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Tootie Was No Child Prodigy; Deal’s Off

King Fahd’s niece, the Princess Samaher, just had a 27-suitcase, $200,000 flood in her 30th floor, Cairo hotel room. You might want to double-check me on this, but according to my abacus, that breaks down to $7,407 per suitcase give or take some change.

The mind boggles. For the life of me I can’t figure out what anyone could jam into one suitcase that would be worth the equivalent of a down payment on a new pickup truck. I’m thinking that for seven big ones, I could replace my entire wardrobe and still have enough left over for a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm.

The princess must have some spiffy wardrobe. Not that I would expect royalty to shlep around in her son’s hand-me-down khaki cords like I do, but seven thousand bucks? I could pack up all of my clothes and the family silver, and still come up short. Guess that just goes to show the difference between being an oil tycoon and a teaching typhoon.

But that’s OK. Used clothing has always held a fascination for me.

When I was 8, Tootie, a neighbor girl (and an older woman of 10), had a wine-colored velvet, lace-trimmed dress I would have given my Sonja Henie doll for. She wore it to our school Christmas party. I coveted it for a fortnight before I made my move.

Tootie and I worked a deal. She wanted to play the piano and I had to have that dress. We swapped - my family’s piano for the burgundy beauty. Tootie would let me wear the dress whenever I wanted to and she could play our piano whenever she wanted to. We thought it was a swell swap. My folks didn’t love it.

The night after the exchange agreement had gone into effect, Tootie showed up at the side door, handed me the dress and headed for the living room. A few cacophonous plunks later, my father rose majestically from his old Morris chair and went off in search of my mother.

They came looking for me and found me preening before my bedroom mirror in my newly acquired finery.

“Why is Tootie playing our piano while I’m trying to listen to Walter Winchell?

“Practicing,” I answered, hoping they’d just go away before any really embarrassing questioning got under way.

“Why in our living room?”

“Because at her house they don’t have one.”

“A living room?” my father asked incredulously.

“A piano,” I answered with an attitude.

My mother took a look at my finery and veered onto a different approach. “Does Tootie take piano lessons?”

Another dumb question, I thought to myself. How could Tootie take piano lessons if there was no piano at her house? “No, but she might if she has somewhere to practice.”

Not one to interfere with a pursuit of the arts, Daddy said it was all right with him but only if Tootie would limit her practice to afternoons.

Having been a music major in college, and having a distinct and often painful awareness of the difference between music and everyday racket, Mother suggested I give back the dress and rescind the offer because it was all she could stand to listen to one kid banging and plinking for an obligatory daily hour. “The dress goes back.”

So it is with an overwhelming sense of loss that I trace an apparent indifference to my wardrobe to that traumatic moment 50-some years ago when I was denied access to Tootie’s velvet dress. I think it broke my sartorial spirit.

Seven grand in a suitcase?

Maybe in small bills. Certainly, never in my clothes.


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