by Bob Lorentson
Bob Lamb hated his soft, submissive name with a passion, but what could he do? Bobby Lamb was ridiculous, and Robert Lamb was his father, a cringing milquetoast if ever there was. He couldn’t change now anyhow, the guys in his new dorm would laugh and call him a phony. If there was anything he wasn’t, it was that.
More than anything though he hated his soft face. The fine, spiritless hair that hung flat on his forehead, waiting for the slightest breeze to further destroy any semblance of tonsorial dignity. The watery, apprehensive eyes of a seal about to plunge into shark infested waters. And especially the pathetic disappearing chin. It begged for a beard, but he knew that would just be drawing attention to his cowardly deceit. No, his integrity was everything.
The damn mirror reminded him of his softness every chance it got. The funny thing was, he didn’t feel soft the rest of the time. If anybody were to ask his opinion on any subject at all, he was more than ready to speak his mind. So why didn’t anybody ever ask for his opinions?
Well screw them, he thought for what seemed the thousandth time. He slung on his pack and threw back his shoulders. People would either know him by his mind, or they wouldn’t know him at all. It would be their loss.
He opened his door and stepped out, just as four of the guys from down the hall came past, all laughing faces and slapping hands. “Hey guys,” he said. No one even glanced at him.
Shoulders slumped again, Bob waited until they were gone before heading out. “I can’t take it anymore! What’s wrong with me?” he asked himself, head down but still glancing around to see if anyone had overheard him.
He had always known the answer he had so far successfully dodged. Confidence. As much as he hated to admit it, he knew that he lacked the confidence that all those other people had. Or appeared to have. All thanks to his wimpy name and bland, impotent face. Things he had absolutely no control over. It wasn’t fair. How could he go about getting more confident?
He knew the answer to that as well. He would have to change, outwardly at least. It didn’t make any sense, but there it was. He would have to risk being a phony. He thought about the things he did have control over, hair style, clothes, or God forbid – tattoos or other acts of body mutilation.
“Better start slow,” he warned himself. “You don’t want to be a popularity whore. So, what would be the easiest, least compromising thing to do?” He watched a short, pit sweated, fairly obese guy walk past in deep conversation with two attractive women. But it was his hat that caught his attention, a kind of steampunk looking top hat with a red band and little feathers sticking out of it. The guy oozed cool.
“That’s it,” he concluded. “A hat. A hat with a feather. Nothing says confidence like a hat with a feather.”
The used clothing store on Main Street had a wide selection of hats. He quickly ruled out the caps with sports logos on them and the extensive variety of winter hats, even the ones with the tassels that had a kind of quirky exotic flair to them. That still left the snappy fedoras, the hip porkpies, the jaunty panamas, the nerdy trilbys, the puffy newsboys, the cool berets, the elegant homburgs and more, all quietly sitting there and exuding an intimidating boldness. He had never worn a hat before and was beginning to feel the pressure of his commitment.
Tentatively, he tried them all on, but one after another the mirror mocked him, his face and head exposing insecurities that threatened to render him forever hatless and meek. And then he saw it, almost hidden behind a stack of fedoras. A brown, wide brimmed, simulated leather beauty with an exquisite sienna red hatband. And sticking out of the band a magnificent feather, which if it had been real, would certainly have made the bird it came from the most confident bird in the forest. Thomas snatched his prize off the shelf and hustled back to the mirror. He first checked the area thoroughly to make sure no one was watching, then chided himself for his lack of confidence in doing just that. He promised himself it was all about to change. He faced the mirror, took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and nestled the hat onto his head.
A distinguished world-weary explorer looked back at him, an air of insouciance hinting at adventures too numerous to recall. He tilted the hat low over his eyes, and a kind of jaded mystery overtook his appearance. He pushed it back to reveal a more open and boyish charm, without sacrificing any of the coolness. Any way he tilted it was a success, adding a depth to his new persona that he could only marvel at. Who was this charismatic rake grinning at him from the mirror?
Bursting to find out, Bob rushed to the nearest register. He could barely contain himself as he waited for the pink haired cashier to turn around, but busied himself studying the colorful tattoos covering both of her arms and her neck. Poor thing, he thought. Was this woman so insecure that she had to change her own skin? He coughed to get her attention and placed his hat on the counter.
The young woman turned around, gold studs gleaming from one eyebrow and one nostril. She looked at the hat on the counter, then up at Bob, and broke into a wide grin. “Great hat,” she said, exposing a silver ball on her tongue. “Costume party?”
Bob stared at the woman, then down at the hat. He couldn’t believe how ridiculous it suddenly looked. It had to be the silliest thing he had ever seen. “Yeah, pretty crazy huh?” he mumbled. “You know what, I changed my mind. I’ll be something else.” He left the hat on the counter and walked dumbly out of the store.
That was a close call, he said to himself. What was I thinking? I’m not a phony.
People would either know Bob by his mind, or they’d never know him at all.
Bob Lorentson is an environmental scientist and hat averse writer. Recent work has been published or is forthcoming in The Menda City Review, Sleet, Shot Glass Journal, Praxis, and Better Than Starbucks. He lives in Connecticut where he is at work on a third novel.