The Tale of the Cloak 9/20/09
I’ve told this tale a great many times over the years, but never wrote it down. I should. I’d hate to see it lost.
I don’t remember the exact year or time of the Cloak. I remember the incident. I remember it was in the fall, I think, of ’84 or ’85, when I was still in college at San Marcos, and I had classes in the Theatre Arts Building, a great brick cake-shaped thing at the edge where campus met town.
I don’t remember who told me that the costume shop was clearing out and cleaning house. I heard it in the hall, though, and after class, I ducked on down to the Green Room, and through there to the understage.
The costume shop was literally emptying EVERYTHING out, everything they had, it seemed. The costumes, the clothes, the hats, the shoes, all wound up dumped in a heap on stage, and had been dumped through the stage traps into the great Understage room down below, a great round fluorescent-lit room. I’d had a class there once.
And when I looked in the understage room, there was a great mass of clothing. I remember it being quite large, the size of a VW microbus, the size of a Chevy van.
Really? Yeah, really.
Perhaps my memory makes it larger than it was, but I remember people literally leaping into the great colorful pile and burrowing around like gophers. People sat down and tried on sandals and boots and incredible buttonable shoes. Girls in their bras and panties giggled and tried on gowns and togas and crinolines like the place was a great dressing room and there was no one around. There was, of course – a lot of us – but some people felt like they had to try stuff on before they took it…
I jumped in and burrowed around, too. It was amazing. People simply dumped their backpacks where they lay, and attacked the pile in earnest. In time, it developed into two great piles, because people would attack one pile, and fling the clothes on the other pile, while other people attacked the second pile and threw their rejects back on the FIRST pile, and…
It was magical.
It lasted for days.
The first visit to the pile, I found a pair of heavy leather sandals worn by Roman centurions in some production or other. I found a real chain mail vest (you know… chain mail’s very heavy, and less comfortable than you’d think). I found this amazing satin cape that looked like something Evel Knievel would have worn during the seventies, striped in red, white, blue, and gold, streaming out from a high collar. I found a serviceable three-piece suit, just my size.
The second visit, I found a couple of shirts, a decent pair of jeans, a pair of battered shoes, another suit, a medieval knight’s helmet (molded resin, not metal, but looked remarkably cool), a suit of pajamas… and the Cloak.
It’s not much of a cloak, of course. More of a … well, a gown or something. It was a long tunic of heavy black cotton, with sleeves and a hood of lighter fabric. The sleeves and hood were too long, intended to cover the wearer’s head and hands.
It looked like something the Grim Reaper would wear.
It suited me just fine. I had no idea what I’d use it for, but I knew I’d find some event, some party, SOME durn thing, and I took it home.
Over the days, the piles grew smaller and smaller, and on the third day, they finally disappeared completely. Apparently, the rejected stuff had finally gone to Goodwill or a dumpster or something.
That same year, I went to Texas RenFaire, up near Houston, and I wore the Cloak. Wore the leather sandals, too. I had a fine time that year. I also wore it on a camping trip; it blended well with the dark and was handy for sneaking up on people. Comfortable, too. Room for two in a pinch, even. Woo!
The following year, I wore it to a costume contest; just the Cloak and some black greasepaint around my eyes. Won a prize, too; apparently, a drunken apparition all in black struck the judges’ fancy.
Over time, the other items I’d found in the big pile at the theatre department went the way of all things. I gave the colorful satin cape away. I lost the helmet. The sandals wore out, as did the shirts and the jeans. The suits got garage-saled away. The chainmail rusted. One by one, the items I’d found left my life. But not the Cloak.
I won another costume contest, this time with a latex skull mask glued to my face. I wore it on a drunken spring break, and etched into my mind forever is the image of Matt Pinseanneault staggering around the beach at Padre Island, bombed out of his skull, wearing the Cloak with the sea wind billowing it around his six-foot-nine-inch frame as he screamed REPENT! at passersby. He was quite a sight.
I remember when I married Becca, and took Ellen out trick-or-treating while I wore the Cloak. I was pushing thirty at the time, Ellen was, I think, eleven, and for the first time, it occurred to me that wandering around after dark in a black garment wasn’t the safest thing I could have done. So, instead of doing something safe, Ellen and I stole a cardboard Elvira stand-up from the beer display at Sac & Pac. We were, after all, in disguise. This was, perhaps, not the best show of role-modeling I could have done for my new stepdaughter, but it sure was fun.
I wore it to Kim and Michael’s wedding; it was a Renaissance affair, and it made sense to have the guy handling the music machinery dressed like a Fransciscan friar, I guess.
I wore it to RenFaire again, after twenty years. It made me feel young again.
And next month, I’ll be wearing it to my daughter’s wedding. Will it make me feel young again?
But how many garments have this kind of a history?