POWDER BLUE PANTS
I’ve always had this thing about pants. Probably because I was a fat kid, ninety pounds in first grade and clothes just didn’t fit right. Then Lefty gave me those powder blue pants and they fit. I still can’t figure it out. I felt like I had just hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 9th. At 14 Holy Martyrs, we wore uniforms. Dark blue pants, white shirt and red tie through 4th grade. Then when I was ten, in 1952, we changed to a blue tie. The Catholic version of a fashion revolution.
Lefty was my favorite relative. My first cousin, on my fathers side. He was killer good looking, could shoot pool and he drove a Caddy. He had an Irish girlfriend, Mary, with long red hair and even longer legs. In my family, they said things like “clothes make the man.” Looking good was important and my father took it seriously. He was a sharp dresser. A Cesar Romero type. My mom spent long afternoons bent over an ironing board, listening to Dean Martin and pressing my father’s rayon shirts.
I had seen Lefty wearing the pants on Christmas Eve. He wore them with a cobalt blue shirt and a skinny, black, snakeskin belt. They had a three inch rise, by which I mean that the belt loops were set down three inches from the top of the pants. The belt just asserted itself around his waist. It was probably when I first started to think about clothes. It was the Christmas I talked to him about seeing my aunt Betty naked. The pants were an amazing shade of powder blue. A little like Morpho butterflies in Costa Rica. They had a narrow cuff, probably less than an inch, pleats and a 12 peg. Twelve isn’t much and you had to take your featherweights off to get the pants over your feet.
When I was confirmed, the ritual where you get to wear a red robe and a bishop from the diocese smacks you across the face, Lefty gave me a Bulova watch that probably cost $50 and because he knew I loved them, he gave me the pants, too. I broke the crystal on the watch that first day when it flew off my wrist throwing a pass to my brother in front of my grandfather’s house on Gates avenue. It was across the street from a private school where the boys had really long sideburns and old men with long white beards made strange sounds while shaking their heads over large loaves of braided bread. The crystal could be replaced, but I really needed to take care of the pants. Since Lefty had given them to me, I wanted to show them off, wear them to school. True they weren’t dark blue, but they were in the same color family. We still sat at wooden desks then. The surface of your desk was somehow attached to the seat in front of you. Same as your seat was attached to the desk in back of you. They had a kind of art nouveau iron support on the sides and these were screwed into the floor. Sometimes the screws came loose and the desk rocked a little. They were heavy, probably oak and there was a shelf under the writing surface for your books, a cut out on the top to keep your pen and an inkwell. The inkwell was glass and had a brass cover. You lifted the cover and added ink very carefully, straight from the bottle. I had a cheap, wine red Waterman that I used to practice my cursive, to match the 26 letters of the alphabet posted around the room.
I won’t get into how I got ink on the pants. It still hurts to think about it. I will tell you that the ink was blue-black and closely resembled the cobalt blue shirt that Lefty wore. And when I took them to the dry cleaners, the woman I called Pearl, who wore a large zircon around her neck that I thought was a diamond, she looked at the pants, shook her head and said “young fella, you go to that Catholic school on the corner right? Because these pants, they need a little prayer and a lot of help. And just so you know, they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of coming clean.”