It's a mild winter in Chicago, and it's the middle of January before I see my friend Ann in her fur coat. For her it's totally practical. She spends a lot of time shoveling snow for her tenants, plus she has two dogs that demand frequent walks. Ann is cold at any temperature below 80 degrees, so I'm neutral on her fur coat choice.
When I first moved to Chicago for grad school, I had a part-time job at a store called Paddor's. Paddor's had okay clothes and accessories, but they had awesome jackets and coats. Fur coats! Fur coats of mink, fox, raccoon, even coyote. Keep in mind I was young and naive and didn't yet know about PETA. I thought furs were classy, and in the Windy City they'd be practical as well. Who knew!? We were encouraged to try on the merchandise so naturally I went for the furs. I wouldn't have been able to buy one without my enormous discount, and regrettably fur of any type made me look enormous. FYI: if you're tall with an athletic frame, stick to outerwear that's more flattering, less rugby-player-like. First fashion lesson learned.
Fast forward twenty years. I'm helping my hoarder friend Cynthia clean her home. It's been in her family for over 100 years, and since her mother passed away several years ago, nothing has been sorted or given away. Um ... or cleaned. Add two large, shedding dogs and an ancient Persian with bowel issues and well, you can imagine. So we went to work, Cynthia and I. The going was emotional for her, arduous for me. But we did make headway: 3-4 hours a day on hands and knees, a trip to Home Depot or the Salvation Army, wine at the end. Her living situation steadily improved. I must add that this was all quite difficult for her, and I commend her for allowing me control in the beginning. Cynthia needed only a little support at the outset, then she was off and running.
Until we found the fur coat.
It had been her mother's mink coat, found in a forgotten corner of a forgotten closet. It was moth-eaten and it reeked of cat urine; it fit her perfectly. Cynthia's face lit up as though all her beloved dead relatives suddenly appeared before her.
"What about the smell?" I asked. "What about the holes?"
"Oh, the dry cleaner will fix everything," she assured me. "A new lining is all it needs!"
So we were off to the cleaners. An elderly Vietnamese man was behind the counter. He refused to touch the coat until he located some disposable gloves. Only then did he reluctantly take the coat to the back to assess the damage. He returned in minutes, coat shoved in plastic, and gloves discarded.
"Nothing I can do for stink. Just throw out."
"Can't you at least replace the lining?" Cynthia was beginning to well up.
And so we left with the bagged coat. Me: embarrassed. Cynthia: saddened.
"Is it really that bad?"
"It's kinda bad, yeah."
"Even just to walk the dogs? It's so warm. Who will ever see me if I just use it to walk the dogs?"
I thought, "everybody," but kept my mouth shut. That ratty coat keeps her warm and gives her pleasure like nothing else can. She wears it still, and each time is like another day with her mother.