In the heart of Oregon, my family prepared for a trip to the theater. I was miles away with a trailer load of branches and yard debris, racing the pitiless march of time with one goal: watch Godzilla with everyone else. Little did I know the tale in progress at home.
Child 1 leaned his ten-year old head into the Kitchen. “Mom! Can we get some snacks?” My wife, the patient woman who had settled for me years ago, smiled as she shook her head.
“Snack at the theater are terribly expensive and we’ve budgeted just enough for admission. Let’s each take a small ziplock and put some nuts and banachips in that we can bring instead.” She pulled down the bags from the cupboard and handed them out. Child 1 and Child A took their bags and began coordinating snackage.
She glanced up at the clock on the microwave and started. “Boys, let’s get going!” Looking back at them, she saw that both had modestly filled their little sandwich ziplocs and were ready to leave but… there was a small problem.
“Child A”, she looked at the bag he was holding, “you’ve got a t-shirt on and those pants don’t seem to have pockets. How do you plan on getting those into the theater?”
Our family has, over the years, executed several smuggling operations into theaters. The goal: sneak quiet food in under the noses of the Snacks Watch. Quiet food because we don’t want to disrupt the film for others, obviously, but over the years we have snuck progressively stranger items in just for the challenge. Today’s trip wouldn’t feature any Taco Bell, ribs, or homebuilt single kernel-at-a-time popcorn makers so this should have been a cakewalk.
Child A looked around, thinking. As the youngest, he had the least amount of experience running the gauntlet, but he knew the basics. Seizing on an idea, he grabbed… a hat. My wife’s face fell. That hat.
In biology, there are niches that nature fills with form-specific creatures evolved to excel at one specific role. There are bacteria that live in the soupy depths of animal intestinal systems processing waste. Wasps are predators in the insect kingdom, stinging and biting like assholes as they fly from one disaster to another. Flies swarm decomposing bodies, gorging themselves and being part of a system that keeps us from being knee-deep in corpses.
A baseball-ish cap in form, it occupied a different niche: On an adult, it says ‘My wearer gets to see his kids once a month’. I’m not sure what it says when a kid is wearing it, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a sonnet.
“I can use this!” he chimed brightly. Setting the small ziploc on his head, he put on the hat and… it worked. The baggie wasn’t big enough to really distort the outline of his head and… it might just work. Shrugging, my wife ushered the kids out the door towards a date… with destiny. Well, maybe not a date, more like an appointment.
Meanwhile, I tightened the tie-down holding my trailer gate closed at the yardwaste dropoff and my friend and I tore out of there. “Hope you don’t miss your movie”, he offered. “Nah, I’ve got plenty of time” I lied. The film would start in 15 minutes and I still needed to drop him off. “Hey, do we have an active role in this story?” he might have asked, and with a shake of my head, I would have answered no. “But I feel like I’ve got to be in this story SOMEWHERE because I’m spending all this time typing it” I might have responded. “Hmmm.” he could have said.
At the theater, my family approached the ticket booth. The hat sat somewhat loosely on Child A’s head and she looked at it speculatively. Neither of us are exactly sure where it came from. One day, it had just… appeared as if delivered by some sort of pro-wrestling Mary Poppins. One evening Child A is a normal kid, a symbol of our hopes and dreams for a future full of possibilities and the next morning he’s got a Tapout hat.
Child 1 breezed through the ticketing process, his snacks tucked away in his pocket. This wasn’t his first dance, he knew the score. Child A approached the ticket-taker carefully, keeping his body as vertical as possible. Undoubtedly, the neon green hat felt like it was slipping a little back and forth. As he handed his ticket over, the taker glanced up at the bright beacon of classlessness. He may have snorted slightly in judgment before unironically scratching one of his 00 gauge hollow ear piercings. His attention drawn to the huge TAPOUT logo on the hat, he didn’t notice the shifting lump beneath and waved the family through.
