Thursday, July 8, 2010
My Chinese (Laundry) Alter-Ego
It's funny how a decision you make early in life can label you forever. Like wearing someone else's clothes. When I was in my early 20s, I had a "look": white dress shirts and black slacks, purchased at vintage stores. Some might call this look "Waiter."
Instead of dry cleaning my shirts, I brought them to an old-fashioned Chinese hand laundry. It was around the corner, it was cheaper, it used less plastic, and the shirts could be stacked easier in the limited storage I had in my studio apartment in (pre-trendy) Chelsea.
What I didn't know in my youth was that laundries have a system
for keeping shirts from one customer together: they label identifying initials inside the shirt, on the manufacturer's tag. Usually these are the person's initials, or the first letters of their first name.
But because my shirts were second-hand, they already had markings in them, and I guess one of them was marked "SACI." Before I knew it, all my shirts were coming back marked "SACI." I didn't know how to stop this without making them rewrite every shirt and start obliterating the shirt maker's names.
It's been a quarter-century, my wardrobe has turned over several times, threadbare, or out of style, I've lived in four different New York neighborhoods and four more in L.A., but one constant has remained: every single shirt in my wardrobe is labelled "SACI."
Every now and then, I wonder, Who was SACI? What name could those letters have stood for? Where is he today? Was he dead when I bought that first shirt, or had he just moved on to non-white shirts? Where will my shirts scatter to the winds some day?
My local Chinese Laundry -- a rare institution these days -- recently switched to a computerized system. Finally, I thought, I will be identified as who I really am. Well, almost: