Friday, January 15, 2010

Yeah, you know her

Decrepit old coat

This coat is too big for The Chairman, too.

Reaching for a grocery bag in the van the other day, I felt a popping in my shoulder. "Crap," I thought. Just one more seam giving way in the ancient cashmere topcoat that is my life. Sigh.

Just kidding. I'm in a pretty good mood, actually. That coat, though. Howza. It's barely even a coat anymore. If that coat went to the Goodwill, they would reject it. If that coat approached you and tried to hand you a flyer, you would hold your breath, avert your eyes, and hurry away.

I inherited it from my grandfather when he died in the 1980's, and he had gotten it as a hand-me-down from his rich brother-in-law. I wore it in high school. I wore it through 6 miserable, icy Cleveland winters during college. I wore it walking to the subway to go to work in Manhattan. It has hung on hooks all across this country, been thrown over beds at hundreds of parties, and it has somehow not gotten lost at the kind of rock and roll shows where there isn't a coatroom so much as just like a pile in the corner.

The lining is in pieces. The cuffs are frayed through. The buttons are on with cinnamon dental floss. But it's 100% cashmere, and in cold weather like this it's the only thing I own that is generous enough to wear over a sweater (three sweaters). Its chamois pockets are intact, and the lining, where it exists, is thick satin. It is soft like a blanket, comes down past my knees, and is both light in weight and warm as love.

But I do look homeless in it.

I'm not what you might call a shopper. I keep stuff forever. I don't wear makeup, I wear jeans every day, and if I'm going to buy anything but striped long-sleeve t-shirts, I probably need a second opinion. My goals are:

  1. be comfortable
  2. don't look stupid
And I have found that the simpler I keep it, the less likely I am to look stupid. Even my rings are plain bands. Used to be worse. Used to be, I wore no things that had buttons or zippers. Seriously. I was like 120 pounds and living in NYC and I was wearing dumpy cotton knits 24/7. Those were my Carrie years, damn it! Why was I not in a sequined mermaid gown and a cowboy hat on the subway drinking coffee from a paper cup at 8am every day?

On the other hand.

On the other hand, I do have needs. They are somewhat unpredictable, extremely specific, and absolutely imperative. That's why I still have that damn coat, for example. Have I tried to replace it? Of course! But there is no coat that fits my specifications for less than A THOUSAND DOLLARS.

And I have been down this road before. It is a tortuous path. One iteration of this story started in Copenhagen, on the pedestrian shopping street Strøget, in a tiny glove shop, Randers Handskefabrik. Gloves? Well, sure, I could use a pair of gloves - a pair that match, for one thing, and which aren't repaired with cinnamon dental floss (my heavy-duty thread of choice for many years).

Well. In that glove shop, I learned what gloves are. Turns out, matching? is just the beginning! They had gloves in all lengths and all colors, and the leather was light as air and soft as something you'd have to pay a lot for in Thailand. The lady brought out a special pillow to prop my elbow on when she slid a pair of long magenta gloves onto my hand. Wow. But, after wrestling a while with long division in my head, I concluded that those gloves cost $175, and I didn't buy them.

But then I went ten years without gloves. I have this idiotic, vaguely worded, quasi-environmentalist mental prohibition against buying a thing when a preferable version of that thing is known to me. It goes like, "Why buy shitty Target gloves that will eventually end up populating the landfills of this great nation, when I could buy those gorgeous magenta gloves that I would love forever and never allow harm to befall and which would be a heirloom for future generations?"

But those gloves were not to be found in the U.S. And similar gloves were similarly expensive. Why buy two gloves when you'll have to sacrifice an arm and a leg to pay for them? That's a little joke. Cough.

So, two years ago, I shook my head, called myself an idiot, went up to New York, and bought a pair of gloves at Sermoneta. They're not magenta, but they're awful soft, and they didn't cost $300, which is what Randers gloves cost now.

Not all such searches are so ridiculous. For many years, I needed a mariachi suit. That's where an eBay saved search comes in handy, because no way was I going to have a gala suit custom made. Every time anything mariachi came up on eBay, I got a little email, and sooner or later...

El Charro gala suit, via eBay
your neighborhood librarian jingles when she walks

Also, somewhere along the line I concluded that if I were to own rain boots, they would be red knee-high Hunter boots like the Queen wears. Except hers are green, and she probably gets comped them. I, of course, was unwilling to pay full price for them, and so I went, you know, all my life without rain boots. Luckily, the Plow & Hearth outlet eventually had a pair for about a third of what they usually cost, so during my remaining years, I can walk through deep mud with dry feet. Also, they are good for playing ringmaster.

I woke up one day this autumn and decided that, after 8 years of not wearing a watch, I needed a solar powered atomic digital watch. No batteries to fool with, and as long as Fort Collins, Colorado is safe, it will always display the correct time. And I needed a cloth band, not a resin one. But how easy was that? Twenty minutes on Amazon and that was figured out.

What the hell would I do if nobody had invented the Internet? I'd be barefoot and cold and naked and I wouldn't know what time it is, that's what.

