The Dynamo Descends

I am packed and ready to roll tomorrow once we jam all this stuff into the car.

That I’d be ready today wasn’t a sure thing yesterday afternoon.  My plan for the last two days was to go through all my clothes on one day and pack ’em up on the next.

By 2 pm I had succeeded only in sorting through my underwear, socks, stockings and gym wear.  Shoes and three seriously overcrowded closets remained.  Meanwhile, Mr. NYer and I had to dash out to pick up the crate the cats will inhabit for their trip south and also stop at our lawyer’s for our mutual exchange of powers of attorney.   I didn’t plan on being back to resume the wardrobe weeding until 4 or later.

In fact, the wardrobe weeding began about 5 and was done by 7 pm.  How did she do it? you ask.  With the help of The Dynamo.

The Dynamo and I met on the first day of high school, the result of alphabetical happenstance. We wound up sitting next to each other in home room and have pretty much stuck by each other’s sides from then on.

We share several things in common, although I’m not sure that’s because we were temperamentally matched from the get-go or we grew on each other over time and developed along similar paths.  She became a legal secretary when I went off to college, but at some point when I was teaching history, she returned to school and got a degree in … history.  A short time later I helped her get a job teaching at the same school I did, and we became colleagues as well as friends.

But the main thing we have always had in common was taste.  We both have what some friends (of mine, at least) have described as “house beautiful” homes.  That’s really not so, but we like aesthetically pleasing surroundings.  More to the point, we like the same  clothes.

You couldn’t tell this during high school, though, because we wore uniforms.  During the school day we wore grey blazers and skirts.  After school we switched to our casual uniform of bell bottoms and peasant blouses.  Over the years we probably looked like models from the same clothing line, from the summer of flimsy halter tops to the winter of maxi-coats. 

The first serious matching purchase after high school (and there were many) was a gorgeous heathery brown great-coat with a 12-foot long leather belt that emerged through slits  from inside the coat to wrap around the front and back to finally be tied in the front in a knot.  The coat had a deep stand-up collar, long cuffed sleeves, and evoked a Russian winter.  It was elegant.  The Dynamo bought it first but didn’t seem to mind when I went out and bought its twin.  She was taller and, in those days especially, very thin, and could carry off that coat better than I, but we both loved it.   

Since the Dynamo worked in Manhattan AND had a brother who was a fashion designer, she seemed to have the jump on stylish duds.  Plus she shopped more than I.  But she always thought of me while she shopped, especially since, despite our different heights and body shapes, we wore the same size.

She and I often shopped together, buying outfits that, if they didnt’ match exactly, looked good side by side.  Often enough they were the same and we’d agree to coördinate appearances so as not to show up at work in the same clothes.  Once, having gotten a hot tip from her brother about a fabulous sale at a store that was going out of business, she simply picked up two of everything and showed up at my door with two sets of wonderful tweedy linen pants for me with two matching jackets.  She had the same ones, and we agreed to call ahead if we were planning to wear them. 

After The Dynamo began teaching at my school, we were both invited to present workshops at a teachers conference in Baltimore.  We drove down together and checked into the hotel, where we were sharing a room.  After dinner, one of us went into the bathroom to get ready for bed and the other one, also dead tired, took a moment to change into her nightgown in the room.  The bathroom door opens and we find ourselves, face to face wearing the same nightgowns. 

So the Dynamo, who lives in Pennsylvania these days and still teaches, said she’d come on out after school and help sort my clothes.  She arrived around five o’clock, walked in the door and said, “Before we start on the clothes, I need a cup of tea.”

Once fortified we went upstairs and created a whirlwind into which Mr. NYer knew better than to enter.  First the stacks of sweaters and tops from the closet shelves:  The Dynamo, after noting that everything I owned was inside-out, proceeded to turn each item rightside-out and in a seamless motion evaluated its value.  We looked at the heavy sweaters.  “You need one heavy sweater like this for your annual trip to Vermont,” she pronounced.  “You don’t need three.”  I chose one.

Next, she noticed my other predilection:  if I like something I bought it over and over again.  She told me I didn’t need four white button-down shirts, and proceeded to dispatch the ones she thought “too boxy,” and “too old.”

