Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It’s Just a Hat…. Or Is It?

Last Saturday night, me, Sally and several friends and family went to a Reds baseball game. Because it was my brother-in-law’s birthday and Father’s Day the next day, we decided to spring for some good seats. These ones allowed access to a sort of gourmet cafeteria area with stations filled with good food and a cash bar.

Upon entering this room, I immediately noticed a 35-or-so year old guy wearing a USMC boonie cap, one of the new ones in the digitized camo pattern.

As a vet (albeit one that was Army, not Marines), my immediate reaction was that I wanted to go over to the guy, introduce myself and ask him when/where he served. But I also wouldn’t want to interrupt someone at a game like this and tried to value the guy’s privacy, so I held off. [Note to self #1, he was wearing the cap indoors. This should have been my first tip off, even if he was dressed in civies.]

When the national anthem came on, I noticed he had taken the hat off, was at attention and had his hand over his heart, doing the ‘right thing’. 'Cool,' I thought.

As the game started and went through its progression of innings, I would spot the guy (actually the hat) and sort of battled internally about going up to him, or just minding my own business. I kept opting for the later.

At one point, I passed by the guy and noticed that he was somewhat slack-jawed and rubber-lipped, and just generally got a bad vibe from him. Now, I don’t care what anyone looks like (especially if they were a former Marine), but the military makes you pretty good at immediately sizing people up. Actually, it makes you very good at just not ignoring those feelings you get about someone not being quite ‘there’ or being sort of ‘out of it’ and immediately acting upon those feelings. Because while those feelings might not mean too much in the civilian world, they can mean life and death when you have to depend on someone’s actions in a combat zone. [Note to self #2: never again ignore it when you get the feeling that someone is a total ‘POS’.]

As the game wound down though, I found Sally and her sister at an outdoor bar, about mid-way up the stadium, looking down at the first base line. As we were chatting, I saw that Boonie Cap was sitting just below the bar and I mentioned that I should go up at chat with him.

Sally noted that they’d already been talking to him and that he was never in the Marines. I was sort of taken aback, because you generally just don’t see someone wearing Marines’ gear, especially modern stuff like the digitized boonie cap, unless they’d actually been a Marine. Further, he apparently said he’d never join the military these days because it was ‘anautomatic death sentence’ and then added something about how his wife doesn’t like him to drink anymore, or even leave the house.

Now, the Marines make a lot of boonie caps, and they give them out to a lot of Marines, both good ones and bad ones, hard-core recon guys all the way down to POG (‘Person Other than Grunt’ – rear echelon soldiers) finance guys. And Marines come and go out of the Corps, so those caps become surplus and anyone could buy one. But you just don’t… I just don’t… ever see anyone wearing something like that unless they were actually a Marine.
I immediately said to Sally, “He shouldn’t be wearing that cover.”

Seeing ‘that look’ in my eye, Sally immediately said, “Let it go Chris.”

Once again failing to heed Sally's good advice, I immediately walked over to the railing edge, leaned down to, and said to the guy, “Hey buddy, you really shouldn’t be wearing that hat.”

“What? Why not?” he replied.

“You weren’t a Marine, so you shouldn’t be wearing that hat.”

He was with four or five others and they immediately started to chime in. In the din, I could pick out his voice, saying things about how he’d wear whatever he liked.

I repeated sternly, “You weren’t a Marine, you shouldn’t wear that hat.”

His voice, which sounded a LOT like Bill Paxton’s character in Aliens, whiny with a touch of southern drawl, piped up, “Hey buddy, I’ll have you know that I bought this hat at a yard sale for 50 cents. 50 cents! They guy who had it didn’t even want it and he sold it to me for 50 CENTS!”

Now, here Rubber Lips had a point. The hat is surplus, just a piece of cloth with some grommets and other stuff stitched into it. Oh, and a USMC globe and anchor emblem on the front. That’s all. The guy who’d been issued it sold it at a yard sale, and now it was, in fact, Rubber Lips’ property, which he could wear or not.

At this point too, I believe Sally was pulling on my arm saying repeatedly, “Chris, let it GO.”

