Signs of the TimesSigns of the Times
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Characters: Magneto, Charles and the Lipchitz family.Part of the
Summary: Another trip to his tailor causes Magneto to remember the day when he and Charles first went to Lipchitz's shop.
Signs of the Times
The news that evening had predicted an early heat wave in New York, and Erik had been reminded of the necessity of ordering a summer weight uniform. The last thing he needed was to be flying around over the Eastern seaboard dripping sweat. Between, his imprisonment and getting back out, not to mention the whole awkward business with Rogue, the comparatively trivial matter of making an appointment with his tailor had, not surprisingly, slipped his mind. The weather report, however, galvanized the Master of Magnetism into action, and he had phoned Rolf Lipchitz the following day.
A week later he drove to the East Side, got a decent parking space less than two blocks from his destination by levitating the car into a tight space no ordinary human could have parallel parked into, and walked to Rolfs place. The heat this year, he had to admit, was stifling.
At the door, in the dim window of Lipchitz Tailoring, was a hand-lettered sign, reading "MUTANTS WELCOME" in what he recognized as Rolfs now wavering handwriting. He smiled, and entered, prepared for the usual wait, and mused on the sign. It was not that the sign was so unusual, he reflected. Manhattan was scattered with them, as well as "NO MUTANTS" signs, allowed by a recent State law permitting businesses to refuse service to mutants. What made him smile and remember, was the memory of a sign that had been taped in the same spot nearly half a century ago .
"COMMIES WELCOME" it had said, with a breathtaking combination of humor and daring. True, there were probably more openly communist citizens living in this neighborhood in New York than anywhere else in America, but in the summer of 1950, generally speaking, it was not exactly P.C. to say so. was turning the House Un-American Activities Committee into a three ring circus of fear, and people who were even suspected of being communists were getting subpoenaed, losing jobs, or even fleeing to Europe due to political persecution.
Yet there it was. Professionally lettered, and sitting in the sparklingly clean window of a tailors shop.
Erik had been looking for a tailors shop when he had walked to the neighborhood, and the sign certainly intrigued him with this one. He had grumblingly objected when Charles had tried to get him to order a suit from his own uptown tailor, and after enduring the looks that the old coot of a Scotsman gave his worn clothes and longish odd-colored hair, snapped at Xavier, and they had an argument. Eventually a compromise was reached: Erik would allow Charles to pay for some new clothes, if he could find a place, of his own choice, that was reasonably priced and to his own taste. He would meet Charles later at a bookstore to go home.
He still remembered how stupidly embarrassed he was to take money from Charles to buy suits. Such a small thing, he reflected now, but it had felt so "icky" (as little Rogue would say) at the time. Probably because, after Charles lost Gabrielle, on the ship back to America, the two friends suddenly found themselves in a position a bit more than just friendly, and were now living together in a relationship that would probably cause that prune of a Scotsman to throw them both in the street if he guessed at it. Erik found he had surprisingly few inhibitions about the relationship, but money was definitely one of them. Every time Charles, so much as paid for their hot dogs and beer while walking in the park, Erik suddenly felt like a kept man.
So he was in the worst possible humor that day, and had tried to walk off his shame and anger by making the whole trip on foot. The unusual sign had stopped him, and even intrigued him enough that he went inside the shop. A bell over the door rang when he entered, and an attractive bleached blonde American woman in an almost excessively fashionable dress came to wait on him. After a few typical commercial pleasantries and queries passed between them, the woman went to the back and extracted her husband from his workroom. Erik was surprised and a little disconcerted to see that he recognized him. And vice versa.
The tailor, after a moment of trying to place him, broke into a grin that seemed totally out of place to Eriks way of thinking.
"Well if it isnt B6808." He said. "So you moved to New York?"
"Yes." Was all he found he could say.
"You been here long?"
"About a month" Erik replied.
"You coulda fooled me, B6. Your English is really good. Me, it took me the last five years to get my speech to sound American." Erik noticed that it did sound like like the tailor had been raised in Brooklyn, not Poland.
Rolf went on: "You sound like youve been in England, or maybe Upstate for years."
"Ive been in Israel. I had an American friend there, who taught me English." He didnt choose to mention that Charles taught it to him telepathically, and so well that Charles American friends mistook Erik for Charles on the phone. "Hes from Westchester, and went to University in England." Somehow he found himself offering more information than he usually did, and yet still felt awkward having a normal conversation with a man he had last seen when they both were boys assigned to a forced work detail involving removing gold dental work from corpses.
The blond lady seemed to recognize his uneasiness, and demanded "So, honey, arent you going to introduce us, and invite him in?"
"Oh, sorry, yeah." The man stumbled. "Only I dont know his name, sweetie "
"Im Erik Lenscherr."
"And Im Rolf Lipchitz, NOT Ginger." The Man replied. "And this is my wife, Rosie."
"Nee Simon. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Lenscherr." The woman smiled dazzlingly, then turned to her husband and said: "Why not Ginger?"
"Cause in the camp my name was Ginger, honey." He told his wife. "Lets go into the back, and Erik will tell you all about it. Itll be funnier that way " Then he wrapped an arm around Eriks shoulder and ushered him back to the workroom.
