You can keep your hat on . . .

Sky asked me about hats, and the first thing that I thought of was my grandmother’s voice, thick as olive oil, issuing the command, “Put a hat on that baby’s head!” Until I was four, my mother and I lived in our Eyrie apartment, and I was both awakened and lulled to sleep by the sounds of surf and shore birds and the basso profundo tone of the foghorn, but the rest of the time, I heard a lot about headgear.

The sun-hats that were foisted upon my toddler-self, generally in preparation for trips down the shore, or forays into my grandfather’s garden, started my addiction, my fascination with hats, but it was the hatboxes in the back of my grandmother’s closet that really cemented the relationship. These were not the cardboard gift boxes we think of as hat boxes, but small, round suitcases of the red and grey Samsonite variety. On rare occaisions, I’d been allowed to use them as overnight cases, but mostly, they held hats.

I don’t remember which hats came from which box, but I do remember the powdery smell of the scented paper that was wrapped around them, and I remember specific items that were withdrawn, not just hats, although there’s a red felt hat that I’ve inherited that is my all-time favorite, but also a collection of French gloves (long lost, alas) and a sealskin muff that I loved to touch, to caress, really, until I was old enough to understand that it was real animal fur. For a while, I still loved it, almost as much as the fox coat she had, for the softness, and the novelty of such a thing, as much for the notion of those items being relics of a lost era (though I’m sure I wouldn’t have used those words at the time), but later, after I saw my first seals and sea lions (okay, well, maybe not so much the sea lions, which are pretty much just big bags of jelly that bark), I couldn’t bear to slip my hands inside that muff any more.

As I grew up, my love of hats grew with me. As a teenager, I had berets in every color, including a black velvet one that, after I accidentally melted a patch of it by tossing it onto a curling iron I’d left plugged in, became my personal version of Jo March’s writing cap, though, without the bow. (I have a lifelong aversion to bows on hats and underwear), and an equally large array of painters caps and baseball caps, which are the best thing when you have long hair, because you can draw your ponytail through the hole at the back. (My collection as dwindled a bit, but both kinds of hat are still staples of my wardrobe).

Other hats in my collection are a green fedora, that I wear when I want to channel my inner Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Becall, a black one, for Annie Hall moments, and an embossed and irridescent velvet crushable stovepipe hat that I bought at a craft fair in San Jose more than a decade ago. (That hat is one of a pair I have from the same designer, an adorable older man with a merry soul and a treadle sewing machine, who called himself the Hatterdasher. Headgear is better when it comes with a pun. The second hat is a purple and green plaid velvet golf / newsboy cap.) Then there’s the classic straw hat perfect for picnics or trips to the faire, and the velvet Fez my mother made for me one year. I have several crushable hats from various sources, some velvet, and some in cottons and twills, and , my most special, a white leather tricorner adorned with peacock feathers (that and a saber came home with me from a science fiction con one summer…you haven’t lived btw, til you’ve tried to hop a Southwest flight carrying a sword)

I could go on, as I’ve only talked about a tenth of my collection, but more fun would be to explain why I love hats. As with any accessory, they’re part outfit, part costume, and I use them to help give myself a mood or theme for whatever I’m doing – when you’re essentially shy, you NEED crutches like that – so, I’ll wear a black beret and all black clothing if I’m feeling subversive, or a fedora if I feel like I need confidence. Newsboy styles are for jaunty moods, and baseball caps are for hiding.

Or at least they used to be. Now though, I live in a climate that isn’t conducive to hat wearing, and work in a place where they’re against dress code (here’s me NOT ranting about the fact that adults are given a dress code in the first place, because it’s another entry), and I have to admit, I feel like some part of my personality has been boxed up with my hats.

But at least the box is the one with the suns and moons painted on it.

Things that go SPLAT in the Night

The clicking of the sprinkler heads in the neighbor’s yard caught my attention while I was supervising the dogs on their pre-bedtime elimination break earlier, and brought me, momentarily, back to being five or six, and being completely content with an afternoon of dashing through the sprinkler in my grandparent’s suburban New Jersey back yard, risking rose-thorns in my tender feet for a few minutes of refreshing coolness. Ususally this was on the days when we didn’t go to the beach, for one reason or another, but it never seemed like the lesser choice. That I was splattered by an errant sprinkler on the way to lunch today probably helped the memory to surface, but it’s a happy one, so it’s all good.

Back inside, sitting crosslegged on my bed, with my laptop propped on two pillows, and a dog sleeping on either side of me (and the unspoken threat that I’d better not THINK of moving) I spent a quiet hour catching up on other people’s blogs, including WWdN in exile. As much as I enjoy Wil Wheaton’s writing, he has this tendency to post things that are lurking in MY brain, which drives me crazy. Recently, for example, he posted about a childhood afternoon spent watching Poltergeist in the hope that seeing a scary movie in broad daylight would reduce the impact on an over-imaginative brain.

Tonight, those afore-mentioned sprinkler heads were sending my mind down similar tracks, a route travelled several times over the last couple days, as summer as truly descended and the air has thickened, and partly inspired by my friend Alisa including me in a mailing of a net-quiz that determines how New Jersey one happens to be (I scored 99%, which isn’t bad for someone who hasn’t been back in over six years). I wasn’t so much thinking about watching horror movies, though, as making them.

Summers, when I was a kid, meant making really bad Super 8 movies using my grandfather’s camera. My cousin Cathy was chief cinematographer and co-writer, mainly because, at fifteen, she was tall enough to reach the cabinet where the camera was stored. I helped write, as well, and served as resident ingenue. Her brother, KJ, heckled, mainly, but sometimes he helped. He was seventeen, and caught between childhood and adulthood, and liked to pretend to be a mafia thug, just to scare us. (He wasn’t, of course, but we were kids.) I’d seen the original black and white version of Frankenstein that summer, and that, partnered with a latenight radio rendition of Bill Cosby’s “Chicken Heart” story, had put a fear of the darkness, and a love of horror movies, into the deepest part of my brain.

I slept with the closet light on, and my hands fisted into the covers the entire summer I was eight, because of my own imagination, but a few years later, at fourteen, I embraced the darkness. I fell in love with vampires, learned to scream more effectively than Linnea Quigley, and developed the PERFECT recipe for stage blood (the secret is to use karo syrup and red food coloring as a base, add a touch of baby powder, to make it opaque, and then mix in the merest hint of green food coloring, because it looks more visceral when it’s not candy-apple red). I devoured issues of Fangoria and learned exactly when to start the tape of A Nightmare on Elm Street at slumber parties, so that the last half hour would play in real time. (It’s scarier that way. Trust me.)

Years after that, on a rainy evening in San Francisco, my best friend H. confessed that she really wanted to design a line of costumes for strippers, and I admitted that I wanted to write the ultimate vampire novel, or go to film school. Six months later, I’d realized I don’t function well in institutional educational facilities, and gone to work for my mother, but I think she really DID make clothes for strippers.

I still love horror films, though, and I still have an overactive imagination, to the point where I didn’t sleep for a week after watching Ringu (and even just typing it made me shiver), and I still flirt with writing that vampire novel. Sort of. It’s changed into something about mermaids, sharks, blood and the sea over the years…

But that’s another entry, for another night.
And tonight, I’m going to sleep with the sound of sprinklers merging with the half-remembered sound of a super 8 camera in my head.