A week ago I decided to buy some curtain fabrics on my way to work, since I needed to sew new curtains for our cabin kitchen. I like to sew my own curtains and pillowcases as much as possible - living surrounded by special fabrics that I have handled myself gives me a sense of being intimately connected with my "nest". These creations are almost on the level of art pieces for me.
So, I go to my old haunt PS Fabrics on Broadway in Manhattan, an almost 40-year-old Orthodox-Jewish-run store where the owner has always been happy to, unsmilingly yet full of a dark kind of humor, answer my questions, in a mix of clipped answers and run-on sentences. His talk always made me feel like I was being handed the big brass key to the lock on a door which opens into a huge old palatial room storing centuries of knowledge - knowledge of fabrics, of anything physical, of using one's hands, of creating something, of everyday economic concerns, of the need to be clothed and have a home and furnishings, of believing in quality over quantity, but also of always looking out for Number 1 - in short, a room of human culture and history.
I was shocked to see the signs: "Going out of Business. Buy one yard, get 35% off; buy 5 yards, get 80% off." I told the owner how sad this made me. He said: "By God, I am happy to go! Thank God! I am retiring! Thank God, we're going out of business! Finally! The wife and I are gonna move to Florida!" He insistently put his God-thankful positive spin on the situation. Yet he also spoke of maybe geting a job with the real estate man who bought the property and who was coming later, -so I had a sense that maybe his grateful joy was not the whole story.
When a customer complained about a bag of stuffing being too expensive despite the steep discounts, I knew my instinct was right. After explaining that this bag of stuffing was the real thing and of superior quality, because "this stuffing disrespects your butt and bounces right back after you sit on it", and after the man was still shaking his head at the high price and talking back, owner-man said: "Yah! You don't need to buy this stuffing! This stuffing is not for you! This disrespectful stuffing is too good for your butt! You need to buy a different stuffing! You need to buy stuffing that respects your butt! You need to buy shit!"
After this somewhat shocking display of displaced - or very consciously placed? - emotions, and as the client, seemingly oblivious, walked away, gently shaking his head and marveling at the expensive bag of stuffing in his hands, I asked the owner if he knew the man. No, he said. Well, you sure talked to him like you did, I said. No, he said, I can't stand it when people don't respect quality, especially after it being explained to them. I used to sell the cheap stuffing but stopped that years ago, it just respects your butt too much. Yes, I said, I used to buy bag upon bag of the cheap stuffing here, for my art. And I thought, Well, here's my chance to be yelled at too, and I asked why the discounted tassles I was purchasing - along with some 20 yards of high-quality, super-inexpensive fabrics - were still relatively expensive. He calmly explained that these were the real deal, European, not Chinese-made. Yes, I said. I bought the cheap ones years ago for our bedroom curtains, and the fringe constantly falls out - I am replacing them now.
Well, the incredible price slashes and the (Dominican?) woman who cut the fabrics for me - whose English I barely understood, yet who convinced me to buy 5 yards of this one, and 5 yards of that one, "See? Barely more money! You buy 5, MUCH better price! Makes no sense to buy 1!" got me to the point where I had 3 INCREDIBLY HEAVY HUGE bags and could not even walk to the subway. After walking some 4 blocks in the wrong direction, disoriented after my experience and by the schlepping, and hurting my shoulder muscles pretty badly, I gave in to necessity and took a cab to my workplace in the South Bronx. $50 I didn't really have. But hey, I bought AMAZING fabrics: Velvet, damask, the finest tweed from France; tassles, and trimmings - worth almost $1000, for $200........My studio closet is re-stocked.
Good-bye, PS Fabrics. You were one of my havens in NYC, and tied me in to my dressmaker-Grandmother and other professionals with miraculous hands who knew a good thing when they saw it, and made gorgeous creations that let us dream a little better, and a little more, in the everyday of our short life. I'll really miss you.
I make art. I earn most of my money in other ways, and am busy with other projects. As long as I can have those occasional moments of blissful creation, am in an occasional show, and occasionally sell art to people who treasure it as much as I love making it, I am content. This blog offers glimpses into what I'm doing right now.