Only You Can Prevent Coat Closet Fires: A 1970s Vignette

Montreal, early 1970s

He was a well-put-together businessman, having achieved what he wanted in his education, career, now building a family. It was a cold, dreary Friday night in Montreal. The kind of late-winter night that puts a chill in your bones, and if you’re not diligent, the dirty, wet slush from what once was white snow will seep into your shoes and make your socks uncomfortably wet.

He wore the common attire of the early-1970s, businessman as he went about the city meeting colleagues, having dinners, and enjoying the spoils of a corporate expense account. His long light grey trench coat was similar to those of other men his age, with deep pockets, perfect for storing things like his tobacco pipe, wallet, and change. He wore those rubber shoe covers that were common for businessmen. They’d pull the thick rubber that was made to look like business loafers over their real loafers, preventing that sock soak and thinking no one was any the wiser about their rubber shoes.

As he approached the restaurant where he’d be meeting some business colleagues, he heard the squish-squish under his rubber-clad loafered feet, as the half-crunch, half slosh of the fading winter snow melted under him. He stood for a moment, breathed in the cool, late-Winter air and pulled in the sweet tobacco from the wood pipe that he loved to carry with him. He preferred cherry-flavoured tobacco, as it tasted good, and he often found people would stand in his midst to get a whiff of the sweet smoke.

Knowing his dinner party was waiting inside, he took in his last haul of cherry smoke and put out his pipe by tapping the pipe containing the lit tobacco on his rubber shoe, being sure to watch the lit cherry of the tobacco fall into the wet, slushy snow. As he watched the burning cherry fade to black slushy oblivion, he opened the door to the restaurant, tossed his pipe in the trusty deep pockets of his trench coat and hung up his coat in the communal coat closet.

Happy to see his colleagues, he sat down, greeted his friends, and settled into the menu, eager to get himself a drink after a hard day’s work. He noticed the server coming towards him and felt that familiar excitement of your first beer on a Friday night.
“Um, excuse me, sir?”, the server asked him, a bit of an unsure quiver in his voice. Getting ready to place his order for his beer, the server interrupted him, “Are you the owner of the grey trench coat in the coat closet?” A little confused, he responded, “Yeah, I guess that’s my coat, why?”

“Sir, I regret to inform you that your trench coat is on fire in the coat closet.”

He rushed to the coat closet, and saw that his actually still-lit pipe had burned a giant hole in his coat pocket, that had now been covered in water in an effort to save the restaurant from disaster. The restaurant’s coat closet reeked of burnt material and stale cherry tobacco, with the Maître D looking less than impressed as he held a pitcher of water, with the remnants of his impromptu firefighting dripping to his feet.

After that day, he was sure to carry pipe cleaners, before eventually deciding to give up the habit altogether.

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