One of my favorites, Phat Hats in Hartford CT, has joined the ranks of hat history and is now defunct but before its demise, I got a lesson from a pro in how to choose a hat.
Websters defines Phat as: very attractive or appealing, gratifying, excellent. Phat Hats was a small store in the “hood”. Upon entering, patrons were greeted by an mimense and very friendly black man named Sebastian.. Customers who didn’t know the drill were quickly found trying on hat after hat, each carefully chosen by Sebastian. His unwavering confidence made one feel as if a baby in the arms of a loving mother. The brain chemicals kicked in and you started to relax. You felt safe in the hands of this expert who drew from years of experience. Your own opinion? Disregard it. Sebastian was in charge and on a mission to make you look superb.
His honesty was brutal. He would hand you a hat and then look at you, shaking his head time after time almost in despair. Finally, through a process of elimination and after careful scrutiny, in a loud voice he would confidently declare,”YOU’RE PHAT!” Is difficult to express the joy one feels when one is deemed, finally, to be PHAT. Simply put, it is one of life’s true pleasures and a memorable one indeed.
Upon entering the small store I was greeted by a tall, extremely thin man with distinctive features. My mind went immediately to the character of Ichabod Crane.. He was balding with longish gray hair and a large crooked nose, a descendant of the Delmonico clan who had established the business in 1908 in the glory days when everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, wore a hat. A great period to be alive for a hat professional.
I walked out of the store wearing my new Homburg and I swear to God, the moment my foot hit the street, a passerby looked at me and enthusiastically almost shouted, “NICE HAT!!”. I thanked him but the thought crossed my mind that he was a paid employee placed outside the store for just that purpose. What was to follow proved me wrong and vindicated Marcus, the King of Style, once more.
The world liked my hat but the two women closest to me both strongly agreed that this hat was not for me. My wife in particular demonstrated the keen ability to drive the point home. I was undaunted however and though battered, was serene in the knowledge that this hat had been specifically chosen for me and given the supreme blessing by the great Marcus, knower of all thing pertaining to hats.
It is often a profound and moving experience to be a small part of their lives at this special time. Sometimes the mood is light with laughter and singing, sometimes somber and reverent, sometimes sad, especially so if family members , for whatever reason, are not present.
So, shortly after the incidents described above , I was at the Hospice and walked into a lady’s room who was by all accounts unresponsive. I played softly for her at bedside knowing that sometimes people are conscious and able to hear but so weak that they can’t respond. It was a very special time and I felt a connection though there was no outward sign of any awareness of my presence.
All of a sudden, as I played, I saw a nearly indistinguishable movement of her eyes as if she was trying to open them. With what seemed like all the strength she could muster in her severely weakened state, her eyes began to flutter and then to open ever so slightly as she looked at me in one of her last moments of awareness in this world.
The gravity of the moment hung in the air and time stood still. As she struggled with her last ounce of strength, faltering on each of the fragile sounds she was trying to make and in the tiniest of voices, I heard her exclaim with all the conviction in her heart , “Like the hat !”