|27 july 1999|
i'm not smart, i'm just
Rambling and unnecessary pontification ahead. Please be seated.
I've never been a hat person. I don't know how men are supposed to know their hat size without going to a haberdasher for that specific purpose. For we who must thrust our heads blindly into hats in an embarrassing frenzy of trial and error, the experience of buying one can be silly enough to put us off headgear for years at a time.
The anachronistic side of me, the side that seems happiest in the 1950's, yearns to have a haberdasher. Nothing makes an Esquire Boy beam brighter than being able to say "I have a man who does that for me." I could have such a man now, a fellow whose shop I run down to for a fitting, but it would be too much of an affectation, too conspicuous in my current Television and Lawn Care Lifestyle.
So I'm the guy at K-Mart playing musical hats as discreetly as possible. I lurk behind the large clearance sale sign because I don't know which robs a man of his dignity more - a hat that's too small and sits on his head like a rotating beacon or a hat that's too large and bends his ears into tiny winglets.
In a session of hat fitting, once I come clean about my efforts to look serious in anything other than a baseball cap, all hope is lost. The mirror cracks up. It has to do with my own vanity looking right back at me. In my case, the wider the brim, the goofier the grin, and once the straight face is gone, forget it.
Whenever I hear a hat size spoken out loud my cartoon-laden brain can't help but translate it immediately into Daffy Duckese. "Let'th thee here, thix and theven eighths. Woo hoo!" Six and seven-eighths what? Inches? Where? What code is this?
There are men with small heads, medium heads, and big heads. My hat trying-on experience has led me to believe that I fall into the big-headed men's camp. If you were to meet me on the street you wouldn't say "Wow, check out the noggin on that guy." You'd see nothing unusual, head-size-wise, and that's because I'm so well proportioned. But at 6'2" and over 200 pounds, a head like mine is bound to need one of the roomier chapeaux.
Following logic, we come to the issue of brain size and its use as an indicator of intelligence. You'd think that a guy with a pith helmet like mine would have to be dripping with knowledge. Au contraire. Regard the whale, a creature with an enormous brain but unable to play Scrabble to save its life. This is not only because it doesn't care to, but because so much of its gray matter is taken up with motor functions like fin wiggling and tail slapping. This stuff requires bigtime neuron usage. The majestic whale must save its synapses for plankton-sucking, and squeaking and clicking and sending messages to kin across the seas.
Ergo, my brain, occupied by its own majestic needs such as worrying about hair in new places or getting socks to match, cannot be expected to dazzle college graduates. It has other fish to fry.
Besides, you can't go around blabbing that you're smart, even if you are, because it's uncouth. It shows that you're not smart enough to know that you shouldn't go around saying so. Luckily, in my case, on the bell curve of intelligence, I proudly occupy the spot from which the clapper hangs. We middle-thinkers carry a heavy burden of responsibility.
Nor can you go around saying that you think you're good-looking. Most folks are in that realm of nebulous potential; with a little work they could get themselves 20% prettier and with an equal amount of neglect they'll run about 20% uglier. But it's all subjective anyway, right? There are no tests for pretty.
And, to tap yet more of my experience, once you get to know the very very pretty (and you know who you are), they have a way of settling themselves gently back into the mean mostly by way of self-regard. The obverse pattern holds true of the ugly (and you don't know who you are and therein lies your beauty), who dissolve this prejudice deftly with a disarming regard for the hearts of others.
It's that way on the surface anyway. The truth is we are all ugly and beautiful, wizards and dunces, masters and johnson. What we see in the mirror is up to the eye.
And I'm up to my eyes with this big head of mine. Viv is always coming home with hats, free hats from P.R. campaigns, caps with logos of movies or theater chains or various other companies. Almost none of them fits right. The average hat will fit me perfectly for about three days, depending on where I am between haircuts. Before or after that, if I wear a hat out in public, it's only with a disarming regard for the hearts of others.
I'm saying all this, I guess, because I'm going through my quarterly shiver of wishing I was different than I am. There's nothing really wrong with me, and if you have standards lax enough, I cut a fine figure of a man. But there's always the me I envision, the smart guy with the strength of ten men, who makes women laugh, men swoon, and can wear a fedora without people thinking he's portaging a felt canoe.
Someday I will be that man. A man known not for his big ears or his knobby knees, but a man who cuts a swath through the teeming masses by sheer force of character, lack of self-regard, and okay, yeah, the sombrero.
"Big Hat, No Cattle" -- Randy Newman -- BAD LOVE
"How the attitude of women varies with a man's clothes. When a badly dressed man passes them they shudder away from him with a quite frank movement of disgust, as though he were a dead cat."
- George Orwell