Bill McClellan: What a zipper tells us about poverty, diets and society

2013-01-04T00:15:00Z 2013-01-10T16:23:28Z Bill McClellan: What a zipper tells us about poverty, diets and societyBy Bill McClellan bmcclellan@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8143 stltoday.com

About two weeks ago, one of my pairs of pants died. That is, a zipper broke. That can be terminal for pants.

You don’t repair zippers, you replace them. That is not easy.

Several years ago, I took a pair of pants with a busted zipper to the seamstress who works above a dry cleaner near my home. She told me it was difficult to find a zipper these days. We’re a throw-away society, and consequently, there is not much of a market for zippers.

I wrote about that, and Leonard Barasch called me. He was a salesman for Ely E. Yawitz, a company that has serviced the garment industry since 1924. The company is in the 1700 block of Olive Street, just a few blocks from the newspaper.

“We sell zippers,” Barasch said.

Indeed. About 250,000 a year. I bought one of them, took it to the seamstress and saved the pants.

But those were relatively new pants. Did an older pair deserve what amounts to a zipper transplant? This is like health care. We have to make choices. Tough choices. In this instance, the death panel said, “No.”

I went to Target to buy a new pair. I found some nice khaki-colored pants in my size. Just to be safe, I tried them on. They were too tight. I suppose I could have bought a larger size, but somehow that seemed like making a concession I was not ready to make. I may be many things, but I am not a 38 waist.

So I went to Macy’s. Sure enough. I was a 36.

That is a secret I learned long ago, back in the days when I was transitioning from 34 to 36. Sizes are always a little larger at better establishments.

That’s America for you. The more money you have, the easier it is to feel good about yourself.

There is another way to look at it. We make things tough on the poor. I have a friend who is not doing well financially. He hasn’t worked for a long time. He is not just poor, he is bitter. He complains that everybody likes to pick on the poor. He means that literally. He claims we enjoy picking on the poor. He thinks it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Maybe he’s right. It’s easier to shred the safety net if we decide the poor are not just poor, but unworthy. When we had the Occupy protests, a man I know joined in the march to the bridge. He said a car pulled up and the driver shouted, “Get a job!”

Lack of jobs is one of the things the kids were protesting.

So this is one of the smaller indignities we visit upon the poor. Their clothes are not measured with a wink and a smile and a generous touch. They are measured with cold precision.

Even though I could afford to be a 36, I did not want to limit myself to pricier establishments. I decided I should lose a little weight.

Good timing on that. We were in the middle of the holiday season, just a couple of weeks from the new year, which is, of course, the perfect time to go on a diet.

So I decided to pack on a few pounds. That would make it easier to lose weight in the new year. If you’re already fairly trim — and a 36, even a Macy’s 36, is fairly trim — it’s tough to lose weight. If you struggle early, you probably quit. My pre-New Year’s resolution then was to gain a little weight so I could more easily lose some.

Mission accomplished!

I’m not trying to be prideful about it. Much credit goes to Big Dairy, which gives us egg nog in the holiday season — before withdrawing it for the rest of the year. That seasonal approach remains one of the mysteries of marketing. What other product is treated like that? Imagine if you could only get cookies for several weeks a year. Or beer.

After Christmas, my wife and I went to Tucson for a few days. I went to one of my favorite places, El Charro Cafe. It’s a great place to prepare for an upcoming diet. It opened in 1922, and according to the menu, the original owner invented the chimichanga when she accidentally dropped a burrito into a deep fryer.

That is a story St. Louisans can appreciate. Wasn’t toasted ravioli invented in much the same fashion at Angelo’s, which is now Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill? Yes, it was.

That’s something to muse about. We are all capable of greatness. It is still possible to accidentally invent things.

I used to think that people in olden times had it easy. I was taught that Isaac Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell on him while he was napping under an apple tree. He woke up and realized that things fall down, not up. I remember thinking, “I could have discovered that.”

I could have discovered the chimichanga and toasted ravioli, too.

Why should I beat myself up if I’ve put on a couple of pounds?

Bill McClellan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Read his columns here.

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Bill McClellan

Bill McClellan worked as a reporter in Phoenix before coming to the Post-Dispatch in 1980. He was night-police reporter before becoming a columnist in 1983. He also appears on Channel 9's Donnybrook.

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