Sunday, October 26, 2014

Beautiful hat

     "That's a beautiful hat," I thought, but did not say, to the young lady pausing next to me, both of us waiting at the light at the corner of Wacker and Franklin last Thursday morning. "You don't often see a hat such as that. My grandmother used to knit similar hats for us when we children, though it had a big spherical puff of yarn bobbing on a strand of yarn on top and, being a self-respecting boy, in later years I would cut the puff off to maintain my air of masculinity, all the while feeling guilty for defacing my grandmother's handiwork."
     The light changed and we crossed north together, me stealing glances to the right, eyeing the hat: hand-knitted, quite intricate, gray yarn, with that depth that you get with hand-knitting. A very pleasant shade of gray.
    I veered left toward the entrance of River Point North. She followed, in step with me.
    "It's called a 'cholla,'" I further resisted saying aloud. "A style unchanged for a thousand years. They find mummies in the Peruvian Andes wearing an identical style of hat, though they are leather and not knit. The pre-Columbian Indians had weaving, but did not know of knitting."
     I glanced under her hat to her face. Quite pretty, but set in that traveling mask that pretty women assume when going from place to place, I suppose to ward off unwelcome comments from guys like me.
     "The word 'knit' is related to 'knot,' interestingly enough," I knew better than to even consider saying. "Both tracing back to a Dutch root, though the earliest known knitted artifact is a Greco-Roman sock from the 5th century."
     It's frustrating, to me, because I wasn't trying to pick her up. It was a pretty hat and I figured, as its owner, she'd want to know. It was a kindness, on my part, being stifled by petty social convention. And something worth noting. Most hats are not pretty. And I suppose I was interested in sharing my knowledge of that particularly hat, gleaned while research my hat book years ago. But that's what bores do: harangue their audiences with their knowledge, regardless of how it would be received. I try not to be a bore, knowing so many who either don't try or perhaps try and fail. Shutting up, as I've said here, is an unappreciated art form.
     Traversing the front of the building I paused, as I always do, and set my hand upon the leftward bollard, and looked at the top of the Willis Tower.
     "God, I'm in Chicago," I did say aloud, under my breath, quoting a line a 15-year-old Jesse Jackson said upon arriving in Chicago. That gave her a chance to scoot ahead of me and make some distance across the lobby.
     I followed her across the lobby, she pressed 11 and was assigned to elevator F by the strange elevator system that I fancy exists at our building and nowhere else on earth; I've certainly never seen it anywhere else.  I pressed 10—my new floor—and drew B. Now, a few feet away, any chance for conversation was gone. I looked at the hat again, then her face again, trying to memorize her features. Maybe another day I'd be on the elevator and have a chance to surprise her.
    "You know, that' was a beautiful grey knit hat you were wearing the other day," I'd say. "You don't often see a hat such as that...."
     She stepped on the elevator and vanished. The modern safety elevator, you know, was developed in New York City in the 1850s by Elisha Otis, who arranged a dramatic demonstration by cutting the...
      Sorry, I'll stop now.    


  1. Sadly, women become defensive when strangers who are men talk to them. She was thinking, "What does this guy want?" "Is this guy trying to hit on me?" She can't help it. It's a reflex. Too bad for both of you.

  2. I know where you're coming from. Striking up any conversation with strangers is always a crap-shoot, and thus something I usually refrain from. Part of the reason for this is that I've observed that if somebody addresses you out of the blue in a random situation like that, there's a pretty good probability that they're not somebody that you really want to have a chat with. Usually I feel like I'm doing THEM a favor by leaving them alone, though.

    That being said, I think you could have said "I really like your hat." and perhaps she might have appreciated it. Anything beyond that would have been risky and would have had to have been gauged according to her original reaction. But, having resisted the urge to say something this time, I would think that your saying later "that was a swell hat you had on the other day" would REALLY (and legitimately) be perceived as kind of creepy. I truly doubt that she'd appreciate that a stranger was "trying to memorize her features."

    On the other hand, somebody with such a nice hat just may have relished the opportunity to converse with the esteemed author of "Hatless Jack", which we have on our own bookshelves, BTW...

    1. Don't you ever run out of hands?

    2. Touché! Alas, evidently not...

  3. Elevators were made for saying "nice hat." Especially if you are going to different floors.

  4. As one who often tries but fails to resist the temptation to burden my familiars with arcana assembled during years of reading, I would judge your decision to leave the lady innocent of facts about Peruvian headware and the history of knitting to be a sound one. Else you would, if you didn't have the law on you, be thought by her to be the sort of chap described by Alexander Pope in his "Essay on Criticism."

    "The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read
    With loads of learned lumber in his head."


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