It sounds as if some sort of dictator came to rummage through my closet but that wasn’t the case at all.  Instead we had one of those synergistic moments when we had the same energy, agreed on what worked and what didn’t, and definitely had the same pace.  Warp speed.  Perhaps, more than anything else, we realized it was a rare chance to spend the kind of time together that we used to have more of. 

We laughed our way through the two hours.  We lamented about the styles we endured during our 30s, when even though our figures were the best they’d ever be we kept them under wraps.  Thirty-year olds today get to show off their curves; we hid under architectural shoulder pads, jackets that descended below our hips, and dresses that dropped to just a few inches about our ankles. 

At the end, we’d created huge piles of clothes to give away, a smaller pile of items The Dynamo was taking for herself, and had honed my baggage down considerably.  The evening was not without its humor.  Once we left my main closet for the ones in which I store out-of-season (and often, out-of-decade) clothing, I found myself explaining garments before I withdrew them from the rod.

“I loved this dress,” I apologized in advance, “it’s an April Cornell and the fabric is wonderful, but I really wouldn’t wear it now …”  The dress in question was one of those airy sacks that had its moment.  It had been a lovely summertime dress — when i wore shapeless, loose garments that floated just above the floor.  I’ve seen burkhas that are more daring. 

“I have something just like that,” The Dynamo reported.  “What it’s good for is to throw on over your bathing suit when you have to run to the store for milk.”  OK, then.  I had a reason for keeping it, and I kept it.  Of course I’m going to have a pool in Alabama, and of course I’ll need to run to the store for … milk.

Two closets down; we went upstairs to the attic.   The Dynamo gasped when I pulled out the tweedy linen pants, over twenty-five years old, and not too much the worse for wear.  A lot of wear.  These pants were a  mainstay of my teaching days and then turned into the perfect costume for a number of plays.  I even lent them to a fellow actor who played the lead in 84 Charing Cross Road.  Pleated and baggy, in an Annie Hall kind of way, they perfectly evoked an earlier period. 

We passed the pants back and forth and recalled the day The Dynamo showed up with the bags, telling me, “I’ve bought these for you because they were ridiculously cheap, but if you don’t want them I’ll just keep them and have doubles.”  The Dynamo admitted that she still had one of the jackets.

The very last item I pulled out had us on the floor.  It was a Laura Ashley number I picked up in London in 1983.  Made of a fine cotton print in white, pink and green, it featured a girlish flouncy skirt with delicate lace bands and elastic waist that helped give it fullness. The matching blouse was a fitted number with a Peter Pan collar, also trimmed in the narrow cotton lace.  It was girlish; a garden party sort of outfit.  Peasant meets Pollyanna.  It did not have a 27-year shelf life, but it sure had a lot of sentimental memories.

The Dynamo pointed out that the elastic was shot (she pulled it wide to demonstrate — it stayed that way).  Ever helpful, she said, “You could make a very nice tea cozy out of this.”

“I have one already,” I answered.  I picked up a lot of Laura Ashley that year, including the tea cozy.  Later, Soon-to-be-Abandoned discovered the cozy and loved to wear it on his head.  I still have the tea cozy.

The Dynamo and I both loved Laura Ashley.  When I returned to London in 1985, and the British pound was at an all time low versus the dollar (nearly equal in value), The Dynamo asked me to pick up a blazing red print dress for which she pined.  The dress didn’t really work that well, so she returned it to the Laura Ashley in New York, where they gave her a credit equal to the American price.  In one fell swoop, she doubled her investment — we joked that she arbitraged the dress — and got a comforter instead.

“I still have that comforter,” she said.

Of course.  There are some things you hold on to.


7 Responses

  1. Dynamo here….sitting at my desk in a lovely cashmere cast off….Thanks for the memories….hope you located the black wool dress.

    Happy Trails!

  2. Well, I knew you were amazing teachers, but I didn’t know the depth of the friendship. It’s all falling into place…I loved reading this. I hope your depature goes well today!

  3. […] One, and became the first generation in my family to Go Away for Christmas.  Luckily, the Dynamo’s younger brother lives in Tucson and invited us over for some Christmas cheer.  So for an hour […]

  4. […] it’s foolish to assume that your plane will be on time – I arrived in Philly on Sunday. The Dynamo lives about 60 miles away, so we planned to get […]

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