“Nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat.”
A quote from Tom Reagan, the depressed and self-loathing protagonist of Miller’s Crossing, my favourite movie.
After a recent screening for my birthday in July, I had to admit it was still my favourite, and not, as I often claim, Fight Club, a film with a completely different depressed and self-loathing protagonist.
A couple of years ago, when my life was still in the relatively early stages of becoming a nightmare hellscape I can’t wake up from, I attended a Writers Guild of Canada meeting—one of the rare ones to take place in Montreal. Normally, I prefer to skip these unproductive networking opportunities, but there was some pressing news Canadian screenwriters needed to be briefed on. It was so pressing, I’ve since forgotten what it was. But there was free food, drink tickets, and, more importantly, hats.
Sometimes I like to get something out of my annual membership dues.
Exactly enough WGC baseball caps had been printed to be doled out to all the attendees who had submitted an RRSP. Of course, some jagoff absconded with two. That left only a single remaining hat to be divvied up between the final pair of lingering hacks. Namely myself, and fellow hack friend, Sylvie. We had each agreed to show up for the meeting under the condition that the other one would be there as a social-anxiety wingman. It had worked out, right up until it was time for one of us to get screwed out the hat giveaway.
Sylvie bravely threw herself on that grenade and forfeited the hat. I took it home.
But the WGC hat did not become another piece of industry swag, sitting forgotten in a closet, waiting to one day be given away to some homeless shelter. No, I wore the hat. I wore it a lot.
It was grey and black with the Writers Guild of Canada logo on it. Those were my colours, and it reminded me of the days when I used to be a real screenwriter, before my career dried up, crumbled to ashes, and blew away. Mostly because I live in entirely the wrong province, and nobody wants to hire an Anglophone screenwriter from Quebec. Where’s the tax credit in that?
It had been many years since I’d worn a baseball cap—many years since I’d even owned one. Except, of course, for my promotional Predator hat I got back when that movie first premiered. But that was reserved for the head of my taxidermied childhood koala teddy bear (don’t ask).
After decades of wearing a specific style of cap, I took to this new one in a big way and grabbed it whenever I headed out the door. It wasn’t fitting winter apparel, but the rest of the year it kept me from getting sunburned straight through my male-pattern baldness.
I was wearing it the other night, even though the sun was down and it had been an unseasonable warm November day. Coming back from a long commute to Lachine, I was carrying a heavy IKEA bag stuffed with goods, including a winter coat that had belonged to my father. He died last month, so I guess that makes it my winter coat now. Something to replace the one with the broken zipper I’ve been wearing these past few years.
The load was punishing, and the walk after the commuter train doubly so. After carrying this burden for miles, I was sweaty and sore. Along the way, I got overheated enough to take off my guild hat and stick it in the overflowing bag.
I never noticed it fall out. Somewhere along the dusty construction site that is Grand Boulevard these days, it abandoned the bag I had slung over an aching shoulder. Had I made it home, unloaded, and found the hat missing, I probably would have gone out after it again. Tired, exhausted, maybe I’d find it lying the street, maybe not.
But I didn’t have to do that.
“Monsieur!” I heard from an SUV that had stopped in the middle of the intersection and honked at me.
I turned to see what this asshole wanted. Turns out he wanted to tell me that I’d just dropped my hat.
“Thank you,” was I all I was able to say to him before he drove off following his good deed.
I picked up my hat, soaked with sweat and now soiled with roadwork filth, and made a note to give it a good wash when I got back home. Throughout those last miserable blocks I kept wishing I could have thanked that driver more profusely. He’ll never know to what degree he made things suck less.
2020 has been the worst year of my life, except for 2019, which was the other worst year of my life, and 2018, which was the other other worst year of my life. It’s been a brutal stretch of loss after loss.
But I didn’t lose my hat, because one completely random stranger made things suck less. Thank you.