There are some things in life it's difficult to own up to. When I was a child, I insisted that my hair was brown, though it was obvious to everyone with or without bifocals that my hair was clearly, undeniably red; I never willingly admit to being a New Yorker by birth (could I help it if I was conceived in Brooklyn, which I am beginning to suspect is really the origin of humanity as we know it - who can't connect themselves back to Brooklyn?); and for the past few years now, I have been reluctant to admit that I own a black hat.
This hat of mine is not your typical black hat. It is both shorter and narrower than the standard. My intent in purchasing it was to be able to fit in with the Charedi crowd while still maintaining my individuality. I was at a point in life where I was not vehemently opposed to being hatted, so once I didn't care, why not wear one?
The change in people's perception of me was extraordinary. I was able to walk into a Charedi shul without being stared at, able to leap small earlocked children in a single bound, and generally accorded the mantle of "ben torah" simply by virtue of the object on my head.
My friend Zvi calls my hat the "date getter" because having a hat meant I could now be set up with a whole cadre of women who were to that point off limits. Magically, the hat provided entree to a world of women who were both stockinged and seriously devout, who wanted their husbands to both learn full time and work full time at the same time. Apparently, having a hat enabled the wearer's wife to believe such things were possible.
As I couldn't bring myself to wear the de rigueur plastic bag with supermarket logo over the hat, I bought an unofficial official hat cover, which was basically a hat-shaped shower cap. Zvi would take to wearing the hat cover on it's own (see exhibit A - picture to come), and I must say he looked quite dashing in it.
Though the number of dates with stockinged women increased by virtue of the hat, I came to find that I really didn't like stockings or the rigidity of the women who wore them. The hat became a mask to hide my quirks and bursts of creative expression. I was able to fit in just fine, but the world I was fitting into was not mine. There are aspects of the Charedi world I like, even admire. But I am no more Charedi than I am modern orthodox, Carlebachian or Chassidic. I am a mix of all of the above, a melange, if you will (certain words like melange, dodgy, milieu and ort can never be used enough, and I reserve the right to invoke them in inopportune places throughout this blog).
In time, I stopped wearing the black hat during the week, and wore it just on shabbat and on dates. Some shabbats I would not feel so Charedi, and took to simply carrying the hat with me, but not actually wearing it. People became very agitated by this, much as when I used to wear my hat with birkenstocks (and shadchanim would say, "I don't understand who you are. How can you wear a black hat and birkenstocks?" to which I could only reply, "because that's exactly who I am - a mix, a melange, if you will, which if you would stop being so dodgy and gave an ort, you would realize...."). It is somehow threatening to others to carry a hat without intent to place hat on head. I knew I was in trouble when I lost the ability to leap small earlocked children in a single bound when carrying my hat.
Today, I am learning to make peace with my hat. I am able to wear or carry it without letting it define me. It is, after all, just a hat. And black. It represents my Charedi side well (Charedim in the house...props to DJ Kool, Let Me Clear My Throat, which peaked at #30 on Billboard in 1997 - one of those songs with afterlife). It's a good-looking hat, it looks good on me, and it comes in very handy if you are walking through Meah Shearim or Borough Park and want to blend in. Of course, by wearing the hat, you open yourself up to being spoken to in Yiddish, but as I've learned, the shoulder shrug is part of the Yiddish vocabulary too, and very often passes for fluency.
As a date getter, the hat has been a mixed blessing. It has gotten me plenty of dates, though perhaps not the right kind. Or maybe it is that I am not wearing the shower cap hat cover on top? I will have to get that back from Zvi.....