Feb 2, 2017


Not so long ago, I was traveling through the Southwest with my friend, Debbie.  Our first day exploring Albuquerque, we devoted a great amount of time to a little place called the Rattlesnake Museum, which was more like a dimly lit education center about reptiles. It was very fascinating, and they had over twenty species of snakes, many of them venomous, stacked in glass boxes in a very historical looking building.

Debbie in the hat of her dreams
Then we wandered into a hat shop where Debbie found the hat of her dreams, which caused me to search around for something of my dreams. I found, if not a hat that I had fantasized about, a hat that I looked startlingly suave and chic in, and that matched my red leather bag and lipstick. I looked like a Hollywood seductress from a Cold War-era spy thriller. I was seconds away from declaring, “Call me Irene Adler!” and recounting my tale of espionage and the part I played in the dramatic hunt of the great hooded phantom of patriarchy in its own element, the harsh open waters of society. The tale eventually culminated in my slaying the ghostly leviathan with the intention of harvesting its precious bodily fluids, my actions and heroic deeds characterized by a timeless sense of fashion and impeccable taste. Standing in a daze, in the middle of the hat shop, I was trying to reconcile a new, even better image of a female Edmond Dantès with the back story I had already established, when a complete stranger suddenly said, “That hat looks great on you!” And a bunch of other complete strangers agreed, and I noticed that I was surrounded by women and one man all looking at me and nodding with a faraway look in their eyes, as if they were trying to recognize me. Or trying to hurry me up, since I had been staring blankly at my reflection in the only full-length mirror for over five minutes. I found Debbie and she was like, “Great! We’ve both found hats!” and rode on a mental high of satisfaction for the rest of the day, while I felt like I had betrayed the Southwest and New Mexico by not buying a hat that immediately had me imagining a Southwest-desert-themed fantasy instead of a feminist amalgamation of James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Moby Dick, and the Count of Monte Cristo, which had a decidedly nautical, European feel to it.
Me in my hat
Later on that same day, I realized the actual hat of my dreams was a baseball cap, and I got one of those too. That brought the grand total of hats I have ever bought for myself in my entire life up to three. That two were bought on the same day made me feel like I would be criticized for my impulsive and irresponsible life style, so I made the decision to conceal my reckless spending on hats from maternal authority. I acutely remembered the nagging hell I had gone through the last time I had bought a hat off the Internet a couple years ago, a classic straw boater hat that I looked fantastic in, every time I wore it. Which was about once a year, over the past three years, skipping a year or two.  The reason I bought it online was because whenever I was out shopping with my mother and I expressed mild interest in a hat, my mother would shout from across a large space, “No! Put that hat back, don’t touch it! Don’t put it on your head!” in a way that had all the other shoppers scanning the ground for this rogue and potentially lice-infested child that someone had irresponsibly let loose around hats. And then their eyes would fall on me, the only person holding a hat, and their expressions would be, “That’s not a child.” I have endured this treatment for so long that I may have mild post-traumatic stress syndrome in the case of impulse hats.  In actuality, this treatment is a result of the spontaneous purchase of a hat that I continually block from my memory. The first hat I ever bought. Technically speaking, the grand total of hats I have bought for myself is four, but we don’t mention anything about the first one so much because it was 100% felted wool and I bought it at one of those flash sales from a notoriously hit-or-miss store right before we discovered a moth infestation in our house.  Between our many wool items that we were rushing to rescue, like family heirlooms, rugs, or expensive coats, the hat was not high on our list. So it flew completely under the radar when the moths moved in on this new item, turning it into an undiscovered moth sanctuary in the back of my closet. Eventually it was discovered, but not before we were driven insane by what we could only assume at the time was a viciously persistent breed of moth. Anyway.
I knew I had to successfully lie to myself first before I could go on to convince others, so I consciously tried to ignore my new hats and act as if they had always been there and that I didn’t suddenly acquire a choice of hats. I’m sure I got a sketchy look on my face when Debbie occasionally referred to one of my hats, which I think in turn made her examine me oddly out of the corner of her eye. Once, it was sunny out and I declared, “I need a hat!” and Debbie was like, “Which one?” and I just stared at her, trying to figure out how I was going to handle this conversation without internally confronting the fact that I had two, two new hats. She asked the question again and I think I looked like I was thinking hard, because I was thinking hard, about how to do a better job deluding myself before subjecting myself to my mother’s scrutiny.  Debbie eventually laughed a little and was like, “Can’t decide, huh?” and I was like, “Um…. Yeah, yes. Exactly… right?... Mmhmm. Yup.”  This response could have been completely normal if my volume had not sharply decreased while I was speaking, so that it essentially sounded like I had a whispered back-and-forth going with myself, while in the presence of another person. I was lucky that I was with Debbie, who already knew what I was.  A weirdo.