Erik was vaguely disconcerted that he was expected to tell a "funny" story to the mans wife, and was further surprised by being handed a cold bottle of beer to ingest instead of tea or coffee. Happily, Lipchitz seemed inclined to tell Erik the complete story of his years since the war, including his sponsorship by an American cousin, his first job, his courtship of the delectable Rosie, and every detail of every fun place to go in a 200 mile radius that he had visited with his wife. The couple seemed to spend nearly every night out dancing, and every weekend out driving. Rosie, apparently had family money sufficient to set them up in business, and yet still have a bit to spare for any moderately priced amusement they wanted.
Two hours, and two more beers later, and already late for his appointment with Charles, Erik finally had relaxed, and felt ready to explain to Mrs. Lipchitz why her husband was called "Ginger".
"In the camps, names werent allowed. We were all given numbers
, or the guards would just call us prisoner"
"Or less polite names " Rolf interjected.
Dont tell me what they are." Rosie warned her spouse.
"Often prisoners had names for each other, but getting caught using them in front of the guards could get you punished."
"Or dead." Rolf interjected again.
"So there were no names." Erik continued. "But one day there was music playing, and no guards around and Rolf here started dancing to the music."
"You would, honey." Rosie said. "But why was there music?"
"They useta play music all the time in the camp, on big speakers. They had a whole prisoner orchestra that played music." Rolf explained.
"Youre kidding." Rosie insisted.
"No, really, its true." Erik added. "They played it to soothe the guards or some such thing."
"I always thought it was to kill us slowly with German Schmaltz, like The Blue Danube or Villja." Rolf theorized.
"Well, whatever the reason, there was some such music playing, and Rolf started dancing to it." Erik continued. "Just then a pair of guards came to where we were supposed to be working and saw him. They were both young, not much older than we were, and instead of getting angry, were amused. They insisted that he dance for them. They brought two more guards over to see him dance, and they thought it was funny too."
"Oh, you poor baby." Rosie said as she deposited herself on her husbands lap.
"Finally they all got into making jokes about dancers they had seen in American films, and asked him if he thought he was Fred Astaire. He said No, and then one of the guards said No, hes Ginger Rogers! and after that they all called him Ginger and insisted we call him that too." It was just the sort of trivial cruelty that boys who volunteered for camp guard duty thought was fun.
Although Erik didnt feel he told the story in a funny manner, his audience still laughed politely, and said to her husband "Well, I think you dance much more like Gene Kelley, honey, youve got swing!
"So, Erik." Lipchitz inquired, "Do you have a girl?"
Erik nearly choked on his beer at the sudden change in the conversation.
"Never mind, he can take Fanny, or Nina." Rosie said.
"Fanny dances like a poster girl for the March of Dimes." Her spouse objected.
"Excuse me." Erik broke in. "What exactly are we talking about?"
"Its Friday." Rolf explained. "This is America! You should go dancing with a girl and have some fun."
Before Erik could successfully interject again, the Lipchitzs got into a heated debate over which dance club to go to and which of Rosies female relations should be Eriks date. After they had negotiated peace on an inexpensive club in Brooklyn, and Nina for a date, Erik was finally allowed back into the conversation.
"Im afraid that I have to meet up with my friend and go back to Westchester tonight. Im sorry." He said, surprised to realize that he actually was.
Another flurry of conversation ensued, and Erik found himself pressured into telephoning Charles at the bookstore to ask if he wanted to go dancing as well. Charles, curious about anything to do with Eriks mysterious past agreed, to the amazement of Erik.
Belatedly, they all remembered the original purpose of Eriks visit to the shop. Rolf took measurements, and Erik chose two styles and fabrics from a sample book in great rapidity, trying to finish before Charles arrived.
Section where the Lipchitzs' shanghai Charles and Erik onto a double date with Fanny and Nina. Rolf explains his philosophy. Too much alcohol is imbibed. Fanny and Nina are goofballs. Charles manages to offend Rolf. Erik pours Charles home. (This section awaits information on NYC swing dance clubs in 1950 before it can be written. If you have information on this topic please write me at so I can get this important bit of exposition done for the story).
Back in the present, Erik has his fitting with Rolf and Sylvie. Sylvie is dressed very conservatively in a "preppy" style, because she is planning on going with David to meet his Dad (Charles) after the fitting. David and Sylvie are now engaged. Rolf disapproves. (Awaiting the above.)
After his fitting, he strolled back towards his car in an amiable frame of mind, humming "I Love New York in June". As he dug in his pocket for his keys two young men walked up to him and came close enough to nearly startle him. One shoved at the middle of his chest and shouted.
"GIMME YOUR WALLET!"
The other circled around behind him and shoved a blunt metal object into the back of his torso, in a manner that suggested he was a business associate of the shouting thug.
Erik remained unmoved. He allowed his gaze to take in the appearance of the two young men. The shouting one was twitching with withdrawal from some drug, and both were clearly masterpieces of some body modification parlor.
"My!" he smiled at them, disingenuously. "What very interesting piercings you boys have everywhere."
"GIMMIE YOUR WALLET, YOU OLD FART OR WELL PIERCE YOU!!"
The man behind him decided to cock the pistol for emphasis, like he had probably seen villains do in action movies. Erik was now even more amused.
"Indeed, it would seem that you even have piercings in places I personally would consider highly uncomfortable ." He smiled.
"How do you know that?" The less twitchy one asked, grabbing Erik by the shoulder.
"The same way I know how to do this." Erik replied, suiting his action to his words, and then stepped over the pair of writhing, screaming men to his car, humming cheerily again:
"I Love New York in June,
How about you?
I Love a Gershwin tune,
How about you?"
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