The introspective humdrum life of an eccentric hexagenarian.

Visit my other blogs: "Elderberry Bike Rides of Delaware
," organized bicycle rides for families, senior citizens, and anyone interested in getting back into biking; and "Cloister Voices," the collected thoughts of modern and ancient hermits, eccentrics, solitaires, wanderers, mystics, and others who inhabit the monastery within.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Coats of Many Colors

By the end of January, I am always beginning to feel bedraggled and dragged down by my annual experiment in testing out what I hope will be finding the perfect winter coat. However, after the freezing temperature of January has me in its icy grip, this year's model, like all coats of all other years ....soon becomes the coat from Hell.

I loved the sporty hunter green coat when I bought it three months ago. It's generous length went down past my knees, it was surprisingly lightweight for being tested and guaranteed to be cozy and warm at subzero temperatures, and best of all, with multiple zippers, snap flaps, velcro closures in every conceivable place, and loose-fitting sleeves big enough to fit over multiple layers of clothing, Gortex fabric that was waterproof and windproof to boot, AND the hood was big enough to wear over my bicycle helmet! ...well, what more could I ask? It was the perfect winter coat to wear while commuting to work by bicycle.

That is what I thought in late November, even into late December; but, every year something mysterious happens in mid to late January when the coat and I become mortal enemies. It happens every year and you would think I would remember the solution to the problem. But I never do.

I suffer for several weeks in misery convinced that winter is never going to end and someone will find me buried in a snowbank, cold and dead under the crushing canabilstic weight of the coat from Hell.

It's always this time of year that I fantasize about the perfection of summer lightweight clothes. I remember with frost-bitten taste buds, the delectable savor of the tall glass of freshly-squeezed lemonade that the chef makes for me to quench my hot summer thirst at the French Vietnamese restaurant that I pedal to on my bike when there is still daylight outside at 8PM.

photo by Pardes

The coat revelation always happens when I'm looking for something in the deep pockets of the coat. Today it was a quarter to round out the bus fare. I sunk my hand deep into the right lower pocket of my coat where I generally dump loose change, Chapstick, and the crumpled GTD paper thingy with the list of 37 things I need to do and never will.

The pocket seemed to disappear into a black hole. The deeper I plunged my hand, the more items I found, none of which were a quarter. I could hear the loose change rattling in the depths of the pocket, but the flotsam and jetsam was so deep, I could not reach it. A sympathetic commuter flipped me a spare quarter.

While strapping my bike to the front of the bus for the Interstate highway part of my bike commute to work, I plotted the demise of my winter coat. I grouped the coat in the same class as the snowsuit from Hell, that my mother stuffed me in before releasing me from the house to play in the snow.

You may remember the experience of paralysis of movement from your own snowsuit. Remember the gloves that were clipped to your sleeve and flapped in the breeze while you attempted and failed in trying to bend over to make a snowball? You couldn't bend your knees or elbows. You couldn't turn your head in any direction. The only thing you could do in a snowsuit was breathe.

Of course, once you get on the slippery slope of comparing the misery of winter with the perfection of summer, you begin to wallow in seasonal comparison that supports your contention that winter is surely going to kill all of us and no will live to see the summer sun again.

photo by Pardes

You long for the lithe responsive nature of the summery Trek road bike....

photo by Pardes

....and begrudge the lumbering nature of the Transeo winter mountain bike where you always seem to be biking in the dark...

photo by Pardes

You reminisce when you could swim with a horse....

photo by Pardes

....instead of cantering in a foot of snow.

photo by Pardes

....when you could walk barefoot in tender chartreuse grass ....

photo by Pardes

.... instead of freezing your toes while tracking runaway snowmen.

photo by Pardes

when you woke from a nap on the balmy August bank of the Delaware River as the Kalmar Nyckel silently docked fifty feet from where you slept ....

photo by Pardes

.... instead of commiserating with two seagulls who perhaps lost a leg to the now icy Delaware River waters.

photo by Pardes

The bellyaching doesn't last for long though because you know of a homeless person who does not have the luxury of middle-class whining. Swathed in so many conflicting layers of clothing, hats and scarves, slacks and skirts and sweatpants underneath a furry coat, you cannot tell the gender of this person; but you know for sure that dozens of forgotten quarters do not rattle in those pockets.

