The Man Who Wore a Fe­dora

Forward Magazine - - & - SEX & THE SINGER BY JENNY SINGER

There’s no rea­son for any­one to wear a fe­dora.

To me, when a male peer dons a fe­dora, he is say­ing ei­ther “I have no so­cial graces and mine is a life of con­stant sor­row ” or “I am aware that fe­do­ras are de­praved, yet I flout so­cial con­ven­tion the same way I would flout an ex­tin­guisher dur­ing a fire.” With the ex­cep­tion of cer­tain jazz dancers, wear­ing a fe­dora is short­hand for per­vert.

Yes, a man in a fe­dora is a har­bin­ger of su er­ing, but I un­der­es­ti­mated the power one can have.

Some time ago, I came up with an idea for this col­umn: I would let my mother take con­trol of my dat­ing apps. As­sum­ing my on­line iden­tity, she be­gan set­ting me up on dates. Af­ter each one, I would dis­cuss them with Talya.

Talya is my co-worker. We sit a few feet away from each other, sep­a­rated by a cu­bi­cle wall. I write pop cul­ture. She writes cul­ture. I write about sex, so­cial me­dia and celebri­ties. Talya writes mostly about Euro­pean grave­yards. Then one day she ends a re­la­tion­ship, and I be­gin a strange new re­la­tion­ship with my mother, and we both start go­ing on a lot of dates.

It’s Mon­day, and Talya is glow­ing. Her first date since her breakup was spec­tac­u­lar. They talked for hours about lit­er­a­ture and po­etry. She’s very in­ter­ested in him. My last date was dull, I tell her. She’s sure things will im­prove soon.

And they do. The next night, Talya and I run into each other in the com­pany bath­room af­ter work. We put on lip­stick side by side in front of the mir­ror. She’s not even sure she wants to meet some­one new — Sun­day’s date was so good, af­ter all.

A few af­ter­noons later, I pop my head over the cu “We fi­nally set­tled on giv­ing the bi­cle wall and ask, “How was the other night?”

“Bad,” she groans. And worse, that guy who texted her: He went on a date with some­one else, he feels se­ri­ously about that woman, and now he just wants to be friends! “I just don’t un­der­stand why he’s so sure about her af­ter one date,” she laments. “Sounds like an idiot,” I say.

“My date was re­ally Jewish,” I tell Talya, with the breezy anti-Semitism of some­one who lost mostly dis­tant cousins to the Holo­caust. “But we had a great click.” The thing is, I say, I liked Josh a lot, but in his dat­ing pro­file — my uvula flaps a warn­ing against my throat as I say this — he was wear­ing... a fe­dora.

A long si­lence fol­lows. “It’s just funny,” Talya says even­tu­ally, “be­cause the guy I went out with last Sun­day who liked po­etry? He’s also named Josh.”

“And also, he was wear­ing a fe­dora.”

We each pull up our date’s pro­file. It’s the same per­son.

We make for the women’s bath­room.

Talya is laugh­ing.

I feel the ag­i­ta­tion of a bal­loon­ing ego and drain­ing sel­f­re­spect, like I’m giv­ing blood while drink­ing a cran­berry juice cock­tail. Why can’t a date just be nice? Why does it have to be a fe­dora-wearer you’re in­ad­ver­tently steal­ing from your col­league?

“I love this,” Talya says, smil­ing with a gen­uine warmth and au­then­tic good­will I doubt I will ever feel, even at the birth of my first child. She sug­gests we cel­e­brate with a selfie. She wraps her arms around me, snaps a pic, and sends it to Josh. The cap­tion? “She was mine first.”

As the days lengthen and the High Hol­i­days ap­pear over the hori­zon like a sum­mer storm, I use Talya as a sup­port and sound­ing board. I lean over our di­vider as she tries to write, so­lic­it­ing her opin­ion on Josh’s ex­act re­li­gious val­ues. His ca­reer prospects.

“But what,” Talya asks, “are you go­ing to do about the fe­dora?”

A thrill of dread runs through my body, like a mouse ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the high-volt­age shock of an elec­tric trap be­fore siz­zling to death. Granted, Josh ad­ver­tised his fe­dora in his dat­ing pro­file. I had as­sumed it was more of a com­men­tary on the flac­cid­ity of con­tem­po­rary mas­culin­ity than an ac­tual fash­ion choice, but Talya con­firms that the hat made an ap­pear­ance on her date. And yet, I go on the sec­ond date.

