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Sunday, April 8, 2007

Suits from Orchard Street

It's 2 o'clock in the afternoon on Easter, and already some Catholic kid somewhere has blown the knees out of the new suit that he wore for the first time today. I know that was me back in the day. One Easter, a friend of my father had everybody over for dinner, and the parents made the call that we would all stay dressed in our holiday finery and behave.

But there were a bunch of empty lots around that guy's house -- the bombed-out lots of industrial Newark -- and we boys loved to roll around on them. Baseball, football, dodge ball (which we called "bombardment"), Army, "hide the belt," ringalario -- anything that involved running, chasing, diving, sliding, and often tackling and pounding each other. I forget what game it was on that particular Easter, but by 2 o'clock the knees of my suit pants were gone. And mine weren't the only ones.

Chances are, the suit came from Orchard Street. This was a street in the garment district of Manhattan, maybe 20 minutes away, where the grownups would drag us once in a while to buy dress-up clothes. The proprietors of the shops over there were mostly Jewish, and you could get an amazing price from them if you haggled. At least, that was the adult thinking in our household. For First Holy Communion suits (right), Confirmation suits, any kind of suit we kids needed, Orchard Street was a prime option. If it wasn't available, you'd wind up in Goldfinger's department store in our neighborhood, just up Ferry Street a ways, and there weren't many deals to be had there. Or maybe you'd find a Robert Hall store out on the highway somewhere. Not as rich or satisfying a shopping experience as Orchard Street -- not by a long shot.

To get over there, some dad would drive through the Holland Tunnel and wind around through downtown Manhattan. This was always an exotic experience for us little Ironbound Newark kids. The tunnel itself was, and is, a marvel, and of course there is nothing like the streets of New York City. Every sense is engaged in a way that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

One year, for some reason, we drove down the Bowery for a ways. The place was crawling, literally, with men who were, as the saying of the day went, down on their luck. Beggars. "Bompies," as some of my relatives called them, or just plain "bums." Some of them were lying in the gutters. It was sad to see, but my parents made sure that we got at least a glimpse. We didn't have much -- we had to go to Orchard Street for cheap suits, after all -- but we had the essentials of life covered, at least for now, and we should be grateful for that. And we were.

When you ripped your pants, Granny could usually sew them back together. But as I recall, the damage that we inflicted on them that one Easter was irreparable. "Boys will be boys," I'm sure somebody said as they passed the ham and potatoes around the table. And to us kids: "Don't do that unless you're in your dungarees."

Comments (4)


I figure that "Bompy" is a word known only within a ten-mile radius of Down Neck. Sort of like when Uncle Bill would say "swalee" instead of swallow. Great stuff.

It goes without saying, I'm sure -- but the small number of comments posts like this one attract is not a measure of how they are enjoyed and appreciated.

Some comments have been lost (at least temporarily) due to a server failure on April 14, 2007.

I got a great one for only $100 plus shipping for my first job interview at www.100dollarsuit.com

It is some place in Texas, but the deal was really good and it fit me… oh, I got the job, too.

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