Once Upon A Time: The Hat

English: The Mad Hatter, illustration by John ...

English: The Mad Hatter, illustration by John Tenniel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(warning: pee and poop references)

Once upon a time there was a magnificent hat. The brim curved ever so slightly downward on the left, and curved ever so slightly upward on the right. The feathers in the band seemed to flutter even when the hat was still, and gave off a faint perfume as if they’d been rubbed with fresh fruit.
The hat was owned by a milliner named John Harper, and he was crazy. He wasn’t mad as a hatter, which is a not-nice way of talking about hatters who had been exposed to mercury during the process of making hats. In the old days they would use the fur of animals and matt it together to make felt, then shape the felt into hat shapes and use mercury to smooth the felt. The mercury vapor got into the hatters and gave them the shakes, also making them paranoid and depressed.
John Harper was just crazy, and had been so prior to his foray into hat-making. He talked to people that no one else could see, he danced at times to music that no one else could hear, and he made marvelous hats.
No one really knew how he did it. John was quite secretive and would go off with the materials into the back room and appear a wonderfully short time later with a creative expression that perfectly matched the personality of the customer. Occasionally this involved hats that would not hold up under extended use, but in most cases a hat is purchased for an occasion, and for this purpose John’s hats were perfect.
Another milliner, a competitor of John Harper, wanted to know how John did it. This man, Robert Knitch, was as mad as a hatter, and for the reason that he used too much mercury and had all the problems of that particular poisoning.
Robert broke into John’s millinery after hours and hid himself in a wardrobe. A wardrobe is like a closet, only it is a piece of furniture that can be moved. It is useful in situations like old castles where you can’t really make a closet in the walls. This particular wardrobe was large and bulky, so Robert was quite surprised when it began to move. His first inclination was to get out of the wardrobe, but it had inexplicably become locked. So Robert banged on the wardrobe and tried to force it open from inside, which is quite hard from a very closed space when you can’t get a running start.
The wardrobe went, with Robert inside it, outside. He felt himself being loaded onto a cart and called out: “Help! Let me out!” At which point he heard a very nasty voice, seemingly almost in his ear, say: “You keep quiet, or we’ll burn the wardrobe.”
So a very tense and quiet cart ride later, Robert felt the wardrobe get lifted off the cart. He felt it settle a little, and then heard the cart start off again. When the cart’s sound had faded, Robert called out: “hello?” He tried the wardrobe door, and it creaked open. He was in the middle of a field, miles from anywhere. It took Robert two days to find his way back to town.
Most individuals with all their wits would have given John Harper’s millinery a wide berth after something like that, but Robert Knitch was not a man with all his wits. He disguised himself as a woman with a veil, and went to John’s shop to buy a hat. Rather than betray himself, Robert gave John a note detailing the hat he wanted. John gathered the supplies, and went into the back room. Robert followed him and caught a bit of his dress in the door so it couldn’t close properly.
What happened next is a matter of some conjecture. Robert claims he saw something or somethings “swarming” over the fabric. John maintains that he prepared the hat exactly as requested. The note was lost, so we have no evidence. But it does seem curious that Robert would have requested “a giant piece of poop hat that will never come off.” For that is what he received. Doctors tell us that removing the hat will literally require the removal of Robert’s scalp and advise against it. For Robert it is very humiliating, but he has gained notoriety and some considerable fame as the man with the poop-shaped hat. And John’s hat business has gained a variety of more unconventional requests. Witness the Duchess of Whimsy’s throwing up hat or the Countess of Marlboro’s peeing in the bushes hat.

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