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The Tribulations of American Hat Lovers

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I'm not Eurotrash, nor am I impersonating Sherlock Holmes in a desperate cry for help. I've heard all the carbon-copied remarks and a few compliments. I'm a young American, and I wear an ivy dress. Beyond fashion statements and religious observance is the simple fondness for headgear. This affinity has earned me thoughtless inquisition, intolerance, and the bygone flashes of self-consciousness.

Cheese cutter, sharpie, pimpster, and "old English guy hat" are common colloquialisms for "ivy dress." Being a heavy pipe smoker at the time, I selected my first such wool crown from a department store with much reservation about its conspicuousness. A punk beneath an ignoble ball cap had been taken out and shot that week. At the precocious age of 19, the true realization of an adolescent eccentricity had come to fruition.

From Indiana Jones to fugitive Hannibal Lecter, a tasteful hat tops off the debonair while being perceived as a trademark. A comfortable, distinguished hat is a rewarding garment which I find indispensable. However, each style of hat draws its own set of stereotypes.

Being a hat man isn't all glamour. An ugly hag at the plasma place serenaded me with the opening bars of the Inspector Gadget theme song. People presume I'm either French or dying for attention. A teacher "cap gunned" me when I was in junior high school. I once shaved my head to imitate complete male pattern baldness.

That's right. Knowing I'd be forced to remove my hat before getting photographed for my state identification card, it was obvious that a statement had to be made. That coupled with the fact that I had nothing better to do than watch infomercials. I was barely old enough to vote, but wise enough to know what I might look like in old age. Yes, I was immensely proud to buy cigarettes.

Caveat: Sherlock Holmes wore a deerslayer and I wear an ivy dress. Likening the two hats is foolish. Furthermore, the assumption that every distinctive garment is worn merely to make a statement speaks of John Q. Douchebag's presumptuousness. A man once asked me if I was trying to look French. I curtly answered that I was not. He then asked me what I was "trying to look like."

The general public really thinks itself to be so damned important that people should go the extra mile for the attention or approval of random strangers. It would take a team of psychologists to determine why I might actually give a damn about the foolish conclusions of people who are probably unworthy of my consideration. I've got enough opinions; I don't need yours, ass clown.

Then again provincialism is universal and everybody loves a good stereotype. Don Imus aside, cowboy hats are worn by the vacuous and unwashed.

A harrowing visit to the remote village of Athens, Texas was a case of culture shock in my own home state. As the National Anthem or whatever that song was inaugurated the graduation ceremony I attended, a host of shit-kickers in the auditorium ceremoniously removed their tan Stetsons and placed them atop their hearts.

Country music played incessantly as I could only hope that I hadn't indeed fallen off the face of the earth and been standing in the foyer of Hell. My refusal to remove my black ivy dress combined with my formal attire drew stares. Did being outnumbered make me a jackass or place me in the top one percent? A little of both, I should hope.

The fact that religious head coverings elicit special consideration has long piqued my vitriol. I once worked at a kosher supermarket, where separate dress codes applied to Gentiles and Jews. My naked buzz cut stood tall as yarmulkes ran wild and an Italian ivy dress was exiled to the break room. Why in the world of logic should religious followers accept headgear edicts?

"We like to take off our hats in church out of respect for the Lord," a fat yokel of an usher told me as a child. I heard that many times growing up and either refused to comply with God's messengers or simply left the "sanctuary." During a typically bland sermon, a child physically knocked off my hat. Appalled by this defilement, I did the Christian thing and decked the little bastard.

As an adult a decade later, I subjected myself to morning sleep deprivation to experiment with church once more. Just after the damned singing and clapping died off, I was confronted by a holy man who walked on thin ice. I strutted out of "God's house" with dignity. The old school needs a new curriculum; women attending the service wore garish hats with impunity.

Courtrooms are overbearing bastions of hypocrisy. I once covered a plea hearing for an intoxication manslaughter case at the Frank Crowley Criminal Courts Building in Dallas. Just as I set foot in the vacant courtroom, Billy Bob bailiff commanded me to remove my hat. As if I hadn't already planned on doing so. Of course, fat boy hayseed was free to wear his comical ten-gallon. Why does every damn bailiff have to be a swaggering old hick?

Judge Susan Hawk of the 291st Criminal District Court — the court in which I took notes that morning — declined to comment for this article.

It's just a garment — until the world demands its surrender. Whether the occasion be a night on the town or a tranquil day at home, a good hat is a prized accessory for many enlightened people.

Those men in Athens could have been scholars. Perhaps my Jewish co-workers were degenerate heathens. Maybe I'm just a simple produce clerk from Texas. Some call it rude while others call it charming. Nevertheless, the measure of a gentleman is not the hat he wears.

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