I wear a hat most days.
It looks pretty much like the avatar I use. An oddly crowned black cowboy type hat with a long straight feather in it. Nowadays the feather is usually a tail feather from a blue and gold Macaw.
It was not always thus.
I started wearing black cowboy hats when I was nineteen. I lived in Michigan at the time where I found summer work with a landscape architect. Lots of sun, lots of digging. The hat kept the sun out of my eyes, the rain off my glasses and gave me some protection from the dirt of the job. I didn’t adorn it with a feather in those early days however.
After that job went away so did the hat and it did not resurface until the seventies when I was working for Gelb Music. I had grown my beard and hair in the early seventies and liked the idea of wearing a hat again so I bought one of the “wire brim” varieties. I shaped the brim to taste letting the crown do what it wanted and over time it acquired its current slope.
I liked the hat. It became my trademark. I had an unfortunate incident where I sought to clean my hat de jour by putting it in a washing machine but that’s a story for another time. Needless to say, because I was due to play a show and my persona, my ‘act,’ called for The Hat I had to be creative. That day I learned how to steam a hat so I could shape a new one to look like the old ones. After that bit of business, people seldom noticed when I’d gotten a new hat because of this acquired-through-necessity skill. Around this time I graduated to better quality hats, ones without the wire brim, still shaping the new ones to look like the predecessors.
By the time I started working for Barney Steel’s I had been using a single feather. A “jive turkey” as a black musician once called it because it was one of those black-tipped faux eagle feathers made from dyed domestic turkey feathers.
One of the bartenders of the day…Leona, bought me a seventeen inch long pheasant feather at a Renaissance Pleasure Faire so I had to learn how to mount the feather straight up to keep it from getting caught in doors or slapping people walking behind me if I was on a barstool.
The long feather eventually got broken but other people had given me shorter pheasant feathers. People would give me feathers in the hope I would use them in my hat. So I mounted three feathers rotating them for variety. Still, pheasant feathers are fairly common hat gear and I always liked being a little different.
Enter, stage right, one Sue B.
Sue was a lovely girl. Blonde, pretty legs that seemed made for the short skirts she wore. She had nice blue eyes set in a sweet almost doll-like face.
She liked coming to Barney’s. Her husband would meet some of his motorcycle buddies at Barneys and Sue, as I found out her name was, would dance. She loved dancing. So did I, but it was plain she didn’t like contact dancing. In those days I was a swing dance fan. I didn’t enjoy ‘wiggle dancing’ as I called it. She and I may have tried dancing once but, if we did it would have been brief.
I would see her arrive but found she was remarkably shy. She would say ‘hi’ but couldn’t be drawn into conversation. As time passed, she was still shy and not talking but I noticed her looking at my hat intently from time to time.
One night she came up to me and actually spoke to me! A first! Actual conversation!
“I want to ask you something.” she said.
“Ask away,” said I.
“If I promise to provide you with feathers will you promise to only wear my feathers?”
This was such an odd request. I looked askance at her. “I dunno… whatcha got… what kind of feather are we talking about here?”
She held out a really long tail feather from a Blue and Gold Macaw. Blue on the outside, yellow on the inside.
A Macaw is a rather large Amazonian parrot. She had a Macaw aviary at home. She raised the birds for sale to pet stores and individuals.
Well, of course I struck the bargain and figured out how to mount the things. Not an easy trick by any means.
She kept her end of the bargain. The birds molt, twice a year I think, and she would bring me the best and longest two or three of the lot. The elements took their toll on the ones in the hat although they were a tough feather, withstanding weather handily.
All good things come to an end. She eventually divorced her husband causing her to shut down the aviary so my supply dried up. Luckily, I had taken care of the ones she gave me so I could maintain my hat’s image.
I saw her briefly a few times after Barney’s shut down. She was always shy but after her divorce we did get to where we talked when we saw each other. I kissed her once on a warm summer night, a sweet, chaste kiss, when we were walking down the street.
I haven’t seen her in years.
People love my hat. Every time I go out wearing it I always get compliments about it. Over the years I have found that it has opened far more doors than it closed. I usually come home knowing I made some people smile by wearing an outlandishly long blue and gold Macaw feather in my funky black cowboy hat. This is particularly true when I go to a medical appointment. Hospitals and clinics are full of people in private distress. To see them forget their troubles for an instant to smile at The Hat is quite warming. In grocery stores little kids think I’m an event. “Robin Hood” is the most common guess.
I decided to ‘stock up’ on feathers since Sue was no longer around in my world so I bought a Macaw tail molt from Ebay.
It’s just not the same.
People ask me what kind of feather it is and I tell them. Those who try to guess invariably suggest ‘peacock’ or ‘pheasant.’ They ask me where I get them I tell them EBay. The story goes deeper than that but is too long in the telling.
I still only wear one Blue and Gold Macaw tail feather.
I miss the having the pretty blonde girl bring me a couple of tail feathers twice a year.