We were in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a sleepy pueblo where on Sundays everyone gathered in the town square to sing, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” The sun was hot and I figured a hat might keep me cool, so I walked into a store and tried some on.
The first hat I picked up was floppy and brown, I put it on my head. It fit me well, but I figured I should try some comparison shopping. The next one I tried, the saleswoman said, “The other hat looked better.”
Since I’m a sucker for flattery, I went back to that first hat and put it on my head. “I do look a little bit like Indiana Jones in it, don’t I?”
She rang me up and I walked back to the car where my friend was waiting for me to finish our drive to California. “You bought that?” he asked in shock.
It was the first souvenir on our cross country trek. We had found a cassette of the Doors album, Waiting For The Sun in a burnt down fraternity house in Tallahassee, but this was the first memento I purchased. My friend couldn’t believe this hat was what made me betray my skinflint way. “It looked better in the store.” I insisted.
I kept the hat on through Tucson and Phoenix and Bakersfield all the way to San Francisco. But for a long while it just didn’t look right. But still I walked those hilly streets not caring if I looked like a fraudulent country bumpkin.
Then one day when I should have been looking for a job I drove to the beach at Half Moon Bay. It was a sunny day, but it was February in Northern California so I was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt and sneakers and of course that hat. I walked down the coast and got to a six foot wide creek where run-off water streamed into the Pacific Ocean. It looked too wide a chasm for me to jump, so I figured I’d sit down and enjoy the view.
I can’t remember what I was thinking about. It was a long time ago, but it was probably along the lines of what should I do with myself now that I was on the other side of the country. Then a yuppie speaking loudly on his cell phone walked by me. When he got to the stream, he didn’t turn around. He jumped across it without even stopping the conversation. His shoe landed in the water, but he kept walking along his merry way.
I figured if this yuppie could do it, I could too. I took a running start and cleared the stream easily. My shoes didn’t even get wet, but then I noticed my head was bare. I looked around and saw my hat was in the stream making a play for the Pacific. I tried to grab it, but it was too late. It was in the ocean, but not too deep. I threw off my shoes and rolled up my jeans the best I could.
But the undertow kept pushing the hat further and further from California. By the time I could grab the hat I was in past my belly button. My jeans were soaked and sandy, I might have driven home in nothing but my underwear, and of course that hat firmly on my head. It fit me now and it would be a long time before I let it go.