Minutes later, I raced into the mall parking lot. The film was to start at 3:00 but it was already 2:55. I knew I had some time because the trailers and advertisements would buy them for me, but I also knew a film like Godzilla would probably have GOOD trailers so I found a double parking spot (so the yardwaste trailer wouldn’t stick out) then jogged into the theater. As I shamelessly inserted myself back into the story, a line stretched from the ticket booth. I sauntered past to use the ticket pick-up ATM things that the rest of my generation doesn’t seem to understand can also be used to just buy tickets too and came face to face with… a blank wall. There were outlines where they had been, but Regal, I later learned, had decommissioned them and this theater was now 100% manual. Fuck.
I got into line and waited. 3:00 passed, then 3:05. Finally, I reached the front. I paid in a flash of wasted writing that you the reader apparently have to wade through because it doesn’t really contribute to the narrative then ran to my film.
We watched Godzilla. As Godzilla films go, it was pretty good. This is, of course, compared to such masterpieces as ‘Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla’, ‘Godzilla vs. Metaphor’, and ‘Godzilla vs. Ferris Bueller’. As a film on its own merits, it wasn’t that great but that was fine. As an extended version of the film trailer, it was a fine film and I hardly felt ripped off at all.
Afterwards, we split up and headed out to our cars. Wife and Child A went to run an errand while I took Child 1 with me back home. Parking the trailer, I hardly broke anything at all and eventually wife and Child A got home too.
“MOM!” he suddenly blurted, “MY HAT!” With the keen sense of perception gifted to only the keenest observers, I noted that he was not in fact wearing a hat. I proudly announced this deduction and was met with stares that suggested I was an idiot.
“Oh %CHILD_A_NAME%, you must have left it at the theater.” Her Oscar-worth look of sympathy in place, she comforted Child A but both of us felt a surge of excitement. This was it. This was happening. Thinking ourselves good people, we had decided not to actually destroy the hat, but we both knew this was our big chance to let the world ‘just take care of it’.
“My haaaaat!” he cried again, a look of anguish on his face reminiscent of a teenage mother-to-be being told she’ll have to ‘cut back’ on alcohol during the pregnancy. My wife looked at me. “Ideas?” her eyes seemed to ask. “I don’t know, this seems like an opportunity to get rid of the hat” my eyes responded. “Sure, but we should probably at least go through the motions” her eyes suggested. “Fine, I guess. Hey, this eye-talking this is pretty handy” I noted with my eyes. “(EYES)” she said back, and I figured maybe whatever she meant had lost something in the translation. “Ok, I’ll try calling the theater” I eyed at her. “(EYES)” she said again, and looked at me kinda strangely. Enough eyeplay, I thought to myself. Let’s go through the motions.
I called the theater. After a few minutes on hold, the 15 year old manning the phones managed to connect me with what may have been a 17 year-old manager. “Hi there, do you folks have a lost & found?” I asked, making optimistic ‘crossed finger’ gangsigns at Child A.
“We do”, the manager responded. “What did you lose?”
“A green ‘Tapout’ hat”. The silence that stretched felt awkward. “It belongs to my ten year old son” I added in a rush, worried inexplicably that her opinion of the kind of person who actually calls to get something like this back mattered. She looked, then reported back. “There’s nothing like that here, sorry.” The apology at the end was very pro-forma, and I understood. It was hard to feel sorrow about a missing Tapout hat. I thanked her and hung up.
“Sorry dude”, I began, trying to sound ‘hip’ and ‘with it’, “they didn’t have it. We’ll call back tomorrow in case it shows up.”
Crestfallen, he nodded and left. The evening passed without drama and gradually, my wife and I began to think that the dark times of Our Kid Having A Tapout Hat were finally over. We celebrated by watching television because we’re American and that’s what we do instead of talking.
The next day, the kids left for school and all was well. No wailing, no gnashing of teeth, just a hatless kid on his scooter leaving that part of his childhood behind and us relieved at the prospect.
That afternoon, we got home and Child A went to get the mailkey from the car so he could check for something he’d bought off Amazon. He came running back into the house with… the hat.
“Mom! Dad! Look what I found in the car!” He practically jumped for joy, then followed that up by literally jumping for joy. Mailkey forgotten, he ran out to go play with his friends, green Tapout hat back on his head.
My wife and I looked at each other. “Well, shit.”