GUEST BLOGGER: JARED BYBEE

jared

Jared works at a prestigious law firm in New York City. He dreams of living in a bus with his wife and two daughters. He married very, very well.

The hotness of late 80’s and early 90’s winter wear was the Starter brand authentic NFL parka. You remember; everyone had them. Cut mid thigh, NFL team name embroidered on the chest and team logo embroidered on the back, a variety of in-your-face colors, depending on the team, and a bright white Starter logo on the cuff of the sleeve evidencing the authenticity of your team loyalty. You did not actually support a team unless you had a parka, and you were not a junior high school boy unless you supported a team. These were the conditions that gave rise to THE WORST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER.

I grew up in Central California, but my team was the Chicago Bears. I’m not sure why. I think it had something to do with commercials for the Walter Peyton shoes, my brother already having dibbs on the Raiders, and some sissy quality that the 49ers had back then. The reason doesn’t matter, my team was the Bears. It also didn’t matter that my family didn’t care much for watching sports, that I didn’t care much for watching sports, or that I didn’t even play football. I had a team, and it was the Bears. I knew only enough details to talk shop when necessary, so that other boys wouldn’t question my having a team, but not enough that they would actually engage a conversation about the football. My tried and true lines were “Ditka can handle it” and “Not if Mike Singletary has anything to say about it.” Either of those were usually sufficient contributions to any conversation.

While not sports fans, I think my parents still appreciated the needs of their adolescent boys. They would let me watch a game on TV if nothing else needed to be done, and I think they bought me a poster of the “Refrigerator” Perry for one birthday. Christmas 1990 was right in the middle of the Starter brand authentic NFL parka craze. Everyone was getting them. It just so happened that I was due for a replacement coat, but that didn’t matter. There was zero chance my parents were going to spring for an $80 Starter brand authentic Chicago Bears parka, so I didn’t even ask. It would have been ridiculous to ask.

“Dad, I need a new coat. Can I get a Starter brand authentic Chicago Bears parka?”
“How much is it?”
“$80”
Silence. Then a look of “get real”
“Well, I’m going to go practice the piano” and I would quickly retreat—embarrassed by the whole episode.

The thought alone was silly, so I didn’t even really think it. I knew that I would be relegated to be a parka-less 2nd string fan. While the 2nd string is not ideal, it was still a member of the team and therefore I might be able to keep my spot on the periphery of coolness. I wish that was the end of the story, but on Christmas morning I found out there are things much, much worse than being a 2nd string fan, or even no fan at all.

My parents were perceptive. 1 – They knew I needed a new jacket. 2 – They saw all the kids with the Starter brand authentic NFL parkas running around school. 3 – They knew that I liked the Bears. They put all those things together, but what they came up with was an utter disaster. To this day I can remember unwrapping the box. It was a thick clothes box, red paper. I pulled the bow off, put it in the bow bag to be used next year. Pulled the paper off, opened the box, and saw nothing but navy blue shine and orange trim. I felt the blood rushing from my head and my eyes widened in horror. This is not happening. My hands trembled as I picked up the article in the box and lifted to see the extent of the disaster. This is not happening. It was a completely unauthentic, atrocious and cheap Chicago Bears jacket. It was the antithesis of a Starter brand authentic Chicago Bears Parka. This is not happening. It had that super shiny nylon material, a huge orange stretchy collar and matching huge orange cuffs on the sleeves. The Bears logo on the chest and back was screen-printed and began to flake off from the moment I pulled it from the box. This is not happening.

I over looked at my parents sitting on the couch and they were so excited, my dad’s arm around my mom. “We knew you needed a jacket,” my dad said proudly, as if he had just sank a hole in one. The thoughts were streaming through my head: I needed a parka! A Starter brand authentic Chicago Bears parka! Not a jacket, and absolutely not a shameful super duper-shiny nylon atrocity. This is not happening. “Awesome” I said.

“Try it on,” my dad says getting up from his seat to help me slip it over my arms, like it was some expensive blazer. I got up and met eyes with my older brother. His look communicated equal parts “You look like a dork” and “PLEASE let there NOT be a Raiders jacket under the tree!” I slipped the jacket on; hands popped through the scratchy nylon sleeves. It was short, way too short; the waist barely touched the top of my pajama pants. My dad turned me around to face him, gave me the simultaneous double shoulder pat and said proudly “You are all set.”

All set to die. All set to get beat up. All set to combust if I get to close to the fireplace. All set to go from the periphery of coolness to the epicenter of dorkdom. Indeed, I was all set.

I took the jacket off and sat down and we finished the presents. If you don’t understand the problem here, you have either never been in Junior High School, or are not a boy. The only thing worse than not having the authentic wear to support a team, was to disgrace a team with chinsey unauthentic wear. That fact rang especially true for fans like me that had nothing more than two silly phrases and poster of a lineman to show. If I wore that jacket, I would be a fake fan, and shunned by all those actual fans whose parents bought them parkas for Christmas.

I desperately didn’t want to look like a dork. I was already one of the smallest boys in school—whatever coolness I had would be gone instantly, and that was the Rock. The Hard Place was that my parents were soooo excited about that jacket. For the remainder of Christmas day I got thumbs up from my dad and knowing winks from my mom – both so sure they had done me a great service by buying a Bears jacket rather than some other non descript one. I would have given a kidney for a non-descript jacket. It was the perfect lose-lose situation. Do I fall on my knife and wear the jacket to school to make my parents happy, or appear to my parents as the ingrate that I was and refuse to be caught dead in that awful jacket? It was simply too much for a 13 year old to handle.

It was a cold winter by Central California standards. Successive freezes wiped out most of the region’s orange crops. But I did not wear that jacket to school, not even once. I wore it out of the house plenty of times, including on the really cold days, enough times to let my parents see me wear it. “Bye dad, heading off to school with my Bears jacket!” But then I would take it off and stuff it into my bag immediately after getting on the bus to school. Luckily no one cool ever rode the bus. And so I would freeze. It was the only solution. Cold was still cool, and I just couldn’t disappoint my parents.

I still see that Bears jacket. Not only in the occasional nightmare, like the one where I show up for a job interview and am wearing it, but also in my parents’ house when I go home and am digging around for some old game or toy. Whenever I see it still makes me cringe.

They say that in giving a gift it is the thought that counts. And 95% of the time, that’s right. But when Junior High School coolness is on the line—the thought will only get you about as far as that jacket got me.

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