The Hat


his last episode occurred in a brief moment walking across a parking lot on a balmy spring evening. The Ducks had been together a few years...

The band had acquired a loyal following, was working steadily and finally boasted a sound and lineup that truly had gelled. We were in good shape and full of the juices of having created something that had taken root. The band received some favorable comments in the press, including one local magazine in which my playing was singled-out.

Aside from the band's achievement, I was reveling in personal achievement. By hook, crook, good luck and coincidence I gained admission to the club and was on my way to a lifelong career doing something I loved. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of miles ahead, the grueling schedule, the thousands of all-night drives and the endless struggle to survive in small, ever-shifting groups of strong, eccentric personalities. None of that was apparent, and if it had been it wouldn't have mattered.

It didn't matter that I wasn't making much money. The money would surely come later. And if it didn't, what the hell. When I showed up at a gig, there was no happier person in the club, in the state, in the world. There was always work for good musicians, and anyone who read the Sitting Ducks' reviews knew I'd already achieved that. No one knows what the future brings. What I did know was I was on my way.

As self-centered as it sounds (and indeed, as it was), looking back through today's reality goggles reveals a lovely, innocent state. When I showed up at a gig, there was no happier person in the club, in the state, in the world. My plan had worked, my dreams come true: I was making music for a living. It was my job.

And what a job. People liked us. There were plenty of people in the clubs, plenty of those people were girls, they would cheer us. I played drum solos (via realaudio or .wav file 431k), wrapped in my own world, and they would cheer that. Life was good.

It was easy, natural, to be taken in by the whole thing, and so I was. In the spirit of our repertoire, the swing music of the 1930's and 40's, I had taken to wearing vintage clothing, including a flambouyant, broad-brimmed Panama hat. I was vicariously living the era of the great swing bands. Gene Krupa was my idol. I studied his playing; tried to play just like him. Through it all, there was the distinctive, ever-present hat.

The hat was in place as I arrived at The Mousetrap that spring evening. 'The Trap' was a friendly Charlottesville restaurant where Sitting Ducks regularly held court. It was just before the gig and patrons were arriving. I sauntered across the parking lot, relaxed, confident, disgustingly full of myself. I wore my cool clothes, the hat jauntily cocked. I brimmed with the giddy elation I carried to virtually every job, the beloved feeling of anticipation of nowhere to go but behind my drums to play the music.

I could not help but notice two attractive University of Virginia coeds about ten steps ahead of me, walking to the gig, chatting. They were unaware of my presence. Innocently, their conversation drifted across the warm air into my ears:

Coed #1:  I really like this band.

Coed #2:  Yeah, they're really good.

Ears now perked, I puffed up a bit, thinking Yeah, man; that's cool. Listening intently now, not so innocently...

Coed #1:  And I really like that drummer. He's SO cute...

I swelled like a puffer fish in mating season: YEAH, man. THAT'S cool.

And then, it came.

Coed #2:  Ahh... He's not as cute without the hat...

Bang! Deflated like an old tire at the bottom of a pothole, I faltered, then stopped dead in my tracks, allowing the coeds time to slip into the club. Breathing room to spare myself further humiliation should they notice I was right behind them. The night air was still balmy, but now tasted ever so slightly less sweet.

But, just slightly. The moment passed. Then, time to go to work, I proceeded down the sidewalk and into the club.

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Introduction | Kurt's Mardi Gras Parade | Frankly, 'Poe's'... | Big Nick | Go Ahead. Shoot The Piano Player(s). | "Stormy Weather" | The Drive From Baltimore | The Hat

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