That Time I Wore a Winter Coat for 6 Years

I’ve always been pathologically self-conscious. I don’t really know why – it’s not like I was born without a nose or anything – but I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I think maybe the neurosis stems from having looked so much like a boy when I was a baby that I’d be in my carriage wearing a pink dress and pink hair clips and people would STILL come over and ask, “Aww, how old is he?!” (This might have had something to do with the fact that my ‘hair’ consisted of three wispy strands of nothing, but I digress.)

The self-consciousness wasn’t SO bad when I was a kid, though I do remember being six years old and so deeply ashamed of a tiny mole on my left hand that I would hold it to my body in a palsy-ish kind of way. It only really got bad when I hit twelve years old – that’s when I first put on a knee-length, black, puffy winter coat, and I pretty much didn’t take the fucking thing off for the next six years.

You may think I’m exaggerating. I wish that were the case, but you could ask any one of the 120 kids I went to school with back then, and every single person would tell you, “Yeah, Caroline definitely did spend 6th grade through 12th grade comfortably swaddled in a crazy person puffer coat.” I’d break out Old Faithful as soon as the temperature dipped below 65 degrees in October, and I wouldn’t take it off until it was so hot outside that other people were wearing sundresses and shorts to school.

It was pretty nutty behavior, retrospectively, and GOOD GOD was it BOILING HOT in there. Multiple times a week, some other student, most likely clad only in a thin, short-sleeved shirt, would turn to me and say, “Hey, Caroline, it’s super hot in here, aren’t you hot in that coat?” And even though my hair would be plastered to my red, sweaty face and I’d be feeling like I could slump over from heat stroke at virtually any moment, I’d reply, “Oh, man, I’m FREEZING! I can’t believe you’re hot! I’m so glad I have my coat to keep me toasty!” Then I’d spend the rest of the class simultaneously fuming at their nerve and envying them for the fact that they weren’t totally insane like me.

I even had a math teacher, Doc, who would literally beg me to take the coat off in front of the whole class. “Caroline, you’re beautiful,” he’d say, “and for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, could you take the goddamn coat OFF?” I’d just smile knowingly and say, “Oh, Doc. You know that’ll never happen.” And it didn’t – not until after I’d graduated from high school. I’m surprised my superlative in the yearbook wasn’t, “Most Likely To End Up Wearing a Tin Foil Hat to Match Her Paranoid Schizophrenic’s Outfit.”

Finally, I got to college and decided that there wasn’t much of a point to schvitzing like a pudding at a picnic all the time. Don’t get me wrong, though – I still wear a long, black, puffy coat every winter, and the first time each season that I get to put it on, I think to myself, “Hello, old friend. We meet again.”

In which Caroline talks about Old New York.

If I could pick any year and place to time travel back to, I would chose 1899 in New York City. Preferably, the night in question would be like it is tonight – cold, windy and desolate – so that I would be able to walk around old New York without having to talk to anyone. Actually, now that I think about it, who the hell am I kidding? My walking around alone in New York City in 1899 would probably result in a man with an old-timey mustache and filthy hat beating the shit out of me for wearing pants and then stealing my coat.

I like to romanticize the past when I read about it, though. What’s that, you say? Most of the city used to smell like the Devil’s foot? Whatever! People wore monocles back then, and that is undeniably awesome. It’s really just that it sounds like the New York of the past was a lot more vibrant than the New York of right now – at least downtown, since it’s always been stuffy and pretentious above 14th Street (aside from in Hell’s Kitchen, where Battle Annie’s Gopher Girls, numbering in the hundreds, were known to engage in gang fights in the 1870s. Now THAT’S what I’m talking about). Back then, people enjoyed simple pleasures like sitting and talking with a friend for a few hours, undistracted by smartphones – or any phones. There was nothing else they could do, really – they were fighting to survive and working their asses off to get by. Plus, there was no pressure from the media to be richer, be cooler or have more stuff. If you had extra money, you used it to buy a new coat (unless you were lucky enough to come upon a lady time traveler who didn’t know her place, in which case: bottoms up, good Sir).

This New York appeals to me, perhaps expressly because I can observe it from afar without having to experience it. It’s easier to romanticize the past than the present, that’s for sure, and I like thinking of a time when every other store in this town wasn’t a bank, nail salon or Starbucks. Damn you, global community! Damn you to hell!