Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Does anyone still wear a hat?"

"I'll drink to that!"

A friend of mine came over recently and commented on the hats I have hanging in the hallway.  "How many hats do have??" --- the only truthful answer to that question is: never enough.

Hats /fedoras - more specifically "pork pies" (both diamond and traditional - brim always snapped up) are my addiction.  Carrie Bradshaw had shoes... I have hats.

My Grandpa Lavey passed away when I was in third grade, and I have few memories of him.  What I do remember clearly were the times he would come to my house for some family event and I would meet him at the top of the stairs to take his hat and put it in the bedroom with the coats.  Grandpa always wore a hat - at least in the cooler months.  He either wore a tweed flat cap or a tweed trilby (fedora-ish) that were so popular among older men in the 1980s.

Grandpa's hats were so unique to me in a world of cheap baseball hats. This was the 80s after all.. think trucker hats with mesh backs and advertisements on the front -- Grandpa's hats were classy.  For some reason I remember can clearly remember examining his hats with the satin lining and thinking this was just too cool!  A young fogey was born!

When Grandpa died, my Grandmother gave his clothes to anyone in the family who could get use out of them.  My Grandfather had a small hat size compared to most men - but his caps just happened to fit eight year old me.. who probably had a big head compared to most kids.  I was given one of the tweed flat caps he always wore.  I was thrilled.

Not being a sports fan (at all!), it never felt right wearing baseball caps.  There was a year in college where I bought every color ball cap with my University's logo on it that I could find.. but it never felt right.  I didn't want to wear a hat so closely associated with something I personally didn't relate to (baseball) - nor did I want to be a walking advertisement for something.. even if it was my school.  I ended up giving all my caps to my father who to this day tells people that he helped give me an education and all he got was a hat with the university's logo on it!  :)

In the early 2000s I was shopping with a friend at a local flea market and came across a stand that sold clothing.  The stand offered a small selection of cheap wool felt fedoras in only one style - but multiple colors and sizes.  It was a religious awakening!  I had always so closely identified with the 1940s and 50s and here was THE symbol (to me) of men of that era.  I wore the hat home.

Initially I only wore the hat to Church when I was dressed in a shirt and tie - but as I learned more about hats (the different crown styles - materials - brim widths - etc) and expanded my collection, I decided to just make them part of my every day attire.  Once I got passed the awkward "everyone is starring at me..." phase - the hat simply became a part of me and my personality -and now people identify me with the hats I wear: "I saw this guy in a fedora today and I thought of you!"

I think a lot of people have safety blankets - a ring, a watch, shoes, hats, purses - whatever it is - that either consciously or subconsciously have become a part of their persona -- becomes their symbol and their own little shield against whatever bogeyman might be out there in life.  Perhaps those same items act more as an empowering attribute that just makes them feel damn good about themselves when they put it on.  I haven't gone out of the house without a hat on literally in years --- and if I do leave the house without a hat, the breeze on my bald head makes me stop -- "wait... something feels different... MY HAT!  Dammit!!" -- and then I have to rush up three flights of stairs to get one.

The irony of my obsession?  I don't think I look particularly GOOD in hats.... and I've tried many shapes and styles before settling on my signature stingy brimmed pork pies (with the occasional c-crown thrown in for good measure).   I adore vintage fashion, but being a larger guy, can't always pull off a modern-meets vintage look without looking like a train wreck (if I can find vintage pieces in my size at all) - and if I dress ALL retro I end up looking like Oliver Hardy (Google him).  But the fedora is something I can wear with anything from jeans and t-shirt to a suit and tie - a nod to the past that holds up well in the present.  There are very few times I pass a mirror (I am not one to linger in front of them for long...) and think "damn I look good" -- but every now and then if the perspective is just right and the hat is tilted just so - I smile and head out to face the world with a little more spring in my step.

Oh the odd conversations that have happened - the man who starting talking to me (rather excitedly!) at a red light because his 5 year old nephew wears hats just like mine - random compliments from people on the street or in the grocery stores which catch me completely off guard (though the compliment is indeed appreciated!) - the sales lady who wanted to know where I got my hat because she thinks they're sexy and wants her boyfriend to get one - the random stories strangers start telling about people in their lives who also wear fedoras - people asking me if I'm a fan of AMC's Breaking Bad (damn you, Walter White!) or those who inevitably ask if I like jazz (I do not like jazz).   I'll even smile at the regulars at the bar whose names I have managed to commit to memory, but who find "Michael" too difficult to remember and refer to me simply as: "the hat guy".

