Wednesday, May 31, 2006

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My Forbidden Love for the Fedora
I’m thinking about buying a fedora. I’ve always loved the style, even though you rarely see anybody wearing them these days. I don’t think the fedora ever really returned to fashion from the 1940’s, but, maybe, I could start a trend. The entry for Fedora in gives a list of some fifty famous usages, but only a few represent real people in recent times.

Seriously, though, who am I kidding? I don’t really think I can start a trend, and, even if I begin wearing a fedora, what will I wear with it? I’m not much of a coat and tie man, and I think a man wearing fedora with a tie-less shirt just looks like a guy who any moment is going to break out into a tap dance or a guy trying to cover his baldness.

I tried for years to cover my growing widow’s peaks, moved my bangs around, firing three hairdressers who couldn’t pull a bottle of Rogaine out of the future or rub some magic tonic on my barren peaks and prescribe a daily dose of Jimboy’s El Gordos and Taquitos for hair care maintenance or at least tell me that widow’s peaks were hot! No, they just said ”Oh well, that’s the way it goes,” and attempted to cover my shiny shame wedges. After firing my last hairdresser (“firing” really means just finding a different hairdresser, but “firing” sounds more cathartic), I went home, wet my hair down, and combed my bangs straight back – exposing my receding hairline. The balding jokes stopped – the shame was removed. So you see, when I see my bald/balding brothers donning hats of one sort of another, I want to tell them it’s okay to be bald. Of course, some may be more concerned about preserving their body heat from the cold and protecting their scalp from the sun.

But I digress; the fact is I would have to re-invent myself if I did this. Now, I don’t have a problem with other people doing this kind of a thing – it’s almost required for a celebrity to do it; as a society, we are far too jaded to follow a movie star or pop singer who looks the same, acts the same for years on end – he or she becomes boring, but little old me would feel too self-conscious to show up at work one day wearing a tie, suspenders, a sport coat, and a fedora cocked to one side of my big melon. I guess you’ve probably figured out by now this post is not about announcing my “new look,” but simply a process I am going through to talk myself out of wearing one of these things.

The first time I can remember seeing a fedora was when my father introduced me to the man who would become my favorite celluloid hero, Humphrey Bogart. The man had style, even though he clearly wasn’t GQ material. He was a man’s man – the only guy I ever saw slap a woman, making it look not misogynistic, but macho, and oddly sexy.

I remember spending hours looking in the mirror, wearing any hat that faintly resembled a fedora, with a cigarette butt that I had plucked from one of the ash trays around the house. I would move my upper lip over my teeth, and, repeating ”Here’s looking at you, kid” and “Angel, you’re taking the fall.” I think there were times I didn’t want to be like Bogey, I wanted to be Bogey. If I would have continued in the family tradition of smoking, it wouldn’t have been my mother, father, or sister’s fault – it would be the cool cigarette moves of Sam Spade and “Casablanca’s” Rick Blaine. Thankfully, that didn’t come to pass. Also, if I had based my smoking on Bogey characters, I think my actions would net only horselaughs. I cringe to imagine myself, leaning against the bar, cigarette dangling between my fingers, replying to a bored waitress’ offer to sample TGI, Friday’s new, improved Jalapeno Poppers: “I stick my neck out for no one.”

I don’t have Bogey’s hard look. Before I met my wife and got a huge boost of self-confidence, I used to equate myself with Woody Allen’s character in the movie “Play It Again, Sam” a man who is coached in the ways of love by the ghost of Humphrey Bogart. I took comfort in one of the last lines that Allen’s character says to his hero: “True, you're not too tall and kind of ugly, but I'm short enough and ugly enough to succeed on my own.” I suppose that goes for me too, with or without a fedora.

Monday, May 01, 2006


But those things which proceed out of the mouth come
from the heart, and they defile a man. – Matthew 15:18

About a year ago I realized I needed to cut out all the cussing I was doing around the guys at work. I didn’t cuss that much to begin with, but enough to make anyone question what kind of Christian I was. I also started calling some of my fellow brothers in Christ on their dirty speech. They have thanked me on convicting them and have started watching their mouth – at least around me.

