Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Red Coat bad coats.
It was only a matter of time before I wrote about the coat.

Its' memory has lain, not-so-dormant, for many years in my mind's eye. When I need to suffer, I summon the visual images of myself wearing it--a girl of about twelve, stumbling along to junior high, so self-conscious that, while the coat was on, I wouldn't make eye contact with anyone. Even the creep heading to work, metal lunchbox under his arm, who believed it was his moral obligation to say something obscene to me every single day on my route to school, would give me a morning off when I wore it. It was that bad.

Before I got my first job, I depended entirely on my mother for my clothes. Money was tight and, when I was very young, we relied on "bundles" from God-only-knows-who for much of what I wore. Occasionally, there would be something wonderful in a bundle. I remember a brown corduroy coat with a fur collar that I loved though I now realize I looked like the tiny manager of a speakeasy when I wore it. There would be slacks, jackets, mother, a talented seamstress, sewed my dresses. They were beautiful but she channeled Charles Dickens when she designed them because I resembled a character out of Oliver Twist for years. Hence, my job at fourteen...hello quiana body suits, polyester and blue jeans. While I never achieved status as a fashionable dresser (ever), once I started buying my own things, life improved a bit.

The red coat arrived, in a bundle, one fall day. It's color could only be described as nuclear flaming cherry. It glowed and pulsated, a dye-job gone horribly wrong. It was no mystery as to why some other girl, somewhere in the tri-state area, had discarded it. Made from a plush, dense faux fur, its buttons were huge plastic globes of the same awful color and it's bulk made me look like a neon barrel when I tried it on. Some hater of children had created this coat, someone who'd been forced to wear something equally hideous (not that this was even possible) and was now going to pay it forward so another hapless loser would be forced to endure similar shame. This coat, however, was not only the ugliest coat ever made but, also, the warmest. And that, my friends, was all my mother cared about.

That year hosted a cold winter with lots of snow. The coat had taken up residence in the hall closet, much to the displeasure of the other garments which could, I'm certain, get no rest while sharing a rod with this glowing monstrosity. One awful morning, my mother decided that it was cold enough and into it I was shoved, buttoned and pushed out the door. I walked to school with three friends whose reactions to the coat I have, mercifully, been able to bury deep in my subconscious but--on that first day-- I considered discarding it on the way to school and facing my mother's wrath later.

I could be seen, when I wore that coat, from the windows of space modules as they orbited the earth and I still worry whether a sighting of this coat wasn't somehow responsible for the whole Apollo 13 debacle. But that winter remained cold and I wore it several times.

Then we had a huge snowfall and, for some reason, I had to walk home from school by myself, wearing the coat. Its' red neon and the white of the drifts caused people to look away, fearfully guarding their retinas as they hurried by. All I wanted to do was get home where I pledged that I was going to somehow destroy the coat but just as I was entertaining these thoughts, I lost my footing and plunged into a huge snowdrift. Unable to free myself, I was alone, wedged into a giant drift on an industrial street and dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. Resigning myself to death, I stopped struggling.

As I waited for the end, I realized that I felt snug and toasty. The damn coat was doing its job and keeping me warm. Suddenly, I felt two strong hands grab me, pull me out of the snow and set me on my feet. "Wow, I would never have noticed you if not for that crazy coat," said my hero, a friendly iron worker from a local shop.

So, the red coat saved me. It kept me warm as well as made me visible so I could be rescued. I headed home and that very day, despite the coat's heroics, I convinced my mother that it's bulk was what caused me to topple into the drift in the first place. She was unable to trust it after that and I never wore the red coat again.

There are no pictures of the coat. It exists now only in my Jack Dawson exists only in the mind of Kate Winslet's Rose in the move Titanic. I dream of it still.


  1. Great story! I love your witty embellishments!

  2. Thank you so much, Maria!!! And I still do dream of that coat......not good dreams.

  3. Great Stories...found your sight thru old boro park (where I lived until'62)
    I totally relate - my grandmother made all my clothes until I went to work at 18)

    Phyllis Horowitz Rosenberg

  4. Thanks, Phyllis--it's always great to find someone who understands!