A-Hunting We Did Go
It was a cold, gray Saturday afternoon on the South Side, not a good day for a ballgame, and that was just as well because the White Sox were in New York.
The game was being shown on the TVs scattered about the picnic area beneath the outfield of U.S. Cellular Field as Sox fans went from table to table looking over official game-worn jerseys, pants, leftover bats and balls, books, hats, autographed photos and even turnstiles and bricks from old Comiskey Park which was reduced to dust more than 25 years ago.
The jerseys were too expensive, the pants were too weird, the bricks were too dusty and the turnstiles too big so the only items that went in the bag were a book about the 1959 pennant-winning Sox, Strength Down The Middle by Larry Kalas, and a Sox cap.
A casual glance might lead one to think the black Sox cap with the script Sox logo was just like the ones the Pale Hose normally wear and were donning that day against the Yankees. But this cap is a little different and one that has caught our eye before and with a price of $10 instead of the usual $30 the decision was not difficult.
You see, this cap is actually a hunting cap with another layer that hangs down and fits snugly over the ears providing a much needed extra shield of warmth for those brisk games in April and May and, hopefully, October, too.
It went atop the head proudly but as cool as it is, it actually had the effect of making this particular wearer look like a tragic coupling of Brent Lillibridge and Elmer Fudd.
And as smiles and nods were shared with others from beneath the hat for the rest of the day – “That’s you! That’s so you!” the guy behind the counter said while it was being tried on – another character that came to mind was Holden Caulfield.
The Catcher in the Rye protagonist, you certainly recall, bought a hunting cap early in the book and it made him look like a bit like a nerd, or maybe a psycho, but he liked it.
“…and then I put on this hat that I’d bought in New York that morning. It was this very red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway…it only cost me a buck.”
Holden was a stylish, lonely fella.
We also cannot help but think of another rockin’ hat from another sublime read:
“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once…”
Thus begins the story of Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces, a man who, like Holden Caulfield, is an outsider but in a million completely different kinds of ways.
Did John Kennedy Toole read J.D. Salinger and thus took the hat, changed colors and created his own masterpiece of loneliness and comedy? And did Toole and Salinger like baseball?
The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. The White Sox went 83-71 that year in what would be the first of 17 straight winning seasons…but still finished well behind the Yankees.
A Confederacy of Dunces was written in the early 1960s but was not published until 1980 because John Kennedy Toole killed himself in 1969. The Sox were 70-90 in 1980 and wore those floppy softball jerseys that the world hated but we still love.
Hats provide protection. They can create uniformity or individuality. They’re supposed to do what you want. They say a lot about what you’re trying to say and what you’re trying to hide.
The new hat is in the closet now next to all the old ones. Sometimes, at night, they talk to each other.
We listened to the rest of the White Sox game on the radio while driving home that cold Saturday. They lost. –TK