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Stealing shirts with a smile

February 12, 2012
By KATHRYN SPIRA , For The Leader Herald

I wore a shirt today that I got from a friend, Perry Smith, a fellow bartender at Chumley's in the West Village, Manhattan back in the 1980s. It isn't open anymore, but back then it had a reputation as a hidden speakeasy during the Prohibition era.

The thing is, I talked the shirt off his back while we were both behind the bar and Perry took his shirt off while still bartending but as he was about to leave as I was his relief.

I have a lot of shirts in my closet that have stories with special meaning to me. They are mainly men's shirts, which is my style anyway, and back when I was pursuing an acting career that was financed by my bartending and waitressing, I got pretty good at talking shirts off friends and even strangers' backs.

Let me give you a for instance with respect to strangers' shirts.

Those who know me know I have no problem with being shy. In fact, if I liked a shirt I saw someone wear, I would make a beeline to them and had no problem saying, "Hey, I'm Kathryn, I love your shirt. Can I have it?"

I know that doesn't sound like much of a persuasive line, but it's surprising how often it works.

I remember a neighbor who was moving away from Spaulding Avenue in Hollywood, off Santa Monica Boulevard. I helped him pack and asked if he wanted to leave his shirt behind with me for one less thing to have to take with him. Amazingly he gave me the shirt and I was thrilled.

Sometimes, I ask for a shirt and the wearer brings it to me later after laundering. I remember saying how much I liked Tom G's rugby shirt some year's back. He was cutting my hair at his shop called "Mr. G's" and the next time I came in for a cut, he had it cleaned and ready for me.

Then there's the case of a denim jacket I liked that was lined with a leather collar. It came back to me a year later, when the owner replaced it with a new one. But I really liked the distressed look of the worn jacket.

I remember a friend, Jack, riding his motorcycle for a visit with his wife, Kaye, and my saying I really liked the American Eagle sweatshirt he was wearing. Without hesitation, he took it off on the spot and as I recall I gave him a T-shirt to wear home in exchange. I definitely got the better half of that deal.

Sometimes shirts show up at my door unannounced. I remember a reader inquiring where to get a Wa-Ha sweatshirt with sewn-on mittens at the ends of the sleeves. Seems they were a great item for runners who were warming up for a long-distance runs. Shortly after I wrote the story a few years back, the mother of the maker of the Wa-Ha shirts (short for "warm hands") was at my door with a couple of samples that I still have. Sadly, they aren't made anymore, but I have mine-special delivery!

So, dear readers, if you happen to see me out and about, make sure you hang onto your shirt. I just may try to talk it off your back.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns and contact information may be accessed at her website at



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