Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is there a fashionable hat in your past?

By Dick Hirsch

    When I unexpectedly met up with my old college friend, Ray, we decided to go inside a nearby restaurant and reminisce over a cup of coffee. Once we sat down, I noticed that he was studying me intently, perhaps attempting to assess any obvious results of the rigors of aging. But, no, that wasn’t his reason. After a brief period, he observed:

“You are dressed the same today as you were when you were a junior in college.”

He explained that he meant no disrespect. He was just noticing that while the persona had changed with the years, the chosen clothing had not been modified. I could not deny it. I still favor the tweed jackets and blue blazers, the crew neck sweaters, the button down shirts, the khaki pants and the cavalry twill trousers. Yes, of course the sizes have changed, but the overall look survives.

What about style? The odd thing is that I cannot resist reading men’s fashion articles when they appear, although I am clearly not a slave to fashion. I look in the mirror occasionally as we prepare to leave home for some event and while I think I look presentable, I know I am not fashionable. Yes, I am aware of the shifting widths of lapels and neckties and the changing shirt collar configurations, but I am not intimidated by such revisionist policies.

Do I want to be fashionable? I don’t think so.

I’m not exposed to many publications that feature men’s fashions, but when one comes to my attention I just cannot refrain from studying the latest trends. Most of the models are pictured strolling past the camera in $2,500 raincoats and $900 sweaters. They are all tall and lean, sometimes slightly unkempt and in need of a shave. If I could afford a coat like that I would be sure to shave before wearing it.

Lately I notice the fashionistas are stressing hats. I know the word hat for many persons is a term that includes headwear of all varieties. That is probably true, but I don’t think the category includes caps. More caps are being worn today, caps worn with aplomb by men who a generation or so ago would be wearing a real hat, a fedora, a felt hat with a brim and a stylish band encircling the crown. There may have been a feather tucked inside the band.

The men’s headwear industry supposedly took a staggering blow 50 years ago when President Kennedy disdained the wearing of hats. Remember, he had great hair, and must have agreed with the strategy that mandated “If you have it, flaunt it.” Before that men wore hats to events of all kinds. The unwritten rule was that a well-dressed businessman would not venture out without a hat. Among the lunch bucket crowd at the factory gates many hats were seen, felt hats most of the year, but occasional straws during the summer. In 1940 there were over 150 major hat makers in the US, while today there are only 10.

My own experience with hats has been limited. When I was a young reporter, they assigned me to the police beat at headquarters, filling in for the regular reporter. I looked like the kid I was, surrounded by all those older detectives. For a more mature appearance, one afternoon I bought a hat, a brown felt snap brim fedora. I felt a little sheepish walking back to the press room on the second floor, but I decided it would change my image, especially if I wore it while working at the desk. No one ever said anything, but I still believe I saw a few smirks from the guys on the Vice Squad who were in the next office. I wore it sparingly after my assignment at headquarters ended. It reposed in the front hall closet for a decade at least before being donated to a rummage sale.

Years later I bought my last hat, a truly unique and stylish Tyrolean model, olive felt with a fancy cord encircling the crown and a decorative brush-like ornament affixed to the brim. It was not a serious hat, but it was entertaining, supposedly the type favored by the alpine yodelers. I intended to keep it for the duration, but late one blustery winter afternoon I was crossing the street and it was carried aloft by a sudden powerful gust. My last glimpse of it was soaring past overhead, heading toward Syracuse.



Sunday, March 06, 2011

They call it exercise....and it is!

By Dick Hirsch

They call it exercise. Those in the group adhere to the broadest definition of that term. In most dictionaries it reads like this: “an activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness.”

The group includes both men and women and has met on a regular basis for some years. The members don’t have any formal alliance or structure. They don’t even have a stated purpose, but if they did, they could consider “in union there is strength.” That would indicate that when you are engaged in some boring and repetitive activity it is made more palatable if done with other people, rather than alone.

When they started years ago they called it running. There are countless runners today but when the group started it was early, still an odd sight to see some middle-aged specimen running down the road in what, at a distance, appeared to be underwear.

“We soon realized that not everyone is built for running, but we considered that a non-essential detail,” one of the members recalled. “In fact,” he added, “if you abide by the theory that mandates ‘the lean horse for the long race,’ only two relatively new members of our group are built for running. The rest of us don’t fit the model. Yet we persevered.”

As time went on, a major semantic change evolved. They never discussed the change; it just materialized. No longer did they describe the activity as running. They called it jogging. Again we can turn to the dictionary for a precise explanation: “running at a steady gentle pace, especially on a regular basis as a form of physical exercise.” The group has been seen in action on various streets and avenues in nearly any kind of weather. Perhaps you have noticed them. They have been befriended by mail carriers, various deliverymen and prospectors---busy collecting returnable bottles--- pushing grocery carts. They are frequently hailed by residents who wonder who they are, where they came from and where they are heading. They have occasionally been hollered at by some driver having a bad day, but that doesn’t bother them.

What bothered this was this, one member explained: “From time to time some random witness would say ‘I saw you walking down the street the other day.’”


That couldn’t have been them. It must have been some others.

But it was them and it is them.

Yes, the velocity has slowed. There is still motivation, but the motion has diminished. They are still picking them up and laying them down with the same dedication but at an adjusted pace.

The group’s members say that could be considered the bad news. But thy have always adopted a positive attitude so they insist there is there is also related good news, news worth spreading. It involves the hippocampus. It turns out that while most of us never realized it, each of us has his or her own hippocampus. It is a part of the brain, a part of the brain that is essential in the formation, retention and recollection of memories. In healthy adults, the hippocampus begins to atrophy and shrink around the age of 55 or 60. I cringe when I hear atrophy discussed in relation to any muscle or organ, but especially the brain.

The good news is that psychologists who have been conducting tests are suggesting that the hippocampus can be “modestly expanded” and memory improved by regular walking. A group of seniors who walked 40 minutes a day over a year were actually able to expand their hippocampi. It wasn’t a huge expansion but it was significant because while those of sedentary others were shrinking, these expanded.

I pass this information along because many people today are worried about their memories; with people living longer, there is more concern about memory. Consider the experience of a friend who was constantly misplacing his keys. It was very upsetting to him, even though the keys always were located. He spoke to a therapist about it and was advised not to worry. It is common, the doctor said, but if you find your keys in the refrigerator, then you may have a problem.

The members of the walking group claim to have amended their approach in the wake of that news. It will now will be this: whenever a member can’t remember something, no matter how unimportant, they are going out for another walk.