I recently became the proud owner of a deluxe, almost-new down parka, replete with all the snazzy requisite features: a luxurious hood trimmed in genuine fake-fur, numerous handy inside and outside pockets (including the all-important diagonal slits on the sides which allow you to bury your hands snugly while walking elbows akimbo), and storm cuffs to keep out blizzards and other animals. And it’s in a manly shade of black with a quilted grey interior; nothing too Champs Élyseés here, no sir. Doing up the zipper’s a bit hit-and-miss – what else is new? – but otherwise it’s all you could ask for in a winter coat.
The way I came by it makes for a funny story, at least I think so. I have a much younger friend who I’ll call S – his first initial – to save him the embarrassment of having it publicly revealed that he’s friends with somebody so much older. He came by several of these parkas while working on The Hometown Hockey show for several years, which involved visiting a different, usually very cold, Canadian city every winter weekend. Knowing that I was turning 60 this past August and thinking a couple of seasons ahead, S walked through our back gate one sweltering morning this past summer carrying three of these bulky coats. Quite large and Chilean, he looked like a very lost Nanook of the North, by way of South America. He said, “Here, man, try these on. If one of them fits, it’s yours.”
So there I was on my back deck trying on these toasty, mammoth parkas on one of the hottest days of the year, hoping not to schpritz too much on them while giggling at the absurdity that is sometimes my life. One of them fit perfectly and I gratefully accepted it from S; it was very thoughtful of him in a forward-looking way.
With winter a long way off, I hung the parka in a closet and promptly forgot all about it – out of sight, out of mind. This continued even when a cold snap hit about 10 days before Christmas, but on the evening of Dec. 18 the light bulb finally went on. I had to step out to run an errand and, knowing it was about 20 below out I suddenly thought: You moron, you have a parka hanging somewhere in the house, now might be a good time to break it out.
Miraculously, it was in the first place I looked and the next hurdle was whether or not it would still fit – maybe it had “shrunk” over the last three months, as clothes often mysteriously do. But it still fit fine and when I put it on, it felt like being in the embrace of a generously-bosomed, kind-hearted woman. I enjoy the benefit of one at home, so why not in the great outdoors too? I’d forgotten, but with a down parka there’s no need to brace yourself for that first step out into the frozen unknown. You can just breeze out with, ”Tennis, anyone? I say, who’s up for some snow croquet?” You’re insulated; a coat like this allows you to, if not exactly enjoy, then at least withstand a Canadian winter.
You’d think that after 60 years spent here – maybe the last 10 of these as a confirmed adult – I would by now have some idea about the importance of having a warm winter coat. And you’d be right. But you must understand two things. One, I’m a tad obtuse, maybe even a bit dim. And secondly, while I’m not exactly poor – not quite – I’m selectively cheap. I think nothing of spending considerable sums on essentials like red wine, Stilton, jazz CDs and baseball books. But frittering away hard-earned money on frills like clothing and footwear? Never – pshaw, I say.
This skewed value system reminds me of a favourite story from long ago involving two much-missed and departed friends – drummer Keith Blackley, who’s been gone for a while now – and pianist Bob Murphy, who passed just last October. It would have been around Christmastime in the early ’80’s, and the three of us were making an evening’s rounds. Possibly after a gig, I don’t remember. We found ourselves, as one often did back then, in the bar side of Bourbon Street. The band was on a break and there were a lot of musicians there, so we were hanging out and gabbing pretty good, exchanging Season’s Greetings, stories and jokes with our jazz brothers.
Bob was fairly new in town from Vancouver and quite unexpectedly a musician who owed him for a gig paid him right then and there, in cash. With this sudden bonanza in hand and no hesitation whatsoever, Bob turned to Keith and me and said, “Quick, lemme buy you guys a cognac before I get home and my wife blows the rest of this on bills.” It killed us, and the cognac tasted that much sweeter for the world-weary sentiment of Bob’s gallows delivery.
It reminds me now of another dear-departed friend, Rob McConnell. He would have been delighted by Bob Murphy’s ironic gesture and would have said, “These are the kinds of musicians we need.” Because, while he valued those who had the usual skills of sight reading, good time, blowing on changes and so on, he most of all treasured ones who knew how to drink and tell stories, how to conduct themselves at a bar with some wit and congeniality. “This band builds bars!” he’d say, followed by his trademark “After all…. we’re not camels!”
So here’s a glass raised to those three worthies, and so many others I’ve known who had such spirit, humour and generosity, and who were never, ever, boring. Like the song says, “We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet……”
Getting back to my new coat, an unexpected side benefit of it is that it’s eased a case of anorak-angst, or maybe parka-envy, that’s been building in me for the past several winters while riding the subway every day in rush hour. It’s mostly from seeing too many of those CANADA GOOSE ARCTIC PROGRAM status-symbol jobs. You know, the ones with this omnipresent logo on the upper arm:
I don’t have anything against these parkas, per se. They’re well-made and will probably last a long time, so they may be worth the exorbitant price tag. And there may even be an environmental benefit behind them, as the label implies. Although, I suspect this is a snow-job, pun fully intended. I certainly don’t hold anything against anyone who wears one. One of my favourite people, Patti Loach, has a slim steel-blue one that looks fabulous on her. But then again, Patti would look terrific in burlap.
They come in a huge variety of sizes and styles – short, medium, and long, puffy or slender – and a dazzling array of colours. So I’ve figured out it must be the day-in, day-out ubiquity of that ICE STATION ZEBRA logo that has started to drive me batty. As a jazz musician, I’ve never done well with repetition, and if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen one of these patches I could afford to buy one of these bad boys. Maybe even several. Of course, I would have spent the money on a few Mosaic box-sets, but never mind.
These Goosey Gander parkas even come in faux-camo, which I just don’t get. I mean, if you’re spending this kind of money on a super-deluxe coat you’re presumably older than ten, so why would you want to pretend to be a soldier? Isn’t this offensive to the military, on some level? As in, “Like, dude, I know you’re an actual soldier and any day you may be going off to fight a war somewhere in real army gear and might get killed. But in the meantime, I just wanted to make this really cool, edgy fashion statement. It’s all good, bro, you’re down with that, right?” Aarrggh…….
My coat is not as chic a winter fashion statement as the bright purple GOOSE one I saw the other day, which nearly sent me into conniptions. But with the Canadian flag and a ROOTS logo on the left arm, and the HOMETOWN HOCKEY crest on the right, mine certainly raises the patriotic ante. This is not entirely comfortable for me either, I feel like an unaccustomed Johnny Canuck in this rig. Hey, maybe a parka is the second-last refuge of a scoundrel. Hell, I don’t know, it could even have been a contributing factor to my last post – the cozy warmth and vague nationalism of the down may have allowed me to look at snow a little more fondly, with less of a jaundiced eye.
Anyway, I love my parka so much I’ve named it “Charlie”, as in Charlie Parka.
Sorry, but I’ve never been able to resist a good pun. Or a bad one, as the case may be.
Happy New Year, if it ain’t out of keepin’ with the situation. And here’s to absent friends.
© 2017, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.