There is one obvious clue that admits daily my redneck background–the curve of the brims on my caps. A tight arch that narrows one’s vision & draws direct attention to one’s eyes when they’re looking in your direction. That narrow curve is the only way to wear caps, as far as I’m still concerned, & whenever I see someone wearing it differently, I have to bite my lip to keep from saying, “Hey hon, can I break that in for ya?”
Flashback to high school biology class, where boys seemed to outnumber the girls. I sat in the very back with other slacker kids who didn’t want to be there. (I was a fake, a girl who typically got good grades slumming with “the bad kids”.) One knot of five guys near the front were all rednecks who were polite to the teacher but occasionally did chew in class & never ever took off their hats. Big guys that sometimes were on sports teams but more often than not went off to the vocational wing after lunch & who did not seem to give a shit about a single thing–grades, their life past school, underage drinking, bringing a knife to school.
If I had been born a boy, I probably would have actually tried to fit in with these guys, my dreams of genderbending artistic androgyny aside. (But then again, Perry Farrell once said that that part of what he was doing was trying to get guys like rednecks interested in looking past gender norms so maybe this is an easy internal conflict to understand? It’s easy to say what could have been when you look back at an imagined life.)
But there was one guy in my class who was kind of in-between cliques just like me, except he sat a little higher on the popularity scale because he was actually good-looking. He knew the redneck guys by name, somehow wore black cowboy boots in my woodsy Virginia town without looking tacky, &, later admitted, watched the same sci-fi/fantasy TV shows as me. How did he do this? I did not know but I became obsessed with the curve of his hat. Because he could essentially put on a camouflaged cap with the mandatory fish hook tietack slid on the right side of the brim & just be that guy, the guy with the loud drawl & the cigarettes in his shirt pocket who was gonna be rowdy & say what he wanted & did not care–unless someone in charge was around.
And so, one day before class began, after a few weeks of preparatory small talk & flirting, I asked him the secret–how to get the perfect bend to a capbill. I had tried unsuccessfully on hats of my own & they often just looked beat up or crooked. “Are you serious?” he asked, “You’re really curious about my hat?” I don’t even know what lame answer I came up with but, yes, yes, I admitted, tell me about your hat.
What followed was like some secret male recipe of cool: fold the bill up & down in half symmetrically until it breaks, shove the folded bill into the band in the back as far as it will go, then stick it in the freezer for a day or two. After you take it out & thaw it, you can either wear as is or sleep with it under your mattress until you’re satisfied with the curve.
I felt like I had gotten some glimpse into a world that I would never really traverse & perhaps this is why I still wear my hats this way. The sensation is a familiar one, something I think I’ve written about often–a girl on the outside looking into the boys’ world & trying to decode its’ symbols. I come across one & uncover some small meaning & take it away to wear as an accessory of triumph. No wonder the trappings of femininity are still alien to me–I’ve rarely applied the same interest to other girls.