Some things I learn about by chance. I had no idea I needed a pea coat until I saw one hanging on a fence at a stoop sale in Brooklyn, and it suddenly became obvious that the perfect pea coat was an official New York Fire Department dress coat, made in 1953 for, possibly, the skinniest firefighter ever. But you can't wear a sweater under it.

I know the perfect mid-height round-toed biker boots, but they're discontinued, and my last pair was ruined by our cats.

New Double-H Scooter boot

Damned cats.

I know the puffy coat I want - Bodie wears it in Season Two of The Wire. Now all I have to do is find it. You know, I love the costumers for that series. The clothes they picked for the drug dealers telegraph status and situation so precisely, and are exactly what the Baltimore corner boys were wearing at the time - with one exception. My sisters on The Wire just could not bring themselves to put their actors in pants that sagged past the waist. They just wouldn't go there, and I don't blame them. WHY is that a trend that will not disappear? And WHERE can I get Bodie's coat?

Because this cashmere bitch is really just a rag.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I am crushing your head

This weekend my friend Psychic Friend announced "How was your Christmas (holiday, New Year's)? is no longer a greeting I will acknowledge." Shit man, if I'd'a known that was all it took, I'd'a gotten a t-shirt made.

I swear, I have been living under a cloud since early December. Not the same cloud the entire time - hoo boy, that's when I go into therapy. Different clouds. Clouds of various sizes and shapes and degrees of ominousness. Ominosity.

And. How about I don't write about them? I'm being all unexpected-y, it's a new thing I'm trying. Because usually I am so predictable, right?

But yes. No. I am not going to list off all the crap that has been hanging over my head for two months. I like it. This is working for me. Nothing says "I'm over it" like forgetting all about it. I MAY list the successful resolutions of the things that have worried me.

Like this:

I run a Circus Arts Club at the elementary school. Hula hooping and slapstick routines, a little juggling. I have a unicycle that nobody's tall enough to ride without jeopardizing their future offspring. We try a little stilt-walking. We do a performance in front of the whole school at the end of the club season. Did that worry me? It did! Did I have nothing to worry about because the kids are funny and remembered what to do! I did!

Let's go to the video.

Circus Arts Fall 09 All-School on Vimeo.

You can't see me cringing in the wings every time someone takes a slapstick punch or does a fall, but you can hear all the kids in the auditorium cracking up. I take credit for none of it except the music. Those kids are a riot.

And then it snowed. And the snow caused me no dread whatsoever. In fact, we spent that day hanging ornaments on the tree and listening to holiday music, also sledding, and drinking eggnog with rum in it. That was a break in the battle.

Sledding hill

The snow, of course, caused the children to never go back to school ever. Two weeks of winter break! Getting presents wrapped was a challenge, and I also fretted that I'd been so occupied with Circus Arts that I'd neglected to buy them anything of consequence. T-shirts and coloring books. Until Auntie Lo (who is neither my auntie nor the auntie of my kids but who is in a figurative sense everybody's auntie) told me that I fret about this every year.

Favorite gifts

They like coloring books and t-shirts.

I mean, what the hell have I been complaining about? My parents even took the boys overnight one night so that Bob and I could go see The Allmighty Senators, who hadn't played in like a year, and as a result played just about every song they knew.


After we picked up the kids, we ate many delicious things at Cross Street Market, and then hit the mall to stand in the returns line. Even that was not so dreadful. We bought Mao a pair of orange Vans, and I found jeans at Lucky for half price. Our children sat through me trying on five different pairs of jeans, and were complimentary about every pair. They treat me like a queen, and I should try harder to deserve it. I hope that when they grow up, they do not give me cause to wonder what I have done to piss them off.

Treat your parents decently, or tell them why you do not.

On New Year's Day, our neighborhood roasted a pig. I made barbecue sauce and tried my hand at glogg, a delicious blend of port and cardamom and orange, heated until it turns into an alcohol 8-ball. It was a wonderful wonderful day and I snatched pieces of that pig right out of the roaster all afternoon.

Wow, what did YOU do?

All this time, though, like a lingering metaphor in a Cheever story, the bathtub in the upstairs bathroom has been backed up. Every time the mad whirl slows, every time I have a morning off, there it is, with 2 inches of rusty water in it, and the self-adhesive grippy goldfish we stuck to the bottom when the kids were tiny gradually curling up. I poured Drano and Liquid Plumber down that drain. I plunged. I used baking soda and vinegar, and I used lye. I broke the snake OFF in that fucker. I asked Facebook for advice. I despaired, and meanwhile we all carried our clothes and our shampoo down two flights to the basement, and got kind of lax about toothbrushing.

That clog got stuck in my brain. I saw it, deep in the pipes under the tub, at least 8 feet away from the drain, because I paid out at least that much cable from the drum auger. In my mind it was slimy and black, and made of my hair, and possibly hid a tiny Matchbox car, which accounted for its failure to dissolve when I hit it with life-threatening chemicals.

Bob took several whacks at it. His brother Joe did too. I borrowed tools, broke them, replaced them, bought new ones.

And this Saturday, the same day that My Psychic Friend declared the holidays officially frickin OVER, I came home from work to find the upstairs bathroom clean. Tranquil. Not even a plunger to be seen that might have hinted the filthy battle zone that bathroom has been for the past several weeks. All is well.