The Mad Hatter strikes again
by Ken Carpenter
The back of a guy’s neck has always seemed like one of the most insignificant points of the human body to me. Once in a while it needs a good scratching, but it usually just sits there doing nothing, out of sight and out of mind.
Until you spend a couple of weeks walking around in the rain, that is. Then it becomes just another rain gutter, right down the back.
Recent weather patterns have finally convinced me that I need a change in my life. Since moving to the desert is not an option, I decided to buy a new hat.
My hat needs have always been simple; a Boston Red Sox baseball cap, a Gonzaga Bulldogs baseball cap, and a stocking hat. I thought nothing more was needed, but a few dozen back-of-the-neck soakings changed my mind. I needed a hat with a brim all the way around.
A cowboy hat was out of the picture. Horses hate me and I hate chewin tobaccy, and I’m pretty sure you need matching boots anyway. A Sherlock Holmes hat was likewise not an option, though I would love to say just once, “Watson you idiot!”, while puffing furiously on an unlit pipe and tugging the brim of my cap.
Deep down, I knew exactly what I wanted, even if I suspected I would resemble Humphrey Bogart’s midget gangster stepbrother. That’s right, I wanted a snap-brim, felt fedora, down in front, up in back, literally oozing cool.
The bad thing is, the cool it might ooze would be a little dated. Like, say, 1930’s to 1950’s vintage. I didn’t care, I was on a crusade and it did not matter if it was cool or not. My mildewed neck needed a savior, and Bogie was just the ticket. I always loved those old hats anyway, even if I would look like I stepped through a time warp.
My beloved wife just informed that, no, fedoras have never been totally out of style. In fact, their popularity is growing among those who dare to be different. Ha, ha! I was born to be different, though odd may be another apt description.
Since fedora shops are rare in these parts, I turned my attention to the Internet. In no time I was zipping through dozens of hat sites with hundreds of different fedora styles. My head was swimming. Apparently there were tons of wet necked boobs besides me out there needing brimmed hats, but where were they?
It turns out that, unbeknownst to me until Joy straightened me out, felt hats have made a comeback in the big cities. The derby, homburg, porkpie and, get this, snap-brimmed gangster fedora, are showing up all over the country. That means that it might get here in five years, so I will only look eccentric for a few years. Whoopee, I thought, muttering curses at my temporarily dry neck.
Oh well, I guess I can handle looking like a two-bit thug, emphasis on the two-bit. At least I will be prepared for the next downpour.
Interestingly, felt is the oldest form of fabric known to man, dating back to at least 6,500 BC. It is made by stimulating wool or other animal hair fiber with friction and lubrication until it bonds together to form a cloth. I guess you might call it textile masturbation.
Felt hats became big business in the 18th century, when a new chemical process using mercury was developed to create felt. It was great for the hat company owners but very bad for the hat makers, who would eventually become demented and quite often die from mercury poisoning. This felting procedure was not discarded until the 19th century, and by that time the term “mad as a hatter” was commonly used to describe the insane.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll in 1865, features a crazed character named the Mad Hatter. The term had been in use for decades, but the frenzied freak was actually based on a real individual with a devilishly wacky claim to fame. He invented an alarm clock bed in 1851 that tipped out the sleeper at waking time. Remarkably it did not catch on, and the man spent most of his remaining days standing in the door of his furniture shop wearing a top hat.
Discovering all of these bizarre tidbits related to my future headgear, due to arrive this week, has made me feel better about the whole thing. I think that perhaps I was destined to wear a felt, snap brimmed, gangster style fedora. Demented things have always influenced and attracted me.
It is also quite possible, given Murphy’s Law, that it will not rain for a month after my hat arrives. That would be just fine by me.
I would have more time to build up my nerve before I wear it in public.