The Perfect “Coat”

Last Thursday, “Silver,” my never-say-die 1990 Buick, and I jetted west on I-94 to Kalamazoo, home of “Ben & Allie” Goodrow, the married subjects of my last chic flick style blog. My mission? To find the perfect “coat.”

The day before, I had struggled to maintain steady footing and a normal body temperature as I trudged over the snowy white sidewalks and doorsteps of Jackson, MI. Michigan’s winter had already trumped my apparel without even revealing its most frigid cards. My light bulb moment happened when I limped back to my car chattering like a squirrel skydiving into the Arctic Circle. I stomped my feet to reassure myself that they still existed and thawed my hands in the full-blast goodness of my car’s heating vents. My epiphany shiveringly stumbled out like this, “I-I-I-n-n-n-n-e-e-d-d-d-d-d-a-a-a-a-c-c-c-c-oa-t-t-t.” Instantly, the decision was made. There would be no more door to door shenanigans until I found the “coat” of my dreams.

“How do you know it’s the perfect ‘coat,’ Rob?” you might ask. You just know. Trust me on this one.

The story of how I found my “coat,” begins with a phone call. Throughout the week, Ben, Allie, and I had planned a dinner for four. Our original agenda included Rico, a violin player friend of ours from Spring Arbor University, but he never called back. On Wednesday night, I informed Ben via text message and voicemail that I still planned to show. He called back in a jiffy, and I mentioned the “coat” thing. “Dude, you should find a coat in Kalamazoo before we get dinner!” he suggested. “Brilliant!” I exclaimed, but added with hesitation, “You sure the Kalamazoo mall’s gonna have somethin’ good?” “Yeah, dude! Out of all the stores they have, they gotta have a coat that you’ll like,” he quickly replied. “I’ll letchya know tomorrow,” I said remaining somewhat unconvinced.

At 5:30 a.m., tomorrow became today. Well, actually, it became last Thursday, but if you’re reading this blog a week from now, tomorrow became last last Thursday. Anyway, at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, I woke up, slipped on some gymn clothes, and drove on over to the house of “Spicemaster Flex”, my early morning workout partner. After we finished sculpting our pectoral muscles, I headed back home to eat breakfast, read the Bible, and shower up for the day.

In my car, I casually juggled the pro’s and cons of shopping in Ann Arbor versus Kalamazoo. Two cities’ angels sat on my shoulders battling it out. Ann Arbor: “I’m trendier.” Kalamazoo: “I’m bigger.” Ann Arbor: “I have U of M.” Kalamazoo “I have WMU.” My thoughts leaned toward Ann Arbor because of the “trendy factor,” but then I prayed about it. “Go to Kalamazoo!” was the answer that rocked Ann Arbor off of my left shoulder. “What?!!!” I half-asked and half- whined as my eyes rolled. “Okaaaaay, I’ll do it,” I slowly conceded.

When I got home, I bounded cheerfully through the house and up the stairs to my room, but for the next two hours I didn’t make it any further. The heat from my room’s electric radiator invited me, like a temptress with sleep-inducing perfume, to close my eyes and never wake up. I awoke to my cell phone vibrating across my desk like an epileptic tap-dancer. “Dude, you comin’?!” Ben asked as I pressed the cell phone to the right side of my face. “I don’t have work today!” he quickly added. “They didn’t need me for the first time in a month and a half.” “Yeah, I’ll be there at around 11:30!” I decisively said at some point in the conversation.

While I made the hourlong trek over to K-zoo, I joked around with God a little bit. “God, please help me find the right coat for twenty-five bucks.” Immediately, I heard a reply. “Nope, I’ll get you one for fifty though.” “Okay,” I said jokingly. “Sounds good.” God’s voice was very distinct with that answer, but I still doubted that it was really God talking to me about a coat, so I put it out of my mind for a while.

I rendevoused with Ben and Allie at a Target Store in Kalamazoo. After I bear-hugged Ben in the front of the store, he gave me the “Vanna White style” tour of  a flat screen TV that he “really, really wanted.” When a worker informed us that they were sold out, we met up with Allie, who was juggling an armload of cosmetics-related hooha.

After patiently waiting in the checkout lane, we decided to leave Silver behind in the Target parking lot and go eat lunch. After listening to Ben and Allie exchange a few rounds of the I-don’t-care-where-do-you-want-to- go’s, they decided to treat me to Panchero’s, a Q-doba-style burrito place. I stuffed my face with two fists full of Southwestern-style heaven, while we all laughed and talked about music and life.

