A story of betrayal from the jacket of factory workers, farmers and film students.
Written by: Cameron Mays
I first met Carhartt my senior year of high school. It was February 2019, and I had all but given up on finishing school strong. I was accepted to Cleveland State University for Film and Media Arts and I wanted a little time to relax before going to the Sorbonne of public universities in Ohio. I spent much of that time hanging out in the Flats. Not John Boy’s Flats, but Cleveland Cliffs’ Flats. The sorts of dives where Fabuloso and spilled Bud Light mask the scent of death. This is where I fell in love.
Every soul drinking their pay away in this crowded joint wore the same Carhartt jacket. Carhartt was different from anything my suburban sensibilities knew. He was tall, rugged and handsome. The fellas I knew out in Brecksville were all so puffy and formless. Carhartt was loved by every gender, every race, every body. The only thing that connected his lovers was hard work and a blue collar identity. The folks wearing Carhartt — factory workers, construction workers, lumberjacks — were who I aspired to be. I knew I needed him.
Charming him was no problem. Carhartt was impressed by my knowledge of fall hazards at the old Sheet and Tube plant. I finally worked up the courage to ask him out. He scribbled something on a used napkin — a phone number with a Detroit area code. I was in.
From then on, it was a whirlwind romance. Even when summer rolled around, I still wore Carhartt every day. Cedar Point lines, Huntington Beach, the pig iron furnace — nothing could separate me from this coat. That July, we took a big step in our relationship and rented a small, one-bedroom apartment in Slavic Village together. It was a short drive Downtown for me and right by Industrial Valley for him. Everyone told me I was rushing it and a healthy relationship takes time. I didn’t care. Carhartt was everything to me.
That wonderful summer of love slowly turned to fall and school began. I thought it might put a little strain on our relationship. Besides, a blue collar fit doesn’t always fit in a university commonly dubbed the Oxford of public research universities east of Westlake, north of Southgate and west of East Cleveland. Carhartt was worried, too, but I assured him I’d spend every hour I could with him. But school got the best of me, and I found myself spending long hours in a brutalist cathedral, studying film history and practicing acting. I’d come home to our little apartment too tired to spend time with Carhartt. I knew he hated it, but I hated it, too!
Then came December 7, a day that will live in infamy. Not because of the Pearl Harbor thing but because it had finally snowed. It was time for me to bring Carhartt to school. I skipped over to my closet, but Carhartt was not there. Maybe he decided to take an early shift somewhere. He’s known to be elusive — after all, he’s the preferred jacket of most apartment maintenance men! I decided to bundle up with two sweaters instead and caught the next bus Downtown.
The bus was late on account of hitting so many stray dogs. I snuck into the back of my class, History of Film, thirty minutes after it started. I could barely fit in my seat. The two people on either side of me had these massive jackets on. I looked around and realized the uncomfortable truth. Every one of these soda-spilling film students were wearing Carhartt. He betrayed me, cheated on me with my entire grade. I ran out of that forsaken lecture hall in tears, trying to figure it out.
Maybe I was the problem, the reason he stayed out late each night, the reason he started hanging out with other film kids. Perhaps he found out my dad works in a bank, not on a bulldozer. I thought if I showed a little effort, he’d remember how it used to be. So, I stopped by Heinen’s before coming home, and picked up some meatloaf and a six-pack of Coors Light. Sure, it was takeout, but it’s the thought that counts.
I waited all evening for Carhartt to return. Minutes turned into hours. The lukewarm dish of meatloaf quickly turned to lukecold. The ice cold bottles of beer sweated like a nervous crook.
It was two in the morning when Carhartt finally came home. I sat at the dining room table with the lights off the entire time. Carhartt was surprised to see me — like he forgot we lived in an apartment together. He gave me a forced hug. That was his mistake. I smelled it on him: another man’s cologne. Nautica Blue for Men. Carhartt never wears cologne, especially not the ones I gift him. He was cheating on me.
Carhartt slammed two beers. He didn’t even bother touching the meatloaf. He stumbled to our bedroom and fell onto our shared full-size mattress. So much for a nice dinner.
I laid awake all night. Carhartt snored like the logs he once sawed. As I watched him sleep, I knew he was happy. Only the wicked sleep well. Each gentle breath that brown work coat took felt like a dagger in my soul. In and out. I couldn’t take it anymore.
I ran to the kitchen. The butcher knife? The pairing knife? The chef’s knife? The fileting knife? The salmon knife? Why did we have so many knives? I opened the junk drawer and found my silver bullet: a pair of heavy-duty fabric scissors.
Slowly, I tiptoed into the room. The miserable drunk lay there, reeking of my beer and another man’s cologne. In and out. I watched him breathe. In and out. That’s all I needed to do. In and out with my pair of scissors. I raised my blade. Cain and Abel! Clytemnestra and Agamemnon! Cameron and Carhartt! I brought this awful jacket into the film school and I needed to make sure it would never come back.
But I could not plunge the scissors into old Carhartt. Seeing that sun-bleached jacket removed from the glory of an honest day’s work and subjected to the backs of countless kids trying to film a void sequence was enough. I packed my bags with only the essentials and left the apartment. I sat on the cold steps of a Baptist church until the taxi picked me up. I decided to move out west and start over again. Not San Francisco or Los Angeles, but the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. It’s a lot easier to start over in a sea of people in Gordon Square than the Golden State.
I was hurt by Carhartt, but his lascivious dalliance with my classmates didn’t stop me. I went through the five stages of grief most film students go through: 1.) try to write a screenplay about the experience, 2.) start over to do something more Lynchian, 3.) film something with your friends, 4.) never edit the footage and 5.) forget about it but talk about it like you won an Oscar. That next winter, Carhartt was nowhere to be seen. He probably heard about the hellscape I was just waiting to edit.
Two years later, I turned on the television. There was Carhartt. He was with J. D. Vance now, trying to help him appear like he was not a millionaire. I remember when Carhartt was young, when he was nothing. Now he’s turning tricks for neo-fascists. Looks like I got the last laugh on that one.