Ahhhh. . . The Winter Coat. That most practical and necessary piece of clothing. Everyone living up North is familiar with it, but this particular form of apparel takes on a rather curious life, especially when viewed from my vantage point as a Florida resident traveling North with a reasonable expectation of maintaining some degree of fashion sense.
It all began this past December while making preparations for a combination business/ personal trip. Knowing in advance that anything I brought would need to be carried and/or placed within a 22” roller bag and transported by plane and commuter trains, I was focused on the idea – and ideal – of packing a single winter coat. Easy, right? Sure, if you’re living on some other planet.
Given the fact that fall had been rather mild, I started with a practical but reasonably fashionable choice. My black bomber jacket. It was crafted in beautiful soft leather, it was easy to pack and it was wonderful for jeans. Wonderful for jeans but not so much else, thereby requiring a second coat and impinging on my ideal of just one Winter Coat. The realization brought me just the slightest bit of irritation but that was nothing, I reminded myself. I’m an avowed optimist. I could easily produce another option.
Next, I vacillated between a long leather coat (more formal and versatile than the bomber jacket but, given the length, far too much black; plus, it could be easily ruined if caught in the rain) and a three-quarter- sleeve yellow trench coat (a great choice, especially if it rained and, given the color, certainly fashionable – providing, of course, that everything else I brought along on the trip had sleeves of ¾ length or shorter, coordinated with the color yellow, and my forearms didn’t mind a potential winter chill). Now thinking about having to arrange my entire travel wardrobe around the color yellow, I started to hyperventilate but quickly replaced my frustration with positivism. I reproved a familiar voice inside my head telling me: “See how ridiculous this life is?” Defensively, I countered my thoughts with, “Come on, now! You’ve handled major issues of import in your life; this little winter coat thing is just mindless silliness!”
Suddenly, an inspiring new thought arose. Eureeka! The answer was in front of me all along. It was my long sleeve, long- length, winter white wool coat! This earnestly sought-after garment was purchased last year after nearly a day of shopping for a fashionable alternative to my quilted black nylon all-weather winter coat. Now it could now enjoy its Northern debut! And what a solution it was! Winter white could provide a pleasant contrast to the ubiquitous black of the Manhattan wardrobe, it could coordinate with nearly anything on the color palette, it could transition from casual to dressy and its woolen weight could really keep me warm. A perfect choice.
Seee…. I reminded myself proudly. You’re above all this nonsense in the world. You can be practical and fashionable.
Before I could fabricate the next mental sentence of smug correction to the Nonsense Demon that had previously taunted my thoughts, I was slammed back to reality when my practical-minded husband walked into our bedroom.
“Are you kidding?” he asked incredulously.
“About what?” I responded, returning to the moment.
Pointing his long arm and index finger toward the winter coat lying neatly across the king sized bed, he attacked: “THAT.”
“That what? ”I protested.“It’s perfect! It’ll coordinate with every color and the wool is really warm. I love this coat.”
“It’s WHITE.” he intoned resolutely. Next, he quickly enumerated a litany of offenses against The Evil White Soil Magnet which he considered replete with all kinds of perils. “White attracts everything. All it takes is for somebody on a crowded subway to sidle up to you in some grimy work clothes. You’ll be stuck with an oil streak that’ll set you back 35 bucks at the dry cleaners. And what if some mustard-laden napkin from one of those hot dog vendors flies away and finds its way to your coat? Do mustard stains ever come off white? Probably not. And what if you’re waiting to cross the street and some rumdum driver passes over a puddle? The whole bottom of that coat will be covered in dirty water splash-back. No, that white coat is definitely not a good choice. Bring the black quilted coat.“
“The black coat?” I protested passionately. “Jimmy, I’m looking to expand my wardrobe into something beyond the ordinary. That black coat brings me right back to a uniform! “ I was still arguing the point but my belief in the white coat had already been compromised and I didn’t even believe in my own words. My quick trip to Euphoria had already detoured to Deflation. (I knew Jimmy never liked that coat from the moment he saw it. Still, I really couldn’t disagree with his logic.)
Jimmy by now had exited the room but my blood pressure began to burn and I began to pace feverishly back and forth. “Is this not ridiculous!!!” I heard myself speak aloud to the universe. “A whole effort-filled day of shopping for a new winter coat and I can’t even get out of the closet! And surely I won’t be wearing it in Florida! Can this really be my planet? Who designed this place anyway?”
Collecting myself once again (I really am an optimist and an idealist at heart) I sought a second opinion from my daughter. She was fashionable and practical and far less emotive than her mother. What did she recommend? “Mom, just wear the black nylon coat.”
“The what?” I responded, my voice sounding more like squeaky hen than maternal role model. “Kaley, it’s so ordinary! I’m trying to be fashionable! I spent a whole day shopping for the white coat to get me away from that basic black one. Plus, it’s trimmed in fur. What if New York gets another warm spell? I’ll look like an Eskimo.”
“Don’t worry,” she assured me, her easygoing nature unmoved by a near hysterical parental figure. “The brown fur collar offsets the black, it works perfectly with jeans, and it’ll keep you warm and comfortable.”
Ugh. Two votes for the quilted black nylon settled the issue and this trusty, familiar overcoat became the one of choice for my trip.
