Sunday, January 28, 2018

1990sFest: Day Nine—More than an attitude, big-headedness hurts

     I've been on vacation the past week, handing this space over to chestnuts from that distant era, the late 1990s. This is one of those topics that I'm half-amazed, half embarrassed that I wrote about. I'm flying home Sunday, and hoping to have some fresh content up tomorrow. Thanks for your patience during my absence. 

     The television reporter followed me out into the street.
     "You and your big head were blocking two cameras!" she fumed. I gave her my widest "I don't care" smile and entered into a brief conversation that quickly devolved into a mutual exchange of obscenities.
     Now, I didn't mind being cursed out by a TV reporter — TV reporters are the lowest, rudest people on earth; their cameramen would just as soon club you to the ground with their 20-pound battery packs as ask you to step aside. I was glad I blocked two cameras.
     But the "big head" comment really hurt — as the most painful insults always do — because it is true. I've got an enormous head. Always have. "I had to give birth to that head," my mother said, on too many occasions, never completing the thought because nothing further need be said. Nobody follows up, "I climbed Mt. Everest" with "quite a feat since it is really tall, you know." The listener is expected to understand.
     My head stands out in school pictures, as if a character greeting patrons at Disneyland had slipped in among the normal-headed children.
     I try not to think about huge-headedness. But there are always reminders. The recent redesign of the Sun-Times features section, lovely in every other respect, abandoned my suave "I've got a regular head" column photo for the above Wizard-of-Oz-like orb.
     Or hats. I used to buy normal hats and try to stretch them out. But that was torture — I could feel the headband squeeze every time I moved my jaw. So now I limit myself to Kangol caps, which come in XXL.
     "They also make XXXL sizes," said Edwin Urrutia, manager of Hats Plus on Irving Park Road, who confirmed my suspicions that we melon-heads are a forgotten lot.
     "Most companies don't even go up to an 8," he said, noting that many broad-pated customers find his store only after being turned away elsewhere.
     "I've had customers look all over the place — many stores won't even go as far as extra large," Urrutia said, noting that, as an extra large himself, he knows first hand the pain of trying to find a nice topper.
     "You see a product you like, but they don't even have it in your size. You spend 20 minutes waiting. It's frustrating," he said.
     His pet peeve is baseball caps, which, rather than recognizing the rights of the Brobdingnagian-beaned to boost their teams, instead seem to be shrinking.
     "Fitted baseball caps used to go up to a size 8. Now they only go as far as a 7 3/4," he said. And forget those adjustable caps.
     "One size fits all is actually one size fits most," said Urrutia, who keeps a waiting list of customers to be called when certain styles of hat arrive in the jumbo sizes.
     Richard Alcala, of Alcala's Western Wear on Chicago Avenue, said keeping the largest hats around the store costs a lot of money in inventory, and many stores don't bother, since just one customer in 50 has truly gigantic noggin.
     "We have a hatmaker in Texas who can make a size 9," he said, with a certain pride. "Most people stop at 7 1/2."
     For some reason — chauvinism, I suppose — I assumed Mardi Gras float heads were a male problem, but Alcala finds both sexes are afflicted.
     "This is definitely not confined to men. A lot of them are women," he said. "Hair is a factor, but not only hair. It's not unusual to get a woman in here with a really large head. Of course they don't like to admit it. Who does?"
     Not me. Though I'd would have guessed that women wouldn't mind much. Big-headedness is a central element of being cute, is it not? Think of Charlie Brown, Hello Kitty, baby ducks, etc. All with big heads, proportionally.
     Men don't want to be cute, however. They want to be rugged, handsome, regular-headed. And here I can offer a bit of comfort from the highest authority: Roger Ebert, who once claimed on his television show that movie stars tend to have these really large heads.
     He showed a clip of Clint Eastwood standing with a crowd of people on a courthouse stairway. Clint was a few steps behind the crowd, Ebert pointed out, so his head should have seemed smallest. Yet it loomed above those tiny-headed people around him, demanding attention, creating a focal point for the star.
     So maybe there's an upside to this. Maybe, as a column brand image, my nearly size-8 head will work to my advantage. It's about time.
     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, May 20, 1997


  1. Neil,
    Clint Eastwood has gotten too old to do westerns; can't climb up on to the horse without a step stool. There's a big empty void waiting to be filled, and you're just the man to fill it. Get yourself out to Hollywood, pronto! Oh, and you're going to need a hat; I hope that's not going to be a problem.

  2. Stormy Kromer hats are still made up to a size 8, and as a bonus, all made in Michigan.

  3. The recent redesign of the Sun-Times features section, lovely in every other respect, abandoned my suave "I've got a regular head" column photo for the above Wizard-of-Oz-like orb.

    This is a reference, is it not, to that phase where the Sun-Times ran full-body photos of its columnists, shot from above? Forgive me, but I always thought that was pointless and dumb. Different doesn't always mean better.

    1. I recall finding it dramatic. I’ll post a bug and readers can decide for themselves.

  4. I wear a 7 3/4 & with the adjustable caps, I'm always at the last hole.

  5. As it happens, just yesterday I bought a hat at Levine Hats in St. Louis. I discovered Levine's while visiting my son, and, as a guy with a head made for hats, I was in heaven.

    Over a hundred years old (the store, not my head) and they say it has the largest inventory of any hat store in the world. I don't know about that, but for a hat guy it is like discovering the quelle. It's on Washington Street, in the former garment district, now a loft and entertainment district. Just down the street from the hat store is a cigar bar in a historic building. A new hat and a relaxed afternoon with a fine cigar - there is joy to be found in this world.

    Oh, my people are Scottish. There are no small heads in our gene pool. It took a lot of felt to make the hat.

  6. As a woman with feet that are larger than average, I feel your pain. But this is one area in which the internet has been a definite boon; it's much easier to find shoes in my size online than in stores. Have you found the same to be true for hats?

    Speaking of Mardi Gras, I was in New Orleans this weekend and went to the parade of the Krewe de Vieux, known for its satirical and edgy floats. Some were quite hilarious. Favored targets were Trump (of course), John Besh (famed area chef and restaurateur recently exposed as a serial harasser), and the sewer board.

  7. Welcome back, Neil! I had to laugh at the timing of this article because M. Jacob and S. Benzkofer (in the ‘other’ Chicago paper) wrote about ‘big heads’ on 1/28’, too, in their article on presidential nicknames. The former Somali president (Hassan Mohamed) was given the nickname MADAXWEYNE, which means “Big Head”.

  8. I have a size 8 dome. I had trouble with football helmets, hats in the army and later as a police officer. I've always made a joke of it in a self deprecating way. After all, it's not like I can hide it. And just aa tip to my large headed brethren, wearing those snap back hats on the last or second to last hole only makes your head look bigger. Try Goorins or Duluth Trading. They both have the big ones.


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