Champagne, Anyone?

As I glanced in the mirror, a respectable-looking guy peered back.

"So what do you think? I asked my wife when I came out of the bedroom wearing my best linen pants and button-down shirt, just back from the dry cleaners. "Ooh!" she said, raising her hand to cover her mouth that was agape in horror.

"What is it? What's the matter?" I asked, inspecting the outfit I planned to wear that evening for what my publisher described as "an important dinner," being held as part of the International Book Fair in the city.

Sayed Kashua
Amos Biderman

"Why did they put a pleat down the middle?" she asked in shock, coming closer to take another look at my trousers.

"What, is there something wrong with that?" I asked, not understanding what all the fuss was about.

"No one wears a pleat down the middle anymore. I can't understand why they did that to you. The nerve."

I'd had no idea about the pleat and what it meant. Actually, I'd been quite pleased with what I saw in the mirror. For a moment there, I saw myself as a distinguished person, and somehow, the pleat down the middle only bolstered that feeling. But now that my wife had informed me that the pleat down the middle went out of fashion sometime around 1967, and now that she thinks the owner of the dry cleaners is a racist who should be sued for having decided that because I'm an Arab I'd be sure to prefer a pleat down the middle - that same pleat that a moment before had made me feel quite dignified now loomed in my imagination as a stark mountain ridge, as a mighty separation fence blocking me from international success.

We tried for a long time to suppress the tenacious pleats using the household iron, but to no avail. "It's no good," said my wife. "The dry cleaners' iron is very powerful and we'll never be able to squash this monster."

"So what am I going to do?" I asked, sitting down dejectedly on the living room sofa, knowing all too well that aside from some jeans not befitting a writer of international standing, all my few pairs of dress pants had been sent to the same dry cleaners and returned pressed like the uniforms of early 20th-century Ottoman officers.

"You know what?" My wife sat down next to me after glancing at the clock on the wall. "There's still time," she said, laying a comforting hand on my shoulder. "You can still run over to the mall and buy the right clothes."

"We can't afford to splurge," I said right away.

"I know," she replied. "But it's time we did, and you really deserve it. You never treat yourself. And you know what? Don't just get new pants, you really ought to get a whole new suit. You know the people from the Sapir Prize also specifically requested that you wear a suit to the ceremony."

She's right, I thought, and the despair over the pleated pants was instantly replaced by a sense of pride and optimism that everything would be fine, that everything would in fact be just great. That's right, I am nominated for the Sapir Prize, one of just five nominees, and I am invited to an important ceremony at the International Book Fair and there will be industry bigwigs there and I'll make a great impression on them and tell them that I'm a talented writer, and that I have a column in the country's top newspaper and that, with God's help, I'll beat out the son of the minister, the Palmachnik and the kibbutznik and I, the Arab writer, will prove to everyone that no one deserves the prize more than I. If the Egyptians could oust Mubarak, if the Libyans are shedding their blood for the sake of their freedom, then I, too, know that one day things will be good - and it will all start with a nice suit.

"Come on," I said, gesturing like an officer keen for battle and rousing his troops to take up the charge after him. "We're going to buy a suit!"

Even before I started trying on suits, when I was just looking at their price tags, I thought of just forgetting about it, of making do with a new pair of dress trousers, without a pleat pressed down the middle, which would be good enough for the dinner, and for the Sapir Prize, I could wear the suit I had bought for my younger brother's wedding last year. "You want to go to the Sapir Prize in a green suit?" my wife scolded me, again wondering how on earth she ever let me go shopping for a suit for the wedding by myself.

I gave in and went into the fitting room with a black suit that the salesman called "classic," and a white shirt. With the shirt, the whole thing cost NIS 2,500. Not so bad, I told myself. We'll spread it out in five installments. And anyway, they give you money just for being nominated for the Sapir Prize. That's what the prize folks said when they called a few days before.

"That's perfect," said my wife when I emerged from the fitting room, making the A-OK sign with her thumb and index finger. "You look good when you dress like a mensch," she added, almost giving me a kiss. "The way you look in that suit, every publisher in the world will want you."

I paid with a credit card. The machine spit out a receipt and I let out a sigh of relief. "You know, he's nominated for the Sapir Prize," my wife proudly told the salesman as I signed the receipt.

"What's that?" the salesman asked.

My wife was right. The suit gave me a lot of self-confidence. My publisher complimented me on my appearance. For just a moment, doubt crept into my heart, and I went into the bathroom to check in the mirror to make sure I'd taken off all the price tags and stickers. When I returned to the cocktail reception, I gingerly took a glass of champagne from one of the hostesses who was walking around offering drinks to the distinguished guests.

"Here you are," said my publisher, taking me by the hand. "There's a woman I want to introduce you to. She's the most important publisher in Europe today."

I followed him over to the illustrious female publisher, holding a glass of champagne, taking measured strides, smiling, stealing another glance at the suit and the white shirt. My life is good, I thought, just as that important European publisher smiled at my Israeli publisher and they exchanged warm greetings. Then my publisher signaled to me to come a little closer. I walked up to the eminent woman, lightly lifting my glass of champagne in greeting, and this woman, who upon meeting me was going to change my literary and financial standing, said to me in French-accented English, as she gently waved me off before pivoting around and returning to her conversation, "No thank you, I've had enough to drink."