We’re standing in line at the Burlington Coat Factory in downtown Silver Spring, myself and Abel, my Argentine journalist friend.
“Why is your friend so serious?” the cashier says to Abel in Spanish.
She’s talking about me.
“He’s not serious,” Abel answers in Spanish. “He’s fed up.”
Fed up? Just because we’ve only now finished shopping for a suit for Abel after nearly nine hours? I long ago passed through the fed-up stage. I’m whatever Ishmael was around Page 500 of “Moby-Dick.”
As Melville wrote: “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke.”
I’m not laughing.
But Abel’s suit quest is not a surprise. Months ago, he told me he’d be traveling from his newspaper in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, to the United States to join a State Department-sponsored trip to cover the presidential election. Journalists from around the world are coming to see how we do democracy. Business attire requested.
“I’m gonna need a new suit,” Abel e-mailed. “Un abrazo.”
Frankly, I think business attire is the wrong way to go for these foreign journalists. Wouldn’t it be more entertaining if they were required to travel around our swing states clad in national dress? Indians in dhotis. Germans in lederhosen. Papuans in penis sheaths. I don’t know what Argentine national dress would be. A poncho and flamenco shoes?
“Flamenco is Spanish,” Abel says.
We Americans are so ignorant of the world outside our borders. Still, I’m pretty sure they sell suits in Argentina.
We start at Arundel Mills because Abel has found it on Google. I love taking foreigners to outlet malls. Look at our American abundance! A whole store devoted to Crocs! Sometimes I think if we could just show Kim Jong Eun an outlet mall — or the Little Debbie snack cake aisle at the supermarket — North Korea would fall.
Abel is a Latin male, meaning he loves women but is slightly dismissive of them. He has always been bemused at what he sees as their fickleness, the hours they spend shopping, the fretting over this blouse or that blouse. Perhaps he is changing his tune as we parse through “Slim Fit,” “Modern Fit” and “Classic Fit.” We strike out at store after store. Nothing seems to strike his fancy. Everything is either the wrong size, the wrong style or the wrong price.
We leave Arundel Mills behind and venture to Westfield Montgomery, then Rockville Pike, then Westfield Wheaton. I hold Abel’s coat as he goes into changing rooms. When he emerges I smooth the shoulders on his suit jackets. I bid him twirl in front of the triple mirror. I tug at his belt loops to see how the trousers fit. We are the cute couple out shopping.
More than half of the store employees we encounter are from Central America. Abel talks with them, then tells me later that their Spanish isn’t very good. But, he says, “in 20 years there will be a President Martinez or Lopez.”
As long as President Lopez doesn’t need me to help him shop for a suit, I’m okay with that.
By the time we reach City Place, we are weary and hungry. We’ve reached the point where we can’t be trusted to know what looks good. If a salesman proffered a burlap sack cinched around the middle with a dead snake, we might buy it.
And then . . . success! A subtly striped Calvin Klein suit that Abel likes! Of course, the pants will need hemming. He tries them on, and the in-store tailor kneels on the floor, folding and fussing with the fabric.
“Do you want the pants American or English,” the tailor says, meaning whether the pant leg should break on the shoe or slightly higher, showing a bit of sock.
“Not English!” Abel shouts.
He is still sore about that Falkland Islands thing.
For more than 50 years, readers of The Washington Post have been supporting Children’s National Medical Center, helping ensure that no patient is turned away because his or her parents are poor. The money we raise goes toward the hospital’s uncompensated care fund.
Won’t you help us this year? Our goal is to raise $400,000 by Jan. 4. You can make a tax-deductible donation by going to www.childrensnational.org/
washingtonpost or sending a check (payable to Children’s Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.