No. 18 in “Nuggets I picked up from my dog,” inspired while walking the late Coffee J. Dogg.
One of the first things a carefree boy casts aside after his bone-cracking, overnight morph into self-conscious teenhood is a hat.
Not talking about baseball caps worn backwards or sideways or upside down. Those aren’t hats so much as they are mandatory dude chill.
And if I could have a dollar for every time a sullen, ear-budded, ballcap-askewster encouraged me to “Chill, dude,” I would be dictating this to my butler.
The chapeau I’m talking about is what once was known as a watch cap, but which I have always called a knit ski hat—the kind pulled low over head and ears, leaving exposed only eyes, nose and mouth. The head covering of choice for bank robbers and bent-over geezers shoveling the walk.
It’s the kind of dreaded hat my mother made me wear on cold days, deaf to my cries that it would shroud me in the dork look prompting guffaws from cool, hatless boys and pained looks of disappointment from beautiful girls.
When you’re 12 and under, mothers can get away with such abuses of power. But the very first whiff of freedom sniffed by yon teen is the freedom of vanity, the heady empowerment to go down the blizzardy way with pinkened proboscis and fiery, frost-bitten ears.
I remember the cover of an album from the sixties showing a young, rakish Bob Dylan walking down a blustery, wintry street in Greenwich Village. He has a pretty girl on his arm, though both his hands are plunged into the pockets of his jeans. His thin jacket is open at the neck and he appears to be freezing to death.
Naturally, no hat.
The album title: “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” After seeing it, I went bareheaded, red-eared and blue-faced for the next 45 years.
Until yesterday. I happened to glance at myself in the hall mirror as I prepared to maneuver the hound through the wintry suburbial environs.
Outside the temperature was in the teens and fat flakes were cannon-balling into the lawn. The baseball cap perched on my head in the correct, bill-forward position of the mature dude, seemed suddenly pathetic.
The dog grumbled his impatience. I felt a pang of disloyalty to the freewheelin’ soul looking back at me for what I was about to do. I got down on hands and knees and pawed through an overflowing cardboard box in the hall closet. There I found
- three orphaned left-handed gloves
- 2 punctured sneakers
- 2 sprung umbrellas
- a plastic jai-alai basket
- one orphaned right-handed glove, no match for the lefties
- 7 badly gouged golf balls
- a set of iron weights from a long abandoned health kick
- a Yogi bear whiffle ball bat
- a left-handed golf glove
- a flattened, dried out Bobby Grich infielder’s mitt
- a tangle of scarves that never seems to untangle or disappear.
On the very bottom, squashed by the weights, I found an elongated light gray sock-like hat. I pulled it over my head and checked the Boston Strangler look in the mirror.
Before I could change my mind I grabbed a right- and left-handed orphan—one of them the golf glove—and yanked free a tentacle of scarf. Bound like a mummy I opened the front door and stepped into a new life.
Beast and man had moved only a few feet before the first vanity reality check. The neighbor next door, a pleasant, thirty-something named Ken emerged from his house on the run.
He wore the uniform of the young business dude: a crisp white shirt, printed tie, tan slacks, polished loafers but not an ounce of suit coat, overcoat, mittens, hat, boots, scarf or sense.
He hopped and skidded gingerly through the snow to his parked car in the driveway. He ducked inside and started the engine, then popped back out and headed back to the house.
“Young man!” came the cry. “Where are your rubbers?”
Whose voice was that?
It sounded suspiciously like the voice of a nun, frozen forever in the memory bank of indelible school day horrors from yester-century.
Ken stopped, hands plunged into his pockets.
With his business attire and the lack of a blonde on his shoulder, Ken was a poor substitute for Bob Dylan. Rather than looking cool, he was slouching toward cold.
“Hey Ken,” I said in my normal voice. “Nice weather, eh?”
He waved and dashed back into his house, a thin film of white already plastered to his black hair. I detected no bald spot, no sense of having been foolhardy nor a smidgen of envy at his neighbor’s quaint impersonation of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.
So we marched on, Coffee J. Dogg and myself. But abruptly, I stopped. Something was missing.
Where was that inner sense of humiliation, that dudeanian letdown, that outraged inner voice crying “Oh, foul betrayal!” Where was the freewheeling spirit?
The answer, my friends, was blowing in the wind. As for my inner dork, he was toasty and didn’t care. Sorry, Bob.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013, all rights reserved.