The Story of the Beautiful Coat
...and the bad corporate wife
Two nights ago I dreamed about the beautiful black coat. I was on my way to a concert at Lincoln Center, wearing the coat, and I was ravenously hungry. I stopped at a nearby bodega, which probably never existed because such humble stores long ago disappeared from the neighborhood. I ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a roll from the man behind the counter and watched as he expertly shoved the eggs around on the big grill. Outside I removed the roll from the wrapper and bag, and because I have been on a low-carb diet, I tried to figure out how to scoop out the innards without eating the roll. I made a mess out of it and much of the contents landed on the front of my beautiful black coat, the one with the mink collar and cuffs.
I woke up wondering what happened to that damn coat and emailed an old boyfriend, in whose apartment I believed I had left it. He responded that he still had the coat. I told him to give it to his sister or the thrift store, because I doubt I will ever again have any occasion to wear that coat again, which is now about 30 years old and possibly full of moth holes because the ex-beau is not the kind to take care of good clothes,
I bought the coat during the early stages of my divorce, when my about-to-be ex-husband was in San Francisco and I was in New York. As I have written before, I did not want the divorce because I had thought we would have a 3000-mile commuting marriage until he could move back to the city, New York City, to our home, once I had a job and his pension was vested. He changed his mind, and I was sad and furious, and out to exact a little revenge with his American Express Platinum card, while I still had charge privileges, because that was sure to change. (In hindsight, I realize I could have done a lot more damage if I’d headed uptown to the Ferrari showroom.)
So I went across the street from the old ARTnews offices on 38th near Fifth Avenue, where I was working, to Lord & Taylor, then a rather dowdy store by comparison with Saks or Bergdorf’s but one I found comforting because of the two affordable lunch places, because of the women who chased you around with perfume strips on the ground floor, because of the gracious ladies’ rooms with dainty upholstered chairs. I don’t remember on which floor I found the coat, but it was definitely somewhere in high-end bridge wear, as they called and maybe still call pricey clothes that are not quite designer but not cheap knock-offs either. The coat beckoned to me from the rack of dressy outer garments. The real mink collar and cuffs were totally politically incorrect (I knew the little beasts were probably electrocuted through the anus), but I didn’t care. I was in a reckless mood. The coat was a size eight and fit perfectly, falling a couple of inches below the knee. Finely combed black wool, fully lined, with one of those small chains inside the neckline that allow you to put on a coat rack or hook without ruining the fabric. Calvin Klein. Oh, it fit so beautifully! An A-line cut, tapered to the body. It would be gorgeous with red leather gloves and a pair of high-heeled boots. It cost $350 or so, far more than I would normally spend even though my about-to-be ex made 1,000 times that, at least. I handed the saleswoman the Platinum card and walked out of the store with the coat carefully wrapped in tissue paper inside a gigantic Lord & Taylor shopping bag.
The coat was in reality a better match for the corporate wife whose identity I was in the process of shedding, but still I wanted something elegant to wear to the occasional evening press preview at the Met or MoMA. One of the reasons I was getting divorced, I suspect, was because I was a very bad corporate wife, and with my outrageously curly hair and occasional pottymouth, I wasn’t even a very good trophy wife.
How bad a corporate wife was I? Some examples:
In the late ‘80s, when my about-to-be-and-now ex and I moved to a suburb of Boston for the job that tripled his salary, I was driving to some event in town with the boss’s wife. She began nattering on about her children and how she baked the most incredible fluffy blueberry muffins, and I snapped at her: “I don’t bake!” with the emphatic disdain of someone who announces, “I don’t smoke!” She did not speak to me for the rest of the evening.
Nonetheless we went to dinner at their house in Lincoln, a big cape house she had designed for herself and the boss, who was a barely closeted neo-Nazi. Not a skinhead, but more like a retired, portly SS commando. He had toy-model Luftwaffe planes dangling from the ceiling of the home-entertainment room, plushly decorated in leather couches and brass lamps, where after dinner he showed us a VHS tape of Reni Liefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, the pro-Hitler 1935 propaganda film. I was appalled. Equally so after the boss called my then-husband at home a short time later. When I answered, he barked: “kinder, küche, kirche!” I hung up on him.
My then-husband heard about the aborted call later and was not pleased with me.
I was a bad corporate wife when we went on an all-expenses-paid trip to Venice, one of my favorite cities in the world, and stayed at a sumptuous hotel on the Lido, not far from the Grand Hotel, where Death in Venice was filmed. I arrived about 12 hours ahead of my ex—I’m not sure why, but he was traveling from a different city—checked into our ocean-view room, and promptly ordered a bottle of white wine and a platter of prosciutto and cheese from room service.
My ex and I had a cute couples’ joke, told to me by my brother. You hold your arms at the elbows in front of your face—this used to be called Indian style, and maybe now is called Native American style, who knows? You ask your partner, “Do you know the mating call of the wild clam?” and when he answers no, you open your forearms a bit and whisper, “Wanna fuck?”
I was asleep with a pillow over my head when he arrived early in the morning. I wasn’t wearing my contacts, but I could tell it was my husband by the broad-shouldered shadowy shape against the lights of the hallway. I lifted the pillow a bit more and asked in a surprised and happy tone of voice, “Hi, honey, wanna fuck?” I did not realize there was a maid and a bellman behind him who knew enough English to gasp and laugh at the foul-mouthed signora.
My ex was furious.
He was too busy with meetings for those four days to pay much attention to me, and so I toured the Serenissima with another couple and a similarly abandoned wife, Carol, the Girl Scout leader who asked me, after reading from a guidebook, “Ann, what’s a fa-kade?” I had my own guidebook, called City Secrets or something like that, and when we came to a certain palazzo I read to her the story of La Zaffetta, a Venetian courtesan, one of whose lovers was a captain in the militia. When she refused to dismiss her other clients, he had her raped by about a half-dozen of his soldiers. La Zaffetta, as I recall, denounced him before the tribunal, but soon after returned to her usual business and customers. At dinner that night Carol loudly told everyone at the table, “Ann showed me this house that once belonged to a famous whore who got gang raped by a bunch of her customers.”
My ex was not amused by that either. I never again asked him about the mating call of the wild clam.
Did I ever wear that beautiful black coat when he came to New York on the occasional business trip and we went out to dinner, because after a few years we were friends, sort of. I have a vague memory of wearing it to the big Gerhard Richter retrospective at MoMA, which I visited with him. It must have gone to Seattle with me when I fell in love with Jeff, as recounted in “Radio Daze,” but I doubt I ever wore it there. And it came back to the East Coast with me, and to the opera when I first ventured into Internet dating (there was the guy in Bermuda who told me he came all over his computer when I described what I was wearing that day).
How it made its way to the ex-beau’s apartment I can’t recall. Nor do I recall wearing it when I went out with him, unless we did something one New Year’s Eve.
For sure it never made it to Taos because I would feel frankly strange wearing it to any events around here, where down and leather are more the norm.
Dear beautiful black coat, I hope the ex-beau finds you a good home. I hope you are not riddled with holes, and I’m sorry I never put mothballs in your pockets or laid you to rest in a cedar chest.
Dear, dear politically incorrect coat, I will see you in my dreams.