kids in elementary school, but once we crossed the threshold of Hermann Ridder Jr. H S, long pants was the uniform of the day. What was to be done with the knickers? Pass them on to the younger brother? Make a piñata out of them? Wear them after we came home from school, or add them to the clothes my parents were packing for their relatives in a Lithuanian shtetl (village)?
In 1941, on a cold autumn day my father looked down at my knees,
“Enough with these corduroy knickers. I could see your knees through those shmattehs (rags). Winter is coming. Arthritis you’ll get when you’re older.”
After supper Ma, Pa and I walked down Boston Road, passed the huge blue Consolidated Laundry sign that was wrapped around Wilkins Avenue, and then turned on to Boston Road. We entered a tiny store to the right of the Loew’s Boston Road movie theater. Like many Bronx stores, it was illuminated by a single bulb that tried to project its light through cardboard pants patterns hanging from the ceiling. The opened door put a halt to the hum of a sewing machine.
From the rear of the store, a humid, rasping voice broke the silence.
“Nu, who vahnts a pair of pants?” came floating towards us through a cloud of nicotine smoke and spittled “p’s”.
“If you have a good piece of corduroy, you could make a pair of knickers for my Danny.”
“Oh, a maven on corduroy came into my store! My corduroy is the best. Can you find better?”
He told me to take off my pants. My soft, limp corduroy knickers crumpled towards my knees. Their stretched knit cuffs dangling at their ends like bell-clappers easily slid over the calfs of my legs and past my feet.
He removed a tape measure from his shoulders, placed it around my waist, and then jammed it inside my crotch. I drew back.
“What am I doing to you? Stand still! When you jump, who could measure you?”
This exhale from his throat, exploded into a fine spray containing a nicotine content equal to a pack of cigarettes.
“He’ll grow, so you should make them a little longer,” advised Pa.
With the ordeal completed, my father left a dollar deposit. Through smog and smoke we returned to fresh air.
Ma complained, “What an ipish (unpleasant odor). I couldn’t breathe inside that stink. “Will Danny’s pants stink from that store?”
“For four dollars, let them stink,” replied Pa.
Pa was right. The corduroy nap on my pants resembled a sheer, brown veil. It was getting colder, but the thought of returning to that cubicle repulsed me.
In vain, when we returned for the try-on, I assumed short, fast breaths might dissolve the biting nicotine attacking my tongue.
The knickers were a bit long, but I pulled their cuffs up over my knees to make their length just right.
The following day, I wore my stiff, new, brown corduroys to school. Their parallel naps rubbing against one another squeaked in cadence to my stride.
In anticipation of graduating from P.S. 61 to Hermann Ridder J.H.S., most of the students were wearing long pants, but I didn’t care. My personal fashion gauge always pointed to zero.
After many washings the stiff, undulating ridges disappeared along with the thought of the obnoxious tailor that made them.