Woman's act of kindness makes practical sense

January 20, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

After all these years, I have discovered a hidden benefit in doing this job.

It came in a letter from a nice lady who lives in Arizona.

She had read an old column about my wife's disgust with my winter overcoat, which is 17 years old and has threads hanging from the sleeves and collar, mud and soot stains, missing buttons, and holes from cigarette burns.

Other than that, though, the coat is structurally sound and fends off the wind as well as it did the day I bought it.

And it doesn't smell bad, except in the summer, when I don't wear it anyway.

Like most of my clothes, the overcoat is old and raggedy #F because I like old, raggedy clothes. Also, I don't believe in wasting money on something new when something old does the job just as well.

In the case of clothing, the purpose is to prevent me from walking around naked. Old clothes do that just as well as something designed by a skinny Italian with one name.

And when I wear my old overcoat, panhandlers never approach me. If anything, they say: "Hey, I got here first; go hustle the next street."

When she read about my overcoat, the nice lady in Arizona sent this letter:

"I have been a widow since 1990. All this time I have been trying to find a good home for my husband's beautiful and seldom worn overcoat.

"Would you please accept it in memory of my husband, who was a very kind, gentle and peaceful human being.

"Please do not divulge my name, as I live alone and it could jeopardize my safety."

The letter arrived in a box. With it, neatly packed in a plastic garment bag, was a splendid, blue-black overcoat that appeared to be made of the finest soft wool.

As the lady said, it had been seldom worn and looked new. It was finer than any coat I have ever owned. I slipped it on and it fit perfectly. Her husband and I must have been the same height and weight.

Just then, two female co-workers dropped in. They immediately ooed and aaahed, as womenfolk do when looking at spiffy garments, and said: "What a gorgeous coat . . . where did you buy it . . . how dressy . . . looks like cashmere."

I showed them the letter. They sat silent for a while, then one said: "You aren't going to wear it."

Of course I'm going to wear it. Perfect fit. The deceased must have been a fine figure of a man. Why wouldn't I wear it?

Looking queasy, she said: "Well, he's, you know, it belonged to someone who, you know . . ."

"He's dead," the other one said. "Don't you think there is something kind of morbid about wearing clothes that belonged to someone who died?"

I thought about that for a moment or two. Then I pointed out that in this country's wealthiest communities are great mansions and estates that have been handed down from generation to generation.

Wouldn't it sound odd if an heir said: "I cannot live in this 24-room mansion with stables, dining hall, billiard room, tennis courts, and 10 full johns because it belonged to my father and his father before him and my great-grandfather, who built it with money he stole fair and square."

No, the rich are practical in such matters. That's why they stay rich and get richer. Waste not, want not. And that, incidentally, is why the Arabs are in such a sad pickle today.

"What do the Arabs have to do with it?" they asked.

The answer is obvious. Back in the old days, they used to bury guys like King Tut with their valuables. They'd put the poor mummy and his jewels and money and credit cards in a tomb inside a pyramid. How dumb could they be? They could have held an estate sale and cleaned up.

"But that coat belonged to someone you didn't even know. It might be different if it belonged to someone in your family."

True, but is it my fault that he didn't have any relatives with the same sleeve length?

They looked unconvinced, but one of them said: "I hope that you write her a nice thank-you note."

Of course I will. There's something I wanted to ask her about anyway.


I wonder if he had any ties.

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