.... and then you pause for a moment of shame and promise to deliver all you other coats to the homeless shelter....

When I got to the lab, I decided to further explore the set of six deep pockets in my winter coat. No wonder I was feeling weighted down. The only thing I didn't find in those pockets was Jimmy Hoffa.

The items I piled onto the lab bench included: not one, not two, but TRHEE pairs of gloves; six tubes of Chapstick; two pairs of ear muffs; 22 voided bus tickets; one spare bicycle inner tube; 11 ballpoint pens; 2 CO2 cannisters for inflating bicycle tires; one completely flattened Reese's Peanut Butter Cup; an adjustable wrench; one Phillips head screwdriver; the iPod I've been trying to find for two months; a 4 GB flash drive; $14.27 in loose change; 2 letters I forgot to mail; 6 large rare earth magnets for an experiment in tripping traffic lights to change that the weight of a bike won't trip (the experiment failed); 2 sets of folding headphones (1 broken); 1 bottle of aspirin; 1 atomizer of Chanel No. 5; a Nikon point & shoot camera; 4 rechargeable AA batteries; and the most enigmatic of all, an unopened Christmas wrapped present the size of a matchbox. Some secret gift a friend of mine had left as a surprise for me.

For hoots, I piled the stuff on the analytical balance generally used in the lab for weighing cocaine and marijuana forensic evidence. All together the booty weighed a little under 7 pounds. When I added in the weight of the keys (lab, home and bicycle lock keys), wallet, Blackberry, and mini flashlight that I keep in my windproof, waterproof bicycle pants that I wear over my slacks, the grand total came to an extra ten pounds I was carrying around.

Consequently, like every previous year, I end up apologizing to my coat and assume full responsibility for the problem. Of course this will only last for a couple of weeks until the pockets get loaded down again; and I develop coat dementia again; and the coat and I will be back at odds with one another until Spring.

And that's okay, I tell myself as I plot not revenge on a coat this time, but a small gesture of surprise, perhaps even delight for someone else. I zip the still unopened Christmas gift inside the inner breast pocket to be discovered next winter when they pull this green coat off a rack at the Capuchin Friars Soup Kitchen Clothes Closet to be worn out into the frigid Wilmington night.

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  1. Maybe the answer to the coat from hell problem is a cape.

  2. The photo of the baby is so freaking cute:)

  3. Leon, you are SO right about the baby photo. I think I wrote the blog just so I could include that photo!

  4. Your experiences/stories always leave me breathless and I am grateful for that. Your photographs are amazingly vivid in nature too. I'd just like to let you know that I have added you on to my blog love. Feel free to check out my blog - to know what I am on about. Thanks :) Hope you are well.

  5. I have a similar coat (though it doesn't get much use in Northern California, which is currently very rainy but not so cold that I need a parka). I have lost gloves, money, tissues, and newspaper bags (that I keep on hand for dog walks). I think that too many pockets on a coat is a problem, though the extra ten pounds of stuff makes for a better workout!

  6. Sounds like my handbag/purse. I pulled three pair of gloves from it last week. It weighs a ton, but everything in it is useful so I empty it out... then put it all (mostly) back in again!

    Talking of friar soups, I was just on a blog run by friars! How synchronistic. ;-) It's actually quite a fascinating blog.

  7. What a wonderful post! Thank you so much.

    For me too, it's the sheer weight of the clothes in winter that metastasizes into a more psychological sense of burden and oppression.
    It's so freeing, at first, to throw off the burden and feel the sun and wind on your skin.

  8. Simply gorgeous images you have here. It took me a while to finish reading here


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