Jacket with a Past

I came home from grocery shopping on a recent Friday night and changed into black shorts and a black T-shirt to relax for the evening. As a gag, I pulled an olive green, double-breasted blazer from the back of my closet, slipped it on and stepped into the living room; I then waited for my wife—who was seated on the couch with our three-year-old son—to look up and notice me. When she did, she howled with laughter and said, “No, no.”

“What, no good?” I asked.

“It’s so out of style,” she said. The shoulder pads are so over the top.”

Of course, I knew she was right.

And one side note: I believe I am colorblind, so while I think the jacket is olive green, it may actually be beige or light brown.

The 1980s blazer is a cross between something Sonny Crockett would have worn on Miami Vice or one of the suit jackets David Byrne of The Talking Heads could have donned while performing on stage or appearing in an MTV video.

But even though the garment is dated, I thought I looked decent modeling it, since I’m actually leaner now than I was when I bought the jacket in the late 1980s at Sangertown Square mall in New Hartford, New York (if my memory is correct). It came with me to Washington, DC for graduate film school and then to my career stops in journalism—to Venice, Florida; Toledo, Ohio; and Phoenix, Arizona.

After returning to central New York in 2006, I left the jacket in my parents’ home in Rome, until I retrieved it a few years ago and buried it in my bedroom closet in Syracuse. I decided not to discard the blazer because I thought I would find the right occasion to wear it; but I never did, as I knew the jacket’s time had passed, as had mine.

But the story does not end there because the jacket has a history. After breaking it out and seeing it encircling my frame, it reminded me of the way I felt about myself in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I was riddled with self-hatred over my chubby, underdeveloped and feminine appearance (caused in part by my hypopituitarism). No jacket back then would have made me feel good about myself when looking in the mirror.

I’d like to say I’ve moved past the low self-esteem that hounded me in my youth. But the truth is I still struggle with it daily. Professional success does not resolve it; neither does marriage nor being a decent parent. All of us must live with the non-Instagram versions of ourselves—the real, unvarnished truth we face every day—the wrapping of flesh that houses the spirit pulsating inside. And so the jacket is more than piece of clothing to me. It’s part of my past, a slice of my story I wanted to share.

I donated the blazer to the Salvation Army store, and I hope that despite its out-of-date style, someone else was able to get some use out of it.


Farewell My Beloved Peacoat

My worn and tattered peacoat has finally been retired after more than eight years of service in the harsh winters of Central New York. The Joseph Abboud garment—purchased online for about $80 from JCPenney or Target—now rests at the bottom of an outdoor clothing donation box. With my wardrobe dominated by old jeans and khakis and dark sweaters purchased at thrift stores, the peacoat had given me a modicum of style, a hint of fashion. It was the only decent item in my closet.

My peacoat, ready to be retired.

I had planned to wear the peacoat the rest of the winter, hoping to make it last until Easter. I had been wearing a waterproof raincoat over the peacoat in an effort to protect the peacoat’s battered exterior. It was a laborious process to put on my hoodie, put on my peacoat, and then slip on the raincoat. It seemed like a waste of time for me to go to the gym every day during my lunch hour. I thought I could get just as good a workout if I stayed inside and did ten repetitions of putting on my boots, winter hat, and my three layers of coats.


But a friend gave me a gift—a brand new, thigh-length winter coat—so it didn’t make much sense to keep using the peacoat. But that didn’t make saying goodbye an easier; even though the peacoat’s pockets and lining were ripped and the buttons ready to fall off at any moment, it still felt good wrapped around my shoulders.

The heavyweight wool fabric provided density and comfort against the cold, and I loved the classic American look that signaled masculinity. In fact, whenever I adjusted the collar, I fantasized that I was James Dean or Jack Kerouac roaming through the back alleys of Manhattan in the 1950s.

Photo credit: Dennis Stock/Magnum

Photo credit: Dennis Stock/Magnum

Perhaps I should not have gotten so attached to a coat, an inanimate object. But I reminisce about what I experienced while wearing the coat. I wore the coat while working in New York City. I wore the coat while taking a trip westbound aboard Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, en route to Toledo, Ohio, to visit my sister. I wore the coat when I visited my parents in Rome, New York, at Christmas in the years before my mother passed away. And I wore the coat while going on numerous walks with my wife, Pam, and my infant son, Colin.

Of course I know a coat is just a coat, nothing more. But I am sentimental because this one helped me to endure the upstate New York winters, making the months between Thanksgiving and Easter a little more bearable.

Here’s a poem I wrote about the coat:

Change of Seasons (The Peacoat Poem)

The first day of October
and temperatures dip
into the low 40s.
A feeling of utter gloom
as I reach into the shadows
of the hall closet and retrieve
my worn, black peacoat.
And so begins another
six months of winter
in Central New York.

I should be used to it by now,
but I can’t reconcile with this weather.
And my peacoat will not return
to the closet until after Easter.
So until spring arrives,
I will continue to grumble
about the cold,
while making sure
to button up my coat
before I step outside
to face the elements.