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An NYC Chat About a Baseball Hat

Simon Moya-Smith
6/19/13

“What are you wearing?” I asked.

“What?” he responded. He surveyed his chest. “This?” He then gripped a thin gold chain on his neck.

“No. Your hat, man,” I said. “What does it mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Nothing,” he responded. “It just matched my shoes.”

“Ah, OK. … Hey, I’m Simon.”

“Sean.”

“Are you from New York?” I asked.

“Yeah. Born and raised in the Bronx.”

“Right on,” I said.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“The West. Denver, specifically.”

“Ah, visiting then.”

“No,” I blurted. “I live here now—in Brooklyn.”

“That’s cool,” he said, nodding.

“Hey, you know,” I shouted over the groan of the zipping train, “… I actually do know what your hat means. I was just wondering if you did.”

“Oh yeah? I thought it was just a [dope] hat.”

“Well it’s actually a batting practice cap that was discontinued. It’s called the ‘Screaming Savage;’ it’s an Atlanta Braves hat.”

“No shit? … I didn’t know that.”

“Where’d you get it from?” I asked.

“I don’t know … somewhere here on the Upper West Side … at some shop.”

“I see,” I said. “… You know—I didn’t know this coming out here—but there are actually a lot of Native Americans who live in New York City.”

“I didn’t know that,” he said as he eyed me, probably wondering where I, the stranger, was headed with this random chat.

“I’m one of ‘em,” I said. “Well, sort of. I’m also Mexican.”

“Well, Mexicans are Indians in a way too, right?” he said.

“Damn right, man!” I bellowed with an obvious tincture of Brown pride.

PAUSE FOR A LONG BLARE OF THE TRAIN’S WHISTLE AS IT PULLS TO A HARD STOP INTO COLUMBUS CIRCLE AT 59TH AND BROADWAY.

“So I guess my hat offends you then, huh?” he said as a funnel of railriders loaded onto the railcar. One man had on a crisp, blue, fitted suit and was scanning a wet Wall Street Journal; another had somehow managed to position a muddy mountain bike next to him.

“Why do you ask?” I responded.

“Because you brought it up,” he shouted.

“It offends me, right, but I know why you’re wearing it.”

“Yeah? Why?”

“Because you were taught by someone somewhere that it was OK to wear things like that,” I said.

“Next stop, 42nd Street, Times Square,” mumbled a voice over the speaker. “Next stop, ladies and gentlemen, will be 42nd Street, Times Square.”

“Look, we just left Columbus Circle, right?” I began. “And there’s that massive monument in the middle of the circle to a man who was inarguably guilty of genocide. …”

TWO HARD WHISTLES BLARE ONCE AGAIN FROM THE METAL TUBE NOW TRAVELING AT WHAT FEELS LIKE 60 MPH.

“Next stop: 34th Street, Penn Station,” muffled the conductor.

“Yeah …” he began. “But it is what it is.”

“It is what it is because we let it be what it is,” I said. “I’m not offended that you’re wearing that hat, man. I’m offended that we live in a country where people believe it’s all right to make and sell things like that. It’s just not.”

Suddenly we both realized a couple sitting immediately across from us hadn’t said a word to each other since they boarded at Columbus Circle. They were obviously eavesdropping, but they feigned like they were on their phones.

“I think they’re actually listening to us,” I said.

“You know they are. There’s no service in subways,” he said.

“Where are you getting off?” I asked.

“14th. You?”

“Christopher Street. I need to go deeper into the Village,” I said. “I’ve got a meeting with some folks. We’ll have sushi and talk business.”

PAUSE FOR AN EXPLOSION OF LAUGHTER FROM A CROWD OF YOUNG MEN GRIPPING DINGY SUBWAY POLES.

“You don’t care that I’m recording this, right?”

“What?”

“Yeah, right here.” I pulled out my tape recorder from my chest pocket. The red light glistened like the eye of white lab rat.

