Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog


Posted by Ron Coleman on November 9, 2008

It finally reached the point where I had to clean out the area under the basement steps. This happens every couple of years. Of course, if it would happen, say, every couple of months, it would take 10 minutes, not three hours, right? Well, shut up.

Certain things we’ve been carting around are simply going to have to be thrown away, finally. We don’t have the space, this stuff is not exactly appreciating in value, and it’s time. And I’m not even talking about that tangle of obsolete or redundant computer cables and organs multiplying asexually in the garage. No, I am talking about a decidedly pre-silicon collection of solidly-made objects of absolutely no commercial or practical value whatsoever that are simply going to have to go into the landfill, as well as some more contemporary but utterly baffling merchandise as well.

I cannot bear to throw away wooden hangers, and I carry with me — or did, until tonight — many that are the closest I have to family heirlooms. There are two identical, crazy suit
hangers which bear the legend, “Nevco Diplomat“; I had to take a picture just to save a thousand words. The pants are obviously meant to be held by those spring-loaded contraptions, which perhaps offered, in theory, the advantage of the slacks not being harshly folded over the cross-member and displaying, upon disengagement, the dreaded horizontal hanger-line below above the knee that historians now agree almost certainly led to Wilson’s failure to temper the Treaty of Versailles.

The Diplomat

The Diplomat

Any ambassador or even a consul would gladly invest the 79 cents (I can’t even find the “cents” sign on these computer keyboards!) — look at the still-intact price tag! 79 cents for at least three dollars worth of hardwood and steel! — required to avoid such a diplomatic disaster.  But for non-striped pants, or perhaps suits not including a silk morning coat, these hangers, I found, were worthless, which might explain why they are such curiosities today.  The pants basically just slipped right out of the clamp.  And now Wednesday morning they begin their trip to whatever state is cursed with receiving New Jersey’s garbage these days.

I could write just about the hangers. Here are two classic specimens from the Precambrian period. One says, “Lebowitz & Noble’s Sons, 83 Stanton Street, Clothiers CR 5-0452, N.Y.C.” Long, long gone, but presumably something purchased by, or perhaps for, my father, he should live and be well — who spent his early life on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which is where this address is — once draped from this solid, hand-made hanger.  It is made of three pieces of small-grain hardwood; the horizontal rod connecting the mirror-image swervy, curvy “shoulders” joined together by, not glue, but two, not one, jagged metal joiners, with a thick metal hook stuck midway between them like a question-mark-shaped stem, its sole foot protruding from the bottom of that union with a thick, capsized mushroom-head protruberance wider than the slot for the hook itself.  Thus the hanger itself hangs from its own hook — what better endorsement for the placement of your valued fine men’s garment, second set of pants included for free?

Hangers of our fathers

Hangers of our fathers

There are about a dozen of these being transported across the Styx on Wednesday, but only one more with a legend, and it is even hoarier than the area-code free Lebowitz & Noble’s specimen.  It’s the one on the left of the picture from the “London Boys’ Shop, 180 Springfield Avenue, Newark, N.J.”  This one is indeed smaller, for a boy’s suit of clothing or a coat, and hearkens back to ancient Jewish Newark — not merely the pre-1968 Newark lamented by Philip Roth but of necessity something far older, because while my grandmother, Lillian (Rabner) Coleman, was born in Newark, my father was born in New York.  There were no other boys in the picture whose clothes could have hung from this hanger, but could the Newark days have been, perhaps, still so fresh that the place to go for a Depression-era bargain for the boy was a remembered storefront on Springfield Avenue?  Or was the hanger perhaps a relic of the sojourn of that same boy, now an orphan, for a spell with his “rich” Uncle Murray and Aunt Rose in New Jersey, in a half-hearted attempt to transplant him in his departed mother’s native soil across the Hudson, the soil in which she sleeps still?  Do not ask the boy; my father is lucid and sharp as ever, a spry 72, but he does not remember such details… for some reason.

None of these hangers is any good so we’re throwing them away.  They are too narrow for today’s clothing.  They do not have the two-piece horizontal bar to hold suit pants on.  The steel hooks have, little by little, become more and obtuse and less and less likely to hold onto the rack.  They’re solid, they’re wooden, they’re handmade, they’re ancient, and they’re going.

I suppose I should write too about the collection of preposterously high-quality shopping bags I threw out tonight along with the hangers.  I could not, for years, bring myself to throw away these ridiculously substantial, thick, slickly-finished shopping bags from stores such as Nordstrom and Brooks Brothers.  They must cost $3 or more each themselves.  The one the Brothers sent me home with to carry the storm coat with the thick lining must have cost $10 — tells you a thing or two about their margins, right?, but believe me, I don’t pay list.  But one bus ride home and I’m supposed to throw these away?  On the other hand, they sat, unused, for five years, ten or more.  For one thing, how ostentatious is it to re-use a shopping bag with a “premium” brand name on its side, as if to show off where you buy your raincoats?  And for another, well, I don’t re-use shopping bags — even good ones — for any purpose, anyway.  Ever.

But somehow the story of the shopping bags doesn’t quite compel narrative at this point, and seems, actually, somewhat embarrassing.


6 Responses to “Cleanout”

  1. craig mclaughlin said

    You shouldn’t have thrown that stuff away. You should have sent it to Lileks– he would have spun off another website. I’d read that.

  2. jaymaster said

    Just so you know, antique wooden hangers of lesser quality and provenance are going for $17 on eBay.

    I tried to post a link earlier in the day, but it died….

    I bet those shopping bags would move fast too.

  3. Anonymous said

    Your father is 71, NOT 72!!!

    YOUR mother!!!

  4. jan said

    You know, my mother would have corrected me in the comments too… 🙂

  5. Mom, Dad is pretty spry for 72. For 71… eh. So I took a little editorial license.

    If you’d cared about my math skills I’d have some money by now, probably.

  6. Jack said

    “None of these hangers is any good so we’re throwing them away. They are too narrow for today’s clothing. They do not have the two-piece horizontal bar to hold suit pants on. The steel hooks have, little by little, become more and obtuse and less and less likely to hold onto the rack. They’re solid, they’re wooden, they’re handmade, they’re ancient, and they’re going.”

    It seems to me that there is a certain ironic symbolism attached to that observation, especially in our age and era, but I’m not sure exactly what it is.

    But I’m reminded of something from childhood.

    Today I scored big. It was the kinda thing that would have impressed everyone had they seen it. Had they found it. But I kept it hidden til it wasn’t any good to me anymore. Maybe it never was. But someone long dead and buried labored over it. For a long, long time. And the real secret was, it had outlasted them, and it will outlast me too. It was old and it was solid, like the bones of a giant beast. And things like that don’t ever really pass away, they only pass away from us…

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