Excuse Me Sir, What Is a Waistcoat?

The Second Essential Scary Truth


The hundreds of sent resumes and much pavement pounding seemingly have paid off: I found a gig in an established Upper East Side restaurant group.  I realize my good fortune and have been thanking Buddha daily as I jig through the foot traffic on the downtown avenues.  The new crew I work with is still trying to figure me out.  I doubt they have seen a bartender continually grinning ear to ear for the entirety of a ten hour shift.


My first training shift I was handed the usual forms, applications, W-4/8/whatever the government is calling it these days and a vest and green tie to go along with the rest of my uniform: black pants, white shirt, white t-shirt underneath, black socks and black polishible shoes.  I was immediately confronted with two issues: 1. the vest the restaurant gave me was too small.  I am a 46 regular and the largest waistcoat in house was a 42 small.  2. anticipating the forms I knew I would be filling out for the G, I went looking for my Social Security Card.  Wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t find it. 


Somehow, in the midst of job hunting, apartment cleaning so I can begin a renovation and writing I misplaced the damn thing.  Taken individually, neither problem is rates near a .00000000000174 on the 10 point scale of daily issues confronting a person who is now rejoining the ranks of the actually paying my bills on time American.  Together, however, they are a large annoyance in the life of the just employed.  I was going to have to find my own vest, for which I would be reimbursed.  Fine, a little shopping in New York can be therapeutic.  Running from store to store, flirting with cute women as we wait in line to buy our selected items, fun, fun, fun. 


The Social Security card was a separate, more nausea inducing problem.  As you know, in order to get right with the paymaster of my new company, I have to show my driver’s license and either a SS card or current Passport.   I applied for a passport two weeks earlier, so that avenue was closed.  The fastest route appeared to be a new Social Security card and that meant dealing with the buerocracy of the United States Social Security Administration. 


To circumvent what I was praying would not be an inevitable excursion down to Duane Street and 26 Federal Plaza, I spent Friday on the Social Security website trying to figure out the fastest way to get myself a replacement card.  With all the new technology available to the average American, I thought it could all be done via the internet.  I was wrong.  From the SSA website, you could download the proper form but it had to be set by snail mail to the main office in Washington DC.  No fax, no e-mail, snail mail.  Therefore, it would take close to five weeks to get my replacement card and I didn’t think my stock line of ‘Don’t worry, I’m legal.  Detroit is part of the United States, maybe not culturally but…’ was only going to fly for so long with my new GM.  My nightmare of the inevitable had come true; I was going to have to go and sit in a dull, drab, poorly painted gray government office where several hours of my life would be wasted in the vain attempt to get my documentation in proper order.


Dreading my Monday morning of silent, seated servitude to the Man, I turned my focus to finding my plain black vest.  Judging the task to be one of the simpler things I would have to accomplish in the next 7 days, I promptly procrastinated.  There was no reason to feel any sort of pressure to go and buy anything as my next shift call was Monday in the late afternoon.  One of the dozens of men’s clothing stores was sure to have my vest so why worry? 


It took me until Sunday at 4:30pm to walk over to 5th and 6th Avenues between 14 and 23rd Streets to go shopping in the New York City version of department store row.  Banana Republic, Daffy’s, Filenes’s Basement, Men’s Warehouse and various little places in between not only didn’t have what I was looking for but the young adults they employed didn’t have a clue what a vest was.  They did at H&M but the sizes there were made for a grown man with a Heroin chic body.  When I asked if there was a 46 regular in stock, the young man with the shaggy 1972 just out of place enough to be cool haircut dismissed me.  “Go to TJ Maxx,” he waved.


Off I went to the one place I didn’t want to see, TJ Maxx.  I still have bad memories from their store in Farmington Hills, MI.  Not only were the aisles awash with over handled, unfolded rags that were supposed to be hip, designer clothes at a bargain price but it was the same store I saw Stacy Superstein, my 13 year old crush from my bar mitzvah dance class, kiss  another boy while I was within eye shot.  Not that she even knew I was there, mind you but the stain is still indelibly left on my soul.


TJ Maxx didn’t disappoint.  Once I had given the depleted, disastrously kept men’s section a ten minute perusal, I went to find a clerk to help me.  I followed two not yet 19 year old employees, deeply engrossed in conversation punctuated with words I’m not sure were actually part of the English language, over to the changing rooms where they promptly disappeared into the door marked FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY.  My calling out of excuse me didn’t capture their attention, so I was forced to find a young lady with TJ Maxx ID around her neck and ask her where the vests maybe.


“Over there,” she pointed to a rack with sweaters.


I did find three yellow and two baby blue sweater vests but not a proper waistcoat.  I went back to the same salesgirl.  “Those were sweater vests,” I said.  “Where can I find the vests that button down?”


“Huh,” she replied.


Certain that this 19 year old girl with a Bronx accent hadn’t been to the Oak Room or remembered the disco era, I tried to put the concept of waistcoat into proper perspective.  “You know, a vest like Denzel Washington wore in American Gangster,” I said.


“Oh, we don’t have those,” she said and walked into the same FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY room as her co-workers.


I wasn’t upset, nor did I find her rude.  She was simply the last in a line of 12 or 13 salespersons, all under the age of 22, who had no clue what a piece of clothing known as a vest was.  After a quick stop at the Filenes’s Basement flagship store on Union Square, where the 21 year old salesman said “Huh” when I asked where the vests were kept, I called it a night. Four hours had passed since I began shopping and World Series Game 4 was due to begin at 8:37pm and I wanted to catch the first pitch.


That night, I had the usual fear about not being able to find a waistcoat (or get my SS card) ANYWHERE in New York City and getting fired before my tenure began.  Perhaps irrational but it is the sort of anxiety that hits you when you have odd record keeping skills and Generation Y salespeople.


After a good night’s sleep, I was ready to fight again.  I awoke at 9am in order to get to the SSA office because I knew my hours long wait would make me scramble to get to the new gig on time, plus I still had to find a waistcoat.  I hit three small men’s stores I my neighborhood and still no luck.  Finally at 10:15, I started to walk down 14th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues to the 6 Train, when I walked by a gentleman opening his clothing store Wahlid’s.  I asked him if he had a black vest.


“Of course I do,” he told me.  “Let me guess, you work in a restaurant?”


My purchase and a slow running train put me back 40 minutes but I made it to the SSA office, which was as gray and drab as I thought it was going to be.  The sixty something security guard was officiously pleasant, whose main job seemed to be reminding people loudly not to eat, drink, or have cell phone conversations in the waiting room.  When he wasn’t screaming at those waiting for help from Social Security employees, he was hitting on all the young women coming into the office.


I took my number and sat down facing the booths with bullet proof glass that looked like it had been snatched from a 1979 Bowery liquor store’s fire sale.  Even the pictures of Bush and Cheney were from the first term.  For a New York City office, it seemed extremely backwater.  I expected to wait for hours.  I was up at the window in 45 minutes, after the single man in charge of dealing with providing replacement SS cards had verified and disposed of 8 people ahead of me, 3 of whom didn’t speak English very well.  When I reached my turn, he actually apologized for the wait.  “I’m filling in and I don’t type very well,” he told me.  When I told him my tale of woe, he printed out a letter stating that I had a SS card, number and was eligible to work in the US.


I was home by noon.


To be honest, I am confused.  I walk into a government office to get a replacement ID and am out inside of 45 minutes but I it takes nearly 6 hours to find a classic, simply cut black vest with salespeople who didn’t know what that was.


Will somebody pinch me?  I want to make sure I’m awake.



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