Sunday, December 20, 2020

Men in Hat, Part Six - Put a lid on it

Some hats have stories. The one below goes back to 1977. I was at the KFC National Convention in New Orleans. After my co-workers and I took home most of the hardware in the year’s Top Ten Awards, we crawled the length of Bourbon Street. Our last stop was the Old Absinthe House. It was 4am. There were only four survivors by that point. They included Peggy and me, Bob Buxton my District Manager in New York City, and the sales manager of our cole slaw supplier whose name escapes me. I do remember the name of the company though, Delicious Salad Company or Delsaco. While we drank, a couple of cowboys from East Texas bellied up to the bar. The tall lean one wore a magnificent cowboy hat. I said as much to Bob. I may actually have said, “I really want that hat.” Because, well, I really did want the hat. At some point Bob followed the cowboy into the men’s room and tried to buy it. It seemed like a risky proposition to me. He returned to our table empty handed but unscathed. Fortunately, he did get the brand, style, and color of the lid as I would discover six months later.

I was in my office in Greenwich, CT one afternoon when a rather large but light parcel was delivered. When I opened the box, I found the hat or at least a carbon copy of same. I’ve treasured it since. I shaped the hat myself the way I was taught at Porter’s Western Wear in Tucson in 1951 when I was ten. That entails steaming the crown and brim over a boiling tea kettle and forming it to taste.

I never saw Troy Brown without this hat. Troy, a retired architect from Houston who specialized in designing schools on the Navajo Reservation, retired to Taos and became a watercolor painter. We met on the Canyon de Chelly painting trip I mentioned last week. On the last night of the workshop Troy and I shared a hotel room. We’d been camping in the canyon the previous five nights. What I remember most about Troy is that he snored like a locomotive. After trying everything I could think of to make him stop I got up at midnight, packed my gear and drove home to Taos in time for Huevos Rancheros at Michael’s Kitchen. Troy and I were the same age and he was married to Peggy, his high school sweetheart. He passed four years ago.

My Peggy, my college sweetheart, was on a rock-climbing trip to South Dakota a decade ago. She was climbing in The Needles with Peter Lev and George Hurley who were the first Men in Hats five weeks ago. Also in the climbing group was Bozeman, MT climber HJ Schmidt. In fact, these portraits of HJ were taken during the same cocktail party where I photographed Peter.

HJ was an ebullient character and a great teller of stories. He was also a camera magnet. During drinks he coursed thought an array of moods.

When I Googled him for more background I found that he describes himself an Artist, Photographer and Writer and that he's a professor of photography at Montana State University in Bozeman, his home town. I'm a big fan of Bozeman with its lively downtown, college and adventure sports. I'm also keenly aware that housing prices have skyrocketed as Hollywood types and others have discovered the place. Here's what HJ said in a 1994 article in High Country News, "When I find someone is from somewhere far away I'm rude to them. I get annoyed and angry. I feel you were in your place and it got ruined. Now you're coming to my place to ruin it." 

Tell us what you really think, HJ.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Your sixth part to Men in Hats is terrific. Although I do not recall seeing the photograph of the gent from Texas you encountered in a New Orleans men's room, it is a beauty, as is the image of HJ. He is probably long suffering at this point with the new migration of Californians into all western states, including Montana. You catch his attitude perfectly in the final shot. The storytelling about these men was superb, Esteban. Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas to you and that girlfriend of yours!