My Calderon Years

By on Sep 24, 2010 in Essays

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NYC skyline

Now, look, let me caution the reader on one point. This is not the official history of Calderon Belts and Bags. Given the knuckle-headed, illiterate stooges that comprise the fashion industry, there will never be one. Writers don’t know anything about fashion, and fashion professionals, those that are still extant — and their numbers are receding daily (outside of China) — are even stupider than people in the legal services sector where I currently reside, if that’s possible. In fact, for all its faults, this recounting could very well be the definitive history of the Fifth Avenue accessory market as it existed in its heyday before it succumbed to the overwhelming onslaught of the Asian hordes. But it is not documented in any sense like a freakin’ Ken Burns history of the Civil War. I’m just telling the story of what happened to me anecdotally, for laughs. It could be factually wrong on some points, but it is a true recounting of my experiences in New York fashion, and, believe me, you are getting it straight from the horse’s mouth (or some other aspect of his physiognomy). So don’t bother sending me any hate mail, because I will just use it to create some cruel jokes. I’m not here to take an indulgent or sympathetic view of humanity or New Yorkers. Quite the contrary. That’s why I am urging you to buy my book, so I can get the fuck out of town and relieve suffering all the way around.

I’m sure that whatever the fashion industry trends were, the Nathan family kissed the ground that their sales manager, Ernie Dornbusch, walked on. He brought in the orders that made them rich. Murray Nathan was able to purchase his own private tropical Caribbean island paradise, which is more than even AIG’s Greenberg ever had. (Of course, Greenberg with his billions could buy the whole archipelago of Bermuda, but he didn’t care about freakin’ islands. His focus was on owning the entire world and everybody in it. Never mind that).

What Murray Nathan saw in me, with my French manners and the beautiful belt I designed for him, maybe he figured I could be the next big thing to make him even richer. I mean, he hired me on the spot, OK? Not the next day or a week later.

Dornbusch definitely had a different point of view concerning me. I had just arrived back in this country after many years in France and Montreal. I spoke French, and I looked like what the fashion industry was supposed to look like, not some decrepit schlemiel subway rider. I had design talent. Who knows what other tricks I had up my sleeve? I was green, but who knows what I would eventually develop into once I learned the ropes? Dornbusch had no intention of letting me stick around long enough to find out. From Dornbusch’s perspective, everything was going fine just the way it was. Why bring in an unpredictable foreign element who might foul things up for him farther on down the line? Dornbusch couldn’t understand me in a million years, and he didn’t like it.

As it turned out, they were both right. Dornbusch was right because, when I eventually got seasoned in the industry, I developed into a very hard, unpleasant individual who would have delighted in kicking him in the butt for fun. Murray Nathan also was right, because I would eventually use the techniques I learned at Calderon to make millions for the company — but not at Calderon.

Eventually, Ernie Dornbusch came to pay me a little visit in his turn in the little room where Bill Daniels had stashed me away. When he came in the room, I didn’t even bother to look up from the stupid little pattern I was working on.

“Are you still here?” he said, dripping venom. “I told Murray Nathan that I don’t think you’re the man for the job. You came here from Pearl?”

That required an answer, so I looked up. “Yeah.”

“So, what did you do for Pearl?”

“I was the foreman in the cutting department.”

“Well, you don’t look like any cutting foreman I ever saw. What made you come here?”

“I heard there was a design opening.”

“Who told you that?”

“The union rep.”

“Well, I think I’ll give Pearl a call and ask her about you.”

I gave a shrug and went back to my pattern. If Dornbusch had called Pearl, I’d have been dead before I even got started. Basically, I was all bluff. Dornbusch was all bluff, too. He was just a salesman, a misbegotten breed of loser if ever one existed. I didn’t know much about the industry, but I had years of good styling expertise from sewing clothes for French customers, who are the most demanding customers in the world. Dornbusch’s whole past experience was shooting off a lot of hot air and contributing to global warming.

Oh, he was a wasted specimen of humanity! Back in those days, the saying went that, at age 50, you got the face you deserved, and Dornbusch was all jowly with unflattering fat deposits hanging from his face and shaking with rage, a Halloween reveller’s mask of ignorance and corruption, but if it wasn’t for all those superfluous flapping folds of flesh he would have had no physical presence whatsoever. Even being ugly is preferable to being a total non-entity, I guess. Heaven knows what visual aspect of horror of a physique was hidden inside his expensive gray suit! Thank god for the fitness craze of the eighties’, that’s all I can say, but, unfortunately, Dornbusch’s body never saw the inside of a gym, that’s for sure! He was like an aboriginal ape. Nowhere in my life had I ever imagined being confronted by a total non-entity like Ernie Dornbusch. But he was my New York experience, a total waste of time standing between me and the money.

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Dean Borok, a nephew of Saul Bellow, is the winner of the 2009 New York Magazine political fictions literary competition with his award winning short story "A Wall Street Christmas Carol". He operates an experimental comedy web site at