Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Hat

Harry Abracciavento, at 86, has outlived any reason to be alive. It's not that he had much reason to begin with since he and his wife, Antonia, never had any children. When you get old, you need kids to keep you young, sort of like a flower needs water to keep it looking fresh. Antonia died six years ago. Harry had her cremated and then he went on Captain Andy's sunset flounder cruise and he dumped her ashes in the Atlantic Ocean. The fisherman on "The Flatfish" thought it was odd that this 5-4 stump boarded without any tackle. He carried only a shoe box.

Harry had always been a frugal man. When confronted with a possible ten grand ticket to plant Antonia, Harry shopped. He knew a guy, Flower Manganelli, who used to book out of his butcher shop. When Harry worked as a collector for Sweet Tart Pisciotti, Flower would be on his route. He hated to pick up Flower's tickets because they always had smudges of cow or pig or chicken blood on them. Sometimes on Wednesdays, when Flower made sausage, the tickets would be stained with other colors, maroons and yellows and browns. Flower's son-in-law, Cedric Lawton, was an alcoholic mortician. Harry tracked down Flower, then Cedric. Cedric was working for the Incavallo Mortuary. For a bottle of cheap vodka and $300, Cedric ashed Antonia on a slow Friday afternoon.

After keeping the ashes, which were in a Thom McAn shoebox, in the garage next to the WD-40 for about a year, Harry decided to give Antonia a burial at sea. This was peculiar. Toni neither knew how to swim nor had she ever been on a boat in her life. To make the decision to go to sea even more strange, Antonia Moretti Abracciavento hated the ocean and she had icthyophobia (a fear of fish). Despite all of this hubbub, Harry reckoned it was a clean way to dispose of the cremains. Harry's favorite movie, the 1956 classic with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab, was Moby Dick. Harry, who lived the longest, got to call the shots. Besides, it only cost $6 to go out with Captain Andy on "The Flatfish". Harry was always a numbers man and he oft repeated, "You figure it out, ten grand versus a bottle of Smirnoff's plus $300 plus $6 plus the shoe box form my Oxfords." Harry liked to save money.

After Toni died Harry was between a rock and a hard place. Without any living relatives or children, Harry was lonely. He liked to tell corny jokes, the kind old men tell. You laughed when they laughed, the punch lines were often obscure and off the point. Harry always wore a Members Only jacket. It didn't matter how cold it was, that's all Harry ever wore. Only in the dead of summer, when the thermometer reached 80 or above did he lose the jacket. The other notable thing was that Harry never took the jacket off when he came inside. So if he went to the senior center to play gin rummy or he went to the diner for a platter, the jacket stayed put. These jackets were popular in the 1980's

Harry also always wore a Bailey's NewsBoy hat. George Bailey began designing hats in 1922 in the Hollywood Hills. One time, years ago, when Flipper DeAngelis was a double sawbuck short on his weekly deposit to Sweet Tart, he sold Harry a box of two dozen purloined NewsBoys for $20. Harry has been wearing these same hats for twenty-five years.

Everybody Harry knows or has ever known has had a nickname, a moniker to live by. Harry is known as "The Hat", not Hat, "The Hat". From time to time, someone would call Harry, Hat, and the mild mannered Calabrian would 'show his ass'. Not really show his ass. 'Show your ass' is a slang term for exhibiting anger. You see Harry was a long time fan of Harry the Hat Walker (1916-1999). Walker was a baseball man, back when baseball players were tough. Harry played eleven seasons and he had a lifetime batting average of .296. He won the National League batting title in 1947, hitting at at .363. Harry Walker got his nickname from his habit of twirling and twisting his baseball hat when he was in the on deck circle. Harry Abracciavento got his name because he always wore a NewsBoy hat.

A typical day for The Hat centers on his evacuation. He eats a fiber cereal and some fruit and he drinks two cups of high test. He reads the Trentonian and then he waits. On good days, he delivers smooth and easy. Most days are gradations of less than good. Once this process ends, usually by noon, Harry drives his '88 Olds here and there. He calls this taking a ride. Usually he sees lots of other people taking rides, too. At any given time, Harry the numbers man figures 25% of cars on the streets of Trenton are being piloted by people taking rides.

Besides the senior center, Harry will drop into his doctor's office. Dr. Gianluigi Esposito likes The Hat, but sometimes the unscheduled visits cause a ruckus. Harry enjoys shooting the bull. He is happy to sit in the waiting room and kibbutz. His favorite targets are women. He rolls out the tired jokes. The Hat offers the patients lollipops, which he collects from TD Banks. Several branches are on his itinerary. Although he generally doesn't hand these out in the office, his pockets are usually filled with sugar and Splenda from Starbucks.

The Hat's kidneys are failing. Kidney disease is insidious. The victim gradually gets more ill, but it creeps up so slowly that by the time you're realize you are sick, you need dialysis. Harry has already told Gianluigi, "no dialysis, no ventilators and no artificial anything". When Harry's time comes, he is confident his doctor will be his advocate.

Harry The Hat has shared most of his stories with Dr. Esposito. Several times over. The Doctor, for his part, knows someday soon he will be boarding "The Flatfish", the Thom McAn Oxford, size 8 shoebox under his arm. It will be the second time for the shoebox, the second time for Harry and the first time for Doctor Espo.

The Hat never told the Doc how he used to take a little cash from Sweet Tart's collections, just a little every day of every week for 34 years. Indeed! Sweet wasn't that good with numbers. He never told him because he never told anyone, not even Antonia. He never told him that he has three large safe deposit boxes at Roma Savings on Hamilton Avenue. They are filled to their brims with one hundred dollar bills. One day soon, when Harry's kidneys poison him to death, Giancarlo Esposito will become the new owner of a Members Only jacket, a NewsBoy hat and three little keys. Ahh, you just never know.

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