Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hankies: A Christmas Story

“Is there anything you want for Christmas, mom?” I ask.
“Oh, nothing.” She says.
“Come on, I’m sure there’s something you want.” I push on.
“Well… how about some handkerchiefs then?”
Handkerchiefs? After I hang up the phone, I realize asking mom to tell me what she wants was a big mistake. But I was out of ideas and it’s already the 15th of December. Where does one find women’s hankies? Are there differences in men’s and women’s? I am totally lost.

What do people do with their hankies anyway? I understand that they are environmentally sound, less waste. But do you really want to carry around snot stained scrap of cloth in your pocket? It sounds rather unsanitary. Well, that’s what mom wants.

I frantically ask people around me where to find women’s hankies. They are just as clueless as I am. A handkerchief in this day and age sounds as antiquated as a phonograph.
At my co-worker’s suggestion, I check the Craig’s List online. To my surprise, I find a handkerchief seller’s post with pictures in no time. Thank you technology. Colorful hankies. The seller is located in the Upper West Side. I can pick them up around this time tomorrow at my lunch hour. I reply to the post promptly, requesting immediate response since the time is ticking away.

My phone rings at almost ten at night. His name is Lee, Mr. Handkerchiefs from the Craig’s List.
“I have lots and lots of handkerchiefs. What kind of handkerchiefs are you looking for?” asks Lee in a gravelly voice.
I explain that they are for my mother as Christmas gifts.
“Does your mother like colorful stuff? Is she flamboyant?”
Flamboyant? My mother?
I could hear him jotting down, NOT, FLAM-BOY-ANT.
I tell him that I’ll need something simple and conservative. We reconfirm each other’s phone number. He gives me directions to his apartment.
“Who was that?” My wife asks me.
I tell her about Mr. Handkerchiefs.
“What, some old guy is selling women’s handkerchiefs out of his apartment? And you are going up there?”
“I guess.” I say sheepishly.
“You know how it sounds right? It sounds like the beginning of a crappy horror movie. He could be a serial killer!”
“Honey, I think I can take care of myself.” I protest.
“He is luring young men like you with colorful hankies. You’re gonna end up in a snuff film. You’re not going up there!”
She’s half joking. I love it when she gets all maternal though. We compromise: I won’t go into his apartment. I’ll meet him outside his building. She makes me promise.

During my lunch hour, I go up to Seventy Fifth. I usually have no reason to go up to the Upper West Side. That’s where the rich people live. And it’s cold. The sky looks grey and menacing today. My heart beats a little faster as I approach the building on Seventy Fifth West. I can’t help it.
Lee meets me downstairs. He seems like a nice old grandpa. He is wearing a Braves sweatshirt and has fuzzy tufts of white hair on each side of his temples. My fears melt away. Then he invites me in.
“They are in the hallway. I brought them down.” He says.
I hesitate. My heart starts to beat again rapidly. My wife’s worried face and her words ring in my head.
“Come on in, it looks like it’s gonna come down any minute.“ He opens the door for me while looking up at the sky.
I will go in to the building but won’t go into his apartment. I tell myself. Life is series of compromises.
He has several plastic bags filled with old linens. It’s like a library of hankies if there was one. After exchanging some pleasantries, he shows me some of the gift boxes he made in advance. They are perfectly nice. I choose simple white ones with some embroidered flowers on them. He says he picked them up from Hungary long time ago. Some hobby this old Lee has.
I pay him and thank him. All went well, I think to myself. I turn to leave.
“Do you know someone who fishes?” Lee asks
“I can’t say I do.” I reach out for the door.
“Because I have a perfect gift for a fisherman. You can say no, but here…" He bends down to get to his small blue suitcase at his feet.
“It’s a fishing knife.” He continues. My heart skips a beat.
“No, no thanks.”
“Wait, it’s a perfect thing for fishing. It’s double serrated and has a measuring markings on the handle… you can fillet the ones you just caught and measured right away…” He is having a hard time with the zipper on the suitcase which is possibly filled with full of knives you can fillet something with.
I thank him profusely and run out the door. I don’t stop running until I reach the train station. Then I notice big white flakes of snow falling: the first snow of the season.

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