Dirty Secrets

Greetings Dear Ones!

The scissors grinder came today.  Yes, the scissors grinder! There is a youngish man who comes to town and goes door to door to sharpen our scissors for us.  I’m not sure if he comes because he remembers our scissors must be getting dull by now, or if he simply runs out of money and heads back out on his route to get some, as there is no apparent schedule what-so-ever but our scissors are forever getting more dull and it’s always a great delight when he shows up.  I hand over my nippers, embroidery scissors, and shears with deep gratitude that such a useful and charming traditional skill still exists.  Here on Main Street U.S.A., we have a traveling scissors grinder AND our very own cobbler, down the street from our little tailoring shop.  (Sigh...) It’s just like Disney, only with more poo.  Significantly more poo.

Is it too soon to talk about the poo?  This is only week 6 of this blog.  My inner critic, whom I call “Prudence Thimbleton,” purses her lips sternly and says “No, for pity’s sake, never tell them about the poo, you daft girl!”  “But, they want to know the secrets of a seamstress” I say to her, “those secrets involve poo!  I think that secretly, they want  to know about the poo!” “Rubbish,” she snorts with contempt. “No one wants to know about poo.”

So, dear reader, if you secretly want to know about the poo, read on.  If not, I’ll thank you for getting this far and urge you to turn back now and tune in next week, when I promise, there will be no more poo. (I think.)

For the most part, sewing is a pretty safe job, without a lot of hazards. There are the repeated and inevitable pin-pricks and burnings with the iron, but unless one happens to run her finger under the running needle on the machine (which happens, but not often) the risk of injury is not that serious.  There is, however, an undeniable “gross” factor. Most people don’t know that every time we open a seam body dirt falls out.  If the garment is an old one, there can be so much debris falling out, that we have to sweep the table and roll the inside of the seam with a sticky roll of tape to clean it up before we can work on it. This debris is made chiefly of dead skin and smells awful when you iron it.  I often wonder what a trained sommelier would think if he were presented with such a bouquet: “hmm… under the first wave of crud, I’m getting lily-scented bath powder and a splash of cat urine…”

I take a pair of black trousers from the rack and begin working on taking in the waist for an elderly man who is shrinking.  They have been hanging at the back of the rack for nearly a month.  His daughter, who brought them in, said there was no particular rush for these trousers and so they kept getting pushed to the back of the queue because of prom “emergencies.”  Finally, it is his turn.  I work quite happily for several moments, removing the waistband lining, marking the measurements with chalk.  I often daydream while I work; humming fiddle tunes in my head, making grocery lists, composing vitriolic letters to fashion designers… In my half-present daze, I become dimly aware of a vague farmyard kind of odor.  Quickly, I check my shoes, thinking I have stepped in poop of some kind. Living where I do, with three incontinent Jack Russells, free-range chickens, and a herd of sheep, it is more likely than not that I am the culprit who is bearing some form of feces on my feet at any given moment. Nothing.  I sigh and consider it no further.  Many older garments have their own odors that are released when we open them.  What are a gentleman’s pants but a big fart-filter anyway?  I continue humming blithely. But when I iron the seam in the back of the trousers an intense cloud of steam prompts me to peer more closely inside the crotch. Yep… You guessed it.  It must have dried out completely in the month it hung on the rack but the steam revived it instantly. I gag and put the trousers in a plastic bag and send them for cleaning before any more can be done to them. 

I, as used to dung as I am, used to be incredulous that a customer would bring them in, in that state, without laundering them first.  (Am I seriously the first person to realize there is a now steaming turd baked into this garment?) However, discovering excrement in garments happens with depressing regularity in a tailoring shop. I wonder sympathetically about what the story I will hear when I have to explain the cleaning sur-charge to the owner. I don't judge people on their shit. No Way!  I just think back to a time when my life was “unmanageable” and how the truth was that I actually thought, as this poor soul might, that I was managing.  It’s amazing how unaware of shit we can be.

My pack of rescued Jack Russells was forever dropping little doggie bombs on the carpets in the house.  Adopted as adults, they had never been properly housebroken, which probably explains why they were up for adoption in the first place! (I am not actually certain it is even possible to house break a Jack Russell.) Our carpets, darkly patterned, disguised these little landmines perfectly.  One trod barefoot at his or her own risk.  The children and I were watchful about checking for them and putting the dogs out regularly but if I left the house for any length of time, say to walk to the mailbox at the end of the driveway and back, an accident would happen.  Invariably, the one who stepped in it would be my former husband, who would erupt in total fury and threaten to make sporrans out of them all.  Nothing set him off like obliviously treading a footprint of shit all through the house like a foot-shaped rubber stamp, each impression getting smaller and fainter but no less fragrant.  Since I could neither train the dogs to do their business outside, nor train the husband to look where he stepped, I had become hyper vigilant about scanning for poop and disposing of it before anyone knew about it.  Denial meant Peace, when I could pull it off.  

One day, I spied a dried lump near the leg of a chair just as I heard him walking down the hall.  Any minute, he would enter the room, catch me cleaning up, and begin his manifesto on why all Jack Russells need to be exterminated.  I took a tissue from my sweater pocket, grabbed the tiny lump, swiftly tucked it back in the pocket, and strode quickly to the kitchen to dispose of it.  Unfortunately, when I got to the kitchen, given my severe Attention Deficit Disorder, I was immediately distracted by the resident eight-year-old trying to climb the counter to reach a glass off the highest shelf.   

I wore that cardigan for the next three days.  Occasionally, I would smell a waft of something questionable, that would send me carpet scanning and evicting all the dogs outside for a potty break, but I never found anything on shoe or carpet.  The vigilance was paying off, so I thought.

I don’t launder hand-knit, bulky wool jumpers very often, so it might have been months before I realized what was in that pocket. But a few days later, at swim team practice, a little four-year-old girl was running up the stairs and fell and put her tooth through her lip. As blood mixed with howls, all the mothers began searching their pockets for clean tissues.  I found mine immediately.  It was NOT clean.  As I stared in horror at what was in my hand, I could not believe that my life had devolved to a place of such distraction, dishonesty, and chaos that I could carry dog shite in my pocket for four days straight and have NO IDEA.

This is precisely what the daughter says when she comes to collect her elderly father’s trousers.  “I had no idea!” she sniffs sadly when we inform her of the extra charge for cleaning. “He has just been moved to a nursing home.  He has dementia and is losing track of things.”  (Yes, things like whether he has done his poopy on the potty or in his own pants.)  “I drove around with those pants in my car for a week. I had no idea…”  I do my best to reassure her. "Honey, you have no idea how much I get that!"

Recently, a friend said admiringly, “Nancy, you really turned your life around and got your shit together.” She wasn’t actually talking about real poo, but in my case the metaphor works either way. “Yes,” I admitted gratefully, “It might be together but it’s still just shit. We all have it, don't we?"  We laughed. Today, poo is more likely on my shoes than in my pockets and it’s not my own (yet). It’s a temporary victory but I’ll take it.   

Despite its hazards, I love my job.  Since Eve put apples on the menu, being a Seamstress has been the most Human of all occupations—to mask our shame through the labors of love and linen. There is something hilarious and tragic in the fact that No Other Species on the planet makes for itself a pair of fine, wool-polyester blend pants and then craps in them.  We may clothe our nakedness in all sorts of fabric and frippery but at the end of the day we are all very Natural Beings only temporarily in charge of our own poop.   May we be human and Humane.   Let those of us in clean pants lovingly assist those who aren’t!

Be well, my dear ones, and do Good Work!

Yours aye,