Beyond the warm fuzzy feeling I get from wearing them and the conversations they have started (both fun and awkward) - they taught me a valuable lesson about personality, personal style and individuality: if you love something, forget about what other people may or may not think about you - DO IT - BE IT - OWN IT and --- ok, I have to say it... WORK IT! :-P  With the right level of confidence, you can pull off almost anything.

*tips hat*

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Number, please.

For years I haven't had cable tv... and honestly I was quite happy without it.  Gradually over time however, Time Warner kept increasing my Internet bill well above the $44 a month I started out with.  When I called to complain about the almost $20/month increase, I was told the best thing they could do was give me a bundle which included basic cable, Internet and digital home phone for basically the same cost as what I was paying for Internet only.  I reluctantly agreed.

I'm not impressed with having cable back.  There are only a handful of shows I watch -- and even those can be found online if you know where to look.  Every time I turn on the tv I find myself watching old re-runs of shows I've seen 1,000 times --- which are also available online.  Not impressed.

The home phone was something I was excited about.  I HATE talking on cell phones.  Even routing them through traditional corded phones doesn't help with the initial connection quality of the cell phone which sometimes can be an annoyance.  So now the "home phone" has become my default telephone system when I'm at home... saving the cell (and my battery life) for texting and use when I am out and about.

For the first time in years, I now had a new telephone number.  My cell number hasn't changed in a decade and it is one of the few numbers I still have committed to memory.  But as I would tell people my primary number had changed, I found myself struggling to remember the new set of 7 digits.  The solution?  I gave my phone number an exchange name.

In the first half of the 20th century, telephone numbers had words and letters in front of them known as exchange names.  The names/exchanges served a few purposes.  Back then, operators either manually connected the call (before dial service) or helped in looking up numbers and connecting long distance calls.  The exchange acted like a mini area code -- all the phones in a certain area would be part of that exchange...making the operators job easier for connecting your call.  The words also made it easier for people to REMEMBER the phone number (does anyone even commit phone numbers to memory anymore?) since words tend to be easier to remember than a long chain of random numbers.

Exchange numbers were made famous in popular songs and movies of this time.  Glenn Miller's PEnnsylvania 6-5000 was a hit song using the telephone number of the Pennsylvania Hotel.  The movie BUtterfield 8  starring Elizabeth Taylor is also a telephone number exchange.  The PE in PEnnsylvania corresponds to 73 on your dial.  BU in BUtterfield would be 28.  If you were calling the Pennsylvania hotel, you'd dial 736-5000.  But PEnnsylvania 6-5000 (or PE6-5000) is an easier way to remember the number...and lends itself nicely to a song.  :)

With the introduction of area codes and direct dialing, exchange names faded into the past... dropping names and numbers and using only their numerical counter parts.  There is a scene in the 1970s sitcom All in the Family where Edith Bunker has to make an emergency call to the doctor in the middle of the night.  She begins to dial and says (I forget the exact number she uses) "PL 4.....oh wait!  They're using numbers now!"  She grabs for her phone book, looks up the number and begins to dial again saying, "754....." before coming to the realization that, "It's the same thing!"  Oh Edith.. how I loved you.

Sadly my new number which begins with 260 doesn't lend itself to many great exchange names.  I ruled out any word starting with BO because I don't need people thinking of body odor when they called.  I thought about ANgelus 0  since I have a great love for Latin (and it is the name of a Catholic prayer) -- but the "s" sound in Angelus and the "z" sound of zero gave me an instant lisp when reciting the number.  I settled on "COmmodore 0".  The fictional exchange name did indeed make the number far easier to remember.

Being the vintage geek that I am, when recording my answering machine message (I wasn't paying $3.40 a month for Time Warner digital voicemail), I simply recorded, "You have reached COmmodore 0-1234 (obviously that's not the real number), please leave a message."  I figured anyone who knows me well and heard the message would laugh it off... and anyone I don't know will get confused (such as the telemarketers who began calling me the day after I got the number activated).

When I came home from Church this morning, the machine (for the first time) was blinking that I had a message.  Curious as to who called me so early, I pressed play.  Sure enough it was a telemarketer -- I could hear the call center chatter in the background.  Before the caller hung up, I could hear him say excitedly, "Oh wow!  He uses an exchange name!!" before the call disconnected.  Yes sir I do...but I'm still not answering your survey or buying your products.  :)