My history with hats

I love hats.

I love the way they look and I love the way they feel. I’ve been told I look good in hats. I think everyone looks good in hats if it’s the right hat.

A hat performs many functions. In wintertime it conserves heat – most of the heat in one’s body is emitted from the top of one’s head or the soles of one’s feet, which is why the furry Ushanka, and Cossack hats are popular in frigid Russia. They can be protective (helmets) or stylish (berets, ascots and pillboxes). In the summer heat it keeps the sun off, which is why the brim of the sombrero is so wide in scorching Mexico.

The Sombrero

I have a long history with hats and the earliest I remember was a sombrero that I got at the Royal Easter Show; an annual livestock fair in Sydney that has become increasingly commercialized to the point of ludicrousness (last I observed and heard). The stereotypical image of the lazy Mexican crouched under a sombrero is both misleading and apropos. The siesta is not laziness but a necessity in the hot midday desert sun. Take it from me, Mexicans are far from lazy, and their hat is very functional.

Or, ornamental as mine was and as you’ll see in most Mexican restaurants. This is another purpose of the hat. A well-stocked and organized hat stand is both functional and decorative and a must for any hat aficionado. I possibly wore a baby beanie (I’ll have to check on that – a hat for both warmth and protection). There’s also a picture of me, circa 1971 in a knitted deerstalker but I have no memory of this. The first hat I remember owning was the sombrero. I have no idea what happened to it.

The Baseball Cap

I’ve only ever owned one of these and I will probably never own another one as, here, my love of hats clashes with my detestation of fashions that are excessively popular. I always remember Jughead Jones’s fashion ethic to beat the fads: nothing he wears ever goes out of style because it’s never been in style. Not a precise parallel to my own, but close.

In the spring of 1981, when I was in 8th grade, my mother disappeared for six weeks to tour the US east coast with a friend. One of the things she brought back was a brown, felt baseball cap. I don’t think I ever wore that hat and its fate, like the sombrero, is unknown (probably disposed of, donated or lost in one of my many moves). I’ve never owned a baseball cap since. When I was teaching in Cobar I noticed that the uniformed students expressed their stifled fashion personalities through their hats, emblazoned with different logos.

But they all had one thing in common. They were all baseball caps. Go to any street fair (here in the US, at least) and everyone’s wearing a hat – a baseball cap. Besides not providing adequate sun protection (ears get burnt), in my opinion they lack panache unless you’re playing baseball. They’re the Volkswagens of the hat world (albeit not nearly as stylish). Ok. That’s not entirely true. I had a white baseball cap once in high school. Unattended, it was stolen.

The Blue Beanie

It was a modified version of the one worn by Mike Nesmith in The Monkees. This cozy head garment isn’t hard to find. They’re also easy to make if you own a pair of knitting needles. Beanies first became popular in the US and are a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution; not only do they keep one’s head warm, but they also keep one’s hair out of one’s eyes (yet another function of hats – having long hair as a result of the pandemic, I find myself wearing hats for this purpose) without a brim to get in the way.

I liked Mike Nesmith’s general look, so I got a beanie. It wasn’t exactly the same; it didn’t have the white decal and Nesmith’s was actually green instead of blue. I also didn’t like the pom-pom on the top, so I took to mine with a, snip-snip, pair of scissors. Knitted hats are probably most vulnerable to decay. It eventually fell apart and I never bothered to replace it.

The First Beret

Perhaps the oldest (and simplest) hat design, the beret is characteristic of the military (think Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery or Che Guevara) and is also fashion statement (Prince sang about a girl wearing a raspberry beret; the kind you find in a second-hand store). Tom Cruise ordered a cadet to “take off that beret” in the 1981 movie Taps, when the cadet decided to abandon the cause. It wasn’t just a hat; it was a symbol of membership.

Technically, I never owned the beret; it was the property of the Royal Australian Army, but it was in my care for a couple of months while I was a member of the Army Cadets (before I shaped my opinions on the fascist nature of the military, in general). Whenever I see a beret I’m reminded of that hat.

