His name is Brian, the man whose clothes I’m wearing. Well at least, that’s
what we call him. I will probably never know his real name, but I know when he’s sold his clothes to the Crossroads at Church and Market streets. There they are: shirts my size, and suits my size, and jeans, and sweaters, and all of it. It happens every few months. Once, just before my 40th birthday, Brian surprised me with a gift: the perfect suit. It didn’t even need tailoring.
“Couldn’t it just be that you are a standard-sized gay man?” asks my husband David because, clearly, this Crossroads in the Castro is where gay men sell their castoffs. No, I tell him. I’m not “standard-sized.” My arms are too long, and my butt is too big. Only Brian and I wear the same size. “Right,” David says and lets the dog outside. Anyway, I tell him, you’re just envious.
My husband has nothing to say to that because, for him, there is no Brian.
I am addicted to consignment shopping because something always fits me. But I’m willing to try on everything in the store—David is not. There are gays who may as well be straight. I am married to one. Straight men do not enjoy trying on clothes. I think it has something to do with having to untie their sneakers.
Our particular Crossroads, though, has a certain allure: It is across the street from the Lucky 13 bar, which has Racer 5 IPA on draft for $1 during happy hour. The few times a year I manage to lure David into the store, he deigns to try on a few jackets before giving up. “I don’t have a Brian,” he says. “I’ll see you at Lucky 13.” I think he is wounded not to have a fashion doppelganger like mine—someone whose style he can buy for cheap.
When I am around, David wears bicycle knickers and a red Hellgate High sweatshirt. When I am gone, if Facebook is any indication, he seems to wear my clothes. Which is absolutely fine. After all, my husband might as well be straight, and we wouldn’t want him spilling Racer 5 on a Prada sweater.
But he is also the spouse of a writer—a funny profession in which you’re supposed to be both an outsider and an insider, a potato bug and butterfly. You are supposed to work for years in seclusion, dressed in sweats, and then emerge to the literary world artfully clothed, in the great hope of being taken seriously. Mostly, this doesn’t happen. (After all, you are a fraud.) But when it does, you must not be rumpled.
After publishing my last book, I had the rare luck (clearly a mistake) of being asked to speak at the Roman Forum, preceding a famous Italian actress, before an audience of thousands. What does one wear? Later that same year, I was invited by the French Ministry of Culture (they have a Ministry of Culture!) to travel the country talking about American literature. France. For a month. Europeans think writers are smart and elegant. But what we really are is broke. And cheap. And hopelessly out of date.
What is one to do? One turns to an old friend. One turns to Brian.
I picture him almost 50, with silver hair and dark eyebrows. We track his life by the clothes he bought some time back, sort of as one gazes at light millions of years old arriving, only now, from a distant star. “I see Brian is out of mourning,” my husband said when I came home with something that wasn’t black. “Brian must have sold the farm,” when I bought his caramel-hued work boots. More recently, when I had to have some pants let out: “Brian’s losing weight? How dare he.”
Brian’s clothes allow me to feel like I can change. I can go to literary events and not feel like a one-book wonder. Brian would never feel that way. And, dressed as Brian, I don’t either.
I sometimes wonder if my husband is sad that he has no sartorial body double to cover him. But he isn’t a fraud. He doesn’t want to change. He is married to a writer, and he shows up as exactly that. He speaks beautiful French. He will go up to someone I don’t dare talk to—Salman Rushdie, on one occasion—and talk about cars. Everyone wants to hear about cars. Everyone wants to drink Racer 5. He doesn’t want to be Brian because he doesn’t need to be.
Recently, I received a phone call from my delighted husband while on a trip to New York. He had gone—on his own—to a consignment store. “I found everything!” he shouted. “Everything fits me! I’m buying it all!” I pictured him looking in the mirror with that elusive feeling of a lottery win. Everything fits, everything’s affordable. I said, “I’m so happy for you, honey.” He had, at last, found his Brian. The fellow had been living in New York all this time.
It saddens me to think I’ll never meet my Brian. He must live a few blocks away. Maybe I pass him on Market Street now and then. I wonder if he ever sees me, wearing his clothes, and smiles in recognition. I wonder if I seem ridiculous to him. I wonder if he reads. I wonder if he’s reading this, and if he is:
Brian! I have a new book out next year. I doubt I’ll need a tuxedo, but could you possibly part with a shirt that won’t wrinkle? A blazer that erases jet lag and doubt? Anything French? And if not, my husband would prefer me in jeans and T-shirts. Could you spare some? Until then, many thanks for many years of clothes. And please don’t lose any more weight.
ANDREW SEAN GREER is the best-selling author of The Story of a Marriage.
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