“Everything you say,” he says.
Yeah. Everything. Now please stop while I write this.
I suppose it’s my fault, at least to some extent. I love to annoy him by pretending to mishear things.
“Daddy can I have a ketchup sandwich?”
“What? You want spaghetti and spinach? Yuck!”
“No! A ketchup sandwich!”
“What’s an apple ipswich?” And so on until he gives up and flings a full glass of apple juice across the carpet, as if the clatter might clear out my ears.
“I don’t want apples!”
I knew there’d be a consequence to all my word games, and repetition is my comeuppance. Of course, he’s also learned the humour of self-deprecation, so I can’t break his repeating with the likes of “I smell like a fart.” He’ll cheerfully repeat “I smell like a fart” and add an actual fart for good measure. He knows I can’t fart on command, so he knows I can’t fight this level of one-upmanship. And we all know the winner of this game is he who gets the last one-up-word. I’ll need a better strategy.
When I stop to consider things, our silly word games aren’t all that annoying. I’d go so far to say they’re endearing, because he’s taken on a part of me and he’s making it his own and showing it off. I’m a word joker. He’s a word joker. And our pride cuts both ways. I show him off, to tell the truth — especially at the skate park because he’s so far ahead of himself on his bicycle. I celebrate him, and I want him to celebrate me just the same, which he does when he plays with words endlessly. That’s fathers and sons.
Just last week I bought a new hat. (Now, this might seem off topic, but trust me. It’ll come back around.) This was the first time I ever really picked something out with Noodle in mind. I figure I’m at an age and stage where it’s reasonable to acquire things that will last the rest of my life. I’m half way through my run, assuming my chips fall into a neat stack, and anything that lasts the rest of that run will end up in Noodle’s care.
This gets me to thinking about acquiring things that are timeless and well-made. At this point, I don’t mind spending more than I would have in the past, because it’ll be the last time I’ll buy. It’s ironic, but there’s an anti-consumer edge to it. I take myself out of a consuming market — and in this case, I enter an artisan’s market. It’s better here.
I’ve been thinking about hats for a while. When we moved to New Zealand, I figured I’d get a wide brimmed one, since there’s that hole in the ozone layer and all. It’s true. The sun here, even compared to the California desert we’re accustomed to, is sharp. The beams sear through to your bones. So I got an Australian style outback hat. Crushable wool felt. Three inch brim. (Those who only distinguish two types of hats — ball caps and brimmed hats — thought my Aussie hat was an Indiana-Jones-style fedora. No.)
Wool felt hats are bloody hot, let me tell you, and with a cotton sweat band, it’s a sopping salty mess in no time. They’re fine for winter hikes. Mine’s a knockoff of a good hat — thought I was saving a few dollars — and it’s a bit out of shape right now. That happens. It’ll iron and steam back easily enough. But it surely won’t outlast me.
As a summer replacement, last year I picked up a Chinese-made paper trilby (as they’ve come to be called) at a street market in Takapuna. They’re certainly more breathable, but what junk. The thin brim is useless, rendering it solely a fashion accessory, and truth be told, I don’t find a sense of timelessness in a thin-brimmed design. The colour on it faded from black to a decrepit charcoal in about thirty minutes. It looked ready for a fire, alright. Well, I kept wearing this monstrosity while I researched better quality headwear, and I resolved that I wouldn’t waste any more resources on knockoffs.
I got myself a straw fedora for the summer, but now with summer fading to winter, and me sitting on a capital gain from selling the California house, I figure why not quit futzing about and get the best for once and for all. Get something that’ll last the rest of my days, and my son’s days, and generations after that as long as we all treat it right. I settled on three options and found a single local source where I could try them. Leo O’Malley right here in Auckland, and I can’t say enough good about the fine gentlemen who run the shop.
It was rainy last Thursday. You could see the clouds rolling across the city, headed right toward us at the skate park in the morning. I took Noodle to kindy after lunch and I debated whether I should risk the weather and take the ferry across the harbour and make the trek up Queen Street to K’ Road. I took the risk, and wouldn’t you know on the way across the rain started chucking down in sheets. But I saw clear skies behind the storm and it was moving fast, as island weather tends. I waited in the ferry terminal on the city side, but it hadn’t let up by a couple rotations of the traffic control to cross into the central business district, so I ran through the waterfall and got soaked head to toe. I ducked into the mall to dry off until it settled to a drizzle, then dashed from awning to awning all the way up the hills of Queen Street, turned right at K’ Road, and found the shop on the next corner.
I entered and walked to the side where they display the hats and there were the three on my short list. One touch to each of the three ruled out one brand, and I settled on an Akubra, the Bogart model catching my eye more than the Stylemaster. It’s a classically-shaped fedora — not quite the same bashing and creasing of the iconic Casablanca look, but certainly a timeless silhouette. More Cary Grant really. It’s made of rabbit fur felt, sourced and produced entirely at the Akubra factory in Australia. The interior is as neatly trimmed as the exterior, with a leather sweat band and a satin liner. One appeal of these hats is that you can always steam and reshape them to roll with changing times. When you get a hat of this quality, you can do with it as you choose.
I put on the Bogart and it fit like a dream. I set the front where I wanted it to fall on my forehead and pushed the back down, sending the air inside down the back of my neck. That’s how to put on a hat. The leather band makes an indescribably huge difference in how it sits on and sticks to your head. My decision was made. This is it. This is my heirloom quality hat. Noodle’s hat. Plenty of sun protection. The highest quality materials available. The southern hemisphere’s answer to Stetson.
No need to wrap it. I wore it out of the store, and by then the sun shone all the way down Queen Street’s hills.
Yesterday Noodle and I drove up to Takapuna to pick up his mom and as I drove, I set the Akubra on the passenger seat. We arrived and I parked and I picked the hat up to make space for Wombat. Noodle looked at it, and I thought for sure I saw him admiring it.
I said to him, “You know, one day this will be your hat.”
“One day this will be your hat,” he repeated, annoyingly.
“I’m serious little man.”
I stared at him. Then he asked when it would be his, and I told him “when I’m gone. Like Grandpa Hal. I won’t be here forever you know.” He knows.
He thought about it. “You have to write your name in it,” he said. He looked at me, his eyes as brown as mine are blue. “You know. For when you’re gone.”
One day. One day he won’t remember this moment, but as I project ahead it’ll mean everything. Or maybe it’ll jog him when he digs through my stuff four decades down the line and he finds the Akubra with a little note permanently marked to the satin, next to the date. 3 April, 2014. Some crusty old rabbit fur hat that my dad loved, he’ll say out loud, and his little boy will say “some crusty old rabbit fur hat….”
I handed it to him and he put it on and it wobbled with about an inch to spare all around and he held it by the brim and yelled “Yee Haw!” and he pushed out a smile with every tooth in his head and he laughed and he danced in his seat. He knows the future as well as I do. Even what’s yet to come is no secret between us.
I told him “I love you forever, little man.” And he told me “I love you forever, little man.” He paused and pushed the hat up and looked at me and said quietly, “I mean daddy.”
I smiled and squinted from all the years and I could feel what he could see. I am getting older now. I repeated “I mean daddy,” and it rang just as true for me.