The Cossack Hat

This hat wasn’t mine, either and I feel bad about its fate. As I mentioned in the forward, Cossack hats hail from Russia where it’s very cold and the people would die were it not for vodka and furry hats. This particular one belonged to my father and I borrowed it to lend to a friend for a costume party (which, ironically, we never actually attended). And then it kind of disappeared; a frequent fate of hats for the careless hat owner, I’ve found. I really should replace that hat.

The First Fedora

It was sitting, lonely on a park bench on Martin Place and I sat down next to it. I looked around for a potential owner but there was no one within claiming distance showing any interest. I picked it up. It was clean. It was in sufficiently good condition and it fit perfectly. My love of hats had begun.

It was a green felt fedora, a wide dark green band with a narrow brim and a rolled edge. I wore that hat for a year or so and then, somehow my head grew (it tends to happen to teenagers). I passed it on to my good buddy. I wonder if he still has it.

The First Panama

Driving down Falcon Street, eastbound by St Leonard’s Park I spotted it underneath a parked car. I made a sudden decision; I was going to go after it. I quickly swung around the block and was amazed to find, after what seemed like a lengthy journey, that it was still there! I considered that it might have belonged to the owner of the car it was under. Or it could have found its way there from anywhere in that gusty part of town (ergo, my surprise that it lasted my trip around the block), finally settling for me to find.

At any rate I had found it and it had found me. I wore that hat throughout the late ‘80s. It was a panama – a straw fedora style that has its origins, oddly enough, in Ecuador. Its name comes from its popularity in Panama and, like its Mexican cousin, is designed for comfort in the hot, equatorial jungle. Being made from straw and with a wide brim, it provides sun protection and ventilation.

In the end it was a travelling hat, destined always to find a new owner. There’s a picture floating around somewhere of me in that hat, in the same house where I lost it and where I learnt the lesson never to let anyone wear your hat at a party, no matter how cute they are.

The Second Fedora

It was actually called The Legend – in memory of Hamish Wallace. The guy in the hat store was a kid but he knew everything there was to know about hats and had found his calling (“Do you have a fez?” I asked. He pointed straight at them). It was a friend of his, an aviator who died in a plane crash. “I could have written a eulogy” he said, “but I decided to make a more lasting dedication and design a hat in his name.” At least that’s the story he told me and what the lining said the hat was called.

And a very cool hat it was, too. A high-topped grey fedora with a wide, dark-green band and a wide brim. There was no rolled edge (the best hats don’t have them, he told me) and it was my primary hat for most of the ‘90s, 2000s and early 2010s.

Hats don’t die, they move on if you don’t take good care of them and one drunken night, after boasting its origins, I lost it on a bus. It wasn’t at the lost and found so I can only assume that somewhere in Denver there’s a homeless guy in a very unique and fashionable Akubra hat.

The Felt Boater

When I first arrived in the US, it was near Halloween and I was invited, as the foreign novelty, to a Halloween party. My new bride and I decided that it would be funny if I dressed as Crocodile Dundee (or a passable equivalent). We couldn’t find an Akubra “Croc Hat” (the one he wears with the crocodile tooth band – seriously, it’s called that – Google it) but the guy at the local army surplus did boast a black felt boater with a wide brim and a brown safari band that was passable. This particular style of hat is traditionally made from straw and has its origins with the gondoliers of Venice (thus the name).

I still have it. In fact, I’m wearing it right now. The band died (decayed) and I started to bead a new one but decided that a) I didn’t like the design I’d started and b) didn’t want to wait until I got around to designing and starting a new one, so I ordered one – black leather with a silver buckle. After I lost the Akubra this became my hat of choice and also once served as a fill-in while I waited for the Akubra to be shipped from Sydney.

The Cowboy Hat

I still have this one, too. There are certain items in one’s wardrobe that one accumulates because one forgets to pack certain items and purchases them at the destination. Such items generally include underwear, socks, swimsuits and hats.

In the Rocky Mountains, at 10,000 feet, there’s less atmosphere to protect a person from the sun. A hat is a particular necessity if walking around a mountain town as we were doing and, gosh darn it, I forgot my hat. There was nothing for it but to buy a new one and, in the mountain town of Leadville, the only type of hat you’re going to find (other than a baseball cap) is a cowboy hat. Thus, a brown one was added to my hat collection.

