Now, if nothing else, is a good time to break in a new baseball cap. The constant, penetrating, hope-sucking rain shrinks a hat to your head nicely and puts a little mildew stink into it, letting everyone know it’s yours and to keep their pilfering hands off.
Not that doing that will keep them from stealing it. Yes, people do steal used hats. Lord knows why. Them being all yellow-rimmed on the inside and teeming with whatever grows and dies on people’s heads. Not the hottest items in the thievery market, I would’ve suspected. But if you’ve ever had a Kenny Loggins CD – that you won’t admit you’ve ever had – disappear from your unlocked car, you know they’ll walk off with anything that isn’t bolted down.
Some jerk took my favorite lid. It was vintage: Houston Colt .45s. (That team stunk it up in the MLB for two or three seasons in the 1960s before becoming the Astros. Traded in classy uniforms for heinous ones and a better record). My dad bought the hat for me in Cooperstown when I was just a husky pre-teen. Five or six years of wearing it in the wind, the sun, and of course, the rain (we live in a hellish version of an Irish Spring commercial, after all) broke it in perfect.
About ten years ago I left it in the gym locker room at Norwich High School. Just tossed it on a bench. Normal procedure. I was always in such a hurry to be dodgeball MVP that I didn’t have time to waste securing my valuables. Not to mention those lockers were like Mayan caves. Deep and hot and filled with life forms that can take a man’s arm off if he reaches in too far. Kids were often maimed when it came time to clean out in June. Their crusty socks, so long without light and human interaction, mutated into flesh-eating hand puppets.
Not taking my chances in the Hills Have Eyes lockers, I figured the hat would be safe out in the open. For starters, I kept it quite musty, as indicated, to deter thieves. Also wrote my name, “McGuire 666, Mike of the Beast,” underneath the brim. Figured that would keep anyone from wanting to touch it. Nope. If doing that kept people from taking things, we’d all scribble our names on our cars and give the interior a good pit rub. “Can’t hot-wire this one, R.J. Smells like granny on the Fourth and says over here in magic marker that it belongs to one Chester U. Bett.”
So when I returned to the locker room, ready to celebrate being the last man standing, yet again, my vintage Houston Colt .45s hat was gone. Searched frantically. Accused wildly. Who would take it? Why? It’s not like anyone else could wear it. Not only was it nasty like a damp sweater, but the only other thing in this universe that it could fit comfortably besides me was Pluto. Yes, I have a large dome. So large that when I get a haircut they call it defoliation.
It must have been a retaliation hit, for all my success and showboating on the dodgeball court. Humbled and heartbroken, I swore off hats and gym class sports.
I was in Cooperstown over the summer. Saw my hat, an exact replica, anyway, on the rack. It made me think about high school, and dodgeball, and all the things that were great about those days. I tried it on. Too small. Need a seven and three-quarters. They said they don’t make them that big. Would have to sew two together. Then he said he was joking, went upstairs and got it.
It’s impossible and stupid to think we can get all back the good old days. Most times I try not dwell too much. But we can get some of it back, like some of the happiness, some of the health, some of the spirit. All of the hats.
I wore the hat a few times. Too stiff. Made me look like Pete Rose. Not Pete Rose, Charlie Hustle, diving into home plate. No. We’re talking Pete Rose, helmet cut and big-faced, lying then not lying. So I tucked it away, waiting till the hat weather got a little nicer.