Fast forward to the trip. Unexpectedly, temperatures in the New York area dropped precipitiously (obviously, both leather coats would have been nixed for their inability to keep me warm at these frozen temperatures). Next came the rains, which would have ruined both my leather coats and certainly proved my husband’s prognostications about dirty water stains on the long white wool coat. Who can possibly plan for every eventuality with just one winter coat? I mused.
Well, I was about to find learn that even the “trusty” black quilted coat had its own Achilles heel . . . .
That next morning, as Jimmy and I were heading out to the Trenton, NJ train station bound for Manhattan I suddenly realized another Winter Coat dilemma: my familiar rain-and-stain resistant black quilted nylon coat . . . . lacked a hood! With all of a moment to plan, it became immediately apparent that an umbrella would not suffice: I’d already used one the prior day and the wind turned it into an inverted fly-away danger device.
The immediate solution? My 81-year-old mother-in-law produced it – one of her rain hats, a cross between a shower cap and a plastic slipcover. Especially delightful to the eye when worn tied in a bow beneath the chin, these fashion darlings were quite the rage in the 1960s. Grandmas and middle aged women intent on keeping their beauty parlor “hair-dos” safe from the elements were well protected in these clear-vue plastic gems. Now, one of these gems was mine.
Now for those of you who might think me too vain, don’t. Yours truly actually wore the mother-in-law bonnet for all of Manhattan to admire. At one particular corner, a pleasant young woman standing beside me at a light couldn’t help but venture a double-take at the accessory to my winter coat. Realizing her glance didn’t go unnoticed, she smiled and sheepishly offered, “My grandmother used to wear one of those.”
“So did mine,” I responded with a grin, tickled by the madness of the moment.
Standing beside me at the same light, my husband announced to the woman, “Don’t look at me. I’ve never seen this woman before – or that hat!”
Crossing the street, Jimmy and I laughed uproariously. Then we decided that I needed another winter coat – this time one with a hood! Is this not insanity??? Can something as simple as a Winter Coat possibly monopolize so much of one’s time, thoughts and effort????
Later that day, meetings complete, we trekked over to Macy’s, New York’s flagship department store and home to a veritable sea of winter coats. Now shall I tell you what we end up agreeing on as the new ideal Winter Coat? Nothing less than (dah dah-dah- dah!). . . . another black nylon quilted coat! This one, however, came complete with a fur-lined hood that could keep my hair protected in both rain and falling snow.
This new purchase seemed like a good choice, even if it did lean more toward the practical. Ahem.. . . did I say “practical”? Excuse me, but I made a mistake. A BIG mistake. It appeared practical until I attempted to put it on and suddenly realized the new black all-weather coat required an instruction manual and a running time of at least 12 minutes to assemble!
Now to the cynics out there who remain unconvinced that there’s far too much Nonsense in the world or that I am the only sane person left on this planet, please allow me to explain. I’ll personally describe the adventure of donning the new-and-improved “practical” all-weather Winter Coat.
First, one must zip up the coat’s inset zipper. Next, one must connect the outer set of snaps that provide the extra level of insulation between the wearer and the world. Try to avoid connecting the second level of snaps and you cannot belt the belt. Miss the step of belting the coat and the nylon belt will slip right off. Try connecting the belt directly and you quickly realize that the belt is most likely twisted. Untwist the belt and you find the belt loops magically unsnapping, thereby causing the belt to fall off the coat and down to the floor below. Finally, if you can successfully navigate through all of these previous steps, you’ll find the most stressful – and frustrating – step lays right in front of you. Yes, the Winter Coat manufacturer decided that each of the teeth on the belt buckle needs to be placed into their companion holes on the opposite end of the belt one at a time . . . with surgical precision, I might add! That means that placing one tooth into its respective hole does not guarantee the next tooth will automatically find its companion hole. It could easily end up in the next set of holes, thereby throwing the symmetry of the belt right out of whack. Now, if this is not insanity, please somebody out there . .. . tell me what is!
The epic story of the Winter Coat does not end here – how could it possibly? An ending right here might cause the reader to think that I was really exaggerating about the Nonsense known as The Winter Coat.
The story moves to January when, as you might expect, the new black Winter Coat with the hood became the rather obvious choice for the trip. While away, we took the path from Manhattan to attend a morning breakfast meeting in Hoboken, NJ. Arriving early, my husband and I took a stroll along the spectacular waterfront boulevard known as Frank Sinatra Drive in honor of the city’s hometown hero. Overlooking the Hudson River and out to the skyline of Manhattan in the distance, it made for a fabulous photo op.
I prodded, “Jimmy, let’s take some pictures. This is too beautiful to pass up.” I posed easily for the shot, the sparkling Hudson River and a pristeen Manhattan skyline in the background on this very clear day.
As Jimmy readied to shoot, he noticed my belt was awry. “Maura, don’t you want to belt your coat for the picture? You’ve got it tied instead of belted.”
“Jimmy,” I retorted. “You’re not going to believe it. The teeth on the belt are now hidden inside the belt and they refuse to come out. I’ve tried a couple of times to find the teeth and, frankly, I’m no longer interested in looking. If you want to invest another half-hour finding the teeth, placing them through the holes, only to find them slipping out again. . . . be my guest. Otherwise, I’m good. Remember, I’ve already worn the plastic rain bonnet through New York City. Just take the picture. It’s all nonsense anyway. “
I rest my case.
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