The Third Fedora

Goorin Brothers in Larimer Square (they also have a store in Boulder) have been making hats since 1895 and, not only did they sell me my third fedora, but they also customized it for me. When I looked to replace my lost Akubra (an impossible feat, like trying to replace a lost child) I went to the top hatter in the Denver area. There I found a very nice black fedora – its peak wasn’t as high as The Legend, but it had definite style. The brim was a little narrow, but when I noticed the rolled edge and mentioned what the hatter in Sydney said, he confirmed it and volunteered to unstitch the edge and steam it at no extra cost. Half an hour later it was ready. The unrolled brim was as wide as the legend.

Radios disappear in unlocked cars. So do hats so I lost that one to a dapper hoodlum, but I was so impressed by the service at Goorin Brothers that I took my son there to get him a hat to complete his jazz persona (as well as mentioned them here).

The Fourth Fedora

And now it was on – the quest to replace The Legend, unquestionably the best hat I’ve ever owned. Where better to find it than Australia? Well, apparently it doesn’t anymore. I looked for one when I was in Sydney a few years ago but could find it. Instead, I settled on a crushable blue fedora that I found in a hat store in The Rocks district of Sydney. It had a rolled edge so I asked the girl if she could give it the same treatment that the Goorin Brothers did; she barely spoke English but sharply told me that they couldn’t change any of the hats. I wonder if the Goorin boys would do it if I bought another one of their hats – maybe a pork pie? Or maybe as a thank-you for advertising them here.

The Second Panama

It’s in the mail. Summer’s coming and felt hats get too hot.

The Second Beret

I can’t quite tell if the hats worn by Doug Heffernan (Kevin James) in The King of Queens and Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni) in Just Shoot Me! are berets or ascots turned backwards and, you know what? I don’t really care. I think the look is cool so I’m going to try both. The second beret is on its way.

The Fifth Fedora

I hunt this as my great white whale of headwear. Even The Legend wasn’t quite right. The ideal is the trilby worn by Robert Redford in The Sting – a wide brimmed fedora with a high-peaked crown and wide band. If you know where I can find one, please let me know.

Dear CNN,

I’m sure you have been inundated with emails and comments during the current news cycle, however, it would be remiss of me not to point out a detail that has been palpably overlooked in your commentary regarding George Floyd, Derek Chauvin and the other officers involved in the incident and the ensuing protests.

While this has been a tragic episode with lamentable consequences, I fail to see any mention of the fact that the officers performed their alleged* crime on camera. It was obvious they were being filmed and it makes me seriously doubt their intelligence.

I’m dismayed that your network is not addressing this fact as it is yet another example to prove that no problem is so insurmountable that it can’t be solved through education.

Roger L. Main

* I say “alleged” as a legal technicality as they have not yet been tried and convicted. Under American law a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Buzz-terms we should avoid

A lot of buzz-terms have cropped up in our modern technological world. Not buzzwords; most are phrases, thus I refer to them as “buzz-terms”. I suppose that would make “buzz-term” itself a buzz-term or, rather, it will be if it catches on. Not all buzz-terms are bad. Some suit a very specific purpose, filling a void in the language but some have been created to replace already existing terms. So here they are, buzz-terms that should be avoided:

Human Resources

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the department responsible for employees was called Personnel. It had a nice ring to it; it was soft and warm. At some point, someone, somewhere, for some reason unknown to me, decided to coin the term “Human Resources.”

You’re not a person anymore. You’re still acknowledged as human, as opposed to cattle or xerox machines, but you’re a resource – a thing to be used. The reasoning behind this comes from project management where man-hours are, indeed, considered resources and estimates are based on human output. Fair enough. Such is needed to do that job. As for the rest of us, we’re people, not things and should be addressed as such. I find this term highly offensive because of its callous utilitarianism.

Phone Screen

Equally offensive is the term “Phone Screen.” They used to be interviews, which had a friendly sound to it, kind of like being on Conan. Now they want a fifteen minute “phone screen.” You’re going to be “screened” like the parasite you are.

