Almost Fiction: Birthday hat

By Sam Jones

“It’s almost your birthday; what do you want for a present? I’m asking you now, with weeks to spare, because you always start celebrating early and never on the exact date. So, what do you want?” asked a very attractive woman who knew if she came up with a good gift she might get taken out to a fancy dinner.

“I’ve been looking at an expensive leather motorcycle jacket and a new Stetson hat. However, lust overcame me and I bought the hat. It’s the ‘Open Road’ classic. They been making that same hat for over 100 years. My dad always wore hats and I bought him one years ago.” As he spoke Marvin answered her question while looking wistfully off in the distance.

“You bought a cowboy hat like your father’s?”

“The ‘Open Road’ is not the traditional cowboy hat like in the movies. Visualize Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson; they wore the same hat. Like I said, it’s a classic.”

“Show me. I want to see how it looks.”

Marvin walked from the woman’s front room to his motorcycle, opened the tour pack (that made a perfect hatbox), produced the “Open Road” Stetson, put it on and walked back into the house. He stood in the doorway.

“Yep, it is a classic. You look like a combination of Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, your dad and Marvin the Magnificent.” She laughed as she kidded him. He started toward her in mock anger with counterfeit violence bleeding from his eyes threatening her with hands and arms raised like a huge grizzly bear. “OK, OK, you look like a classic quarter horse rancher on his way to a stock auction to buy some good cutting horses.”

Marvin calmed his pretend anger, “That’s better,” and he gave her a hug and a kiss forgiving her teasing and all was well for the rest of the evening.

For several hours the next afternoon Marvin sat on his porch listening to a portable radio, smoking his pipe, drinking lemonade, wearing his new Stetson, thinking about his birthday and his father’s birthday.

This upcoming birthday was giving him some concern. No, it wasn’t a question of health, he was in good shape; no one was going to come and take him away to the old folks’ home. Predicting a very long life his last doctor’s appointment said he was in better health than men half his age. If Marvin lived through the next few weeks to his birthday he would have beaten his father’s record; he would have lived longer than his father, the toughest old bird anyone had seen on this planet and that gave him pause. Even though his dad had been gone for many years, the whole thing of outliving his father confused and irritated him like a raspberry seed stuck in a wisdom tooth and had kept him up for the last few nights. Marvin was not looking forward to the upcoming anniversary of his birth.

When his father died he had been strong but tired. He had done just about everything he wanted and was ready to “meet his maker.” In a couple of weeks Marvin would be the same age; he was strong but not tired, he hadn’t done everything he wanted and was not ready to meet with anything having to do with death.

“Always do everything once and the good ones twice.” His father’s mantra rang in the breeze as Marvin struck a match and relit his pipe.

Birthdays had never given Marvin any concern whatsoever. They were just another day. Often he spent them alone, out on the road on one of his motorcycle trips. He liked it that way, didn’t like a fuss over nothing, didn’t like birthday parties. Actually Marvin didn’t like any holiday. Said he didn’t understand the tyranny of the calendar. “Holidays are just dates made up and ritualized by merchants to sell stuff you don’t need and can’t afford.” He liked Rocky Balboa’s quote from Rocky. “To you it’s Thanksgiving. To me it’s just Thursday.”

Although it sounded like Marvin was stingy and not personable, nothing could be further from the truth. He gave people presents, took friends out to lunch or dinner, was there for you if you needed help, loved dances and get-togethers with friends; he just didn’t like to do it because the calendar said it was time.

It angered Marvin that the calendar was in the middle of this thing about living longer than his father. “To hell with my birthday!” And with that said out loud he walked off the porch and out to the garage to prepare his motorcycle for a weeklong trip.

It didn’t take long. Everything was stored in such a way that it need not be checked and was packed on the bike exactly as it had been for the last trip. Marvin knew what would be needed and where and how it should be lashed down. The only thing on the big Harley that needed to be checked was the battery, tire pressure, lights, oil and gas. Other than that his bikes were always perfectly maintained.

Later that evening…

Two steaks were grilled on the barbecue with some ears of corn. A bottle of red wine was opened. The picnic table was brushed clean. Plates, silver and glasses were placed. “I can smell that steak cooking a block away. I see you’re still wearing that Stetson.” His lady friend drove up the long driveway and was now standing next to the barbecue.

“You’re right on time. I like a woman to be on time when I invite her to dinner.” Marvin turned the steaks and handed her the ears of corn that were wrapped in foil.

As she unwrapped the ears of corn she said, “I figured this would be our last dinner for a while. Figured you’d be out on the road for a trip. You usually take off on your birthday and I know you’re having a thing about this one making you older than your dad. Anyway I bought you a present.” She finished with the tin foil, wiped off her hands on a towel and handed Marvin a large box.

Marvin stabbed the steaks with a fork and placed them on plates. “Should I open it now or after dinner?”

“Now. I think you might need it soon.”

Inside the box was the leather jacket he’d been eyeing. Marvin put it on. It fit perfectly. Zipping it up and adjusting the “Open Road” Stetson down on his forehead he asked, “How do I look?” “Like a combination of Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, your dad and Marvin the Magnificent. You look like a classic.”

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