Hats Off

I’ve never been a summertime hat person. But I’ve been in the sun a bit more than usual this season, so I’m trying to adjust. I’ve learned a few lessons that others more comfortable with hats probably forgot a long time ago.

As a child, I did my best to avoid hats of every sort. I made it through my first dozen Chicago winters with only ear sweaters. I’m sure I had a good reason for not covering the rest of my head, but I have no idea what that reason might have been.

Even as a Little League baseball player, I didn’t like the hat. Anyone who refused to shield their eyes from the sun with anything but their own hand struck me as lazy and suspect.

Nothing has really changed, except that baseball caps have become ubiquitous. I long ago gave up my prejudice against people who accept sun-shielding assistance. If that makes me lazy and suspect, I can look around at all the capped people in the same club.

Last fall, I flew to Chicago to watch the Cubs win the World Series. Before I left, I asked my sister-in-law where I could buy a Cubs cap to commemorate the experience. She looked at me quizzically. “I suggest Iowa,” she joked. Stores that hadn’t sold out of caps were selling them for $60. I left Chicago without a cap, but with a mission.

I could have bought a cap online easily enough, but I was determined to buy a cap that came with a story. I was in Mexico this winter and it seemed like every flea market had at least one vendor selling counterfeit caps for most American teams. That would have been a good story, except the copies were never very good. The only Cubs caps I found were laughably inaccurate, so my search continued.

And then, like Dorothy, I found it in my own back yard. I went to PK Park for an Ems game. They had the Cubs cap I’d been searching for, and the story of our hometown team’s affiliation with my childhood heroes fit the — no pun intended — bill. (OK, pun intended.)

Since then, I’ve been trying to get my head around having something around my head. It feels like a costume to me. Every day is Halloween. And if I keep it on when I’m inside a store, I feel like I’m trying to get away with something. Maybe I’ve seen too many video captures of bank robbery suspects wearing baseball caps, but I can feel a deep urge inside me to ask for candy or cash.

Stranger still has been how others have reacted to my cap and me. First — and this could be important — they react to us in that order. The hat comes first. It’s as if they want to identify my tribe before they can be bothered to identify me.

Perfect strangers stop on the sidewalk to tell me their favorite Cubs story. Cars honk. Who am I? I’m a Cubs fan. End of story.

Meanwhile, people who know me well have not recognized me under the cap. It’s like an invisibility cloak. I understand better now why movie stars wear baseball caps when they don’t want to be recognized. Sunglasses call attention to themselves. But caps don’t conceal; they distract.

The Bible predicts a day when humans — “small and great, rich and poor, free and slave” — will be required to wear the mark of the beast across their foreheads. The insignia on a baseball cap lands pretty damn close, anatomically speaking.

Is this how humanity ends? With an overweight 70-year-old billionaire sporting a bright red baseball cap?

With our tribe being more important than our self? With everybody checking our allegiances but ignoring everything else about us? With everybody looking like the same bank robber? With nobody any longer relying on their own hands to block sunlight from their eyes?

How long can you feel like you must be hiding something before you break down and decide you may as well do something worth hiding?

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.