On the John
Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on December 15, 2003
During the summer before my freshman year at IU, I went out to buy a new hat. Now, for some people, this may not be a huge purchase. But for me, hats are like temporary tattoos that last five years. On the drive to the store, I was considering either an IU hat or a Northwestern hat, but when I got there, I remembered that I hadn’t worn a Bears hat since the 7th grade. Decision, done.
Coming to a new state, I wanted a hat that connected with Chicago. While I love the Cubs, there’s very little personal connection with Cubs hats. When I see another person wearing Bears gear, there’s an instant bond. But when I see people wearing Cubs hats (particularly in Bloomington) I’m never sure how dedicated they are. I’m sure everyone noticed the abundance of Cub fans that materialized in September, and have since become scarce … but the Bears are different, and the choice was easy.
The Bears hat I bought that day has been with me for the past four years, through thick (the brim was crapped on by a seagull two years ago), and thin (it’s a fitted hat, and I’ve always had trouble with the size because I bought it when I had huge hair). It’s even with me here on this page. Look closely at my picture, and you’ll see it peaking out over the top of my Jew-fro.
When it comes to hat guys, there are two kinds: the wearers and the hangers. The wearers are guys who buy one hat and wear it as long as possible. Take a look at one of these guys, and you’ll see his hat’s colors are faded, the ridge of the brim is peeling and there are stains that never came out. I am a wearer. My streaks include an NU hat in 6th grade that I wore for a year and six days. That streak was ended by a Bears hat I got on my bar mitzvah, which I wore for a year and twelve days (I also had a year-plus streak going with a red, Nike hat. That streak ended tragically when I dropped some super-greasy fried chicken on it at a restaurant).
The other hat guys are the hangers. These people are just the opposite of the wearers. Hangers buy and wear many hats over the years and keep them nicely displayed on hooks. In these hats hold the life story of the guy who owns them. Hangers are just as intense and specific about their hat policies as wearers — and I have an equal amount of respect for both. Like anything in life, these categories aren’t set in stone, and there are some people — like my buddy Luke — who accumulate four or five favorite hats, and wear them accordingly.
Like baseball pants, it is a sin to wash hats. Over the years, my hats have had various rehab stints, some successful, and some not. When my Bears hat was duked on by the seagull, my buddy Ari splashed the hat in Lake Superior before everything hardened, dusted it off with some sand, and then chased all of the seagulls out of Duluth. The fried chicken hat, on the other hand, was never salvaged, (though not due to lack of effort) and sits coldly in my parents garage, presumably for all time.
My hats have brought me great joy throughout my life. They are both a symbol of childhood and of child like adulthood. They are rites of passage and temporal markers in family albums.
So salute a hat guy next time you see him. Let us know how much you care.
Copyright 2003, jm silverstein