Last week, a socially transmitted disease swept through the Nanchong foreigner ghetto. By Thursday, I had succumbed to the grippe. It sopped up every last fluid ounce of inspiration I had left. I woke up an hour before class and my throat was so swollen that I couldn't even talk to myself. My ears were sealed shut, so all I could hear was the beating of my heart and the bubbling of internal organs that, thankfully, we are not usually privy to. I called the class monitor and through a morse code of coughs and wheezes, communicated that today's Oral English 101 class would be postponed due to lack of voice. Then I crawled back under the blankets and lay there, unable to sleep, or talk to myself, or listen to Thelonious Monk, or even write, because of the block that wedged itself in my Broca's Area immediately after my last blog entry. So I got out of bed and washed my field jacket. Then I dried it on the radiator, turning it over every few minutes like a slab of meat. At least the jacket gave me something to look forward to, namely warmth, and thoughts of how bad-ass I would look patrolling the apartment grounds in a vintage Cold War Era U.S. Air Force field jacket.
The jacket, as my mom would have you know, belongs to my mom. She wore it when she was stationed in North Dakota, up until my in-utero existence began to stretch its seams. The jacket survived several moves and remained hidden away in the Petit Family Closet until a few winters ago, when in desperate need of a coat, I took it from the rack and scurried off to the Brothers Lounge. The jacket followed me to Poland, then to Germany. But in the scramble to get out of Europe before my tourist visa expired, I left the jacket behind, entrusting it to my friend Ben, fully expecting to never see it again. I returned to the States, then flew south to Mexico for the winter.
When I resurfaced in Nebraska the next January, I met up with Ben at The Brothers and found him looking rather mod-chic in a government-issue field jacket.
"Man, that jacket is bad-ass," I told Ben.
"Thanks," he said.
"Where'd you get it? Army Surplus?"
He mumbled something into his lapel.
"Whazzat?" I asked.
"It's your mom's," he said.
So it was. I tend to fight Nebraskan winter with denial: I do not wear a coat until it becomes biologically imperative to do so. So all that January I shivered in my hoodie and hawked pneumonia loogies into my Moscow Mule until Ben, one day, offered me my mother's coat, which I happily reclaimed as my own.
It's the kind of jacket that has threatening instructions sewn into the lining: eight of them, to be exact.
1. ADJUST CLOSURES AND DRAWCORDS TO VENTILATE - AVOID OVERHEATING OF BODY
2. WHEN HOOD IS USED, LOWER EXTENSION SHALL BE WORN OVER NECK OPENING
3. BRUSH SNOW OR FROST FROM GARMENTS BEFORE ENTERING HEATED SHELTERS
4. DO NOT EXPOSE TO HIGH TEMPERATURE OF A STOVE
5. LUBRICATE SLIDE FASTENERS WITH WAX
6. FOR CLEANING AND RESTORING OF WATER REPELLENCY, RETURN TO LAUNDRY FOR MACHINE WASHING IN ACCORDANCE WITH ESTABLISHED PROCEDURES FOR QUARPEL TREATED GARMENTS
7. DO NOT STARCH OR BLEACH
8. DO NOT REMOVE THIS LABEL
OVERHEATING OF BODY isn't going to be a problem in Nanchong. I do not own a stove, but in any event, I will avoid baking this jacket. I am reading up on the established procedures for quarpel treated garments: I am reading up on quarpel. My lone complaint is that the jacket feels a bit naked. Where are the epaulettes? The badges of merit? Perhaps the Peace Corps can do something in that direction. The Medal of Cultural Integration. Upper-Intermediate Speaker of Mandarin. The Bronze Finger Trap. The Purple Liver, commemorating a month-long struggle with Japanese Encephalitis B. The prestigious Empty Cradle, awarded to male volunteers who complete two years of service without fathering a child. Et al.