Sunday, September 15, 2013

capping off a decade.

"you're much cuter without the hat." said my mom as i was walking out the door for a movie date with a girlfriend.

psh. or, more accurately, psh in quotation marks, because that was my actual reply.

i don't know if i look particularly cute or un-cute in my hat—more accurately called a cap—but i love it anyway. it has a history. it's a storyteller.

i bought it in '01 at yesterday's news, a vintage store on east carson street in the southside of pittsburgh. i'd drive up there every once in a while and walk up and down the busy street, just to relish the thrill of being somewhere unfamiliar and in a city. i'd browse the crowded racks at yesterday's news and then i'd get coffee at the beehive, which was a few doors up on the same side of east carson. the beehive is one of those places that makes peeing more laborious than it already is when you don't feel like having your daydreaming interrupted by a bodily function: you have to ask the barista for a key, and the barista is always busy. so you have to wait, resenting every long-winded starbucks-esque coffee order in front of you, while all the muscles in your lower body try to reign in your raging bladder, and then you're handed a giant, painted chunk of wood with a key attached to a chain worthy of a junkyard dog. i've yet to decode the presumed sanctity of the coffeehouse bathroom key.

on one of my visits to the southside beehive, a guy with a young son approached me. our conversation could've been brief or long, interesting or not. the guy could have been tall or average, blonde or brunette. all i specifically remember is at the end he asked me out and that, back in morgantown that evening, i wondered about the intricacies of dating a man with a son, even though i already knew i didn't want to date him at all. how very me of me to wonder about things that will never come to pass.

my trips to pittsburgh were always brief. all i was after were a few hundred mouthfuls of the air and a few thousand blinks of the scenery in a different place. after an hour or two, i'd drive another hour and be back in morgantown with a new addition to my wardrobe, which was highly populated with vintage finds from my pittsburgh favorite as well as the vintage and thrift stores in downtown morgantown, all of which died sudden deaths one by one in the years before the city and i parted ways.

the next year, oh two, i wore my vintage cap to a dinner date with my girlfriends ann and ivy. ivy later sent me a photo from that night, of me sitting against the backdrop of exotic wall hangings at asian garden, a local favorite, where i always ordered the vegetarian duck, spicy, please, with a side of fried spring rolls. in the photo, the bill of my newsboy-style cap was snapped, which was the way i wore it back then even though i didn't quite like the way it looked. i was making an austin powers-type face, with my finger up to my lips. my head was tilted to the side of the room where the metal lunch buffet sat forlorn, cold and empty because it was dinner time, and the big white collar of my blue-and-white striped shirt hung like bird wings from the v-neck of my snug, tan sweater. later that evening, the three of us hung out at the apartment on top of the antique store on pleasant street that was only ever lived in by musicians and artists.

in the year oh three, my boyfriend made a charcoal drawing of me in that cap. it had a round, ball-like tassel made of short, thick yarn that snapped to the top. i wore that tassel in the drawing, but in later years i'd remove it. i put it aside to preserve the cap's original state, in an archival sort of way. "archival" being a word plucked straight from the mouth of my charcoal-drawing boyfriend ten years ago when he was describing to me the metal tacks he used for building canvases that would become part of the archives of his work. i like how "archival" is dual purpose: it's the right word to finish my sentence, in that i want my hat to become part of the archives of my life, and also a relic from the year i'm writing about. and where is that tassel now? hopefully stuffed in a bag somewhere among my belongings, which have been taking up most of the space in dad's garage since the evening—two years and sixty-some days ago—i returned from memphis.

memphis is where i wore that cap on the second occasion i was in the presence of a person who has changed my life forever. we were at the p&h cafe, a small, dumpy joint on madison that had photos tacked up everywhere and one of my favorite veggie burgers in town. it was karoake night and a friend's birthday, and a big group of us were celebrating with alcohol and stick-on mustaches. we sat at a long table beside a row of booths, me across from the man who three years later would become the father of my son. he and i barely, if at all, spoke that evening, but i remember thinking how handsome he was and wondering what that night's drama surrounding his much-younger, very recent ex-girlfriend said about a man his age. i was too busy having fun to give it much thought that night, or any night thereafter when he and i began on our path of two years of on-again, off-again dating, the subtext of which would be mostly repulsive in hindsight were it not for the fact of my son. when i look back on that night, i don't get caught up in the details of the pain it foreshadowed. instead, i think about the photo of me with a stick-on mustache stuck to the butt of my cutoff jean shorts, and i remember what a good time i had.

my mom says i'm cuter without my cap. i'll keep on wearing it, because i like its colors. i like that there's a snap on the bill that looks out of place when it's unsnapped, which is the way i wear it these days. i like that it had a history long before the day i picked it off the shelf at the vintage store, and i like that i've given it an even richer history over these ten years. cute or not, my wool storyteller with the absent tassel is a keeper. a piece of the archives of me.

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