By Greg Clark, August 27, 1932
A man can get into a lot of trouble, even if he isn’t looking for it.
J. Llewellyn Frise (Jim Frise of Birdseye Center) has a wife, four daughters and plenty of female relations, and that is why I consulted him the other day when I got a letter from my wife saying to bring up “a little cheap blue dress of some kind to wear home from the cottage. About four dollars.”
“Jim,” I say to him, “you’ve got a lot of taste in dresses with all the experience you’ve had.”
“I certainly have,” said Jim.
“My wife wants me to get her a little blue dress to wear home from the cottage. About four dollars. Help me get it, will you?”
“Oh,” says Jimmie, “just go up to the big store and go to the dress-i-teria and pick one out.”
The dress-i-teria. Like a cafeteria. You just walk in and pick what you like and there you are.”
“Have you been in it?” I asked.
“No,” says he, “but I’ve heard the wife talking about it. Very simple.”
“Do you wrap it up yourself?”
“Sure,” says Jim, “you pick up a tray, walk along and pick out the dress you want, the it to the cashier, she gives you paper and string instead of knife and fork, and then you are.”
“Come on, with me,” said I.
“I’m pretty busy.”
“Come on, you know how shy I am. Give us a lift.”
So Jimmie and I went up to the dress-i-teria.
It wasn’t a bit like a cafeteria. In the first place, there were no trays. And there were no girls behind the counters to help you choose your food. In fact, there were no counters. Just a great big open space filled with racks hung with dresses. On one side was a big bench where husbands could be parked. We saw no men in among the racks, and at first I held back, thinking it would be better to go and deal with a salesgirl in the regular dress department. But Jim is an adventurer.
“Heck,” he said, “we’ve come this far.”
So we barged in.
On top of each rack was a sign telling how much the dresses were. We strolled around the aisles of racks until we came to one marked $4.50.
“Here we are,” said Jim, stepping up. “Here’s a couple of blue ones.”
We lifted out three blue ones and held them up for inspection. They had a ticket then with the figures 18 in large letters.
“Which do you like?” I asked Jim.
“I like this one,” said Jim. “It’s got insertions on it and gussets.”
“It’s a pretty blue,” I said.
“But These are Misses’”
“What size is your wife?” asked Jimmie.
“She’s getting to be a big girl now,” I said. “I should say she was, let’s see, about as big as that girl standing over there.”
“Yes,” said Jimmie, “but what’s her size? Her size. Is she a 36 or 38, or what?”
“Gosh, I don’t know, Jim. She’s just a nice size, that’s all I know. She’s not one of these skinny—”
“Well,” said Jim, “for Pete’s sake, every girl has got a size. You’ve got to know her size before you can buy her a dress.”
We stood and thought for a minute.
“I could ask that girl over there what size she is,” I suggested.
“She’s a customer,” replied Jim. “Maybe she would resent it.”
“She has a kind face. Wait a minute.”
Hat in hand, I addressed the young woman who was two racks away, deep in the stand of dresses.
“Excuse me,” I said, “but my wife asked me to get—”
“I’m no salesgirl!” snapped the lady. She hadn’t a kind face at all.
I went back to Jim and hid around the other side of the rack of $4.50 ones.
“There must be somebody working around here,” said Jim. “Go take a look around and see a girl with her hat off.”
So I wandered in and out amongst the racks and saw more girls with their hats off than on, but they all had their purses, which shows they are not employees. Finally, I saw a sort of office at the back with a wide door and a stern-looking lady standing there observing the view.
I marched toward her.
“Here,” she commanded, when I was still ten feet from her. “You can’t come in here. This is the fitting room.”
And of course I had to go. All you can do in a sudden emergency like that is to pretend you were going some place else anyway. Policemen always have that effect on me, even when I have to pass to get in somewhere. So I thought I could find somebody else with a less suspicious mind.
But I couldn’t. I went back to Jim and said. “Let’s go.”
“No, siree,” said Jim. “We’ll stick this out.
Around the rack came a sweet old lady who had a perennial smile on her face.
“Madam,” I cried, “will you help us buy a dress?”
“Why, yes,” said she. “What kind of a dress?”
“A four dollar one,” said I. “Blue.”
“I’m not very sure. It is my wife. She is pretty well grown up, if you know what I mean.”
“Well, what are these dresses you are holding?”
“We liked the color,” smiled Jimmie with his very sweet grin.
“But there are misses’ dresses,” said the old lady. “Size 18, you see on this ticket. Your wife is more than eighteen, I take it?”
“Yes,” I said. “As a matter of fact, she is twice that. She is 36. Would she take a 36?”
“No. That has nothing to do with it,” said the lady. “About how big is she?”
Jumping From Ages to Sizes
“Well, you see that lady over there?” said I. “She’s about that size but much better looking.”
“Ah, yes, that is my daughter,” said the old lady. “She is a forty-two.”
