A little over ten years ago, October 2003, to by precise, I was a freshman at University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst. One day in late October, probably on a Saturday, I took the bus to Northampton to get a new coat. Fall was getting cold and winter was fast on its heels and the only winter coat I had was this horrible *neon* purple, pink and yellow (with neon great liner) snowcoat/skicoat deal that while fitting perfectly and keeping me warm, just did *not* reflect the person I was and wanted to be. It basically projected a message of "Dork Alert!" and "80s Flashback in Living Color!" Anyway, this coat really needed to go and although I'd never bought a coat for myself in my life, I'd gone looking in a couple stores at Hampshire Mall in Hadley and at some outdoors shops. Everything I found was either ugly (including being just as 80s as my current coat), way too expensive, or too "old lady."
Going into Northampton on PVTA (Pioneer Valley Transit Authority) that day, I was started to get desperate I wouldn't find anything that suited me. I'd actually left the horrible coat at home, because I guess it was a little warmer that day, and was wearing black pants, black turtleneck, black Greek fisherman's cap and this absolutely wonderful black and white herringbone jacket that hurt your eyes in an optical illusion kind of way. I *would* come home with a coat though!
Considering I'd been having trouble with finding too many "old lady" coats, it's kind of funny I actually ended up shopping at Ann August (FYI, closed 5 years ago). This particular store was basically run by and frequented by old ladies and an online check finds a critique of it called "a retailer of somewhat dowdy women's clothing." Nonetheless, they seemed to have some pretty decent coats on display but then I found out from a clerk there was actually a whole second floor of coats. There wasn't actually anyone up there so they promised to send some help up for me. So up I went, into the lady of coats and coats and coats.
It was in that room that I found The Coat. I may have looked at others, but as soon as I saw it, I just felt "This is MY coat!" It was, funnily enough, a black trenchcoat. The coat was belt-less, comletely straight and more or less a barrel with pockets, button tabs on the cuffs, a collar and a detachable hood (which was immediately detached never to be re-attached). The shoulders were slightly padded, though not huge, the large black buttons were covered by a neat flap, and what I really liked, it came with a warm wool brown and tan houndstooth detachable liner! I remember trying it on and looking in the mirror, going "Huh, now this is acceptable!" The saleslady made it upstairs and encouraged me, saying it was a good choice (yup, she was doing her job). Then came the paying part. As it turns out, the coat cost the then (to me) enormous and unseamly sum of $135. I had never ever bought any piece of clothing that cost that much (and in fact even now have only a couple items that top that), nor did I expect to have to, but I really liked the coat. I thought about the fact that I *did* in fact have enough money to buy it and it would last and I really needed a coat I'd wear proudly... And I bought it!
I left the store wearing the coat and feeling sticker-shocked but happy. I probably stopped at the Haymarket coffee shop to get a hot cider or chocolate milk, so I could calm down ;) After a bit of other windowshopping, I headed to the bus stop over by the NoHo Academy of Music. It was there that I had the VERY Happy Valley experience of meeting Kristen (or as Caleb and I said it "Kristennnnnnnnn"), a UMass lesbian hippy. Kristen, so I sensed immediately, was the kind of hippie who always seems stoned, even when they really aren't, because there is always something or other residually floating around in their system... maybe a contact high from their clothes, you know? Anyway, I'd never met this woman before and she was wicked relaxed and laid back. We kicked back talking as we waited for PVTA. I showed off my new coat and Kristen thought it was cool. I showed her the herringbone "optical illusion" coat and she of course was going "Dude... Whoah! That is farrrrr out!" LOL We road the bus back home together and she told me all about how she studying environmental science or something else you'd rather expect of a hippy :)
I still have that coat. It's been with me all this time and it's been so many places, at so many events that were important to me. It's a wonder I haven't lost it or ripped it or accidentaly bleached it. I remember using it during my forays into Boston when I'd try to "pass" as a man (which did, in fact, work!), wearing it with six layers of clothing as I trudged through the UMass arctic tundra to get to class, wearing it to hard core shows, coffeshops, dances, wearing it on buses, trains, wearing it around NYC, at parties where I didn't know anybody's name... It is The Coat.
I don't know if that story means anything to anyone except myself or Caleb or others I knew back in those days (like Kristina) but I felt I had to capture it.