39. Joseph’s Many Coats

39. Joseph’s Many Coats

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Joseph’s Many Coats

Almost every man looks more so in a belted trench coat.

~Sydney J. Harris

I bought my teenage daughter a lovely designer coat to wear at my second wedding. As happens with fashion, the wool coat, with its billowing pleats, dropped sash, and velvet trim, was soon out of style. Several years later when my daughter—newly married herself, was spring-cleaning, the coat finally found its way into her discard pile. And as I’d offered to make the trip to the Salvation Army for her, she dropped her bags off at my house.

“Promise me you won’t go through the bags,” she implored, knowing that I was quite capable of salvaging half her castoffs for myself. I believe she envisioned, upon my demise, inheriting half the things she’d gotten rid of years earlier. I made an effort to stick to my promise, but a few days later when I put the bags in my car and was about to shut the trunk, I untied the bags and had a quick look. I couldn’t believe my daughter was throwing out that gorgeous coat I’d bought her only two or three—well, maybe four years earlier. It was rumpled from being stuffed in the bag, and admittedly the lining was torn in several places, but it was surely worth keeping. I set it aside, and later, when my husband Joe and I returned from shopping, I hung it in the hall closet. I thought no more about it until nearly two years later.

Much happened during those years including Joe’s being laid off. It was one of his job interviews that brought the coat back into our lives. Joe had been near retirement age when he was laid off, so job opportunities did not often come his way. An interview had been arranged for him by his friend Jim for a consulting position at the bank for which he was COO, and Joe was anxious to make a good impression, not only because he wanted the job but also for his friend’s sake.

As it happened, Joe overslept that day. I had already left for work and assumed our several alarms would waken him. Alas, that didn’t work. In a panic when he finally woke up, he threw on the clothes he’d asked me to select the night before, grabbed his electric shaver, shoved his arms into the new coat I’d given him for Christmas, and jumped into his car. To his credit, he did say afterward that he had thought the sleeves were a tad short. Shaving as he drove, Joe made it to the bank only a few minutes late. In through the revolving doors he flew and up to the reception desk where he breathlessly stated his purpose for being there. They directed him to the upper level. He hurried across the ground floor of the bank and up the marble steps, coat flowing gracefully behind him.

If the CEO noticed that Joe’s attire was a little odd, he gave no indication as he ushered Joe into his office. Joe sat down, coat and all, and tried to gather his wits. About halfway through the interview Joe happened to glance down and noticed his coat had two large shiny black buttons in the front, which he didn’t recall seeing before. But intent on making a good impression, he thought no more about it, and in fact, it wasn’t until the interview was over and he was making his way down the stairs that it registered there was something really wrong with his coat as it dragged in an unfamiliar way on the steps behind him.

During dinner when we were discussing the job interview, the subject of the coat came up.

“By the way,” Joe said, pushing his chair back and going to the hall closet. He returned, holding up the designer castoff. “Is this my new coat?”

“That?” I said in disbelief. “No. That’s my daughter’s old reject.”

Joe looked nonplused. “I wore it to the interview,” he said.

“You did?” I replied, starting to roar my head off. “Well you can kiss that job goodbye.”

Joe was not amused. “What’s it doing in the closet?” he asked indignantly.

“Didn’t you notice the velvet collar?” I said, rubbing it in. “And the lovely belt across the fanny?”

Joe groaned. “Oh my God, I wonder if anyone noticed.”

“Nah,” I said reassuringly, once I could stop laughing long enough.

Eccentric though he may have seemed, Joe was hired and we both breathed a sigh of relief—until his first full day at the office, that is. It was late when Joe got home. Anxious to make up for any impressions he might have made earlier he’d stayed late updating old computer files. There was only one other man still in the building when he’d left. Feeling good about himself, Joe gave me a kiss and then ambled over to the closet to hang up his trench coat. When I didn’t hear the customary squeak of the closet door closing, I looked up. Joe was standing there inspecting his London Fog, frantically turning it right side and back. He shoved his hand into one of the pockets and pulled out a set of keys.

“Oh my God!” he groaned. “This isn’t my coat! These aren’t my keys.”

“Of course it’s your coat,” I said. “How could you walk off with someone else’s coat?”

“But I have,” he shouted, near hysteria. “What am I going to do?”

“Are you sure?” I asked, going over to form my own opinion.

“Of course I’m sure. This must belong to that other guy. And I’ve got his keys. He won’t be able to get home.”

“Well, call him up. You can take it right back.”

“I don’t even know who he is.”

“Just call the bank then. Any number—until someone answers.”

Joe began to get annoyed with my problem solving. “The switchboard is shut down—I couldn’t get through if I wanted to.”

“Then just go back. Maybe he’s still there.”

He sighed. “I won’t be able to get in. And besides it’ll take me forty-five minutes to get there. He’s bound to have taken a taxi or something.” Joe’s mind was churning. “Oh God, he won’t be able to get into his house.”

So Joe called his friend Jim and explained the situation. Jim knew whose coat it had to be and called the fellow’s home. All was well. He’d had a spare key. He’d worn Joe’s coat home. His wife had let him in. No harm done. They could exchange coats in the morning.

“Whew,” Joe sighed.

After we’d calmed down I said to Joe, “I hope you didn’t have anything odd in your coat pockets.”

“Like what? Of course not,” Joe answered. “Besides the thing’s so old and ratty, all the pockets are worn through.”

I started to laugh again. “No wonder you took his coat.”

That weekend we bought Joe a new London Fog and took the designer coat to the Salvation Army. And it wasn’t just my daughter who never trusted me with her discards again.

~Juliet Bell

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