promise keeping

Long before the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments concerning The Affordable Health Care Act, many esteemed legal scholars were skeptical that such a hearing would ever come to pass. Indeed, Harvard law professor, Charles Fried, said if the High Court ever considered the legality of Obamacare, he would eat the kangaroo-skin hat that he had recently purchased in Australia.

1965-lucky-strike-cigarettes-ad-eat-my-hatNow, I’m not holding my breath waiting for Mr. Fried to eat his hat; it’s not even certain that his promise was legally binding, even though the good professor made his hat-eating offer on Fox News. There is a better chance of Rush Limbaugh joining up with Jenny Craig than Charles Fried eating his hat. (I also doubt that PETA would let Mr. Fried eat a crow.)

Eating one’s hat is a promise frequently thrown about, but rarely carried through. In my experience, a dollar bill and a promise to eat a hat will get you a buck’s worth of change. And here’s how I arrived at that conclusion:

When I was in junior high back in the fifties, the school’s winning football coach, a burly former WWII infantry captain, was also the science teacher. It was easy to see why we won that war, because Coach Strong didn’t play. His fierce gaze alone could leave a bruise or a blood blister..

Being a fervent science-fiction aficionado at this time in my life, I had no doubt that man would soon venture into outer space. But, when I made the mistake of making this prediction in his class, Coach Strong looked at me like a sumo wrestler preparing to squash a hapless opponent.

And Coach did squash my – to him — silly musings; not physically, but mentally. Impaling me before the class with his category-ten sneer, Coach Strong said there was no way man could ever leave the confines of earth, because the force of gravity was too great for our puny machines to overcome.

And to show that he would put his reputation, not to mention his fedora, where his mouth was, he said, “If man ever goes into outee space, I’ll eat my hat.” This was the first time anyone had ever made that offer to me, and I never forgot it. Or Coach Strong. ( Unfulfilled Hat Eating Promise Number One.)

Forward a few years later. I was driving a car by then and my father sent me to pick up some legal papers from a well-known lawyer and judge in east Alabama, Judge O.P. Lee. Judge Lee, firmly ensconced amongst the pantheon of Daddy’s gods, was held to be the “smartest fellow” he knew.

At this time, the talk on the radio, TV, newspapers – not to mention neighborly Rook and Canasta games — was filled with predictions that Alabama’s schools would soon be integrated. In passing, I mentioned this to Judge Lee, who was seated at his huge, cluttered desk. Upon hearing my comment, the judge sat bolt upright in his swivel chair; the top of his bald head turned long-john red. Yanking the pipe from his mouth, Judge Lee judge pointed his shaking finger at me and barked, spit flying, “We have laws to prevent that sort of thing from ever happening.” And then, nodding toward the coat rack where his jacket and Stetson were hanging, Judge Lee said, “If the Alabama schools are ever integrated, I’ll eat my hat!” (Hat Eating Promise Number Two, if anyone’s counting.)

Now, we move along years later and I am sitting in a conference room with a small group of fellow employees selected to meet our new CEO, who was making a goodwill tour of the textile giant’s, West Point Stevens’, company plants. There had been plant – and CNN– scuttlebutt that a notorious corporate raider was about to take over the company and dismantle it. These company massacres were an alarming fad during these treacherous times and not unexpected. During a lull in the question and answer period, I asked the new CEO about the vulture capitalist’s rumored attack on the company.

The CEO visibly flinched when he heard my question. He and his attached-at- the -hip buttboy , sitting closely side by side, regarded each other for just a brief moment, before the young fellow started mumbling an answer. But, the new CEO, grabbed his lackey’s arm, saying hoarsely, “Let me handle this…”

After glaring at me for a few seconds, the Big Boss said in a low, steady voice, pronouncing every syllable carefully and precisely, like he was speaking to a fool, “This company is as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. West Point Stevens will never be taken over by anybody. Period.” And then in a louder voice, he said, “If that ever happens, I will eat my hat!” (Promised Hat-Eating Number Three.)

Three months later, even though the catastrophe went uncovered by the mass media, I’m assuming the Rock of Gibraltar must have collapsed into the sea; because the company was in the usurpers grubby hands, and the cocksure CEO was sent packing, albeit busy counting the millions he received as a going away gift. In just a short time, the rest of us were thrown under the bus, too, but without so much as a free Coke and a dented can of Vienna Sausage. The company ended up in Pakistan, a move aided along the skids by the grease provided by the American government. Our taxpayer dollars at work.

So, here I am at the latter stages of my earthly sojourn, tying up loose ends, mending broken fences, and balancing the accounts receivable in my Life’s ledger.

While it is disconcerting to find that I have the promise of three undelivered hat-eatings outstanding on my books, I guess I’ll just have to write them off. There is no way to collect these debts now. (If there ever was.)

The Judge passed away from old age. Coach met his maker when a passing truckload of logs fell on his car as he traveled on Highway 14 between Auburn and Tallassee; and the CEO bailed out from the company with his golden parachute and disappeared into the night, a la D.B. Cooper. He’s no doubt down in the Cayman Islands somewhere, to be closer to his money.

I don’t know if the CEO’s hat blew off when he bailed out, or not. If it did, what with the financial windfall losing his job entailed, I’m sure he could afford another chapeau, or maybe two. One to wear and one to eat for lunch. I’ll be more than happy to provide the hot sauce.

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Image Credit: The photo is from a 1965 magazine ad for Lucky Strike (fair use).