It happens every spring. Most years, I don’t really need one. This year, the black cotton windbreaker I have has started showing its age of five years or so. The cuffs are starting to fray. Polo by Ralph Lauren, paid way too much for it at the time, but that’s how it is with good cotton windbreakers. When you see one, you buy it on sight, because you may not see another one for awhile. Still have a tan Nautica windbreaker from a few years before then, but it makes me look like a UPS delivery man.
You would not believe how hard it is to find a good cotton windbreaker these days. Go ahead and try – I dare you. All I could find was an over-priced new Ralph Lauren model at Macys that had a weird design I didn’t like (as opposed to just a straight cut, short-waited, cotton jacket). A jacket on Eddie Bauer’s website that could be good, but cost $80.00, which I won’t spend without trying it on first. There are unlimited numbers of micro-fiber and weather-proof windbreakers, which I don’t like. The fabric doesn’t breath – whether it’s 45 or 65 degrees, sooner or later, I start sweating in those micro-fiber things.
I’ve been wearing these jackets all my life, and buying a cheap cotton one used to be about the easiest thing you could do every spring. They were everywhere, and never more than $20 or $30. James Dean didn’t start the trend, but he surely capitalized on it and made it cool. It’s a basic, no-frills look, and if you haven’t already gathered, I’m very comfortable with these sort of no-nonsense relationships in life, whether we’re talking people, clothes, music, etc.
I can’t recall when the massive switchover occurred to polyester blends and micro-fibers. These sort of windbreakers often don’t look bad – the design is right – but, again, I’ve had the experience of buying these, wearing them around, and there’s just something smothering about the fabric. So it keeps the rain off. I don’t live in England or Seattle; when it rains, I use an umbrella. I like cotton. It’s a great fabric: light, breathable, feels good on your skin.
So why is it, that every fucking spring, when I start spelunking around the web or department stores, be they high or low end, it’s like pulling teeth to find a cotton windbreaker, good or bad quality? The LaCoste section at Macy’s actually had one featured this year … for $150! Adding insult to injury, when I tried on the XXL size, it didn’t even fit, about a size too small. I always hated that LaCoste alligator symbol, mainly because all the unimaginative kids at college in the mid-80s would wear LaCoste sport shirts, collar turned up, with Vuarnet sunglasses on a rope. I never got over that sickly association with dudes grooving to Tears for Fears songs in these things. But such is my desperation for a cotton windbreaker, that I would have bought that LaCoste windbreaker at Macy’s for $150 had it fit.
I can’t stand being made to feel like a yuppie on a spree when all I want is a basic, no-frills, black cotton windbreaker. The Polo Ralph Lauren one I own, I periodically black-out the little horse/polo player on the left breast with a marker so it doesn’t stand out. (I think it was originally white.) And I don’t want to knock the company too hard. I love the cut and feel of the jacket, suits me fine. But I’m just not one of those people who loves showing off labels (unless it’s Woolrich or Champion).
I’m not sure what grates on me more – that sense of not being able to find what was once such a basic staple of American life, or the realization that time has passed me by. Not like I’m a vinyl record guy living in a digital world – more like an eight-track tape guy, because there are still plenty of places you can buy vinyl records and have it deemed cool by people of all ages. Try finding a place that sells eight-tracks, and when you do, I can guarantee you it will be a kiosk in a forlorn mall in southeast Arkansas run by an aging hippie.
But it’s been that kind of spring. Having a ragged time at the office, doing tons of work to little or no fanfare and feeling about as appreciated and valued as … well, a cotton windbreaker. Been making a lot of lasagna lately, as it helps me to make these things a few times in a row when I first learn the recipe, but I’m also learning that eating heavy cheese dishes a few nights a week is a bloating experience, like I should start looking for hay in my bowel movements every morning. Weather has been much colder than usual, with a last winter blast expected for April Fool’s Day, although we’re going to get lucky here and only have freezing rain and high wind.
Some prince left a shopping cart filled with discarded clothes sitting against the lamp post on my landlord’s sidewalk tonight. A real sore point with me as she went through a very bad spell for a long, long time with Queens douche bags littering her sidewalk with construction debris, garbage bags filled with bathroom tile or dozens of pounds of empty liquor bottles, broken beer bottles, once even a toilet. (Oddly enough, the bathroom tile and toilet magically appearing a week after her next-door neighbor had those items in front of his house after stripping down an apartment in the building …) So when I see something so clearly out of place sitting on her sidewalk, knowing full well she’s going to be fined $100 or more for “littering” because some jackass parked it on her sidewalk, I don’t think, “Oh, must be some poor homeless person nearby searching for bottles” … because I know, in Queens, it’s just some senseless creep dumping nonsense in a public place and walking away.
I just wheeled the cart down around the corner to the public playground and left it there in the drizzly rain, knowing full well that someone will come along and take that shopping cart for his own personal use and probably dump the clothes there, where the parks cleaners who come by every other day will deposit that stuff in a trash bag and dispose of it. (For every time this happens, there are five or six times I’ll just silently stuff whatever's out there on the sidewalk into the landlord’s outdoor trash bin and dispose of it myself … nothing like cleaning up after anonymous bums!) If I had been in a better mood, I’d have bagged the clothes and took them to the Salvation Army bin a few blocks away at the supermarket. But it’s been a ragged week, so I left it at that. As predicted, there was no enraged homeless person appearing moments later bawling, “Who took my shopping cart?!” I sometimes wish my landlord would get a camera installed on her property so I could see the type of people who routinely do this sort of thing around the neighborhood.
So, as you can imagine, the concept of walking into a store, finding a basic black cotton windbreaker for a reasonable price, really looks good to me on a number of levels right now, personal comfort and a sense of connection to a simpler past chief among them. I don’t ask for much, but, man, a good cotton windbreaker would really hit the spot right now. Every spring, I tell you, it's the same damn thing.