Now, anyone who knows me (and no one knows me better than Sally) knows I’m not really that great at letting things go. So – unwisely, I’ll admit – I continued to stay at the railing.
“I don’t give a [frig], you weren’t a Marine, and you shouldn’t be wearing that hat.”

Rubber Lips said, “Sir, were you a serviceman?” [Side note, he said ‘serviceman’. What is this 1942?]

“Yes, I was.”

“Well, I thank you for your service but you can’t come up here and tell me…” At this point, his voice was sort of lost amidst the additional shouts and comments of his friends, plus me repeating over and over again that he shouldn’t be wearing that [frigging] hat.

Sally finally pulled me away and back to the bar. She was, of course, disappointed and embarrassed, and gave me her worst, ‘What the [frig] where you DOING!?!?!’ look. It’s a good one by the way, as Sally is outstanding at these sort of looks (which are, most often, directed at me). It’s a very strong look, with laser beam eyes that won’t look away, until she gives you this very dismissive sort of ‘slow blink’ and then looks away in this state of near absolute disgust.

It would not be the last time she gave me this look that night.

I turned back to the bar, and started to take my spousal lashings from Sally. Suddenly Rubber Lips appeared, hat in hand.

“You know what,” he says, “I’ll give you my hat if I can just get my 50 cents back.”

“Great man,” I replied as I dug into my wallet. “Tell you what, I’ll double your money. Here’s a buck.”

Rubber Lips took the dollar, handed me the boonie hat, and walked away, as I added, “Thanks, you did the right thing!”

I folded up the hat, put it in my pocket, and started to think of ways to destroy the hat so that it would never end up sitting upon the dome of another Rubber Lips.

I felt good, like I’d righted some wrong in the world, however tiny and inconsequential it might have been in the grand scheme of things.

But, my good feeling was short-lived, as Rubber Lips soon returned.

“You know what, I changed my mind. I want the hat back. My wife gave me that hat.”

“You said you bought it at a yard sale.”

“No, my wife gave me that hat. I can’t go home without that hat. Here’s your dollar back.” He slapped my buck back on the bar.

“No sale,” I said. “The hat is mine. I bought it off you. All sales are final.”

Rubber Lips wasn’t budging. “My wife gave me that hat, my WIFE. I can’t go home without that hat. It was a gift. I want it back.”

“It was 50 cents! Why do you care? I’m not giving you the hat.”

This went on for a bit, with Sally occasionally chiming in, “CHRIS! Just give him back the HAT!”

Finally, Rubber Lips says, “Look, you can call my wife, her name is Tiffany. You can ask her about the hat.” He pulls out his Blackberry, dials a number, and hands me the phone. I look down, see that it’s ringing ‘Tiffany’ and waited.

A woman picked up, I said hello, introduced myself, and then started to tell her what’s going on. Just about the time that I finish up my tale, just as I’m about to ask her, ‘So, do you really care if I keep this hat or not?,’ Rubber Lips dives past Sally, grabs my shorts, and reaches for my pocket. I was still holding his phone, so could only spin my hips a bit and use my one free hand to try to block him, but he reached in with both hands, and yanked the hat out of my pocket.

My thought process here was something like: ‘[Frigging] bastard! MY hat. His phone – in my hand…’

My response was automatic.

It was inspired.

It was deliberate.

It was… really, really stupid.

I spun toward the field, and hucked Rubber Lips’ crappy Blackberry off the middle deck of ‘Great American Ballpark’, toward the field below. It’s a beautiful sight, you know, a little spinning Blackberry, momentarily sparkling under the stadium lights, as it speeds toward its doom, finally dropping below the railing toward the seats below…

Although somewhat elated (momentarily absolutely psyched, actually), I immediately was filled with regret; ‘Oh crap, there are people down there. I could have just hit someone with a spinning Blackberry doing about 25 mph.’

Rubber Lips’ lips were hung open. “You just threw ma phone!”

“Yep. Sure did. Buh-bye.”

He repeated, “You just threw ma phone!”