And it’s so good. We sit, fac­ing each other, at a tall ta­ble. My chest keeps do­ing that thing that feels like the mo­ment when some­thing made of glass catches the sun. He loves chess. He keeps Shab­bat. I find the fact that he wore a wind­breaker to The Dakota Bar oddly at­trac­tive. I ask him why

he didn’t just ad­mit to

Talya and me that he ac­ci­den­tally went out with two women from the same small pub­li­ca­tion in the same week. “I’m a se­rial monogamist,” he says, blush­ing. I tell him that my mom was im­per­son­at­ing me in % of our con­ver­sa­tions. At mid­night I float home, think­ing about how I would see the world if I were, like him, trilin­gual. And then just as I’m about to suc­cumb to the fan­tasy, I re­mem­ber the fe­dora.

I go on a week­end away with two child­hood friends. It’s rush hour, and the story of Josh gets us from Chelsea to the up­per Bronx. “I un­der­stand,” one of the friends sym­pa­thizes. “Why don’t you and Josh take the fe­dora, do a big cer­e­mony, and burn it pub­licly?”

“That’s ex­actly what my ther­a­pist said to do, and both of you are miss­ing the point!” I seethe. But as we drive north and the sun sinks, for the first time in my life I Google “sun­set time tonight?” to find out when I can ex­pect to re­ceive my last text from the Shab­bos-lov­ing, head­gear chal­lenged, very Jewish man my mom found me who was prob­a­bly meant for Talya.

It’s a beau­ti­ful week­end. My friends and I walk along the Hud­son. We feign be­ing the kind of peo­ple who can aŒord to go an­tiquing. We eat a lot of farm-to-ta­ble small plates. Night falls. I try to fo­cus on the con­ver­sa­tion. But at :“” p.m. my phone pings, and I can’t help it — I squeal. I think of a line I love by the poet Ger­ard Man­ley Hopkins, “My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell…. To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.” It res­onates with me, even though it’s ac­tu­ally about dis­cov­er­ing Catholi­cism dur­ing a

ship­wreck. I re­turn to the city. I meet Josh in Cen­tral Park for a late-night walk. I am wear­ing the same amount of makeup as you would ex­pect to see on a child pageant con­tes­tant. When he sees me, he waves. I have spent too much time around peo­ple and am not in a good mood. I feel the out­line of the cobblestones through my cheap bal­let flats. We get into a dead-end con­ver­sa­tion about fem­i­nism that ends with me talk­ing to him as if I were a de­ranged witch. We walk silently around the reser­voir, I in my un­com­fort­able shoes and too short shorts, him with a phan­tom fe­dora float­ing above his head.

Josh does not text me af­ter the date. I text him. He texts me back briefly. I re­spond. He doesn’t text me. I wait three days and then I text, “I am ready for you to ask me out again now.” I wait a fas­ci­nat­ing ˜“ hours. I ob­serve, from a dis­tance, the hum­bling si­t­u­a­tion I find my­self in.

He texts me back: “Touché, next week is su­per busy, but the week af­ter?” My anger over this fast-and­loose ap­proach to the word “touché” is over­come by my de­sire to see him. “If you change your mind, walk with me in the park tonight?” I write. He re­sponds some­thing about need­ing to study for the GRE. The GRE! If he wants to do so well on the GRE, he should spend some more time around me — I got a ”œ on the read­ing sec­tion of the SAT, for f—k’s sake.

I tell Talya as much the next day. She nods, sym­pa­thet­i­cally as she sips tea out of a travel mug. By now, Talya is dat­ing an at­trac­tive non-Jew with an im­pres­sive ca­reer. They go on long dates and have dis­cus­sions about his­tory. “He’s fickle, Jenny,” she says about Josh. But I don’t lis­ten.

It’s Satur­day night. You can prob­a­bly see the stars over the Cen­tral Park Reser­voir. Or­tho­dox Jews have been tex­ting each other for hours. I eat all the choco­late in my house. I Google: When are the GREs?

It’s easy, for me, to be­come ob­sessed. I can imag­ine mar­ry­ing some­one — or mur­der­ing him — within sec­onds of our meet­ing. I can build a char­ac­ter flaw around an oŒhand com­ment, or a type of hat. I like dat­ing be­cause it’s a kind of sto­ry­telling. And how can a story be well writ­ten if it ends with some­thing mun­dane — like a guy who doesn’t send me a text mes­sage?

It’s Mon­day, eight days since my last text con­tact with Josh. “Jenny, let it go,” Talya says. She oŒers me choco­late. She makes me tea. “You de­serve some­one who texts you back.”

We pause to con­sider our days. I need to find a Jewish an­gle to this Elon Musk thing. She’s edit­ing a story about Holo­caust im­agery in Ger­man video games.

We sit down, side by side, two women who write sto­ries. Two women who were both re­jected by the same man, who was wear­ing a fe­dora.

And then, just as I'm about to suc­cumb to the fan­tasy, I re­mem­ber the fe­dora.

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