When I was younger, I had a little bit of a restless life. I had what the vast majority of people knows as “a lot of fun”. Which translated in drinking 5 days out of 7 each week, the rest of 2 being reserved to women. Sometimes the ratio being drastically reversed in favor of women. Fact is that, until my late twenties, I didn’t do almost anything else except “having fun”. Oh, I had a job and all, but it was a very easy one. Being a radio anchor I was basically making a living by talking out loud.
One of these long (and, I have to admit, quite boring) weeks, I was as usual in the student campus. Just after the fall of the communist regime the student campuses in Romania were a wild mix of cheap student hostels and drinking holes, poorly disguised as “terraces”. I remember it was a very cold winter night. I had a thick jacket, a blue furred short jacket, which came in very handy at those minus ten Celsius degrees. That jacket was also a distinctive sign of my presence in that campus. I guess we would call this today “a personal branding item”. But at that time it was just my special blue furred jacket.
And since I was going to enter my regular routine, which involved a dozen of beers and mindless gambling at the poker machines in one of those “terraces”, I left my jacket on one of the chairs outside the pub. My drinking buddies were already in and we took our comfortable places at the poker machines. Luckily, that terrace allowed me to play, because there were other places were the owners didn’t. Basically because playing for so long I somehow started to guess the algorithm and started to win more than I was “allowed”.
The night went fast forward before my eyes, beer by beer and friend by friend. I remember I played everything I had on me and didn’t win. That night wasn’t good for algorithms, it seemed. It was around 3 and a half in the morning when I decided it would be a good idea to take my jacket and find a room in the hostel to sleep for one and a half hour until 5 AM. From 5 AM I could take the subway, 5 stations to my rented studio (I wasn’t living in the campus anymore, just having fun there). So I did one last hand at the machines, lost it in style and went out to take my jacket.
But outside: surprise! What am I saying, surprise, it was plain horror: my jacket disappeared! First, I thought it was a joke my drinking buddies were playing on me. I looked deep into their eyes and realized they were much too drunk to answer logically to any question I may have had. Planning and executing a joke in that state was clearly out of the question. With a little bit of surprise, I realized I was also much drunker than I initially thought.
After a few minutes in which I was walking in circles on the terrace, hoping to find my jacket under some table, and trying to avoid slipping on the thick ice, I experienced a strong sensation of cold. It was freezing. Minus ten degrees Celsius. The alcohol was burning really fast inside me and I suddenly had a revelation: I had to find my jacket or otherwise I would die frozen. Of course I could find a room and sleep, or borrow a jacket from somebody else, but, as I told you, I was much drunker than I thought. Didn’t think clear.
I don’t know if it was the cold, the sudden realization that one of the members of our gang (we were quite popular at that time) was robbed, but my drinking buddies had a burst of lucidity and, in a clear voice, they had an incredible proposition. “Let’s find the jacket” they said, and, as this sounded like a voice from the heaven, I followed instantly. At some point, one of us may also have mumbled a quote from “Tortilla Flat” which happened to be the book I was having under my pillow at that time, but that, I cannot remember clearly.
Our long term party animals memory activated instantly. In a few seconds we identified all the parties, open terraces and, generally speaking, all hot places still populated at that time, including discotheques and other venues, and took them one by one. We may have been quite an impressive show, a few lads all frown ups with a guy only in his shirt (yes, I only had one shirt on me, and it was minus ten degrees outside) entering each of these parties, silent but decided. We were mingling instantly and started to subtly hunt for clues. The most subtle way of doing it, as I remember, was: “Who the fuck stole Dragon’s jacket?”
We visited a few hostels, all the terraces and open discotheques, but my jacket wasn’t in any of these places. To ease a little bit the frustration we did have a few drinks everywhere we went. Also, because it was really cold outside, you know. At some point, I remember we met with a young Albanese guy who was at the medical school in Romania. Usually, we were drinking buddies, but in that specific context, something happened. In a burst of lucidity, I throw at him the only English phrase I could articulate at that time: “You steal my jacket? Blood in your face!”. After a few minutes of talking it was deadly apparent that he didn’t steal my jacket. We had a few drinks to celebrate this fact. He promised he will do some research and get back to us. We parted ways as close friends. Almost walking on our own feet.
It was getting late. My drinking buddies were fewer and fewer. We lost some of them in each of the places we were into. In the end, there were only two left. They walked me to the subway station. They insisted to give me one of their jackets. I refused. I was a man, right? They gave me strong pats on the back and declared they didn’t see anyone manlier than me. They had tears in their eyes. Probably because of the cold, but I thought otherwise.
The Wake Up Ride
As I entered the subway, I had a mix of strange sensations. First of all, it was warm inside. Second, I realized I smelled like a distillery. Scratch that. Like a consortium of distilleries. I was still able to identify distinct faces of workers and secretaries rushing to their jobs. They were looking at me a little bit too long, I thought.
