The Cat in the Hat

What’s got me so worried isn’t inside my head—it’s on top of it

I don't know who I am anymore. And I'm afraid that things are about to get worse.

This morning I became completely disoriented in my own home, startled by the image of myself in the hallway mirror. Driving to dinner the other night, I turned to my wife and (somberly, she informs me) asked, "Who did you say that I was again?" This also occurred after an encounter with another mirror, of the rear-view variety. And another thing: About an hour ago, a picture of me turned up on a friend's Facebook page, although it didn't look the least bit familiar.

I'm not sick—don't suffer from dementia, or some form of amnesia. In fact, for a 57-year-old American male, my overall physical condition is actually quite good. What's got me so worried isn't inside my head. It's on top of it: a $300, totally stylin' brown felt Borsalino from Italy. A fedora.

That's right. A new hat has got me in an awful lather—about getting old. The man that I see wearing the thing, the guy with the still full and lush yet almost completely gray head of hair and beard, just cannot possibly be me.

It's my first fedora. My first as an adult, I should say. When I was a little boy, I wore the spiffy topper every Easter Sunday, but then so did all of the other little Roman-Catholic boys in my neighborhood. It wasn't our choice to wear these fedoras, you know. Our mothers made us put them atop our soft little noggins. It was just the way you dressed up for mass on Easter Sunday. Once the holiday was over, so was all of the fancy-dud wearing.

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Between then and now—let's just call it, oh, half a freaking century!—the fedora and I have had what you might call a platonic relationship. Meaning that, yes, I have paid close attention to its journey and whereabouts in our culture through the years but, no, I haven't worn or owned a single one.

There always seemed to be a good reason not to wear a fedora. For years and years, I convinced myself that I was just too young and too inexperienced in the ways of the world to successfully pull off such a bold and important fashion statement. Hats like this one weren't even made for guys like me. They were made for men. Real men. Like my Uncle Joe and his friend Chicago Pete, or Mr. Esposito around the corner and for Little Zip down the block, for Bogart and for Cagney, for Dino and of course, for Frank.

Me wearing a fedora while those guys still walked this Earth would have stunk up the joint the way the worst kind of posturing and wannabe-ism always stinks up the joint. And so I didn't do it. Wouldn't do it.

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By the time I was in my late thirties or early forties, prime fedora-wearing age by my rough estimation, all but a handful of those impressive men that I knew were gone. Only I had just moved from a city life in New York to a more rugged and countrified one in Maine. Wearing such a hat under these new circumstances wouldn't only have been a preposterous style choice—taking up fedora-wearing might have been about as wise as carrying a PETA placard on the commercial lobster docks along the coast or slapping a gun-control sticker on my car and cruising the woodlands in hunting season. It was tough enough being tagged an interloper from the Big City when I moved up here. I didn't need a piece of brushed and molded felt, from a foreign country no less, sitting on top of my head and drawing further (unwanted) attention from the locals.

In recent years, the past decade perhaps, I'd sooner have worn a dress to the county fair than a fedora. My friend Larry, a New Yorker turned Venice Beach rollerblader, can explain this (admittedly perplexing) choice better than I can:

"Personally," Larry has said, forcefully and often to anybody who will listen, "every time I see a hipster with a bushy beard wearing a fedora I wanna knock it off his artisanal head."

I, for one, cannot think of a single instance in which I might willingly consort with the likes of that crowd. And so, lest my tall California friend knock me around the boardwalk until I bleed, the hat-wearing life stage had to again be put off for a while longer.

Then, on a visit to New York, my wife, who has long argued that I possess "the perfect looks" to don a sharp hat, "especially now that you're older and more distinguished-looking," took matters into her own hands. While strolling past the very fine J.J. Hat Center on Fifth Avenue, she took my arm, led me inside the handsome and manly shop, introduced me to the most charming elderly gentleman you are ever likely to meet and, with his expert guidance, picked out a hat that "is just perfect" for me.

That was several months ago now. I've only worn the Borsalino a handful of times. It takes every bit of courage that I can muster just to pick up the damned thing, let alone put it on my head and wear it out in public.

What can I say? I just cannot get my head around the idea that the "distinguished" older gentleman in the mirror wearing the classy Italian headgear is really me. I'm not sure I ever will.