When I read about a famous writer’s grandfather who owned a tailor shop in Brooklyn, I imagine a row of shops manned by first-generation immigrants who patiently await a new client or returning customer. The tailor’s shop is deep and narrow and nestled between a bookseller and a baker.
Each shop in the row is populated by a lone, mustachioed grandfather in a bowling cap. These hard-working men of my imagination never leave the shop to advertise, recruit, or sell. All of that was beneath them, because honest work and honest products sell themselves.
This strikes a false chord. Surely the inner-city tailor of the 1890s had a few tricks up his sleeve, a little something from the old country that never failed to win some new business or keep an old client happy. They did, after all, manage to raise and support a family that would go on to warrant blurbs in some books.
The problem, as I see it: we live in a consumer culture dominated by advertising (someone recently pointed out that without advertising, TV shows wouldn’t exist), and we do admire a shiny new product. But the act of marketing it and selling it? Somehow impure.
This gives rise to a suspicion. When I imagine this tailor, I imagine a golden era. A romanticized past, a better time to have been alive, a land free of things like insects and boredom and whatever’s vaguely unsatisfying about living here and now.
My tendency to romanticize the past suggests the tailors of the 1890s did the same. So maybe this little narrative about the fall of honorable work and the rise of salesmanship goes back a few centuries.
Now I imagine the writer’s grandfather sitting patiently in his shop, working on his newspaper ad copy, daydreaming about a time in the old country when men didn’t need to advertise.
He still has that mustache, and he’s still smiling.