At around one, Ben and I dropped Allie off at her office where I met some of Allie’s co-workers. When I told them that Ben and I often play music together, one of them asked what we sounded like. Unhesitatingly, I replied, “Let me show ya!” I rushed out to the Goodrow’s new black car and grabbed my cd satchel and Jacopo, my guitar. I hurried back in and performed two songs for the office. All the while, everybody smiled and nodded with the thoughtful “‘Hmm, Not Bad…’ expression” tightening their eyebrows and lips. I sold three cd’s instantly. After I listened to some their love stories and signed all of the cd’s, Ben and I raced to the Kalamazoo mall to fulfill our mission of finding me the perfect “coat.”

First stop, Macy’s: I needed a “coat” that could handle the tough times of winter. Almost every “coat” in the store looked really good from a distance, but as soon as I got close enough to see what they were made of, I realized that there wasn’t much beneath the surface.

2nd Stop: The Buckle. All of their “coats” were too small. They were stylin,’ but when I tried them on they inspired me to coin the term, “Munchkin-status.” We met a cool manager, who struck up a pleasant conversation with us, but half-way through we realized that he thought we were homosexuals. Let me jump on my verbal soapbox for a sec: “If two guys shop together in a moderately trendy store, don’t assume they’re gay! Geez! Metrosexuals, maybe! But not gay!” We laughed it off and joked about the situation, but later on it made me think about how perverted our culture’s collective mindset has become. Anyway, on to the next stores.

We hit Gap, Banana Republic, American Eagle, Hollister, and Abercrombie & Fitch. At Gap, they featured one “coat.” It was nice, but I couldn’t bring myself to genuinely love it. Banana Republic offered “coats” that looked thinner than a ferret with an eating disorder. American Eagle, had a “coat” with a nice personality. It just didn’t fit right.  Hollister and Abercrombie pinned naked models on their walls in a brazen attempt to hide their lack of creativity. We exited both stores in precisely fifteen seconds.

Burlington Coat Factory: Too cheap. Too weird. Too frumpy.

Sears: Too old-fashioned. Too big. Too boring. Too unoriginal.

Eddie Bauer: Too practical. Too “Granola.” No style.

PacSun: I liked all of the “coats” there, but they were made for easy seasons like fall and spring. I knew none of them would stick with me when the harsh winter weather showed up.

“You are really picky,” Ben said emphatically as we aggressively took long steps in the direction of the food court. After three hours of power walking over the fake marble tiles of Kalamazoo’s mall, all I could conjure up was, “Yep!” then added with a smirk, “Maybe I can’t find a coat for the same reason that I can’t find a wife.” Ben opened his mouth like a real life “:0” emoticon and lol’d so loud that I think it echoed off the Subway sign in the food court. “Hey, it’s good to be picky!” Ben reassured me. “I was picky, and look who I married!” he said proudly. At that point, I needed some fuel, but I couldn’t justify spending my hard-earned cash in the overpriced mall-style restaurants, so we drove to Taco Bell. While I sat in the passenger seat, the girl/coat analogy gained steam.

“Some ‘coats’ are too big,” I said with a laugh. “Some ‘coats’ are too small,” Ben added smiling. “Some ‘coats’ are too formal. Some ‘coats’ are too tall,” I continued with a little too much pride in my Seussical rhyme. Without sharing all of the details, “coats” became our code word for girls throughout the rest of the evening.

After quickly ordering from Taco Bell’s drive through, I inhaled three crunchy tacos in a matter of minutes while Ben steered the car into the Kohl’s/TJMaxx parking lot. After we left TJMaxx empty-handed, Ben said, “We got ten minutes before I need to pick Allie up from work.” “I’ll be done in five,” I said confidently. Ten minutes later we walked out of Kohl’s without any warm pieces of winter apparel.

As we verbally admitted defeat and conceded that we had a great time anyway, Scott, my best friend from high school and resident of Kzoo, called to say that he couldn’t meet up with us for dinner. In a last ditch effort, I asked if he knew a good place to go for a “coat.” “Frayed,” he responded. “F-R-A-Y-E-D,” he repeated literally spelling it out. “It’s near the downtown.” “Thanks, man!” I said. “I’ll talk with ya soon!”

We picked up Allie and headed over to Frayed. While in the car, Ben and I updated her on our new “girl=coat” lingo, which she surprisingly thought was hilarious. As we pulled into Frayed’s parking lot, the first sign we saw on their window said, “Liquidation Sale: 30-50% off everything.” “Wow! we picked a good time to come here!” I said revealing my love for all things clearance. “It looks like all they have is summer clothes,” Allie said unintentionally dampering my optimism a little.

