Friday, May 07, 2010


"Beckett truly understands hats," says Charles Willeford. I guess it shouldn't be such a nice surprise to find tough old hardboiled bird and pulp genius Charles Willeford thinking about Samuel Beckett. In fact, he once gave an entire lecture on the subject of hats in the works of Beckett. Here's the whole sentence abbreviated above: "Beckett truly understands hats, as well as he does pencil stubs, canes, crutches, bikes, and other neat objects that a man can use in self-defense." But the chapter isn't about Beckett. It's about hats. "There is a good deal to know about hats, and nobody knows all there is to know about them. The important thing is to come to terms with hats in general, and then, if you are still up to it, you can examine your relationship, in depth, with one specific hat." It's from I WAS LOOKING FOR A STREET, a reminiscence of Willeford's childhood "as an orphan... from [as the back of the book puts it] railroad yards to hobo tent cities, to soup kitchens and deserts around Los Angeles and across the United States." There are a noticeable number of typos in the book - maybe they skimped on editing for this brand new reprint - but who cares? The Beckett stuff is a flash forward - Willeford the old man is looking at the hats in his closet reflectively - trying to work up to a long-suppressed memory of a cowboy hat of his youth: "At one time, both in conversation and in writing, to avoid certain painful subjects, I would invoke the word 'inchoate.' But 'inchoate' is a copout word. Nothing is inchoate."