One Man Hat On Project
By ice rivers
Sixty eight years ago, Doc Zilla bought a Stetson.
Doc died thirty five years ago.
He passed the Stetson on to my father who immediately passed it on to me.Vin thought that I would think that the hat was retro.
I thought the lid was retro which meant I thought it was gimmicky in a cool way and would separate me from everybody else.
I was too young for the hat.
It separated itself from me.
I proved that conclusively a couple years later at a disastrous cabin party. It's always nice to have Jack Daniels in the room but not a good idea to give him the mike. Consequently, I told everybody off in a tragic effort to save the world before peeling out bareheaded at 90 miles per hour.
Not only had I left behind a few acquaintances but more importantly I left behind the Stetson.
I never saw the hat again.
I vowed that someday, somehow, when I was ready, I would get that hat back again. I had faith that a path to the Stetson would be revealed to me.
I started wearing baseball hats as a penance. They separated me from nobody except Yankee haters and Red Sox fans. I can't say that I missed them.
I am a patient man.
I also believe that vocabulary shapes destiny. I didn't have an articulate enough hat vocabulary to describe the Zilla Stetson that I was seeking and until I did, the lid would linger somewhere out there beyond my destiny.
All this happened during my first marriage. The marriage outlasted the hat but not by much even though Jack had permanently left the building.
Lynn came into my life after both my hat and my first wife were long gone.
Lynn never saw my hat and I had trouble explaining it to her. Lynn had seen my first wife Cindy a few times and had no trouble explaining her.
Because we are human, it is easier for us to explain than to understand.
Lynn also had no trouble explaning baseball hats and how juvenile she thoght they were especially for a guy like me who still had "good hair".
I began this story as a thirty year old kid trying to ironically wear a man's hat and then I devolved into a man wearing a kid's hat. One day, Lynn and I decided it would be better if I tried being a man wearing a man's hat.
With this agreement, revealation ignited somewhere in the near future, we simply had to make our way into that future and the mystery would appear to us in the form of realization.
That's the way the world works. When you say somethng in the present and you really mean it, that something starts to happen in the future. As we approach that future, the gimmick is to hold onto the vision we had and keep it in place until we reach that future and POW
there it is.
Of course, you've got to really mean what you say and since most of us most of the time we don't really mean what we say the future is catastrophically non-linear brightened by the good fortune randomly generated by occasional, almost accidental outbursts of optimistic sincerity from an almost forgotten past.
About a month later a visual clarity trumped my vocabularic inadequacy and a path to the hat suddenly appeared.
Then, out of nowhere, Lynn suggests we go see The Aviator which is screening in the discount house a couple of miles away. The discount house known as Movies 10 is the last stop for feature movies before the brief hiatus when they disappear and are prepared for Netflix etc.
In other words this is their last stand at the box office. The popcorn costs as much as the viewing of the movie which is a straight up perk to the discount chain dispensaries.
I'm not a fan of bio-pics especially if they are built around people and events that I can remember. I always remember the people and the events depicted as so much more complex and dramatic than the condensed imitations that constitute the majority of biopics.
I already had a full dose of the real Kate Hepburn and wasn't thrilled about watching Blanchett channel Hepburn in a battle of dueling Kates.
The deciding vote as usual belonged to Lynn.
During the showing itself, I fidgeted in my seat. I put my elbows on the back of the seat in front of mine and rested my chin on my palms. Typical sulking jerk exercising a little pent up passive aggression.
We were the only people in the theater.
All of a sudden on the screen, DiCaprio gets out of a plane or a car or something. I'm shocked to see that he's wearing my hat.
I leaned back in my seat.
"That's my hat. DiCaprio's got my hat", I whispered too loudly.
Lynn shushed me.
A little later DiCaprio and the hat appeared again on screen. This time, Lynn whispered to me in a far more appropriate volume, even though we were the only two nuts in in the dark. A light had gone on in her head. "Oh THAT's your hat. I like it."
I said "that is exactly my hat."
I didn't have the words but I had the image, the visual.
Usually when I write, I have the visual and the vocabulary comes to me.
In the case of the hat, I had the image and now so do you but I still can't give you the words.
But we're making progress, ain't we?
With visual vocabulary firmly in place and with destiny drawing closer to revelation, I made an appointment to meet the Master Hatter.
Lynn and I went to lunch before the appointment and our conversation dangled a few minutes past the appointed time to meet the Hatter.
We arrived late and were informed in no uncertain terms that we would have to wait because the Hatter "is a busy man".
Or we could just leave.
We waited an hour in his tiny vestibule while people came and went, collecting their laundry.
