If clothes were mating plumage, Kevin was a pigeon. While others peacocked in designer, he would blend into the background unnoticed, wearing the same dorky jeans and North Face jacket every day. Kevin had never really given much thought to being noticed, considering it to be a generally overrated phenomenon compared to things he liked, such as strong coffee in the morning, strong tea in the evening, Patricia Highsmith novels, and the feeling of his cat, Beelzebub, curled warmly on his chest.
But as time went on, he noticed that while his friends would occassionally date people, he had no such luck. There was one major difference: they all had cool jackets, and Kevin did not. So he resolved to change his life, finally put himself out there, and buy a cool jacket.
As he entered the racks of the L Train Vintage, he felt awash in possibility. A cool jacket wasn’t just a chance to stand out. It was a chance to reinvent himself. To define himself. To project a new identity. With a new jacket, he could be anybody he wanted.
He reached into the rack of outerwear and pulled out…
THE LEATHER MOTORCYCLE JACKET
Kevin gnawed the end of a toothpick as his Harley Davidson road hog purred to a stop outside the bar. He popped the collar of his cool leather jacket and dusted the dirt off the shoulder. Perfect.
He muscled the door open and shouted at the bartender, who had one arm and also one eye with an eyepatch.
“Hey, Bones!” Kevin shouted. (The bartender’s name is Bones). “Get me my usual!” The bartender poured him a shot of brown liquor that was on fire. Kevin toasted the girls at the end of the bar and downed the shot. Stacy leaned over, batting her eyes.
“Oh Kevin,” she said, “how did you get so cool?” He winked.
“It’s all in the jacket, baby.”
Kevin slunk the motorcycle jacket off of his shoulders. I’m not sure if that’s right for me, he thought. I can barely ride a bicycle, much less a chopper. And I’m not sure I could handle all that attention, anyway.
He scrolled through the rack until he reached…
THE DRUG RUG SWEATER
“Dude…duuuuuuude” echoed in Kevin’s ears as his eyes blinked open. “Oh, he’s alive!” shouted a dreadlocked, narrow-eyed stoner. Kevin sat up.
“We thought you greened out cheefing on our reefer weed !” called a voice from the corner. On a beanbag in the corner sat a beautiful but smelly-looking hippie woman.
“Now that you’re awake,” the dreadlocked stoner said, “you know what it’s time for?” He pointed to a collection of beakers in the corner.
“Drugs,” Kevin said. The dreadlock stoner smiled and began turning on bunsen burners. The beautiful hippie chick came over and kissed Kevin on the cheek.
“Once we’re high on pot, we can have sex with each other!”
“Together,” called out the dreadlock stoner. “We are both her boyfriends becaue we are free love hippies!” Kevin paused for a second as he watched the two kiss. Then he joined in. The stoner held out a giant syringe filled with green liquid.
“I love doing drugs with Kevin!”
Kevin pulled the drug rug off his body. That’s not for me, he thought.
Kevin had always been intrigued by the free and cheerful lifestyle of hippies and stoners, but tended to find himself intimidated when in the presence of too much freedom all at once. And after all, he had only ever tried weed one time, and it made him so scared he had to eat an entire box of saltines and listen to vacuum cleaner sounds in order to calm down.
What kind of person do I want to be? He thought about the people in his life who always made him jealous. He thought about high school and the first time he realized that he wasn’t cool. Never again. With confidence, he reached in and selected…
THE VARISTY LETTER JACKET
“Hey Kevin, slick ride!” called a girl’s voice. Kevin leaned on the hood of his 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454. His hand traced the custom racing stripe.
“Thanks, baby.” The girl turned bright red. Of course she did. Kevin was the homecoming king and the football quarterback, and he had the coolest car in all of Rock Valley High School.
“Hope you’re not flirting with other high school girls,” teased a voice from inside the car. Britlyn, the cheerleader…leader…pouted in the passenger seat. Kevin leaned in and smooched her.
“Don’t worry, hot stuff, I would never engage in age-appropriate sexual experimentation with anybody else other than you, my homecoming queen and the hottest girl in school.” Kevin spied a dorky, nebbishy boy in high-waisted pants and a lame jacket. He snickered. “Now excuse me while I dunk on this nerd.” He somersaulted out of the car. “Ice Man, alley my oop!” he shouted. A fellow basketball guy threw a football — perfect spiral — and Kevin slammed it on top of the nerdy boy. “That’s what you get for not having a cool jacket!”
“Sir, are you finding everything OK?” asked one of the thrift store workers. Kevin jumped with a start, awoken from his fantasy.
“Oh! Oh,” he said. “I’m fine. I’m just…I’m not sure this one’s quite me.”
“Not a big football guy?”
“Not really. I just wanted something cool. What do you think is cool?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I just work here.”
Kevin heard kids snickering behind him, and then realized they had been filming his fantasy alley-oops for the better part of a minute. He deflated and put the jacket back onto the rack.
Why did I think I could be cool? He thought. Even my version of being cool is lame. He thought about high school. He thought about his life now. He felt bad for the nerds, and then he felt bad for the people who peaked in high school. And then he thought better of it. At least they know they peaked, he thought. He wondered if he ever would.
He walked down the last rack of coats, solemn and solitary, fingers filtering over flight jackets and black puffer vests, images of different Kevins in different times and different places, until his fingers met something familiar at the edge of the rack. The unmistakable texture of a dorky North Face jacket. The same as the one he had at home, but this one was less worn down, in slightly better condition. And plus, it was blue. Kevin had never thought of wearing a blue jacket before. He smiled.
He walked out of the store wearing the new jacket, and as he did, the anxiety of the shopping experience melted into the comfortable confines of familiar textures.
Kevin reached the top of his stairs lightly winded and sweaty. He hung his jacket by the door. As he wandered in, he thought about the cup of tea he would make and the last pages of the book he had left to read. Beelzebub circled around Kevin’s feet, meowing a quiet “feed me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, and smiled.