Unearthing Ancient Artifacts in Beverly Hills

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Acme Visible Strat-o-Matic, image by Jeff GatesThe Acme Visible Strat-o-Matic, image by Jeff Gates

The Acme Visible Strat-O-Matic, image by Jeff Gates

My trips back home to Los Angeles are always frenetic and filled with mixed emotions. Too much family history. As always I visit my parents’ graves (sadly, my family reunions are slowly moving from my relatives’ homes, to the cemetery). But on this trip I’d reconnect with my father in a very different and most unusual way.

[GeekDad reader, and occasional topic, Jeff Gates sent us this poignant story about his dad and a cool piece of retro-technology.]

This morning, as I drove through Beverly Hills, I suddenly thought of dad- funny, we lived in the San Fernando Valley, far from this exclusive enclave- but didn’t he used to buy his suits at a men’s shop down the street? Malibu Clothes, that was it! As a youngster my father dragged me with him on his periodic trips to buy his suits. But what so enticing to this seven year old was the gatekeeper at the store’s entrance. Malibu Clothes was wholesale decades before outlets but you needed a referral to get in. There was always an old man sitting at a counter waiting to get your name. It was my first brush with status. And it felt like a secret club.

The memory gnawed at me as I drove down Wilshire Boulevard. Could the store still be there after all this time? I pulled over to the curb to Google it. Yes, still in business after 65 years! But I called to make sure. “Is this the store where you have to be referred in order to get in?” I asked. “My father used to buy me suits there. Do you think you’d still have our names on file?” “Oh yes, we keep all records,” came the reply. I turned at the next corner.

The Acme Visible Strat-O-Matic, image by Jeff Gates

When I entered the store my memory of the place returned with total clarity. Before me stood the largest rotating card file I’d ever seen: an Acme Visible Strat-O-Matic. Thousands upon thousands of index cards with clients’ names were filed away right next to the obligatory photo wall of celebrity customers. Suddenly I remembered the last time I was in there. In 1975, fresh out of college, I was about to go on interviews for my first teaching job and my father wanted to buy me a suit for this special occasion. This was his way of saying how proud he was of me. It was camel hair three-piece affair. The memory was complete.

The salesman looked under my father’s name and pulled out a thick stack of cards stapled together. After examining Dad’s 45-year clothes-buying history he said: “Ah, I remember your Dad.” When I told him he had died eight years before he said he was sorry and he’d remove him from their list.

“Can I keep his cards?” I asked. According to his records, my father first came to Malibu Clothes in 1955, referred by one Ray Buchman. I had no idea who that was. In December 1956 he bought two sport coats, each under $40, and a pair of slacks. Every time he bought something they marked it on a card. “Don’t you put everything in a database?” I asked. “Yes, but having something to carry with me while you shop allows me to quickly scan your buying habits —what you like and don’t like and how many times you’ve come in and bought nothing. Stuff like that.” I thumbed to the last card dated August 18, 2000. Handwritten notes had morphed into barcodes. Dad had bought three pair of slacks on that last trip. A month later he would be in the hospital and a month after that I’d make a hasty trip to L.A. for his funeral. Here it was: a side of my father I’d never thought of. Almost a decade after his death I had retrieved a rich history of him, of us, on a whim.

I bought a sport coat that day at a price you wouldn’t believe. And my clothes choices have been duly filed in Malibu’s Strat-O-Matic. But the real deal was that stack of cards– Dad’s cards. And they were priceless.

[Jeff Gates blogs regularly at Life Outtacontext.]

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