“My wife is only 36,” I put in, determinedly.
“Yes, but you see the sizes run by age up to 20. After that they go by sizes. You jump from 20, which is age, to 36, which is size.”
“Madam,” I said, “you pass over the most beautiful and romantic years of a woman’s life”
“Exactly,” said the old lady. “It is confusing, isn’t it? But now we will go to a rack of larger sizes. Over here, see; these are the sizes. Here is a 42.”
“But it isn’t blue.”
“No, blue is a color not much favored in the larger sizes because it makes the ladies look larger, so they imagine.”
“My wife said blue and I’ll have to get blue,” said I. And at this moment the daughter, who was the same woman that had snubbed me a few minutes before, caught sight of me chatting with her mother, and whatever she imagined, she came over, took the old lady by the arm and marched her away, with a cold glare over her shoulder at me.
“We were doing fine,” said Jim. know about ages and sizes, anyway.”
“Now for a 42 in a blue, at $4,” said I.
We started walking up and down the rack rows again and came to a rack marked $5. I saw a blue dress of a particularly nice chalky color I like, and as I reached up to the rack to take hold of the hanger, I grabbed instead a hand that had sneaked in from the other side, and was just about to lift the dress down, too. There was a scream from the other side.
Several ladies popped into view and stared down the aisles at Jimmie and me. But I had the dress.
A fierce, dark-looking lady, rather square built, like a typewriter, came surging around the rack.
“Here,” she said, “I had ahold of that first!”
And she snatched the dress from me and stood glaring at me.
“Excuse me, lady,” I breathed.
Jim had gone. I walked about and found him sitting on the parking bench for husbands all bent over and his face very red.
“Let’s go,” I growled.
“Never,” groaned Jim. “This is better than the races.”
And he crowded me back into the cafeteria again.
We strolled amongst the racks, and I saw gray ones and pink ones and yellow ones, but all the blue ones were either 18 or 36.
“I had no idea girls were so much all of a size,” said Jim. “I thought they were all shapes and sizes.”
Suddenly I became aware that we were being followed. A thin lady in a gray dress with a severe black hat and a grim look about her was following us from rack to rack and narrowly watching every move we made. I tipped Jim off. We watched her out of the corner of our eyes and she certainly was following us.
“A store detective,” I hissed to Jim. “They are suspicious of us.”
“Store detectives wouldn’t be dressed up,” said Jim.
“Sure they would! Pretending to be customers.”
“All the better,” said Jim. “She’s an employee. We’ll ask her to help us picks dress if we can’t find anybody else.”
“These Men Spoke to Me”
We went around a couple more racks and sure enough the grim lady in gray, followed us step by step.
So Jim and I sidled up to her.
“We’re all right,” said Jim quietly.
The grim lady in the black hat fell back from us and uttered a gasp.
“We’re just trying to buy somebody a dress,” said I, confidentially, as one guy to a detective.
“Sir!” cried the thin lady, thinly. “SIR!”
“We thought,” said I, hastily, “you might like to—”
“Oh, oh, OH!” screamed the grim lady.
And in about two seconds, we were surrounded by employees by the dozen, amongst them the severe lady who had steered me away from the fitting room; and also a large man who pushed through the crowd of shoppers and glowered at us all.
“What is it?” demanded the big man.
“These men SPOKE to me!” cried the grim lady.
“That little guy,” said the lady of the fitting room door, “tried to walk into the fitting room, if you please.”
“I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t—”
“Come this way,” commanded the big man. And we all marched into an office that we had not seen before.
When it all calmed down, under the benign presence of the big fellow, I explained that we were trying to buy a dress and that, after several failures to get help, we noticed this lady following us and we thought she was a store detective who therefore, as an employee, might help us in our troubles.
“Were you following these gentlemen?” asked the big man, astonished.
The grim lady was covered with confusion.
“I am a maiden lady,” she finally said, “and I have always been curious about men’s taste in dresses. I saw these two gentlemen trying to select a dress so I followed them quietly, never dreaming they would notice ME. So when they spoke to me, I like to drop dead I was so astonished.”
We shook hands all around. The fitting room lady patted my shoulder. She and the big man and the grim lady in the black hat all came out and helped Jim and me to pick a nice blue dress, size 38.
“Why 38?” I asked them all.
“Because,” said the fitting room lady, “if you don’t know your wife’s size it always flatters her to have you pick her one too small.”
“But she wants to wear it home from the cottage,” I said.
“You silly man,” said the fitting room lady, “no woman ever wears the dress her husband buys for her. Now run along. Take this one. She will come in and exchange it as soon as she comes home.”
So I have mailed it off.
But it just goes to show how much adventure there is in the simplest places, and how like another world it is the minute you step off the beaten path.
Editor’s Note: This is the first “official” Greg-Jim story published on August 27, 1932. From this week on, a Greg-Jim story appeared almost every week the next 16 years.