“Why do you have that?” he asked.

“I’m a journalist, man. I keep this thing on when I’m on the train. I hear the wildest stories on here—some better than any book I’ve ever read.”

“That’s a hyperbole.”

“That is a hyperbole,” I chuckled.

“Nah, I don’t care, dude. Do your thing.”

“Next stop: 14th Street,” grumbled the voice. “Next. Stop. 14th Street. …”

“That’s me,” he said.

“Cool. It was good to meet you.”

“Yeah. You, too,” he said. “Careful in Brooklyn. Don’t look Denver, if you can. Look Brooklyn.”

“I was actually thinking of growing a beard,” I replied. “And then maybe I’ll start eating vegan and roll up my jeans at the ankles. I’ve already got the black-rimmed glasses.”

“Hipster Central,” he chuckled.

The train had come to a full stop at 14th Street.

“Alright, dude. I’m outta here,” he said. “Enjoy Brooklyn.”

“Enjoy your hat.”

He just smiled. So did I.

The doors slipped shut and the train took off again. The roar of the machine echoed throughout its guts.

What a hat, I thought. … What a city.

Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, is a Master of Arts graduate from Columbia University School of Journalism in New York City.

 

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Anonymous's picture
I love this story! The detail is wonderful and the scene is so nicely recreated and really captures the NYC subway experience. The manner of confrontation about the meaning of the image is instructive also. But I am left wondering about the identity of the speaker. Is he a white Irish-American from the Bronx, or is he a brown or black man? Why and how does this matter? I am not sure yet, but I'm thinking about it, was that intended? Was the hipster reference a joke? I think so, but I'm not sure, and I think knowing the identity of the speaker might help illuminate that. Really interesting story, thank you.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I love this! This is a great example of how you can speak up and create a teachable moment. Thank you for sharing this discussion with the rest of us.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I appreciate this story as a more likely means of resolving the issue of offending any minority or cultural group among society by the use of representations by pictures, words or drawings that play on negative characterization of those groups at the pleasure of others. It's about education and respect. It takes both to cure the disease that is to some degree a kind of subconscious and unthinking racism. Until the mass of our society are educated of the real harm these representations do to others, the intentional actions of the mean spirited and overt racists will be overlooked and continue among us. Keep talking Simon, many are listening and effected by civil discussion.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Just and FYI its not called the Screaming Savage, he's supposed to be laughing and the only name the logo has ever been officially given is Chief Nockahoma and that is derived from the name of the Mascot to the Braves up until sometime in the 80s. I'm sure it doesn't change much in how you view the logo (not that it should), but in Atlanta we don't consider or refer to the Native American population as Savages, and sure as hell don't think of the logo as such. We don't see the Tomahawk Chop as offensive (though I wouldn't blame you if you did). I'm against bringing the Chief back to our uniforms as we removed him for a reason (he was taken off our uniforms at the request of Native American groups in the 80s, at the same time that we retired the Chief Nockahoma mascot) and it would be wrong to go back on that. Just wanted to let you know it's not a "savage", nor do we consider him to be one, we respect the logo and what it represents, even if it may be somewhat misguided in your eyes (I'm certainly not going to tell you how to feel about things like this).
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I grew up in Oregon, near the home of the Klamath Indian Tribe. One thing I have noticed about tribal members - when they wear professional sports clothing, their overwhelming choices are Washington NFL jackets or Cleveland MLB baseball caps. Why do you think they do that?
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Out of all the interesting stories in NYC, that's the lamest one ever told.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
You're awesome buddy. Thank you for depicting so many of our experiences in such an eloquent and real way. - Jared
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Sometimes these logos are a tribute to the spirit of a culture. They didn't call them the Atlanta Wimps. Using the term "Braves" is a sign of respect. A lot of people who are not Native American look up to the Native Culture and many aspire to adopt positive attributes. Some may be misguided, but that doesn't mean it was done with malice.
Anonymous