This particularly dehumanizing expression comes from an innate believe on the part of management that everyone is as slimy and dishonorable as they are. Clearly, because they did awful, deceitful things to get where they are they assume that everyone is like that. As a result, such people must be “screened”. There are two rules for tyrants: seize power and prevent others from seizing power.

Best Practices

Apparently, we must all adhere to them. But, as anyone who is familiar with commercialism is aware, anything that purports to be the best, usually isn’t. Furthermore, in many cases where the term “best practices” is used, whether or not it is “the best” is entirely subjective, particularly in my industry. It’s just a dogmatic way of derailing any alternate opinions, usually by people who can’t justify their own enough to provide a coherent argument.

In some cases there are actual, proper, established and proven procedures that one should follow; preserving forensic evidence at a crime scene, for example. Didn’t there used to be a term for that? Wasn’t it “proper procedure?” Proper procedure allows for improvement. Best practices are as good as they’re ever going to get. After all, they are The Best!

Enough Said

Enough said. There will be no further discussion or debate. I have had the final word. People who use such terminology should be ridiculed into humiliation. Just because you are tired of debating the issue doesn’t mean that you win by terminating all conversation. It doesn’t close the conversation, it just makes you sound like a dogmatic jerk (probably the same dogmatic jerk who dictates “best practices”).

Tour

I’m not a shift worker so I might off on this one but when I see it used in Blue Bloods it has a chilling effect on my own blood. There are three shifts to cover a 24-hour period, yes? Day, Swing and Graveyard. To my knowledge none of them are called “tours”. That is a military term. It comes from “tour of duty” which refers to a soldier’s period of active duty in a foreign location (for example, a tour of duty in Vietnam) and it usually refers to an extended period of time.

But somehow, someone got it into their head that this is a synonym for a “shift” which, of course, it is not. Where are they touring? Lower Manhattan? Actually, most of the time they’re touring their desks. They’re not touring the Internet. There’s a perfectly good buzz-term form that which was needed to fill a void: surfing.

Final Thoughts:

Language evolves; English is a particularly rich language because it borrows from so many other languages. But the commercial world has a tendency to mindlessly jump on the bandwagon of the latest and greatest in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve (which is usually where all the money is) without thinking about whether the latest and greatest is necessarily the best from all angles, including how it is received.

In some cases these buzz-terms have a reason for existing, such as “surfing the web” or the term “yuppie” to describe a young, up-and-coming (or urban) professional; they were needed to fill a void in the language. But why create an ugly and offensive term when a perfectly good one exists? I prefer to be interviewed rather than screened and to be personnel rather than a resource. As I leave you to start a tour in the bathroom, I suggest thinking carefully about mindlessly using buzz-terms – it just isn’t best practice.

Enough said.

Fun with socks

I took a hospital tube sock that I got during one of my recent surgeries…

(Actual socks not shown)

…and filled it with polyester fiber-fill; the same stuff that I use in my knitted creations:

I then tied off the end to make a mouse wrist support:

Naturally, the Cat With No Name wouldn’t leave it alone, so I took the other sock and got out the sewing machine…

…and with some ornamental rope that I had that I was going to use as a sash (but it was too short), I made a hanging cat toy!

I have many odd socks. What else will I come up with?

World War V

That is, World War V; V for Virus, not World War V; V for Roman numeral “5”. It’s only the third world war but make no mistake, it is a world war. I justify this assertion, thusly:

The world has not seen such widespread cooperative action against a single enemy since World War II (both Axis and Allied), nor more people directly or indirectly influenced by it.

All wars carry a civilian death toll. Healthcare workers – the soldiers on the front lines – are particularly susceptible to injury or death but the civilian count is higher with Covid because, unlike the previous wars almost all Covid victims are civilians.

Every day there is a mounting death toll and casualty count, rising inexorably in a battle fought in inches with little or no victory in immediate sight. We are frantically working on the superweapon that, definitively will tip the balance but until such time we’re knee deep in the trenches and there’s no Lusitania or Pearl Harbour to prompt America’s saving grace into the war; they’re already here and as deep in it as anyone else.

