The other morning I was at work when a man drove up our driveway in a pickup truck, parked, and wandered into the bookstore. He asked very politely if I could help him find the place he was looking for and pulled a raggedy piece of scratch paper out of his t-shirt pocket. Glancing it over, I recognized the name of the nuns' residence, which is right across the way from the bookstore (it's a Catholic university).
I pointed to the nunnery (as I like to call it), and he then asked whether I knew if they'd been doing any construction over there recently. He was apparently a construction work there to do the finishing touches. I told him yes, that people had been redoing their patio all week, and walked him outside to show him exactly where to go.
We were done with this little conversation and the man was about to walk away when he said this: "You like that hat, huh?"
I was baffled. My first way of making sense of this in my mind was this thought: 1) 'I'm not wearing a hat; he can't be talking about my hat,' and 2) this incredibly strange follow-up: 'Is he making fun of my hair? Is he saying my hair looks like a hat?'
I said, "Excuse me?"
And he said, "You like that hat huh? You're looking at my hat." He pulled the brim of his hat down to show me. This man was taller than me, and the brim of his hat was up kind of high, so until he did that, I couldn't even see anything about his hat other than the color.
It would have been great if his hat had somehow been so awesome, I could have just said, "yeah, that's a great hat!" But it just said, Mustangs Football on it, some sports hat. What could I say? I don't have it in me to give a false, after-the-fact compliment.
I just said, "oh, no I wasn't actually," smiling and trying to say it in the nicest possible way.
"Oh, okay," he said, "okay then, thanks."
He didn't seem hurt or anything, but I felt kind of bad. He was the nicest man, and he had seemed so happy at first when he thought I was admiring his hat. But then I don't know why he thought I was looking at anyway. I was looking at his eyes while we were talking (?)
Anyway, this whole interaction struck me as funny and reminded me of a line I loved from the first short story in the book Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger. I don't remember the title of the story, but the main character is in the elevator, and the woman next to him is staring at his feet. He makes some comment to acknowledge this fact, and she denies having been staring at his feet. In the end, he says something to the effect of, "Look lady, I don't mind if you're staring at my feet, but you don't have to be a god damned sneak about it."
I wonder if the man thought I was trying to be all sneaky about my obsession with his hat. I had the feeling he wanted to tell me the story behind it. Maybe I should have asked.