I have lied to strangers on the street and told them I’m from a suburb in Minnesota. I’m actually from Westchester, New York, the closest county to New York City.
Everything you buy from a thrift shop was worn by someone else. Yeah (duh, obviously), that’s the point of a second-hand store. But actually think about that. You, the stylin’ motherfraker popping tags at low low prices, has shared clothing with someone out there. And that person, somewhere in space and time and Big Lebowski bowling realities, existed. And if that person was real and loved this dress or vest or fedora as much as you do, a little bit of whoever they were rubs off on you.
I love Emil. Emil is my letterman jacket. I love him so much I dedicated a book of poetry to him (true story). I know Emil’s name is Emil because it says so, stitched in grey on black fabric. On the left front breast, the raises shape of Minnesota holds the words “Roseville Pee Wee Hockey.” The name Roseville is emblazed on the back, written in the script only reserved for varsity sports. Before me, Emil the Jacket belonged to Emil the Human. Assuming there are no 10-year-olds with 42-inch shoulders skating around ice rinks in Minnesota, Emil the Human was my age, probably the coach of the Roseville Pee-Wee Hockey team.
Roseville, Minnesota is a suburb of the Twin Cities. The population is 33,660 people, teenagers hang out outside the Rosedale Center and the Har Mar Mal, and MacGyver lived there (or so Wikipedia tells me). I grew up in Golden’s Bridge, New York, a hamlet in a town in a suburb of New York City. The population is 1,630, teenagers hang out outside the Danbury Mall, and Stanley Tucci went to the same high school I did. The difference is Roseville is a 21-hour car ride for NYC, Golden’s Bridge is an hour on MetroNorth.
Since I’m a young man who likes it when The New York City Populous sees me wearing cool things, I’ve been wearing Emil The Jacket since the thermometer crept under 50 degrees. I feel confident and kind of important, maybe how Emil The Human felt when watching grade school kids, puffy with parent-approved padding, chug towards a hockey puck. The general mass of New Yorkers, stereotypes and all, doesn’t care about Emil. They also don’t care about Golden’s Bridge. Hell, the NYC-transplants from Golden’s Bridge don’t even care about Golden’s Bridge.
More than half a dozen times, I’ve been stopped by Minnesotans who love Emil just as much as I do. Not because Emil The Jacket keeps the cold out, but because Emil The Jacket and Emil The Human are from Roseville. The other day, a twentysomething in a khaki peacoat asked if she could took a picture of me with the jacket so she could putting it on the Roseville, MN Facebook page.
Most of the time, the stoppers just assume I’m from Roseville too. I mean, how could I have this jacket if I weren’t, in fact, Emil? I don’t correct them. But the twisted thing is even if the Roseville native asks if I’m Minnesota-born, sometimes I say yes. Not smile and nod, not shrug and laugh too loudly for the situation, not mumble so it could go either way and its not my fault. But verbal confirmation: “Yes I’m from there, too.”
I want to be Emil, the old peewee hockey coach who followed his dream of being a New York Times journalist or Wall Street hotshot or at least a better job in a bad economy and made it to NYC just It like they did. I like being lumped in with the rest of the displaced Midwesterners. There’s pride in being so far away, and there’s so much joy in finding a kindred spirit. When I see someone I go to high school with, its not special; it’s the usual. We’re supposed to find our way to New York City and do things. When I go home, no one gasps or slackjaws when I say I go to NYU; its that school the artsy kids from the high school end up at.
Emil would’ve adopted Murray Hill or the East Village or Greenpoint as his home, but kept at least one hockey trophies on his nightstand table, golden-plated stick pointing due north for superstition’s sake. I don’t need to remember where my own is, I can be back in my high school in an hour. But, thumbing my nose at my good fortune, I can’t stand it. All I got is Emil The Jacket, a stand-in for the enviable Emil the Human: prideful and wonderfully stranded.