07 August 2007

That Ugly Jacket.

I mentioned in my anniversary post that the story of how I like the Rotary jacket better these days than I did at 16 was a story for another day. Why not a Tuesday Brain Dump day, then?

Visa, America's Freedom Fabric, was a horrible polyester blend, manufactured by Dacron. I don't remember who did the TV commercials about the stuff, but I can still remember whoever she was, a blonde woman, saying the slogan triumphantly. The jacket was a navy blue sport coat, a man's jacket. Cut for male shoulders and not updated since at least 1970, it was hideous. At 16, I weighed about 98 pounds and was about 5'2", and this thing looked ridiculous on me. It had a badge sewn into the left lapel with Rotary's Youth Exchange symbol, a blue stylized planet earth with two couples coming from either side of the globe and arrows pointing to the opposite continents. Around that, in circular fashion, are the words Ohio Erie Youth Exchange, and a blue border, which does not match the jacket's navy color surrounds the whole thing.

We were supposed to wear these fashion tragedies whenever traveling during the year that we were exchanges. For identification purposes, ostensibly, but what I and many other exchanges figured out very quickly was that border officials tended to wave by anyone with a Rotary jacket on, ignoring any little rules that we might be breaking. Such as being way over the limit for duty free alcohol. That was then; I'm doubtful that would work today.

Kids are eligible to be Rotary Youth Exchange Students (RYES) from ages 15 to 19. Average age is 17. Being rebellious little berks, we didn't care much for the jackets and only deigned to wear them, at first, when someone was watching. After we figured out that they worked to our benefit, we were more slightly inclined to pull them on. But that didn't mean we liked them any better.

Our home Rotary districts gave each of us badges or pins to give away with our home state or home district name on them, and we traded them with one another. Within hours of leaving Pittsburgh, en route to the greater New York metro area, I had the lapels of the jacket covered with pins. By the time the plane landed in Sweden, a contest of sorts had emerged. The object of the game was to cover as much of the Freedom Fabric as possible with pins, badges, and patches. There never was a clear winner, though, because most American exchange students flew over on the same flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Stockholm, Sweden, but we all went home a year later at different dates and times.

But I did a good job of covering the navy fabric. The back of the jacket has not an inch to spare, is covered with patches from many of the countries that I visited. Some of them were given to me; the one I treasure the most was a gift from a friend of my host family. When I ran out of room on the back, I started sewing patches down the arms. The right arm has the triumvirate of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark badges, while the left has several badges related to Sweden's 20 provinces. The front is covered with pins, mostly, but the two front pockets have badges sewn into them, both of which say things about Sweden. The pocket flaps have names of cities sewn into them.

Every single item on that jacket has a story behind it. Every pin, every patch, even one or two things that are superglued to it, there's a memory. My favorite pins are related to Rotary's 4 major rules for exchange students, called the 4 No D's by the kids.

1. No Drinking
2. No Driving
3. No Dating
4. No Drugs

I'm not confirming or denying that I broke any one of these rules. They're good rules, but widely disregarded by most of us. Anyway. I have a wine bottle and half-empty glass to symbolize the booze; a big 50's style car to symbolize the driving; a pin that says something about preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS by distributing condoms for the no dating rule and a small item that symbolizes drug use to me, the state seal of California. That isn't a recognizable drug symbol, but the biggest stoner I've ever met was another exchange student from California.

But there are funny stories about even the most mundane of things. A pin with a rose on it, purchased on the day that most of the rest of the world celebrates Labor Day, 1 May, is the symbol of the socialists and represents all that I thought was good about the way the Swedish government operated. A blue hand with the words "Ror inte min kompis" (Don't touch my friend) reminds me of a public awareness campaign about tolerance. There is even a funny pin that snottily says in Swedish "What do you mean boring? I'm invited because I look good!"

The jacket hangs in a closet today, not forgotten, but it does not fit anymore. It is still ugly. I wouldn't wear it for giggles, ever. I've toyed with the idea of cutting the badges free and sewing them on to a jean jacket that I would wear, but it seems a travesty to cut it into pieces. The patches that were ironed on would have to be cut off and that would mean that the jacket would be destroyed. And I just can't bring myself to do that.

Heaven help me should I ever be badgered into being on the television show "What Not To Wear," because they would try to make me toss it, and that, even more than cutting it apart, I could never do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was Barbara Mandrell, I remember those commercials LOL.