Sunday, July 23, 2017

July at the Furriers

The sun boiled the city in a pot of July humidity. Meanwhile, I decided it would be the perfect morning to lug one of Grammy’s fur coat uptown to get the pockets and lining fixed. I Yelped like a mofo and meticulously determined the finest establishment to perform the fur surgery. 

The furgery, if you will. 

I wrapped the coat in a garment bag and slogged up to a place on 30th, in the heart of what’s left of the fur district.

Both my dad’s grandfathers were furriers who had shops on 28th street. And my grandfather was a furrier manufacturer, whatever that entails exactly. His place was on 23rd. This is what I told the fur store owner after I managed to get inside his establishment. Apparently I really suck at noticing doorbells and signs saying you have to ring to enter, no matter how large they are.

We discussed the coat I’d brought in, made by Louie, my dad’s dad’s dad. For at least the first half of my life, I would have told you it was made of “pushin.” I can hear my grandfather’s voice talking about the “pushins” his father made for the family. 

At some point, I’m sure in an embarrassing incident that I blocked from my memory, I learned that “pushin” is how you say “persian lamb” when you’re in the fur business and your Bronx accent is as thick as a third rail. I can just imagine the moment I learned this factoid: Me, discussing fur coats... “well you have your minks, your foxes, your pushins…”

When Grandpa Louie made a coat for you, he sewed your name in the lining:

Grammy's name embroidered in the lining
of a fur coat made by Grandpa Louie 

I took the coat out of the bag and I showed the fur store owner Grammy’s name in the lining. He said it was a “Persian Stroller” from the late 40’s early 50’s. He said it was beautiful. I think he meant it. He only charged me a crumpled 20 for all the repair work needed. 

I sat down in the owner’s desk chair while he wrote up the ticket. He asked my great-grandfathers’ names. When I said Frimmer, he said, “That’s a very old name.” He mused a little and then said he might have heard of Louie. I said Louie had a heart attack and died on 28th street coming out of the subway in 1970. The owner said he opened up his shop in 1976, originally on 28th street. All the fur stores moved from 28th when they tore down the old buildings to build FIT.

Louie used tinfoil to get as tan as possible.
Once he took a road trip to the south
and was refused service
at white-people counters.
He did other things that might very well have
earned him a reputation still going strong
years after his death.

The owner told me his fur store is like Switzerland. “Everybody comes here,” he said. “We have your CEOs and your rappers and your drug dealers and your mobsters. We never have any trouble. You got Fortune 50 coming in the door and 50 Cent going out the door. And no trouble in here.”

I smiled. That sort of, but not really, explained the thin black man in a beige baseball-ish cap sitting at a round lunch table nearby type type typing on a Mac Titanium laptop. At one point, the man told me I was welcome to take a seat while I waited my turn. Beyond that, the man didn’t say anything to anybody and nobody said anything to him. He had the complexion and lankiness of Snoop Dog. But he was dressed in Burberry. With a beige cap. It looked a lot like those caps that shield your brain from wifi electricity and don’t show up in infrared surveillance. I know all about these from the Hansel and Gretel exhibit we saw on Friday.

“One time,” the fur shop owner told me, “I got taken by a string of bad credit cards. So I called up a customer of mine— he might have run a credit card forging operation. The next day, this customer comes in and he gives me a lesson on how you forge credit cards and what you just can’t duplicate. It was these little indentations. On the real credit cards, the indentations were on both sides. But even the best fakes only had one indentation on one side.”

“No kidding,” I said.

“I kid you not,” replied the owner. “I knew exactly what to look for after that. And when a fraud came in, I’d go, “Gimme a real credit card why don’t you. 

But then, do you believe it, the credit card companies decided to save shekel and they got rid of the two-sided indentations. My customer was overjoyed, he was. Those were salad days for him. But he got caught eventually.”

“That’s some tough luck,” I said. 

The owner asked if I wanted to get the coat cleaned, he recommended it. And then he typed in my address and phone number and I gave him my credit card to pay for the cleaning. He said I didn’t have to sign the credit card slip because he trusted me. He said after all these years he knows a person he can trust with a credit card.

I grinned analytically.

True, he had my Grandmother’s fur coat to hold as ransom should it come to that. Then again, I am the kid of a kid of a 28th Street furrier. If I can’t get some street cred for that in the fur district, this world is surely going to hell in a hand basket.

“The Jews, we weren’t given anything when we came here,” the fur store owner continued. “We never would have come to this country if it was then like it is today. We liked to work with our hands. We liked to make things…. We made furs and clothes and we did carpentry... Now all these jobs are in China and there’s no money in them. Entry level is McDonalds. You don’t learn a skill at McDonalds. You aren’t an apprentice learning a skill at McDonalds.”

After that the fur store owner waxed a little poetic about welfare and gaming the system. I got to use "sechel" in a sentence.

By the time I left, it was way after lunchtime.

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