Neither mad dog nor Englishman, The Observer will go out in the noonday sun, if it's absolutely necessary, but he won't go without his hat.
The Observer began wearing headgear during the summer a few years back. This summer, the preferred topper is a newsboy-style cap, neutral in color, ordered via Internet from a New York hat shop that might well be patronized by stars of film and television, for all The Observer knows.
"It's very chic," associates have told him; some say it complements a natural charm.
But function, not fashion, is what causes The Observer to go hatted. He realized, finally, that the top of his head was becoming more exposed with every passing year, and that he was suffering more intensely from sunburned scalp.
Useful though they are, caps, like umbrellas, are easy to leave on the lunch table, unnoticed. Last week, after a seasonably light meal of chicken livers and rice covered with cream gravy, The Observer took his check to the cashier at Franke's Cafeteria, paid his bill, walked down the hall and out the cafeteria doors into the large main hall of the Regions Bank building. He traversed that hall as well, then turned into the big bank lobby, and was halfway across, headed for an outside door, when he heard a voice behind him, calling "Sir! Sir!" He turned and saw a young man approaching, smiling and carrying The Observer's cap. Olympians have won medals for covering less distance in more time.
He'd been a diner at the next table, we realized as we thanked him. Only after he was gone did we think of offering a reward, but we're pretty sure he wouldn't have taken it.
Protected now, we left the bank building, and trudged through 90-degree sunshine back to the Times building. Entering, we wondered if The Observer could have made it without the cap.
"Lookin' good," the receptionist said.
It's time to register for The Observer's Hall High class reunion and we're conflicted. It was a long time ago we slipped down the hallways of Hall High, passing trigonometry thanks to Susie ... Susie ... . See, that's why we are afraid to go. How could we forget the last name of the brilliant girl we sat next to, who helped us through cosines and all those problems containing numbers, which we just can't use? We'll never forget certain things, of course — the candidate for class president who put duct tape on his mouth because the administration censored his speech and who gave the speech later at Reservoir Park. (Strangely, he did not grow up to be a politician. Last The Observer heard, he was in divinity school.) But at a party celebrating our daughter's high school graduation over the weekend, someone asked us to sing the Hall High alma mater. We weren't even aware Hall High had an alma mater, but it apparently did, because one of our fellow alums burst into song. (I do know my daughter's alma mater. It's catchy.)
So do we gamely go to the graduation and try to make our glances at our former classmates' nametags surreptitious and lament that most of the world has a better memory than we? We know you've asked yourself this question. Answers?
Memorial Day weekend, 2010. The Observer had a little barbecue, a little beer, a little time in the old swimming hole. Floating on our back in a serene pool, watching the clouds drift on high, we took a few minutes to reflect over all the things this country has to offer cowards like Yours Truly, a lot of that thanks to folks unafraid to storm machine gun emplacements and crawl through barbed wire.
The Observer's maternal grandfather died just before we were born, but family lore is that Truitt Evans — a boy who drove to town from a hamlet up in the hills a few days after Pearl Harbor — was one of the first wave of American soldiers to see Nagasaki after the bomb did its grim work there. He would only talk about it when drunk, Ma Observer says, and then only haltingly: of the blackened bodies; of the crunch of charred bone; of those unlucky enough to survive the blast.
War is hell, the man said, and he was right. Though the last 50 years have often seen America engage in conflicts that are more about political will than protecting these physical shores, one thing stays the same: Young men walking hand in hand with Death, far from home.
Though The Observer doesn't always agree with why they're out there: Thanks for being out there. Though we don't know what we think about God: God bless you, and keep you safe.