Another time, at the Grand Canyon, a week or so later, I was complimented on my fabulous red hat and I stared at the person for a good three minutes in silent lockdown, wondering how he could have possibly known about my baseball cap, before I realized that I did not have my baseball cap with me, it was not in sight at all, and there was no way this person could have known about it. By then the person had repeated himself in simplified language several times while pointing to the top of his own head and then at me, gesturing like he was in a rodeo and outlining a saucer shape above his own head. I halted his attempts to lasso me by thanking him, but he seemed slightly put off either by my overly relieved, strangely belated response or my obvious mastery of the English language. Or it could have been the way I scuttled off immediately afterward, peering over my shoulder at him from under the wide brim of my hat, like Carmen Sandiego.  I felt a lot better about myself after Debbie decided to also get a baseball cap in Flagstaff, Arizona.  Actually, I bought it for her.  Mostly because she was taking a long time deciding whether she really wanted it or not, or if it was stylish enough to match her image. She chose an unmarked black cotton baseball cap, which I assured her was very stylish and that she looked really good in it. She seemed suspicious about the way I was hustling her into the baseball cap but I also think she was willing to go with it because I was buying it for her. I was already buying some t-shirts from the store and if I bought four items at once the total would decrease by ten dollars. I was way too thrilled to have some sense of equality about our hat purchases. I was happy to buy it for her, even if she did insist on paying me back later, which really wasn’t necessary.
It’s not that I am opposed to purchasing hats, or that I think a hat is a completely frivolous thing to spend money on, even though I kind of do – it’s just that hats so often come my way for free. I have never had to buy a winter hat for myself.  It is almost guaranteed that someone I am related to will have no idea what to give me for the winter holidays and will just think, “Hey, she looks good in hats.” Once I even knit myself a hat out of yarn that I had been given for free.
This past Halloween I was some type of cowgirl, but without the most iconic part of the costume, the cowboy hat. That is, until halfway through the night, when I found one on the ground that fit me and went very well with my costume! Unfortunately this hat was left somewhere in the state of Florida. 
More recently, I was with Debbie (who was visiting from Seattle for the holidays) in a bar and some sort of promotional event was going on for a film coming out on Christmas Day. So we got free baseball caps with the word “FENCES” stitched on the front.
Most recently, I was participating in the Women’s March on January 21st, and had knitted a pussyhat for the occasion. I had knitted this hat two days before out of yarn I happened to have already and stayed up late the night before to embroider it with a peace sign and feminist symbol.
Me in my Pussyhat
Pussyhats are pink and have cat ears. When I explained why they are called “pussy” hats to someone – a play on Mr. Trump’s comments about “grabbing pussies” – they were completely grossed out. Which I find odd. Why is it that when a man trying to be the president of the United States uses that language to speak about an aggressive act towards women, it’s unfortunate but seems not to impact how other men think about him, but when a woman uses that language about a hat, it’s repulsive? Is it the imagery? Maybe it’s just because I am a woman myself but I find the imagery of the former more cringe-worthy than that of the latter.
But I digress. Ultimately, the point of this story is that in the past seven months I have actively acquired more hats than I have ever before in my life, some of them even for worthy purposes. I keep on expecting my mother to walk into my room and say in consternation, “You have too many hats,” because all of these hats are visible and lying around, but she hasn’t yet and that makes me feel irrationally legitimate.  When she does eventually, I plan on pointing out that, at a certain point in time, women were supposed to own lots of hats. I don’t really know when this trend was reversed and I also don’t really know how they kept their hats from being squished without having them strewn all over their room. I would say I need a hatbox but I’m not even going to try to convey the amount of angst I feel at that prospect, only that I sense buying a hatbox would mark my descent into a whole new low in my life, and even though I may already have reached a whole new low in my life, I don’t want that descent to be marked or recognized in any way. I don’t want this hat-acquiring phase to continue at all.