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by Stephen Lautens


November 10, 2000

I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that it's not going to get any warmer. That means it's time to put the big pile of summer clothes at the end of the bed away in the basement and replace it with a big pile of winter clothes.

It also means I get to wear my favourite coat again.

I bought in it England almost ten years ago. There's no good way to describe it. It's a dressy gray coat with a black velvet collar. Double breasted, no less. With peak lapels. Pretty fancy, I'm sure you'll agree.

In it I look like a banker - or an undertaker. Think Daddy Warbucks. It's definitely a coat to be worn by a captain of industry. They might even have to revive the word "plutocrat".

How did I get it? It was in the window of a London haberdasher. When the store calls itself a "haberdasher", you know you're not going to walk out with a leather jacket with an eight-ball on the back. Anyway, I liked it and it was on sale. I walked out of the store looking like Big Lord Fauntelroy.

Working in the financial district, I figured I'd just blend in with the people who had real money. I'm convinced Conrad Black and Lord Thomson have similar topcoats hanging in their closets. One look at mine was sure to be the ticket to membership in their Club and an invitation to join the horsey set for polo and society balls for obscure diseases.

Alas (people with coats like mine say "alas" a lot), it was not to be. I just looked vaguely out of place. No one really noticed - with one exception.

It didn't take to long to realize my Daddy Warbucks overcoat was a panhander magnet. For some reason they could spot it a block away. It was as if the coat sent out psychic vibrations through the ether. Maybe it was the velvet collar. Maybe it was the peak lapels. Whatever it was, I was a made man.

Like anti-aircraft gunners they would keep their sights on me for the whole length of the street. After all, a guy in a coat like mine has got to be good for a toonie, maybe even a five spot. At ten feet away they break into a big smile at my approach and say: "Spare any change sir?"

What am I supposed to do? Here I am looking like the Prime Minister (Laurier, not the current guy), and some poor down and out street person is looking at me to make his day. You just can't say "sorry" and keep walking, so I always keep the pocket full of loonies and toonies. By the end of most days, it's empty.

Wearing a coat like this carries with it some heavy responsibilities. Not only to the panhandlers - I somehow feel I owe it to the really rich guys to maintain their image as their poorer but well dressed representative.

That's probably why every rich guy I know dresses like he got his clothes at the Sally Ann. They don't want to be recognized or bothered, but would rather pass by unnoticed.

Me, I still like the coat and bring it out as soon as the weather starts getting cold. But I don't wear it as often as I'd like - the darn thing is bankrupting me.

© Stephen Lautens 2000

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