Sunday, December 11, 2011

Levis conundrum - 501 or 505

It started in middle school in Bayport Long Island, my love of Levis 501 jeans.  You probably know them -  button-fly, shrink-to-fit, blue jeans - worn in Bayport at least, by the JD's(Juvenile Delinquents), the guys with DA (Duck's Ass) hairdos, who sported leather jackets and engineer boots.  One of them, my girlfriend Joan's older brother, Donny, told me he bought them two sizes too large and shrunk them to fit perfectly.  When I asked how to shrink them, he said, "Fill the tub with hot water and get in with the jeans on, then wear them till they dry."

I saved money from my paper route delivering the Long Island Daily Press, until I finally was able to purchase a pair.  I had to ask my mother what size I was, since she bought all my clothes.  She told me and asked why I wanted to know; I told her I'd saved up for a pair of jeans.   It took the next half hour to convince her I wouldn't become a JD just because I wore the same jeans - though I secretly admired their lifestyle.  On Saturday, I road my bike to Patchogue, the town with the nearest department store that carried the beloved 501's, and bought the dark blue, two sizes too large jeans.  Back home, mom inspected my purchase and declared them too large.  When I explained that they shrink a lot she just shook her head, mumbling something about a waste of good money and went outside with a pitcher of Kool-aid to sit with Dad and our next door neighbors.

I headed for the bathroom with my purchase, took off my dungarees (now more popularly known as carpenter jeans) and donned the new Levis while the tub was filling, carefully folding the pantlegs two times each to shorten them.  I climbed into the tub, easing myself into the water.  After soaking for what I deemed an appropriate interval, I stood up and pulled the plug to let the water drain.  Then it occurred to me - How was I going to get out of the tub without dripping water all over the floor?  I stood in the tub, dripping, holding the too-big jeans up with both hands, and pondered my predicament for several minutes. I had decided to stay where I was until they stopped dripping when my mother, pregnant with my youngest sister, knocked on the door.

"Tommy?  I need to use the toilet, hurry up."
"Ma ... I..." She must have heard the desperation in my voice, because she opened the door and rushed in.

Even now the range of emotions that crossed her face are vivid in my memory. Horror, concern, anger, humor, all contended for dominance.  "Take them off in the tub," she ordered, "And put on dry underpants before you get dressed."  She picked up my T-shirt and dungarees, handed them to me as I stepped from the tub, and pushed me out the door.  In the room I shared with my brother, I dressed quickly then hurried back to wait by the bathroom.  When she emerged wet Levis in hand, I tried to explain about needing to wear them until they dried, but she rejected my pleas.  Back in my bedroom,  I watched out the window while she unfolded the pantlegs and hung the jeans on the clothesline in our back yard.  I stared at those jeans, willing them to remember my body shape and size while they dried.  Though I couldn't hear the conversation when Mom joined Dad and their friends in the yard, their laughter pretty much told me the topic.

Back to my conundrum - I love 501 jeans, (which now come preshrunk, though the shrink-to-fit originals are still available) but the last time I tried on a pair I had great difficulty buttoning the fly.  When I finally got it buttoned, I realized that my aging plumbing might not be able to hold off emptying itself while I unbuttoned it.  With great sadness, I opted for the zippered fly Levis 505's.  They are adequate, but that's it.  No love there.

Last night I decided to fight back and ordered two pair of 501's.

And, no, that first pair never did look quite right.

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