At first it looked as though Allie called it correctly, but then I saw some “coats.” They were really coats, not girls. I tried it on and asked a salesman if it was 50% off. “Everything’s 50% off right now!” he cheerfully replied. I didn’t really like the first coat, but as I thumbed through some other racks, I found “the coat.” It was a black Quiksilver winter coat with lots of insulation, a tight fit, and four pockets in the front. It even had a detachable hood. I felt around for the price tag, and when I finally found it, I shouted “This is it!” Ben and Allie were genuinely excited that I found such a deal. After four hours of unsuccessfully searching for “the perfect coat,” one suggestion from a high school best friend led me to the right store and ultimately, to the right “coat.”

The coat/girl analogy obviously falls flat in some ways. For example, I’m not willing to try on a bunch of girls to see if they fit right. I would not wear a girl on my back while selling cd’s door to door. And I can’t have a good conversation with my coat, at least while other people are around.

In other ways, shopping for coats is a fabulous picture of the dating scene. Here are some reasons why: You can’t find a coat online. No matter how good the picture looks and how detailed the description is, you eventually have to be in the same room with it to make a well-informed decision.  Also, there are so many good-looking coats in the world, but if you’re picky like me, only a few will really fit your lifestyle.

The last part of the day provided a perfect end to my analogy. I spent a whole afternoon in the mall with Ben searching for a coat. We discussed everything about this unseen ideal. I listed off ultra-specific stipulations for its fit, its personality, its size, its style, and anything else that pertains to “coats.” After we spent all of our energy and too much effort, we gave up. That’s when Scott called and tipped me off on where I should look. In a matter of minutes, the Lord led me to the right coat. “How’d you know it was the right one?” you might ask. I just knew. After all of my searching and falling for false hopes, I saw one coat and knew it would fit perfectly.

I’ll be very candid with you. I’ve waited a long time for the right girl. 29 years. If love at first sight is real, I’ve fallen in love thousands of times. I’ve seriously dated two girls. I’ve asked tons of girls out to dinner. Most of them married someone else. I’ve never been desperate enough to meet a girl online or try the e-harmony shindig, but I have travelled to Atlanta and Nashville just to go on a date with women that looked like my ideal. After all of my searching, I finally gave up a year ago. I’m living in the part of the story where you, the reader, and I are in the car admitting defeat and conceding that we had some fun along the way. But I’m aware that as I go about my business, God will probably use a friend or a family member to call me and point me in the right direction.

Some people believe that God isn’t real and ,if He is, that He’s not concerned with the details of our lives. But I believe he cares acutely about every little thing we’re involved in like who we marry and even what coat we choose to buy . I’ve heard God speak to me about big life decisions and about relatively insignificant directions or purchases. To anyone who doesn’t believe that God wants to speak to them, all I have to say is, “My coat was fifty bucks.”

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3 thoughts on “The Perfect “Coat”

  1. Rob, this is beautiful. God has a way of showing up in the least expected form, when we follow one step at a time. Good luck in your door-to-door year!

  2. Rob,
    I met you yesterday at the hair salon while getting my hair cut. You really impressed me as caring, sensitive & talented person. Your faith is inspiring! I too grew up with grandparents who were madly in love with each other. Its awesome to see that kind of love. Unfortunatly I never experienced it myself, even thogh I did marry & have 3 wonderful kids, 7 grandkids & 3 great grandkids. And I am totally in love with all of them!
    God is good, and I know he is leading you to somewhere great! I know he will show you the way to the love of your life!
    One other thing I would like to say. I was planning on coloring my hair on my next visit, but you said you thought grey hair was “classy”. So I have decided to go “natural” & be “classy”. Believe it or not…I got 3 compliments on my “silver” hair today!! Coincidence???? Who knows!!
    God bless you & take care. Joanne

  3. Like all things in life finding a coat or a wife takes a strange mix of effort and non-effort. It certainly isn’t up to us completely and and it certainly isn’t out of our hands completely. After ruminating for years on “How then shall we live” (the concept not the book), I have very little wisdom for you.

    All I can say is unlike your coat experience, you may not “Just know it” when you find your “coat.” I’ve had more and more experiences when I’ve gone into something reluctantly or even kicking and streaming, and it ended up being the best thing. God knew me better than I knew myself, something that had a big part in whom I married, and I guess he wanted me to trust him above my own understanding and apparent worldly wisdom. I’m signing a contract today that is like that … I trust.
    Life doesn’t always end up in nice tidy little blog posts with the perfect coat with the perfect fit on sale.
    It can be really hard.
    But hard is good.

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