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December 16, 2006.

I'm in the bus terminal in Manhattan, waiting to go back home. "My Favorite Things" is playing over the sounds of crying children and belching homeless guys that have snuck in a 6-er of Coors in the tall cans. The station is huge, four floors of well kept public access buildings with peddlers of all kinds; the most notable are the Asian immigrants selling Statue of Liberty novelties made in China. I bought one as a stocking stuffer for my sister. Hopefully she reads this column, but perhaps not this one or at least not before Christmas. I'm overloaded with bags at the moment since I had to work in nice clothes the last couple days and I bought a new suit up in Harlem to add to my burden. I've also got my laptop and other work supplies so I'm staggering around like some kind of sherpa.

As I went to grab the worthless novelty Statue of Liberty in my impaired condition complete with puffy jacket giving me the snowman, fat torso look, the cart keeper's eyes bugged out as he sucked in his breath worried that I might knock over the entire display, but I was graceful and deftly pulled the smallest, least expensive item out from among a large set of other items. This pleased him greatly for when I walked in he was looking quite desperate and bored. I assume he does not speak English for he quickly had his wife come over to ask me if I would like it wrapped up to which I replied in the affirmative. She told him in Chinese to wrap the item up at which time he promptly dropped it on the marble floor. So off they both go scouring the cart for another item exactly the same and with little delay return carrying a new one for my inspection. I shuffle around and move all my bags to a place where I can once again use my hands and inspect the replacement figurine nodding my approval and hand it back to the cart keeper's wife. As she begins to place the item in a box, she drops the new figure! At this point I still haven't paid, my bags are getting heavy and I consider just walking off, but I feel pity for the clumsy pair and stay long enough for them to produce a third item, submit it for my inspection and then work together to place it in a box. Perhaps I was making them nervous with my stunning good looks and ample intellect. No matter what the cause, I now have in my possession a wrapped 4 inch Statue of Liberty from China purchased in NYC. I'm sure that the one item I purchased paid for the two others that they broke.

This wasn't the only shopping experience I endured this trip to the big city. As I mentioned earlier, I also went to Harlem to buy a new suit. My training partner, Jerone, had the inside scoop on a place in Harlem with an on-site tailor and low prices so we decided to head out and get some polyester suits to wear around the city that were fun and not intended for work. We figured that together we would be able to haggle better because we'd be buying at least two suits. As it turned out this place wasn't as tacky as I had visualized and actually had a lot of nice 100% wool suits. Of course, being in heart of Harlem on Malcolm X blvd they still carried a huge selection of the outrageous. I really didn't even consider most of the merchandise because I know I can't wear an orange, purple, silver, white, or plaid suit. I can't match a furry hat with a bright striped butterfly collar shirt. I want to, but I can't. I had to go the more reserved area even to find a suit that I would call fun. I wanted a black suit for the holiday parties, something festive and not at all morbid because I don't want to attend any more funerals. So after trying on a few suits I made my decision and moved on to shirts, ties, and overcoats (anyone that knows me, knows I go all the way with no details left out). I'd say I was finished in about 20 minutes. I found a great festive suit, comfortable, double vented, single breasted and nice that fit just right. I found a tie that screams, but maintains some semblance of professionalism: perfect. I was wearing a deep blue shirt that worked with the suit so I just left it on and while they had fine footwear to purchase, I went with the horse that brought me.

I had my selections all laid out and ready for the haggling, but Jerone was still debating on suits and I was starting to get worried. This store works on commission like many specialty suit places so we were, of course, accosted immediately upon entering the store. Picture two white guys in the blackest neighborhood of Manhattan getting out of a cab and carrying suit cases: easy money. All the salespeople could be heard grumbling when this mild mannered and conservatively dressed employee upped us first. He was a nice guy, and not a great salesperson, but we were lay down buyers; everyone there knew we weren't just looking. While I was waiting I cruised around the store for a couple laps and offered Jerone a couple opinions, but he was still deliberating over which suit and the salesman was still bringing more to try on. I could see the dollar signs in his eyes as he was hoping we were going to buy 5 suits each and in all honesty Jerone had a short list of about 10 different suits in all variety of color and style. My choice was easy because I knew I wanted black and while there were probably over 100 black suits, I knew what I wanted in my mind before I started. Although it was Jerone's idea to go suit shopping, he didn't have a clear picture of what he wanted ahead of time and this was becoming too evident. I realized I needed to intervene and start the prop machine if I was ever going to get out of this store.

After we teamed up on the decision making process we finally were able to move on to shirts and ties. At this point I was basically acting as Jerone's assistant, bringing him stuff, giving opinions and stacking potential purchases on the counter. At one point the store manager brought over a shirt and tie and I really liked it. I mean really really liked it, I was like "Yes, he nailed it!" and in truth I was a little jealous because it was in some ways superior to my own shirt and tie choices. We moved forward, looking at belts and starting to get the overcoats settled, thinking at least this one decision had gone smoothly, but then a fifty year old black woman walks over.

First some background on this woman. Keep in mind that I've been walking around the store aimlessly for about an hour wearing my shirt and tie and everything while helping Jerone so it's pretty logical that someone would make this mistake, but she starts asking me for help on certain items and I politely (I thought) informed her that I didn't actually work in the store and that I was just a customer too. Anyway, she didn't believe me and was offended because I wouldn't help her while I was obviously helping this other customer. I think that she thought I wouldn't help her because she was black and that perhaps I only helped white customers. This is highly illogical since I'd quickly be out of work in Harlem waiting only on white folks, but her taking it personally was clear and evident.

We got Jerone's shirt and tie laid out and we were looking at some other accessory when the black woman walks up and says, "I hate that." about the shirt and tie. Thanks a lot lady, there goes another half hour of my life in this store since I have to find a new tie now. Ironically, I really did love it and wish I had bought the tie for myself now, but by this time, I was starting to get wiped out and not caring as much. Now that I have my stamina back, I wish I had that tie. It all worked out in the end however because Jerone was able to find a tie that came with cuff links (no detail left out) and matching handkerchief. It was also a solid choice and perhaps more Jerone's style than my own.

With all our choices made we haggled; after two hours in the store our haggling position was further weakened, but we did negotiate a heavy discount on every item and the manager threw the ties and tailoring in for free. Overall, I was extremely pleased because buying suits under normal circumstances sucks and this was kind of fun. I wore my suit out of the store, much to the amusement of all the staff who now felt like they knew me. One of the guys was openly praising my tie selection and joking about my makeover from average Joe to Bill Gates (am I really that nerdy?).

With the holiday season coming it's nice to have my attire locked up. Happy Holidays everyone and if you see me wearing my new black suit at one of your parties, keep in mind that it took me 3 hours in the store and two cab rides to buy it, but it was certainly worth it.

Crow