As with during the world wars the world has shifted gears towards production to support the troops – munitions during I and II, medical equipment in III. While we haven’t reached the stage of severe, government enforced rationing, at least around where I live the supermarkets have started to put a limit on the sale of certain products. If production continues to be strained governments may step in. People had to get used to the change in lifestyle caused by this disruption to the supply chain (perhaps not as much of an adjustment for the World War II generation, having just come off of the Great Depression).

In addition, paranoia takes center stage – loose lips used to sink ships, now they spread a toxic poison. I’ve already spoken of the psychological ramifications of the Covid Pandemic – already we see people with Cabin Fever (that exact term being bandied about by the media) and when it’s over we will see a chronic agoraphobia epidemic. Survivors of wars suffer “shell shock” or PTSD; a condition not limited to wartime and one we can expect to rear its ugly head during this war.

Just like I and II we don’t know what the landscape will look like when it’s all over. I have no doubt that we will overcome our foe – it’s in our nature to survive – just as we overcame our foes during I and II. Had the opposition won either world war I would have said exactly the same thing. With all due respect to T.S. Eliot, the world ends with neither a bang nor a whimper (a conclusion he was later to admit, himself). Someone has to win and it isn’t going to be SARS CoV-2.

But how will things look afterwards? No doubt the economy will spring back with a vengeance but the psychological damage will be severe, and the political damage. China is already being viewed askance with Xi Jinping facing criticism for his skepticism and coverup attempt that allowed the virus to spread beyond Wuhan Provence and, subsequently past Chinese borders into the international community.

An already traditionally xenophobic America, pushed further by Donald Trump’s border policies (incidentally, as far as border security is concerned, this crisis must be Trump’s wet dream as it allows a further justification for his border walls) may be sent over the edge, becoming even more internalized and recalcitrant.

It’s inevitable that the international landscape will shift as happens after every war but how? Attitudes will change and habits of paranoid hygiene will probably last and the Covid Generation (Covidgen? Coronagen? Generation V?) will, like the Baby Boomers, be defined heavily by a major event and the subsequent attitudes of the generation before them – an event that will influence every generation with a living memory and beyond.

Reference:

T. S. Eliot at Seventy, and An Interview with Eliot in Saturday Review. Henry Hewes. 13 September 1958 in Grant p. 705.

Baby Bust

I predict a leveling of the population in nine months.

Why? Hint: “social distancing” is the buzz-term at the start of the new ’20s.

I predict that the repercussions of the Coronavirus COVID-19 will be felt for decades and may possibly mark the momentous event that defines the next generation after the iGeneration – the successors to the Millennials who are now starting to produce families of their own (Covidgen?).

All of that may be on hold due to COVID-19. Of all of the ways to contract a disease, sexual activity is one of the most efficient. People will always have sex but the casual sex that accidentally turns into a pregnancy is probably less likely to happen. Even married couples may curb their activity for the duration of the crisis.

The Baby Boom generation was marked by soldiers returning from World War II and starting families. The Millennials were marked by the start of the New Millennium and iGen by being born in the new Millennium. My generation, Generation X, has the most fuzzy delineation of the three is sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials.

In market terms, the opposite of a boom is a bust (which is also a current danger – a recession does look to be on the horizon) and, while people are confined in voluntary quarantine, the likelihood that they will be engaging in sexual congress is decreased due to contagion.

Furthermore, Snopes.com refutes the argument that being confined due to a disaster leads to a baby boom so we can’t count on that mythical phenomenon to counter the effects of “social distancing”. Not only will there be less hookups and less social meetings leading to match-ups, there won’t be a rush to jump into bed due to boredom.

Perhaps the effects will be too small to be noticed. Perhaps the disease will fade into history like smallpox and cholera. However, I have never seen anything like this before – even bubonic plague (which, despite speculations about my age, I was not alive for) was geographically isolated and while AIDS spread across the world you couldn’t get it by breathing the same air as someone else at the supermarket.

If the dictum is to stay six feet away from each other I don’t see many people jumping at the opportunity to reduce that distance to full physical contact. New pregnancies will slow down and in nine months, a baby bust.

In other prediction news, I predict more companies moving to cyberspace even after the crisis. When business owners notice no change in productivity for letting their employees work at home where possible, they will begin to question why they’re paying for office space.