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Memories and Musings: Zipper prison

By Gene Gallelli

Some days things happen that elicit the “Why Me?” response. Usually, the culprits are those surprises that occur at the wrong time, in the wrong place and when there’s no one around to help.

Many of these events are fairly common: forgot the wallet; locked the keys in the car; left without the shopping list, etc . . . But – and I’m going out in a limb here – I bet you can count on one hand the number of times people have done battle with a zipper!

It was a chilly day and I had mail to get, a prescription waiting and a car badly in need of a wash. So, because of the frigid temperature, I selected a warm winter jacket with tights cuffs and a zipper that strangles the neck when zipped all the way up – which is what I did.

My prescription was ready and waiting at our wonderful local pharmacy, only junk mail filled my mail box and I almost dozed off at the splashing and wiping sounds of the local automated car wash.

Errands completed and with little to carry, I entered the house to the dissonant barking and howling duet of Bella and Zero, our forever puppies.

After hanging up my USS Spiegel Grove LSD32 hat, I reached for the zipper tab resting tightly against my throat and pulled. Nothing budged. I pulled a little harder with, still, no results. When yanking didn’t help, I realized I was in an L.L. Bean straightjacket!

Although panic hadn’t set in yet, I was getting uncomfortably hot and anxious to get L.L. Bean back on its appointed hook on the hall closet door.

Naturally, I thought of removing the jacket by pulling it over my head – who wouldn’t? – but when I tried, my arms got trapped and the collar was choking me.

By now the adrenaline was starting to flow, so I mustered all my strength trying to stretch the collar – which didn’t work – then, trying to pull apart the bottom of the jacket. No cigar! At that point, even exiting the proverbial “paper bag” would have been an insurmountable challenge.

I did have my cell phone with me but I was too proud to call anyone and say, “Hi! I’m trapped inside my jacket and can’t get out. Can you hop over and help me out?” I can’t even begin to imagine the kinds of responses I’d get from some of my friends.

Hesitant to use the scissors in my hand to cut up a perfectly good winter jacket, I set them down and remembered that most clothes stretch when they’re wet. I knew this from successfully wetting and stretching a pair of jeans that had shrunk and, of course, I knew that the neck of the jacket was cloth.

So . . . I went to the kitchen sink, soaked a clean towel in warm water and used it to get my collar as wet as I could stand. Next, I grabbed both sides of the wet collar and stretched it enough to get it over my head; I was safe at last.

After freeing the zipper from the inside where I could see how it got caught, I didn’t know whether to thank 9th grade science, things my mom taught me or Harry Houdini for the solution.

I still wear the jacket; why not? However, I use extreme caution with the zipper and am grateful the straightjacket experience led to my getting another pair of shrunken jeans to fit.

Gene Gallelli was Associate Superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his Doctor of Education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.

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