Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Trench Coat Caper

When she was 21 and getting ready for her first job in New York, according to Tuesday’s NY Times, Angela Ahrendts bought a Burberry trench coat. Today she’s CEO of the iconic British company (

When I was 28 and getting ready for my first editorial job in New York, I decided to buy a trench coat as well. I hadn’t needed one before. Though a reporter, I was no foreign correspondent, unless you classify the Lower Naugatuck Valley of Connecticut as foreign soil. The dapper look of a trench-coated reporter would have been as incongruous as a tuxedo-clad journalist among the factory workers of the Valley. I hardly ever wore a sports jacket or tie, much less a suit. But my new job on Park Avenue required more dignified dress, so a top coat, a trench coat, was in order.

I couldn’t afford a Burberry. I found a more reasonably priced alternative, a Fox Run, light tan, double-breasted coat with a Burberry-inspired design for its removable lining. Apparently, I wasn’t the only newly hired field editor to find the Fox Run trench coat attractive. So did Mike Friedman, a writer for one of our other publications. Mike was a sci-fi aficionado who went on to become an author of Star Trek paperback books. A hastily prepared trip to Cleveland turned out to be a less than fulfilling literary excursion for him.

In his dash to catch a plane, Mike grabbed the first Fox Run coat he saw hanging in the common closet of our office. We wore the same size, so his mistake was not immediately discernible. It was only after he reached for the sci-fi novel he always kept in his front pocket that he realized his mistake. Instead of the book, all he found were my gloves. By then it was too late to return. My coat made it to Cleveland, and back, years before I did. Mike and I exchanged coats when he returned.

The switched coat caper was not the only time my wardrobe was filched from the closet. One Friday afternoon as I prepared to leave for home, I couldn’t find my Yves St. Laurent blue blazer. Thinking back to what happened with Mike, I searched for a sports jacket left behind. But there was no other jacket hanging in the closet. I went home distraught.

To my surprise, Monday morning my blazer was back in the closet where I had left it on Friday, but without any telltale clue, such as a scrunched up movie ticket or a matchbook cover, to reveal where it had been over the weekend. Though none the worse for the wear, I vowed never again to leave anything in the closet. The next day I brought a hanger for my cubicle.

Of course, that didn’t stop a real thief from making me a victim in our office. Back in the more lawless days of the 1980s, I started carrying two wallets, my real one and what I called my “mugger’s wallet” that I kept in the vest pocket of my suit jacket that I now always hung in my cubicle. The mugger’s wallet held a $10 bill, some of my business cards and my frequent flyer and hotel cards that I hoped would confuse a mugger into thinking he had stolen my credit cards.

One evening when leaving work I noticed my mugger’s wallet was missing. More distressing than the actual loss was the realization that someone had been able to infiltrate our office. A few weeks later a building manager several blocks away called to say he had found my wallet and credit cards in a stairwell. At first I told him he was wrong, but then realized he must have my mugger’s wallet. Sure enough, he did. When I picked it up, I noticed all the travel cards shuffled around. The $10 was gone, but the ruse had no doubt frustrated the thief. I smiled all the way back to my office.