Saturday, September 8, 2018

The day I bought that jacket for a stranger

I didn’t walk into the Savers thrift store on Lake Street this past Tuesday with the intention of entering into an act of civil disobedience. I had no plans for a grand gesture regarding the way we treat immigrants in our community. And I certainly didn’t think I was going to be spending $8.99 on a sport jacket I would never wear. But that’s how life goes sometimes. We think we’re witnessing a passing moment, but instead we’re being presented with an opportunity. On my favorite day of the week (Senior Citizen 40% Off Day), I was presented with an opportunity.

I first saw the guy as I was cutting through Menswear on my way to Books. He was a tall fellow, dressed in a long tunic and a cap (I’ve since looked it up; it’s called a thobe and a kufi). On top of this, he was wearing a tan sport jacket, clearing modeling it for another guy, a doughy fellow dressed in a golf shirt and khakis (I did, barely, know the names of these clothes, sartorially challenged as I am). “Khakis” was kneading the top of the jacket’s shoulders, as the man swiveled from one side to another, in the universal gesture of “how do I look?” He offered an opinion: “I think it fits you pretty well.” And then, responding to a murmured question: “No, I don’t think the shoulders are too puffy.”  I headed off to Books, my head dancing with visions of delightful Senior Day Discounts.

A few minutes later, I was waiting in the checkout line when I noticed the thobe-and-kufi guy ahead of me at the register. The cashier was addressing him loudly, and her voice was getting angrier with each statement. “Cause I told you. You don’t have a Senior ID. You aren’t a Senior. You can’t have the discount.” She started to look around, trying to draw some Senior Shaming to get this guy to move away. He picked up the jacket. He backed out of line. He moved slowly past me, still looking at the jacket with what seemed like deep regret.

It was just a tan sport coat, but I got the sense it had already become his Lucky Jacket. “Khakis” had told him it looked good. He’d had confirmation that the shoulders were not too puffy. I had no idea what he wanted this jacket for—a job interview, an important meeting or maybe just for sitting around the house, looking like a 90s-era middle manager. One thing was clear: This man was so clearly strapped for cash that the extra 40% meant the difference between getting the Lucky Jacket and putting it back on the rack.

And this is when the voice in my head began: “DON’TGETINVOLVEDDON’TGETINVOLVED,” it told me. “JULIEIMEANIT,” the voice added, firmly. So of course I lifted my finger and beckoned to the man. I pointed to the jacket. Then I pointed to myself. “Give it to me,” I said quietly. “I’ll buy it for you.” He looked at me with soft, sad eyes. “I am the wrong age?” he asked, clearly confused about what had been barked at him by that rude, rude woman.

I looked into his face. That face. Right, honey, I wanted to shout over to the clerk, he’s not 55: He’s One Hundred and Fifty-Five. This guy had clearly lived plenty of years--enough years, at least in my opinion, to qualify him for a few bucks off a jacket so vintage that it’s probably still got an empty packet of Marlboros in one pocket and a few pink “While You were Out” slips in the other. “I’m the right age,” I told him, pointing to my wrinkly old face, for which I was, just at that moment, supremely grateful. “Give me the jacket and wait here.” I pointed firmly at a spot on the floor, as if I knew the exact Constitutionally designated location for sport-coat-related disobedience. He handed me the jacket and I moved back in line.

When I reached the clerk, I wanted to make a scene. I wanted to strike a blow for courtesy and customer service and giving someone a damn break every once in a while. I wanted to announce how I, little old lady, had single-handedly thwarted her dastardly scheme to separate a guy from his Lucky Jacket. I wanted to make her cry so hard that her ridiculous false eyelashes fell off like wooly caterpillars and ensured us all a milder winter. But I could tell that grandstanding was not my guy’s style. He had not gotten this far, lo these 155 years, by making a spectacle of himself in public. He was a master of blending in, I thought, just as I noticed that he’d already glided to the exit as she was toting up my purchases.

I decided to try something new for once in my life. I kept my mouth shut. And when the clerk told me to Have a Nice Day, I did not snarl or protest, but moved quickly away from the counter with my precious purchase. Outside, my guy took the jacket from me with one hand and reached for his wallet with the other. I shook my head and waved my hand, as if it would be ridiculous for him to pay me, as if everyone knew that part of life in Minneapolis was the existence of a crazed band of wrinkly old ladies who roamed the greater metro, buying menswear for deserving but impoverished chaps. I gave him a quick smile and trotted off before he had too long to think about it.

From my position behind the driver’s seat of my car, I saw him gather himself together. So many things about life in this country must be confusing, and here was one more baffling moment to add to the list. One thing was clear, though--ten minutes ago he didn’t have a jacket, and now he did. He slipped it on and wriggled around, adjusting it. Khakis was right, I thought--those shoulders aren’t too puffy, they’re just right. Walking away from the store, my co-conspirator tugged on a scarf, pulling it from his thawb and adjusting it jauntily around the collar of his Lucky Jacket. He flipped one end of the scarf over his shoulder with such élan that he might have been walking down a cosmopolitan thoroughfare in Paris or Cairo or Mogadishu, so elegant and natty did he seem.

I found myself wiping my eyes with the back of my hands. The forks in the road that take us from a rotten day to a blessed one can be so small that we often don't notice they exist. And there I was, the means by which his fortunes had shifted toward the good. I wished him luck, luck, nothing but luck, as he strode off down Lake Street to face the rest of his day. 


  1. Julie, would like to share this also on instagram. Can you add that link?

  2. I love this so much, complete with tears dropping out of my eyes. Bravo Julie!!

  3. Julie, what a wonderful story, love your voice, felt like I was in the store with you! Thanks for sharing.