Once upon a time I was a sharp-dressed man.
Just like ZZ Top sang, I even had someone come running just as fast as she could one day when I was a much, much younger man.
She was determined to catch up and get my number when she saw me looking so cool in cowboy boots and a leather-trimmed trench coat. (Give me a break: That’s what passed for fashion in the one-horse Western town I grew up in.)
But that was a long time ago, back before a woman had to break it to me that my fashion sense these days is awfully hard to tell apart from an Oompa Loompa’s.
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She didn’t want to tell me. She was only trying to help out when I lost my hat.
It’s a great hat. Maybe not great in the sense of being “fashionable,” or even “symmetrical” or “rip-free” anymore, but it’s one of the most useful items in my closet.
I picked it up at the Boy Scouts shop several years back when I had to kit out a uniform so I could lead my son’s Cub Scout den.
The baseball caps they stocked looked too casual with a uniform full of patches that include the U.S. flag. There was a $99 Smokey Bear hat, but that wouldn’t have lasted long once my wife finished laughing at me and asked how much I’d paid for it.
The official Boy Scouts of America felt bush hat was perfect, and it turned out to be as good for keeping me warm while shoveling snow as it is for shading me on hot summer campouts.
I swapped out the leather hat band for 20 feet of strong, braided rope that would be handy in an emergency and then started adding the little bronze pins that parents get when their Cub Scouts earn new ranks.
It’s my regular hat now when the weather’s rough, which is how I came to be walking into church with it one wet Sunday a month or so back. The sky cleared during service, so I absent-mindedly walked out without stopping at the hat rack. The hat was gone when I drove back.
No one in the building knew what had happened to it, but I saw a light go on in one woman’s eyes when I asked if she’d seen it around.
“Maybe it got put in with the costumes?”
The church had just wrapped up its production of “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka” and everything was being boxed up. Sure enough, someone had seen my hat lying around and figured the only way a grown man would be caught wearing it is if he had to be noticed on a stage between the Oompa Loompas’ green wigs and Willy Wonka’s top hat.
The hat has been sprung from costume storage now, but the awkwardness of finding it there got me wondering when I fell so far, sartorially speaking.
I think the descent started a little after I left home for college — maybe right around the day some good friends I hadn’t seen for a while spotted me across a big parking lot and mistook me for a panhandler.
There’s hope, though. My wife signed me up for one of those services that sends you a box of new clothes every couple months, picked out by professionals who know the difference between a man’s wardrobe and a prop closet.
But I still can’t give up the hat. One rainy day, I just know, there’s going to be a problem that can only be solved with the help of 20 feet of strong rope, and there I’ll be, an unstylish hero with a useful hat. Unless the Oompa Loompas manage to snag it again.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at email@example.com.