The hat madders: Johnny Tobias, our first contest entry


Johnny Tobias heads our new contest “High Heeled Sneakers” which invites you to ruminate about an article of clothing that has special significance to you. (Check out the rules under “contests” from the home page.) You can’t pull the wool over Johnny’s eyes!

Then came Tobias


He is indeed the poet and novelist identified by the title to his entry:

A Man of Many Hats

by Johnny Tobias

“Hat’s off to you,” I think, and then mime adjusting a bow tie in the bathroom of Rebecca’s Coffee House. Maybe I should think, “beanie off” instead of hat. Maybe I should think disguise. I didn’t cut holes in it and then pull it down over my face, but I might as well have. Fireman have their helmets, nurses have their scrubs, lunch ladies have their hairnets, Batman has his utility belt, and so on. They get home at the end of the day and turn back into people. They take videos of their cats, or watch tv, or sit down to slowly piece ships together inside oversized, glass jars. I don’t know. I do know I have had this beanie for seven years or so, and I have come to understand the power of a costume.

I put it on as if it were a fresh, expensive haircut. I am certain that the pressure it applies to my head constricts blood supply to my brain in such a way that, in order to conserve energy, my speech gains a certain conciseness that isn’t normally there. The way I fold it over instead of tucking it behind my ears changes the way I listen to the world, like eating tough food with brittle teeth. I strain and savor every sound. It covers most of my forehead which hides the wrinkles that appear when I’m worried but draws attention to the smile lines next to my eyes. I wouldn’t say that I am a handsome man, but the word, “handsome” no longer means anything when I wear my beanie.

I sit and wait my turn near the makeshift stage inside the coffee house. It is packed for open mic night. Poets and musicians and passersby sip coffee while names are pulled from an old cookie jar. My name is called, and as I read I am sure the beanie is keeping me warm enough that my knees don’t shake as much as I thought they would. It probably works in the same way that the metronome taps of a musician’s foot hides her nerves, transfers the energy. She puts her guitar in the trunk of her car and transforms from country singer to friend to a group of people about to have a few drinks across the street. It’s the same magic.

I’m not saying that firemen aren’t firemen without their gear, or nurses aren’t nurses without their scrubs, and musicians aren’t musicians without their instruments, but I will say that I’m a lot braver when I have my beanie.

I finish my set and people clap. A few cheer. I even get a, “Great job,” as I walk back to my seat. I adjust my beanie, smile, and finish my coffee before walking home. At my apartment I turn back into me. I catch myself in the mirror, hair disheveled and flat, and like a curious lover unaware of my secret identity, I think, “What’ve you beanie up to?”


The Hat Madders!

poetry night at Rebecca’s










(Editor’s note:  I just hat to put in the famous bowler scene filmed in my adopted city of Prague!)

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