Eventually, the Hatter made his way to the counter of the dry cleaning establishment that serves as a front for his creativity. He makes his hats in the back. The dry cleaning joint is the cottage for his industry.
It became crystal clear immediately that when you talk to a clear eyed man like the Hatter about hats, you better know what the hell you're talking about and if you don't have the coin or the courage to purchase the hat that you better know what you're talking about well then, he knows that you know that he knows that you're just wasting his time as well as your own, only his time is more valuable than yours because he knows what he's doing and you don't know what the hell you're doing.
I told him I was in the market for a hat. I told him about the Doc Zilla hat; how I had come to own it and lose it. He seemed interested or at least interested enough to ask the essential question.
"So, what kind of hat are you looking for?"
I knew the answer, sort of.
I told him I had just seen "The Aviator" and the hat in that movie was exactly the hat that I had lost and wanted to regain. I asked him if he had ever seen The Aviator.
As soon as I asked him that question, something in his demeanor changed. Up to the Aviator question he had been more business like than friendly, more challenging than engaging. He was sizing me up. As a hat maker, size definitely mattered.
At that point, he invited us to step out of the vestibule, past the counter, past the racks and racks and racks of other people's clothing. The Hatter invited us into the backroom where he interviewed serious hat seekers.
We had passed the entrance exam.
As we made our way to the inner sanctum, we passed a stool upon which was a beauty of a hat.
"Now, that's a hat", I said in passing.
"That's MY Hat" replied the Master Hatter.
I still lack the chapeau vocab to describe that hat on the stool but suffice it to say that a hat made by a master hat maker for his own dome is indeed a joy to behold. The Hatter picked up on my joy regarding his hat which made the dozen steps into his back room much less threatening.
I knew the Hat makers name but he didn't know mine. Many more people seek the Hat Master than are sought by him. I had told him my name when I called to make the appointment. I told him my name again when we met at the counter. When we got to the backroom, he told me something I already knew and asked me something that I had already told him.
"My name is Brown" said the Hat Maker, what's yours?"
After he said Brown, I resisted the urge to say "if you tell me again, I'm gonna knock ya down".
"They call me Ice" I said.
Brown resisted the urge to say "that's cool".
We shook hands.
"Now, tell me again. What kind of hat do you have in mind?"
"Did you see The Aviator?", I replied again.
"Oh yeah" said Brown.
Once again, I felt more at ease, more connected. Movies are readily available cultural metaphors. Whenever we share metaphor we share a bit of truth.
"Leonardo DiCaprio was wearing my hat in that movie. Do you remember that hat? That hat is my hat or should I say that hat was Doc Zilla's. THAT is Exactly the hat I'm looking for.
"Exactly THAT hat?" Brown asked
"Exactly", I asserted.
Brown said " Look at the top of that hat rack. Do you see that hat? That is exactly the hat in the Aviator. Reach up and get it. Take a look for yourself".
I followed his directions. I pilled the hat down and took a close look.
"It looks like the Aviator hat" I estimated.
"I've got news for you Ice. Not only does it look a lot like the hat DiCaprio wore in the movie. It IS the hat he wore. I made that hat for the movie and you've got that hat right in your hands."
"THIS is the hat that Leo wore in the movie? What's it doing here?"
"Often when I make hats for movies, they send the hats back to me. I hold on to the hats and keeps them safe in case the film makers have to reshoot a scene and they don't want to screw up the continuity. That's the actual hat I made for Martin Scorcese to use in the Aviator to go on the head of Howard Hughes as played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
"Leo wore this hat," I asked incredulously.
"That EXACT hat" said Brown.
I tried on the hat.
The hat was too big.
"Whoa, Leo's got a big head" I observed.
"Why don't you try Richard Gere's hat from Chicago. That one's on the back behind Leo's hat"
I pulled down the Chicago hat and tried it on for size. Gere's hat was too small.
" I think you're closer to Leo than to Richard, Ice. Gere wears a seven and a quarter. Leo wears a seven and five eighths. Figure you're about the size of George Clooney. I'm working on his hat right now"
When Lynn and I were waiting in his vestibule, Brown had been making a hat for George Clooney.
"George is a seven and a half" said the Hatter. "It's better to have a fit that's a little loose rather than a little tight. We call that 'headroom'.
Brown took out his measuring tape and wrapped it around my dome.
"Seven and a half, Ice. Same size as George."
I had my size. I had my style. Not bad for a guy coming in with zero hat vocabulary. Still, as I looked at the Aviator hat, something was wrong.
It was the hat band. The Doc Zilla brand was a darker brown.
Hatter grabbed a darker brown band, a 'chocolate' brown and wrapped it around the Aviator hat that I had on my head.
