The Hat That Was

When my brother John was seven he got an engineer’s hat. It was the first non-winter hat he had ever owned and he wore it constantly. He wore it in the house and he wore it out of the house. He wore it so much its bill frayed. I hated the hat. I did not trust it. I felt it was artificial, that the hat was a manufactured attempt to distinguish himself. I became so upset about the hat that I would snatch it off his head and throw it across the yard. “Just be yourself,” I’d command. “The hat’s not you!”

“I don’t care,” he’d shout back, and then dig the hat out of the leaves. I think my mother eventually told me to stop stealing his hat.

When John was a sophomore in high school he discovered he was an actor. The stage was just the place for him. Here he could be as big and loud as he wished. What’s more, he got to play all these different characters. Look, put on a red jacket and black slacks and you’re Val du Val from Little Me; put on a ragged overcoat and carry a crooked cane and you’re Wackford Squeers from Nicholas Nickleby. He told me once he sometimes needed a costume to be able feel the character.

It was about this time that I noticed his costume-like approach to dressing himself off the stage. One day he wore his green trench coat and army pants, the next his pleated trousers, V-neck sweater, and knit tie. He was like a living dress-up doll for his own amusement. Oh, I get it, I thought. He isn’t the hat, or the trench coat, or tie. He already knew that.

I visited him recently and stayed in his Los Angeles apartment. He’s a sharp dressed guy, but he works in an office (albeit an office in a television studio, but an office all the same) and his wardrobe seems to only travel between uptown hipster and downtown business casual. It was a nice apartment, and I marveled at the closet space. I was admiring the width of his coat closet when my eye traveled the shelf above the coats.

There atop boxes of DVDs was a pile of hats.

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