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.