The first Missoula Jaunty Hat Competition took place in June of 1932, when two men bumped into each other on the corner of Carousel and Higgins, in front of the Wilma Theater. Neither man was going to apologize, as they were both young and headstrong, full of bravado, liquor, and bathtub ham steaks.
And so they circled each other, hurling the nastiest insults that were available to them at the time. Certainly, one gentleman intimated that the other was a "crab-hamper." Assuredly, the other retorted by muttering, "ninny-palate" under his breath. From there, what they said was lost to the winds of time, although if those winds could talk, they might say things like "corn-smuggler," "grout-mounter," and maybe, just maybe, "knight-rider."
Regardless of what hyphenated smack-talkery was proclaimed that evening in June, one thing was for sure. There was going to be a fight. Both men removed their jackets. Then their under-jackets. Then their vests. Then their under-vests. Finally (and this is when the gathering crowd knew there was no turning back), both men removed their sleeve-guards, but took care to keep their under-sleeve-guards on, so as to keep their sleeves from rolling down once they rolled them up.
Which they did.
And then the first man took a step back, and cocked his hat. Slowly. Deliberately. Cockily. Hattily. He cocked it in such a way that the brim completely obscured one eye, and then the other, and then both, and then neither. Some folks said that for a moment, the hat seemed to disappear completely, only to reappear on the other man's head for just a second, but some folks are just motherfucking liars, especially Tad.
Regardless of what that dick Tad might have said, the first man finished cocking his hat, letting it rest on his head at an angle that has yet to be quantified by science. A hush fell over the crowd.
The second man had his work cut out for him. He took a deep breath, cracked every available knuckle on his body, and a couple on his best gal's for good measure, and then reached for his hat.
With lightning speed (The likes of which hadn't been seen since Old Man Heisenberg's Metholated Amphetamine Dispatch had been struck by lightning), the second man cocked his hat approximately 267.9 different ways around his cranium. It's opined that just the faintest wisp of smoke arose from the second man's head, but that's difficult to confirm, as every man, woman and child in 1932 smoked 177 cigarettes a day.
Before the crowd had time to react, the second man knocked his hat off his head, caught it with his foot, kicked it in the air, did a move that we know know as "The Worm," but at the time was known as "The Invertebrate Seizes Mightily," and then re-verticalized himself, just as his hat finished its downward trajectory.
Hat met head with a satisfied, "Fwoof," the second man bowed, and the crowd stopped smoking long enough to applaud, cheer, cough, hack, wheeze, and applaud some more.
By now, men from all four corners of the town were running to the Wilma Theater, heads soundly be-hatted, in order to get in on the goings-about. Soon, all thoughts of the original altercation were long-forgotten. Now, the only question on Missoula's collective mind was, "Who can do a bunch of awesome shit with their hat the awesomest?"
The manager of the Wilma Theater, knowing a sound business opportunity when it presented itself in an incredibly obvious fashion, cancelled the that evening's screening of "The Whoopsie Daisies Of 1932." He invited the crowd into the theater, charging everyone twenty cents a head, which back then was two dimes, or if you were really rolling in copper, ten pennies and ten more pennies.
Soon the theater was bursting at the seams with townsfolk, and the owner made a mental note that if he ever owned another theater, it should be made of traditional building materials and not fabric. No matter how much he liked to rub the corduroy roof late at night, when he told his wife he was doing, "Important theater stuff."
The crowd sat rapt with attention as men of all shapes, sizes, ages, and depths cocked their hats in ways that hats had never been cocked before, using techniques that have not been attempted before or since. Techniques like The Illinois Behoover. The Side-Addled Pate Scraper. The Round The World How's Your Father. And even the incredibly dangerous Taking Your Hat Off Very Slowly And Putting It Back On Your Head Equally Slowly Only You're On Fire And Your Hat Is Also On Fire And You Have This Pain In Your Side That You Should Really Get Looked At But You Don't Like Doctors But Now You Have This Sore Throat That Won't Go Away Too.
