Wednesday, February 05, 2003

It's a funny thing about coats. I hate mine. I only got it because it was damn cold and I really needed one, and the one that I wanted, my mom was freaking out over me having. "I don't care if you've been wearing trench coats for the past nine years! They're bad now and you can't have one!" Coincidentally, she threw out my army jacket, and my old trench coat, which was why I never had a coat past the age of twelve or so. So my coat now is much hated, though good for keeping me warm. It's huge, and it's sole virtue is that it was also incredibly cheap. I dislike my coat. But I have little chance for getting a new one, since all I really want is my old busted up trench coat, and I can't have it cause of my mom. Anyway, it's a funny thing about coats, because, even though I hate my coat, I much prefer wearing it to not.

Coats are nice. I think the human experience is largely a testament to the fact. Throughout history most folks in moderate to cool climates have gone about wearing coats even during the warmer months. A good coat seals you in against the world. It's a shield for you. Americans are peculiar in their dressing habits, for certain. While men the world over generally still run around in suit coats, Americans feel comfortable in nearly any setting with just a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. I feel it's one of our primary points of virtue, really. But though I am fond of the t-shirt, I much prefer it with a coat.

A t-shirt is representative of a certain egalitarian openness that, while not exclusive to the American experience, is certainly a trademark of it. The t-shirt hides nothing. It bares the arms, which, upon having their glory revealed to the world, remain always taut and ready to embrace you in a great big American embrace; Full-on bear hug, that is, none of that sissy European pretending to kiss on the cheek nonsense. The t-shirt is a messenger. The t-shirt firmly believes in its place in the world; it is the harbinger of the message. The t-shirt swaggers out and ahead of its elder brethren in the most iconoclastic of ways because the t-shirt knows its strength is in its youth and daring; its divine right to existence has never been challenged and how could it be with the message emblazoned across the breast?

And, that is, in short, my problem with the t-shirt. I am guarded. I do not embrace. I am as uncertain of my place in the world as I am certain that I have no great revelatory messages to bring. I have a not-so-secret fascination with anything or anyone older than I am. I am the antithesis of the t-shirt. But because I love America and its big stupid bear hugs and crooked caps and youthful exuberance and genuine naive goodness, I love the t-shirt.

And so, my solution is simple. Keep the t-shirt, and appropriate the coat. The coat seals in all of those fine American qualities while acting as a shield to bounce back challenges from the wolves who prey on such things. Wolves who I must deal with, I find, increasingly as I become more educated and more upwardly socially mobile. The coat, even a thoroughly dislikable coat, such as my own, is a traditionalist challenge to the modern world. We still haven't found a cure for the common cold, you know, unless you count that old standby, the happily form-smashing overcoat.

Now, if we could only bring back the cape and cap, I’d be a contented kid.