About this time, Sally surely said something like “CHRIS CHESAK, what did you just DO!?!?!”

My reply was wise, insightful, and illuminating, “I [friggin’] chucked his phone.”

“You threw ma phone!”


About this time, a woman from security came up screaming, “All right, that’s it!!! You two stay right there, DON’T MOVE!!!” She then got on her radio and started to call a cop.

I nonchalantly leaned up against the bar and said, “Hey, I’m cool. I’m not going anywhere.”

Rubber Lips meanwhile had to fill his friends on what just happened, “He threw ma phone!” and then peppered me with a variety of disinformation;

“That’s a FOUR HUNDRED DOLLAR phone!”

“Yer gonna PAY for that, man! I'm gonna SUE you!”

“You hit a kid man, A KID! He’s down there, all wrapped up in bandages, all bleeding everywhere. How do you feel about yourself now?”

Meanwhile, a young patrolman showed up and started taking down everyone’s story. I told my story, identified myself as a vet, and was completely factual (to the best of my ability), polite, and respectful to the young officer, even if he did miss the point here (assuming I actually had one really): When I mentioned that Rubber Lips shouldn’t have been wearing the hat, the young cop said, “What’s the big deal about the hat? You’d wear a Reds hat, but you aren’t on the team are you?”

I said, “Actually officer, I wouldn’t wear a Reds hat [Because I’m a Red Sox fan.], but I see your point.” [In hindsight, I should have said, ‘Officer, how would you feel if you saw someone at a game like this wearing a Cincinnati PD hat? Or maybe an actual badge, just because it’s ‘cool’?].

When the officer mentioned the phone, I immediately offered to pay for it. I owned up. After all, I’d chucked this dude’s phone off the stadium. No blame, no lie, no excuse: it was ME that chucked his phone. I also mentioned, very honestly, that I was absolutely mortified at the fact that someone could have been hurt. [Luckily, this altercation came in the ninth inning of a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays, so most fans had already shuffled on out of the stadium.]

At some point in all this, the patrolman went to talk to Rubber Lips, who – just for effect for sure – was wearing the frigging boonie hat (and did the whole time). Now, had this gone to an actual court, that hat would be mine. He sold it to me fare and square. He set a price, we agreed to terms, and had a financial transaction. That hat was mine.

But, somewhere in there, while I was being all cool and all, Rubber Lips burst out at me, “That’s a FOUR HUNDRED DOLLAR PHONE, man! I’ve got a wife and kids to go home to, two kids! You know what that’s LIKE!?!?!”

As his little tirade continued, I kept my cool, thinking about how yes, I have two kids too, and one was actually born the night I flew into Iraq and I didn’t get to know her until she was 11 months old, and all sorts of quippy, hip, chilling burns to hit this moron with. But, as my temperature again started to rise, and he droned on further, I blew up with a simple, yet effective, “Yeah, you ever been to IRAQ!?!?! You know what THAT’S LIKE?!?!?”

The patrolman kindly settled everyone back down, and I slipped back into cool mode.

Soon after, the patrolman introduced me to his boss, a police lieutenant in plainclothes, and HIS boss, who was presumably a captain then, also in plainclothes.

The lieutenant got both stories, checked them with both of us, and then told us what was going down. I never once looked at Rubber Lips, but just stayed focused on the LT, respectfully responding to his questions. Bottom line, he said I was wrong for chucking a phone off the stadium (duh) but that Rubber Lips was wrong for coming at me and grabbing me (hello, assault – not to mention theft of the hat that I had purchased) but that he would both let us off since we were both wrong.

He then instructed the young patrolman to go with Rubber Lips to go find his phone and see if it was ‘okay’ (yeah… no chance in hell).

With Rubber Lips gone, the LT (and the captain) sort of started to joke around about the phone’s condition. And then the LT sort of let it be known that they’d be showing Rubber Lips out of the stadium from down in the lower deck. We were then free to go.
So… we did.

And I have to think that – I have to hope that – at the least, Rubber Lips will think twice about ever wearing that hat again.

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