The use of profanity has become an epidemic – I cannot walk three blocks in downtown Sacramento without hearing the “F” or “S” word at least once (I am excluding the street people’s Tourette Syndrome-ranting, of course). What is also alarming is that profanity is no longer used chiefly in anger – it has become a part of our everyday speech.

I remember in college enjoying George Carlin’s The Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV. In the examples Carlin used the forbidden words were usually dispensed in anger or frustration. While there were exceptions, like the kind of dirty jokes Carlin and other "blue comedians" cracked, this was pretty much true. Now, these words are commonplace – well on there way to becoming part of the American-English vernacular.

A critical turning point for me in the development of my own potty mouth was when I took Weight Training in my High School Freshmen year. I found it strange (not to mention liberating) that students could freely cuss in front of the coach as long as it was in the proper context like not being about to bench press 185 lbs or only being able to do 22 instead of 25 chin ups. “Ah s%&#, coach, I could do 25 over the summer.” “That’s okay, Peterson, you’ll have plenty of time to make that goal this fall.” This was the first time my peers and I got to freely cuss in the open around adults as well as bathe our ears in such forbidden words. Sure, there were those moments when Mom got really mad, but that was a queue to duck and cover, and don’t ever get caught smiling at Mom when she cussed!

The cussing reached a fever pitch during the fall, winter, and spring physical fitness tests when the coaches would get out their clipboards and mark down your progress. On the free weights a dirty word replaced the panic verb “Spot!” You had to listen for it, though; it was usually grunted through the guy’s grinding teeth. I didn’t like the free weights. I always envisioned one of those mean seniors smiling at me, upside down, as my arms began to fail and I awaited the inevitable and horrifying experience of chocking to death on a free-weight bar while the satanic senior snickered.

At the weight machine – where everyone would gather around the person the coach was testing – it was a prerequisite to spit out a manly curse when you failed to make the goal you or the coach had expected. Cussing was so pervasive that I used to think the coaches were checking a “Profanity” box along with writing down the weight value: “Sorry Williams, you improved by 20 lbs., but you didn’t cuss; give me fifty push-ups.”

One fellow freshman slid under the bench press after moving the key to 90 lbs. and jerked the bar to success; 100 lbs.: success; 110 lbs: he violently cocked his head to the right, his leg kicked, his teeth grit, his veins bulged, then, just as you could hear the weights begin to lift off the stack, he let the bar go in resignation. The weights crashing back on the stack -- rattling the whole machine. Frustrated, the Freshman exhaled “Shoot, dang-it!” The weight room exploded in laughter. “Shoot, dang-it.” It was too late to take it back or exchange it with the standard boilerplate scatological expletive.

He became “Shoot, dang-it” to all the guys for the rest of high school and I never knew him well enough to find out his real name. Four years later during commencement, I remember hearing someone shout “Shoot, dang it!” when the graduate was called across the stage to receive his diploma. I remember laughing with a few guys around me – some of them the very same punks who, in junior high, harassed me and then for the next four years simply acted as if I didn't exist. It's strange how cruelty can bring estranged young men together if only for the time it takes someone to walk across a stage. In a better world there would be no junior high or high school caste system; in a better world we would have pulled ole “Shoot, dang-it” up from that weight machine bench, patted him on the back and said “You’ll get it next time, brother.”

As cruel as childhood is I find it strange that P.E. coaches didn’t help the situation – I mean, how could professional educators allow cussing in their classes? Then again, this wasn’t English or Algebra; these were the same guys who created such games as slaughter ball and smear-the-queer.

Thirty years later and now my youngest son is in high school and by the looks of his school-sponsored blog prep profanity has gone from the weight room to the Internet. It frustrates me that he cannot rise above his non-Christian friends’ and school system’s environment and keep his language clean. I’ll admit, if I was a Christian in my high school days it would have been a struggle.

I don’t think the acronyms many of them, as well as adults, use in the Internet and emails, are any better: OMG, OMFG, SOB, AFU, FUBAR, etc.; the intent behind them is as if they were spelled out. I will refer him to Matthew 15:18 mentioned above, or maybe Colossians 3:8:

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.

I’ll also remind him that even when Jesus got really mad and drove out the money changers from the temple (John 2:14-16, et al) he didn’t even say “shoot, dang-it.”