And then I realized the awkwardness of the situation: it was minus ten degrees, 5 AM in the morning and I was in my shirt, smelling like a consortium of distilleries. This young and good looking pal, what a waste. At that point, I clearly remember that all my alcohol was simply washed away. In just a few seconds I was widely awake. I also had a sudden change in my spatiality perceptions. It was like all the space around me was curbing, giving me a strange position. Looked like every gesture I made was amplified by this strange space deformation.
I still had 4 more stations until my rented flat. And I decided to change those looks. I don’t know if it was the shame, the guilt, or anything else, but I strongly intended to send a different message to those people. So, I focused as much as I could on this attitude: “hi folks, I’m just taking the garbage out. Yeah, I know, I could put it just near my block, but what can I say, I like to ride the subway in the morning. I’m cool. I’m ok.”
The deformed space around me started to change. Seemed like any intention I had was amplified and sent away in waves. I could almost see it as you see the ripples made by a stone thrown on a lake. I was actually modifying the image I sent to other people. First, the number of looks started to decrease. There were fewer and fewer people looking at me. Second, the ones that they were still on me had a lower intensity. Just a few seconds on me, and then they moved onto somebody else. It worked. By the time I was home, absolutely everyone in that wagon thought that I was a perfectly normal guy, just going back to his home. And I mean it. Nobody had any fancy looks anymore. I was just blending in. It may sound completely strange, but this is how it happened.
Oh, and I wasn’t cold anymore.
Without knowing, that morning I learned one of the most important lessons in my life. The lesson of forced adaptation. Without my jacket on, I was deprived of something very important for me. But at the same time, I had to adjust. Not only to my personal context (which translates into having very powerful sensations of cold) but to the other people contexts. I had to find a way to blend in again.
This is happening in our lives more often than we think. We’re suddenly deprived of something important but we can’t adapt. Our first reaction is to blame somebody else. “You steal my jacket? Blood in your face!” It’s nobody’s fault, of course. Sometimes, deprivation just happens. We may lose our job. We may lose our money. We may lose our partners or beloved ones. We may lose our furred blue jacket.
We have only two alternatives: to blame others for that, or to adjust. Blaming never works. As drunken as I was, while negotiating with my Albanese friend, who was even drunker than me, I realized this was a dead end. And it’s the same in real life. We believe so hard that other people are responsible for our misfortunes and we just can’t stop. In fact, they may be even unhappier than we are. They may have even bigger problems than we have.
On the other hand, while I was on the subway, something magical happened. That strange space deformation thing, that was something extremely powerful. Somehow, from that morning on, I did incorporated it into my daily behavior. I do this instinctively now. For example, when I was for the first time in Geneva, 10 years after the jacket incident, I was approached 3 times by locals who were asking for directions. They thought I was a local. On my first flight back from New Zealand, I was asked by my seat neighbor if I’m Irish or Scottish. I’m Romanian, I told him.
Even now, when I’m writing this post, I noticed this. I am having my car checked up and a few moments ago a clerk asked me to give him some papers. I left my computer here in the lounge but instead of getting out of the building and take the long way from the outside to the reception, I crossed through the actual repairing hall. It’s too cold outside. Needles to say that you don’t have access to the repairing hall. While I was passing by all those cars partially dismantled, a mechanic asked me to hand him a hammer. “Here you go, buddy”, I said. Yeah, I’m one of you, guys…
The ability to adapt ourselves to unexpected contexts is fundamental. If we don’t train our abilities to blend in, to fine tune for the same vibration as our environment, we will always be considered aliens. And people will always be afraid of aliens. Like those guys in the subway, watching me with disgust: “look at this guy, he’s so out of this context”.
I don’t think you can find a more ridiculous context than the one I was in that morning. Later on, I faced many challenges and I was deprived by many things. But the power I experienced that morning in the subway always helped me to get over them. Yes, in just 4 subway stations, I somehow managed to make other people think not only that this guy in a shirt on a freezing winter is a normal person, but also that they have no right to judge me whatsoever.
Lost And Found
A few days later I got a phone call from one of my drinking buddies. Apparently, they found my jacket. Apparently, under one of the tables of the same terrace. It seemed that the ones that stole it had no idea from who they stole it. They were quite new in the campus and didn’t have the time to identify the jacket with its owner (we were quite popular at that time, did I tell you that?). Which basically means they couldn’t sell it in the campus, everybody knew that jacket. That, and the fact that all they found in its pockets was a half empty tube of mini-super Glue (I have no idea why did I carried that with me) made them throw the jacket under the table, when nobody looked. I also vaguely remember about some very serious threats for the “idiots” who stole my jacket, threats that may have played quite a role in their decision.
Fact is that 30 minutes after that phone call I came back to the same terrace, with only one sweater on me (it was the same freezing weather) ready to celebrate this very, very happy event. I only had a sweater because I knew I would return home with my jacket. When I left the campus, at 6 AM next morning, with my flurry blue jacket on me, I mingled into the morning subway population, made by the same workers and secretaries rushing to their jobs.
While I was looking at them, I intended to send out the the appearance of a suit who’s coming home after a very long night at the office, crunching numbers, strategies and marketing plans.
I think they bought it. 😉