There was even a minor uproar when Southside Backwards Montague attempted to hat his cock, but he very quickly saw the error of his ways, and ran out of the theater shouting, "Hello!"
By the end of the night, every Missoulan man with a hat and a head had been seen (much to the combined disappointments of Hatless Fred and Headless Bob), and The Mayor's Wife herself was roused from her sleeping devices so that she could declare a winner. She cleared her throat, and twenty minutes later when she had finished clearing her throat, she addressed the crowd.
"People of Missoula, what started as an altercation that was most assuredly Tad's fault, has blossomed into a celebration of men, their heads, the inverted cloth bowl things they put on them, and the way they move those inverted cloth bowl things around."
(Ironically, due to a childhood industrial accident, The Mayor's Wife was rendered incapable of saying the word, "hat." Her story was later chronicled in Oliver Sacks' "The Mayor's Wife Who Mistook A Hat For An Inverted Cloth Bowl Thing.")
"My friends," she continued, "Unless anyone else is foolhardy enough to step forward, and attempt to best these fine examples of cranial accessory adjustment, then I shall have no choice but to declare a winner. No choice at all. But to declare. A winner."
She took a dramatic pause, as the crowd checked their watches, and wondered what would be on television later that century when it was invented. The Mayor's Wife soldiered on.
"AT ANY MOMENT! I will point to a man on this stage, and declare that he. Is. The winner. UNLESS. Unless. Someone else. Feels as if they have what it takes. To challenge. These men. Who have competed so valiantly. So, so very valiantly. So very, very valiantly. You know, Webster's defines 'valiantly' as-"
Just then, the gaberdine doors at the back of the theater swung open, and a hush fell over the crowd. With the instinct that can only come from three or four months of operating a spotlight while waiting for the Amphetamine Shack to resume business, Spotlight Anderson aimed his trusty device at the man walking down the center aisle.
Only, this wasn't a man. This wasn't a person. This was a beast. A dog, specifically. A smallish, butterscotch-blonde colored dog, with a noble stature and a rapscallion's gait. On his head, he wore a perfectly proportioned bowler hat, and around his neck, he wore a charm on his collar that bore the etching of four, five- or (occasionally) six-stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity as a resonator.1
As the crowd stared in wonder and hunger (because this was still the Great Depression and people were literally starving to death, like, fucking all the time, look it up), the dog trotted up on the stage, sat down on his hind legs, and yawned.
"What a funny trick," The Mayor's Wife said, tickled, "Someone sent their little pooch up on stage, like he could suddenly manifest the opposable thumbs it requires to jauntily cock an inverted cloth bowl th-"
Before The Mayor's Wife could "-ing," the dog yawned again, and jumped up on his hind legs. He began to sway back and forth, in time to music he could only hear. Within moments, the crowd began to sway back and forth too, hypnotized by this tiny creature, his undulations, and his totally boss little hat.
And then, never breaking his almost-creepily intense eye contact with each and every member of the audience, he stretched his front right leg behind his head, gingerly pushed the back of his hat ever so slightly forward, sat back down on his hind legs, and yawned again.
The applause was deafening. Men cried. Women fainted. Children wanted ice cream, or anything that was food, they were so goddamn hungry. The Mayor's Wife, once she collected herself, calmed down the ever-maddening crowd, and announced, "Well, Missoula? It looks like we have a winner! Step right up little fellow, and-"
But for the second time that evening, the dapper mongrel cut off The Mayor's Wife, and without so much as a, "yip," trotted out of the theater, into the cool Missoula night air, and then, nowhere in particular.
The first Missoula Jaunty Hat Competition was also the last Missoula Jaunty Hat Competition, because all of the townsfolk decided that no man, no matter how jaunty his hat, would ever be able to hold a candle to the little creature who so enthralled an audience full of people that June evening in 1932.
All of the townsfolk except Tad, that is. What a dick.