Feature photo by Axel Hartmann
There is a large, impressive silhouette—aside from my dirty hair—casting a shadow beside me. As I stand frozen under pale lights that deign to feign heat atop a platform waiting for the train, the one true constant friend in the deafening entirety of the night is my parka.
I creep inside of it and press it onto my body as if to shed a second skin. The insulation of the pleasant and warm enclosure replaces the need for any other outside stimuli. Warmth is all that matters now. This warmth at this most immediate of times, at the darkest of nights, replaces the need for a man, another drink, another train. It exposes the primal need we all must seek: comfort. And comfort is what I got. Its indiscriminate utility borders on the romantic as the embrace of the inner fibers warm my vulnerable skin like the embrace of a lover in happier times, months from now.
When I hear the word “parka” or “anorak,” I grasp at my chest, agog. However important its purpose and performance is, it is a testament to how items can become personified based on their life-saving abilities. No, I’m not overreacting. People have died out there. The Chicago winter tries to take the life-force out of everything in its path. We are not immune to death’s grip, especially in the cold, wavering nights that so many of us who depend on transit authorities to take us from point A to point B suffer through. However large my head might seem with the furry lining across the vulgarity of my hood, I still keep a short fuse, in order to protect myself not only from the environment but from other unsavory elements that revolve around me at any given moment. My shoes clacking and my posture slipping, my balance faulting and my cigarette shaking, I am at risk at any time. But then again we all are. I carry all of our collective fears on my head and shoulders, for this lion’s mane of a hood is as heavy as is our situation.
The aforementioned silhouette protect me from villains who otherwise would strike if my true figure were known. I grow a couple of inches. I’m longer and wider and therefore, stronger. One may feel safe once they are met with a familiar street sign and an intersection, but heed with great concern and prudence: the devil looms around the corner for he/she knows our animalistic weakness is surprise. There are many a shadowy figure looming around all kinds of corners of the city. Around all bends lurks danger. However, in the confidence and temperate regulation provided by my trusty anorak, I walk down these streets ready for a fight, no matter how proverbial.
My anorak’s subtlety is absent. It is function over style. It is substantial, there is no question. It carries its own weight— well, actually, you have to carry its weight, too. This may impede your speed, but it softens the blow. I don’t think it is as physically revolting as some may think. What is revolting is minding too much about the outside, thus neglecting the inside. What is unfashionable is flaunting a tiny coat in the dead of winter on a train where derelicts wear not much more. You can afford a proper coat when they cannot, and that is frivolous and an indirect slap in the face.
Apart from the sadists with their ridiculous attempts at coverage, there are the ones that spare no expense at their quest for warmth. Their multiple layers resemble the onions of their emotions and it makes me weep to have to cut them off.
However bulky and unfashionable it may seem, like everything else, what matters is what is underneath… your coat.
Don’t be a stranger, but do be stranger.