Deluxe Tuxedo Rental was the name of the store that my father owned and operated on the South Side of Chicago. The things I recall about the store itself are few: There was a wide counter going across the width of the store; there were two plastic lounge chairs with puckered brown cigarette burns on the upholstery and yellow stuffing coming out through the burn holes; there was a dressing room, and in the back, there were steel clothing racks for the tuxedos. These racks had upright poles and lateral bars connected to madly cycling wheels. When they were empty, it was possible to step on the lateral bar, clench the upright pole, and happily scoot around the back of the store like a deranged go-cart driver. My father brought his children to The Deluxe Tuxedo Rental store to keep him company. This may have helped him to endure the hours he worked there, since he was goodly bored and tired of the whole business, having been at it since age twelve.
He either sold it, retired, or just walked away from Deluxe Tuxedo Rental some time when I was in grammar school, and other than perfecting his burglar alarm, spent the rest of his active years managing his buildings, which means being a landlord and collecting rents, which means dying a little bit each day as his tenants destroyed what he loved. He had inherited one of the buildings from his father, whom he also loved, and he was too emotionally and psychologically tied to all of them to sell them when he should have:
“Sam, the neighborhood’s changing. Let’s get out while we still can.”
Among the greatest illusions of mankind, the one about a neighborhood returning to its former glory must reign among the most bleak, and the four words: FOR SALE BY OWNER ... are among the most intimately heartbreaking that I have ever read.
The externals that defined my father’s essence were his buildings, the tuxedos, and a wood and steel rowing machine with solid oak oars that he first kept in the basement and later kept in the garage beside the tuxedos. It is a credit to my mother’s inherent spirituality that over those tens and twenties of years, she never made my father throw the tuxedos away. Like my Aunt Libby, she understood that there are some things a man sees as part of his very essence, as an extension of his soul, and he cannot give them up without a little bit of himself dying, too.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben