You wouldn't even have known it had snowed at all. There was hardly any snow on the sidewalks. But it was freezing cold, and I took my red hunting hat out of my pocket and put it on--I didn't give a damn how I looked. I even put the earlaps down.
Old Holden Caulfield didn't make me want to come here. I didn't even think of coming to New York until a lot later. But since the first time I read Catcher in the Rye, on my own, not having to study it and leech the life out of it, I've wanted a red hunting hat with earlaps. With one of those very, very long peaks.
This morning I went up to J. J. Hat Center on 5th Avenue around 32nd, one of the oldest millinery emporia in the city, going on a hundred years, looking for my hat. They have about 10,000 hats there. Seemed like it too, but I found just one that was red with earlaps. It was right at the bottom of the glass case. I had to point it out to the old man about five or six times before he found it.
Too small, he said. I have a big head? You have a big head. Let me try it on. Okay. It was a bit tight. A bit tight, or a lot tight? A bit tight. I can fix that, you don't have to take it, I'll make it fit your big head. Okay.
He moved over to an ancient contraption that emitted jets of stream, and used a hemispherical crank to loosen the wool for a few minutes.
Here, try now. It felt about the same, but this time I decided it was not tight, it was snug. It fits you great now. Okay. I mugged in the mirror for a few minutes with this big red hat on my head. I took the flaps down, and I thought he frowned. Maybe he didn't. I fastened them back over the top again.
You'll never see another hat like that one. Why? The company that made it went out of business twenty-five years ago. So this is an old hat? Yes, look. He pointed to the label on the inner crown. 1975. It was an old hat, older than me. Pure wool, he said. Made in England. These days they only make hats like that in Singapore, China, you know.
What's it worth? 50. Okay. You're getting an antique hat there, sir. I laughed.
We talked for a bit about the distance from Melbourne to Sydney, and his sister who lived there forty years. I put the hat on my head and walked half a block til I was safely out of sight, then pulled the flaps down over my ears so that they whipped up into my face with every gust of wind. Then I strode all of fifty blocks up 5th Avenue to the Met Museum of Art, grinning like a damn fool.
J. J. Hat Center.
Joseph | 19 Mar 2008