Clothes, and Other Forms of Occupation

When he realized the ink stain on his red tie was permanent, he packed into an empty Kleenex box four months’ worth of paperclips, two Post-It pads, the photo of his ex-wife with the dog she called Laundry (a dog that never really took to him in the eighteen months of their marriage), and a stapler in the shape of a fish. He swore he’d never wear a suit again.

I quit, he said, when Butterfield, the Head of Security for the Templer Financial Building, asked. I’ll find something else.

Good luck, said Butterfield. But the paperclips stay.

It was not a rash decision; everyone was hiring.

The Trattoria on Wealthy needed waitstaff and bussers, something he’d learned to do in college. His work-study had been in dining services. But the restaurant was upscale: black slacks and shoes, a black shirt embossed with “Trattoria” in red script (which employees paid for—at a discount—themselves).

The box store had several openings, no experience necessary—cashiers, re-stockers, lot jockeys. They all wore khaki-colored pants and matching blue tees.

The country club required golf shirts of an avocado color. (Summers during high school he’d helped out his uncle, on occasion, with lawn care.) The gravediggers at Memorial Hills were unionized: their work shirts and pants were coordinated shades of green.

The county road commission stipulated that neon safety vests must be worn at all times.

And while Fridays were “dress-down” at the First National Bank, one’s jeans had to be free of holes, rips, fading, and ornamentation; tellers wore company-issued kerchiefs (red) in the manner of TV cowboys.

Even the phone solicitation group of the Media Marketing Company expected “appropriate dress”: You can’t sell anyone if you sell yourself short.

At the end of the second month without employment, he stopped looking. When his savings ran out, he sold his house and moved into his car. He took welfare until his benefits were exhausted. Then he sold the car.

Finally, he removed himself to a part of the city where no one cared what he wore, he could choose for himself—he could wear anything he chose to—and he lived quite happily among others of his kind, for the rest of his brief and unremarkable life.





PSterlingphotoPhillip Sterling is the author of In Which Brief Stories Are Told (fiction, Wayne State University Press), Mutual Shores (poetry, New Issues), and four chapbook-length series of poems. His story “” won the 2015 Monstrosities of the Midway contest. New stories have appeared recently in Fiction Southeast, Postcard Poems and Prose, The 3288 Review, and Soundings, among other journals.

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