It was a while ago when serendipity gently scratched like a hopeful paramour. Bored one afternoon I had gone to see a movie matinee at the independent Clay Theater up in the “nice” part of Fillmore Street in San Francisco. The film was what my father would call “a cute little movie;” not a blockbuster shoot-‘em-up by any means, but rather a nicely put together character study. “The Great Buck Howard” stars John Malkovich and includes a brace of cameos by Tom Hanks, who also produced it. The movie deals with an eccentric TV psychic, loosely based on the real life story of The Amazing Kreskin, who appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson dozens of times. It’s a good renter.
Anyway, after the film I decided to stroll across the street to The Junior League of San Francisco Next-to-New Store. As even the most lackadaisical boulevardier should be able to surmise, the Junior League is one of those tony, old-money institutions that benefit a plethora of causes which, luckily for the organization, never seem to improve enough so that the League’s charity can ever be turned down.
As a deadbeat dandy, I’ve had a certain amount of luck at the Junior League shop in the past, finding articles such as cast-off Dunhill ties and never-worn Church’s English shoes. That day I started at the suit and sport coat rack, flicking through it with my usual, speedy, “Nope-flick, nope-flick, nope-flick.”
I looked around and spied a second, free-standing rack next to the one I’d been flicking through and went to take a look. My hand alighted on a soft wool navy blazer. I pulled it out. It was double-breasted, four-on-six, with three buttons on the cuffs and no vents. It had conservative shoulders. I looked more closely. The gold-colored buttons bore the stamp, “G&H.”
I could feel my palms beginning to sweat.
“It can’t be,” I thought. “It must be a knock-off.” I undid the button and pulled back the front of the jacket to reveal the lining. There it was: “Gieves & Hawkes,” it said. “No. 1 Savile Row London.”
My second thought was, “Well, it will never fit.” Trembling, I put it on and looked in the mirror. But for a slight pull on one of the buttons — a thing easily repaired by a competent tailor — it fit like a glove.
“Well,” I thought, “they’re going to want a couple hundred at least.” I looked for a tag. I couldn’t find one. I looked on the rack. It bore a sign that read, simply, “Men’s $5.00.” Now I went weak in the knees. This Gieves & Hawkes navy blazer — the ultimate, perfect, Roger Moore-esque blazer — was $5? It was too good to be true. It didn’t have a tag; they’d never sell it to me. With trepidation and a feeling of foreboding I walked up and placed the jacket on the counter and said to the clerk, “This was on the five dollar rack.”
“Alright,” the lady clerk responded in a cheery Oxford accent and proceeded to ring up the sale. I couldn’t believe it. There was an elderly gentlemen looking at ties standing nearby. He eyed the jacket with some curiosity.
I couldn’t stand it. “But that’s Gieves & Hawkes!” I nearly shouted it.
“So it is,” the clerk replied, flatly. “Looks like you got the deal of a lifetime, eh?”
The old man gave me a wink. “What?” I asked the clerk. “Is it haunted or something?”
“No,” said the woman, who seemed to have no sense of humor or irony. “It’s just that double breasted isn’t in style among the fashionistas right now… So it’s five dollars…”
“Well, what the hell do the fashionistas know?!” I laughed, putting my new Gieves & Hawkes blazer on and bagging up the old midnight blue velvet jacket I’d worn into the shop. Newly arrayed, though still weak in the knees, I barged down the street like a soldier on parade and headed straight for the Elite Café, there to get a stiff drink — A drink that cost me double what the blazer did — and relay my good luck to Chenners over the phone. I expected at any second to get a tap on the shoulder from an angry Junior League store manager demanding extra payment. Luckily, this never came.
Later that evening, I went through the pockets of my new G&H blazer. In the left breast pocket I found a folded card. On the front was printed a horse head and crown crest inscribed with the legend “1893” and the word “Mort” in hand-written calligraphy. Inside was scrawled, in ball-point, “Lady Mountbatten.” I surmised that the last time the original owner had worn this blazer was at one of those murder mystery dinner parties. Maybe, though, the article really is haunted. At least I hope it is.
Next time The Amazing Kreskin comes to town, perhaps I’ll be able to find out for sure.