Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Friday, February 15, 2008

Glad Rags

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
-Anatole France

Yesterday in the dismal afternoon I shuffled to the dumpster and then slushed my way to the mailbox. I had not bothered to dress much for the occasion and wandered down there in my pyjamas and a Winter jacket. But oh, what a jacket. A metallic silver-grey, it is flawless in preserving my skin from the rain. It is lined with what feels like a combination of velvet and fur, a silken sheen that has so far not faded with age. It fits like the most delightful glove. In short, it keeps me warm and keeps me dry.
Ostensibly it might well be an innocuous garment. Indeed, one would not guess that it was the source of much struggle for me and its very weight even today is a reminder of such.
I bought it about seven years ago for one hundred pounds. It was then and remains today the single most expensive piece of clothing that I have owned in my life. I vaguely remember purchasing the jacket: that is not to say I did the thing on a whim. I am sure that my mother was next to me and that I was conscientious. After all, it was my own hard-earned money I passed to the sales assistant- so I owned it outright. Any soul could ask my mother- show me bookstores, said I many a time, but no store which sells either footwear or clothing. I was not a frequent purchaser of garments and what I did buy was with careful consideration, necessity and much ado.
None of that- what I best remember is stepping out of the store and, shaking off my old coat, slipping the new one over my shoulders once again. Then, the horror. I had spent one hundred pounds on a jacket. A perfectly decent and ordinary coat, if I had needed one- which I did not- could be had at that time in that city for a fraction of the price. There I was, wearing the best jacket in the world and standing on a street ready to enjoy the rest of my afternoon. There were people sitting on the street at nearly every corner. They had cardboard signs that pleaded, and ragged, woolen hats to gather the loose change of the most generous pedestrians. It was very cold. I was stricken with a sense of dread that I had committed a terrible societal error and contributed to the ills I noted every day. Those days, it seemed as though I regularly observed far more destitution than I had ever done. I was heavily aware of the disparity in the world both before and after I bought the jacket.
I was at once saddened and ashamed to have indulged in such a way. I took the jacket home and pondered about it for days. I told my mother that I wanted to give it away, perhaps to a cold homeless person. Mater would not allow that and urged me strongly to wear the beautiful item. It was months before I could come to terms with what I had spent my money on. It would be a long time before the jacket seemed to weigh less. I finally drew up a set of rules for the jacket which must be adhered to if the jacket could remain in my possession:
wear it; enjoy the wearing; be happy in it; be an especially nice person while cloaked in it; wear it until it falls apart; ensure that it should become the wisest choice and not the most selfish.
I skated across the iced parking lot on my excursion last afternoon and made sure to appreciate the scattering squirrels, the fresh, brisk air and the hint of Spring.
I report that even today I cannot wear the jacket without due consideration; happily, perhaps that is the point.

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