Thanks to Jack Daniels, I couldn't remember the last time I saw the Doc Zilla hat. I could remember a picture someone had taken of me the last time I wore the hat when I was trying to save the ozone and preserve the integrity of art with profanity while insulting everyone around me in a dazzling triple play of boorishness.
Not a pretty picture, except for the hat.
The picture was in black and white. I recalled a differentiation in the tone of black between the hat and the hatband. The hatband was definitely darker as was the one that Paul wrapped around the exact Avaitor hat. Still uncertain, I asked for a second and third opinion.
Both Lynn and Brown agreed that the combination looked great but the final decision was mine. I decided I would go for MY hat which was Doc Zilla's hat which because of the darker hat band wasn't EXACTLY Leonardo's hat which wasn't actually Leonardo's hat anyways but Howard Hughes's hat as played by Leo as envisioned by Martin Scorcese and his wardrobe director.
I am my own wardrobe director and I sure as hell am not Leonardo DiCaprio nor Howard Hughes nor Matin Scorcese.
As if reading my mind, Brown said "Leo's surprisingly tall"
"Do you know Leo?" I asked
"I fitted him for that hat you got on your head. I'll tell you something else, Leo's weird."
"Whaddya mean Leo's weird", I wanted an answer because I didn't want to believe that Leo was weird. Considering Brown was running his hat business out of a dry cleaning store, I thought maybe it was the Hatter who was mad. That's been known to happen.
"Let me tell you about his fitting", Brown began.
"First of all, Alec Baldwin didn't like the hat that I made for him. I had to calm Baldwin down by explaining that the hat was authentic to the year and to his character as well as the fact that the hat had been made to the exact specifications sent by the wardrobe director and approved by Marty himself.
"Baldwin finally calmed down and headed back to his trailer, hat in hand. Without Baldwin around, the atmosphere grew less tense and more expectant. Everybody knew that Leo was next on the schedule which was a big deal all the way around.
Right on schedule, the door opens and in walks Leo. A silent, barely visible swoon filled the room. Leo's a lanky guy, surprisingly tall as I said before and very thin. He introduced himself as Leo. I introduced myself as Dave. We shook hands. I pulled the hat out of the box. This is when Leo got weird.
I stepped forward to put the hat on his head. Leo stepped backwards, spooked, and he disturbed the air between us with a double open palm, ten finger pushback. The signal was clear. 'don't touch me, man and get that hat away from me'.
"Feeling like I had caught the plague after stepping in a pile of dogshit, I took a few steps back", Dave recalled.
"With that, Leo turned his back on me and walked across the room to the full length mirror. He stood in front of the mirror, studying his reflection for what seemed like an hour but was probably five minutes. The room was completely quiet. After about forty five minutes or maybe four, I whispered to the wardrobe assistant on my left. 'What the hell is he doing?'
"She whispered back, 'I think he's getting into character'.
"A minute or fifteen later, Leo turned away from the mirror and headed over in my direction. The guy coming over to me, however, was no longer the guy who had turned his back on me 300 seconds earlier. The guy coming towards me was Howard Hughes. Leo was gone and Howard Hughes was ready to be reunited with his hat.
I put the hat on Howard's head. The fit was perfect as I knew it would be. The studio had sent me the exact measurement of Leo's head as a reference. With his hat on his head, the reincarnated ghost of Howard Hughes walked back to the mirror. He tilted his head from the left to the right. He pulled the back of the hat down, which made the fron of the hat tip up slightlt. He nodded in approval.
Howard Hughes turned away from the mirror and paused for just a moment. In that moment, Leo took Howard's hat off his head. He walked towards me, hat in hand. He was a different man from the man on whose head I had placed the hat a minute ago. In the space of about ten minutes, this guy had become two entirely different people.
Leo/Howard looked at me and said ' that's exactly the hat, Dave'.
We shook hands again. I'm pretty sure I was shaking with Leo and not Howard because the handshake was strong and Howard Hughes wasn't known for the strength of his handshake.
I went with Leo and thanked him for the compliment. Apparently I had the right guy as I called him 'Leo'. He after all had called me 'Dave'.
I guess it was right because he went on his way and as he left, the swoon in the fitting became more visible as did the relief.
That's what I mean when I say 'weird'. I've met a lot of actors but I'd never seen anybody do that or have that effect. Baldwin,the actor, didn't think his hat looked good on him. DiCaprio had no concern how the hat would look on him because it wasn't his hat anyways. The hat belonged to the character of Howard Hughes. Before Leo could evaluate the hat, he had to see the hat through the eyes of the character.
Like I said, concluded the Hatter. Leo's weird."
By the time the Master Hatter had finished his Hollywood tale and the weirdness of Leo, I had already decided that I wanted the hat.
But there were complications.