For the last month, I (inadvertently) conducted a social experiment. It was inadvertent insofar as I never really planned to be hosting a Cowboy in the City, but then, as we all know… the best laid plans… Anyhow, the experiment went something like this:
In the heart of San Francisco, and really all around the greater Bay Area, I strolled around with a 6’3″ guy wearing a bright and shiny [Stetson] Resistol hat. When he first arrived (wearing the hat) and picked me up at work, I kept stealing sideways glances. I mean, to be fair, the only reason I met him in the first place** was because of this same hat, but… here? In Berkeley? San Francisco? The Hat? Hmmmm. He wears it well, but I have to say I was very aware of the hat initially.
“He is wearing the hat in the City?” A. asks for confirmation after I tell her this.
“That is so funny. But in a way, it is like the ultimate hipster statement, you know.”
I arrange for the Cowboy to go surfing with a coworker.
“You weren’t kidding when you said he was a cowboy…
He showed up at 7 in the morning with a ten gallon hat and a dip.”
No, not kidding.
I meet him at a favorite local pub in the East Bay. The entire bar has already befriended him. They love him. They want to know if he rides. Rides what, he wants them to clarify (boys will be boys, even in a Resistol, it seems.) “This guy is amazing,” gushes a besotted 20-something guy.
We walk down Mission Street. “Hey Cowboy! Nice hat, amigo!”
We walk down Valencia Street and see a guy rolling a joint on the ledge of the Social Security building. The Cowboy does a double-take, which could in some circumstances be a bit dicey. In this case, we get a smile, “You must be from L.A., eh?” the dextrous smoker suggests. “No, San Diego,” the Cowboy answers back with ease, “Just not used to seeing such an open attitude, you know?” “Welcome to San Fran,” the smoker replies.
We walk down Octavia Street. “Hey Cowboy! Where did you get such a pretty lady? Got anymore like that?” “Nah… not like this,” he says.
We walk down Market Street. “I love your hat,” a woman says at the red light. She is clearly a little down on her luck, but the hat makes her smile and she recalls a hat she used to wear, just like this one, while we wait for the light to change. Amidst a sea of suits destined for hopeful happy hours and orthopedic surgeons in town for a conference unaware that one should ditch the name tag outside the conference hall, the hat stands out even more. As she tells her story the lady looks at him with a sort of earnestness I don’t see often. The light changes.
Further down Market, a tall guy in black steam punk stylings with a wizard hat stares. Really, dude? You’re staring?
We go to a store (that shall remain unnamed to protect my ego) to exchange a dress. I cannot find the dress I am looking for and I cannot get anyone to help me. The Cowboy has the undivided attention of one of the salesgirls in no time. “Where are you from?” She wants to know. “And can I help you?” She works with us for over thirty minutes to track down this dress. I am quite sure it had little to do with me.
Later, in another store in the south side of the City, the sales girl, wanting to be done with her shift, which will end in minutes says, “Don’t you look like a fine Southern couple!” I laugh. Maybe. “Where are you from?” “Here,” I answer. Her disappointment fades as she looks at the Cowboy.
We are on an escalator in a major shopping center. “Hey buddy, is that a Stetson?” “Nope, Resistol, but it is an offshoot of Stetson.” “Nice!”
We wait for Bart at Balboa Park. A black lady with glitter and inked lines on her face, which complement her blue dreadlocks, set off nicely by a “Brad Pitt helmet” comes up to us. She speaks almost directly to the hat. “Are you coming from the Cow Palace? Is the rodeo in town? Have you been to the Grand National Rodeo? I love the rodeo. I was married to a cowboy. That was before I married the German, the Russian and the Finn. I should have stayed in Finland. But seriously, I am not crazy, I know people think I am crazy but I am not. I just know the best people in the world, you know who they are? They are Cowboys. People around here, they don’t understand that. I do, though. I know. I am going to school now. Two more semesters. Then I might go back to Finland. The people here, they just don’t know good people. I make hats, you know? I sell them down in the financial district where people pay $15 for a beer. But they don’t like to spend money on hats. You are not from here are you? You two probably live, where? Let’s see, not in the most racist place on earth, that would be Berkeley, no, not there. But I know the police in Berkeley. They are good people. Police and Cowboys. Livermore? Do you live in Livermore? Fremont maybe? All I know, you know, you are gorgeous, do you know that? She is gorgeous, you know that right? Well, I just wanted to tell you that I could tell you were good folks. I know these kinds of things. Though, if you ask the German or the Russian they will tell you something different, but that doesn’t matter. I should have stayed in Finland. That’s where I will go back when I finish school, two more semesters. There or Texas, I love Texas.” Then the train comes. We all get on together, but not. I waved good-bye when we got off in the Mission and I wondered if she noticed where we were. She waved goodbye to the hat.
With a sweetness that makes me smile, the Cowboy comments on how everyone looks at me when we walk around the city. I look at him and laugh, gently. “Um. No. I am fairly certain they are looking at you…” He kindly (though incorrectly) disagrees. We are having lunch with my yoga instructor and I am telling him about this disagreement and highlighting my point with a story of a walk through the Castro. My yoga teacher laughs and looks at the Cowboy. “Um, honey, the boys in the Castro are most certainly looking at you. A tall stranger in a cowboy hat? Yeah, they are checking you out for sure.” I laugh now too, validated, because we know I like to be right, but also laughing in concert with the whole table. “Okay, maybe in the Castro,” the Cowboy concedes with a grin.
Walking into a bar for the second time in a month, the Cowboy gets a familiar nod from the bartender who served him two weeks ago. He knows the hat, and he would appreciate such stylings, as his perfectly waxed Mission mustache clearly indicates. Days later he and the Cowboy randomly meet in the street and greet each other like old friends. Maybe he does blend.
I guess it is true what they say about good clothes opening doors. I just never figured on good clothes being a bright white Resistol in the urban confines of my City by the Bay.
** December 30, 2011, Dr. I’s Big Birthday
As the evening progresses at the house party of the season in a very trendy North County beach community all is going as one might expect: good music, fabulous people, amazing food, a busy bartender, standard urban-chic-beach-stylings, and… a Cowboy? Are you kidding me? “Only Dr. I would have a Cowboy at his house party…” I say to a passerby acknowledging the Resistol, which stood no chance of blending. With raised eyebrow Dr. I says, “That Cowboy is a total bad ass.” Now it is my turn to raise an eyebrow. A half an hour later A. comes up to me, pen and paper in hand, we record all the best lines, overheard or otherwise shared at all our events. “Oh my god, you won’t believe what Pam just overheard!” she exclaims. “Someone just said, ‘Only Dr. I would have a Cowboy at his party!’ How hilarious is that?” “Not quite as hilarious as the fact that you are quoting me to me,” I tell her. I look over at the Cowboy again. Interesting. He stays until the end of the party. The very, very, very end.