The Prof's Hat
- from 'Tales Out of Court'

by John Davis Collins..... 2000 by John F. Clennan, All Rights Reserved

In the days when the Inditer first began to publish my short stories, my office was locked in a life and death David and Goliath struggle over a case so bizarre it touches the life of every Canadian and every American perhaps not with the physical threat of the untold Hepatitis C scandal, but just as intimately. The client said of it that he "felt like a character in a Grisham novel." A colleague brave enough to whisper a warning commented "you're living in the Truman show." I may not be able, inside the United States to tell you the main body of the story in an unadulterated form, but I can talk of some of the funny out-croppings.

In a sense, the story started over 30 years ago with Professor Mario Ughetti's hat which he revered like the robes of an Oxford Don. Yet it was only a simple flat topped narrow brimmed hat, more commonly seen today only in Black or Irish neighborhoods. You could tell how drunk Mario was as soon as he showed up for his late afternoon class: If Mario forgot to doff his precious cap. When he did doff his beloved cap, Mario saluted it as "The American Workman's cap."

Military Police Blotter was published by the legendary Bill Loepkey's Inditer Dot Com of Canada.

Against advancing illness and frustration which the legal system imposed, Bill Loepkey promoted literature and culture on the internet. It is no small recognition that his countrymen have hono[u]red Bill in their Bibliotek Nationale.

Prof's Hat doesn't deal directly with military law but was felt sufficiently related to the subject to warrant inclusion.

Mario's class was supposed to be "The law of Drug Enforcement". Yet his topic was rarely broached from an historical or case study basis. It was more of a drunken monologue with himself as he puffed cigarette smoke into the stuffy lecture hall. Back in the 1960s that vice was still acceptable.

Mario once punished objecting students with a report on the status of no smoking ordinances in all 50 US states and in the Canadian provinces. "See if you can find something written by the Supreme Court of --- eh--- Alberta on no-smoking laws," Mario taunted his student critics as he flicked an ash.

"Blow-bag lawyers preach," Mario slurred waving a cigarette for emphasis, "Trouble' is my middle name, Boy," Mario rolled his be-hatted head in a drunken swagger, "You don't have any idea what kind of trouble you can wind up in, taking on the wrong case or the wrong client."

Thirty years later when toasters sang and plants whistled in my office and an old telephone hidden in the corner moaned a dull hum, and every other visitor told an incredible tale, I had an idea.

I cannot recall all the strange complainers and I'm sure I didn't identify everyone of them. Yet while the one who tried to use Mario's hat as a lure, may not have been the best, he certainly was memorable.

"I speak to you of the freedom of our home land," the caller exclaimed in frustration, "And you're not interested ! But you go around wearing that stupid hat."

"This hat," I removed the had and gently held its soft felt material in my hands, "The hat my father wore !" When a quizzical look came over the callers face, I laughed. "Your country, your problem."

Carefully placing his hat on the corner of a chair as he did when he was sober, Mario made no secret of his radical sympathies at a time when most of his old comrades repented their past. "The problem with Americans and Communists is simple: Communists want to build a worker's republic and American's don't want to work. Yet without our work in improving public awareness and promoting popular culture and using the theater to teach... history, where would the super patriots have come from ?" Mario leaned back in his chair to puff smoke rings on air. "You can bleed only so much red before you bleed white." Mario told the ascending rings.

Yet the last time I saw Mario I didn't feel particularly patriotic.

Students snickered at poor Mario. He was certainly past his glory days when he had been a distinguished lawyer and scholar with a teaching post at a major university. There was much dispute over Mario's fall from grace to a poorly paid part time professorship in a denominational college. Some said the drink; others said the Red Scare but the clump of Veterans returning from Vietnam said it was probably the war.

"What war," I snorted, "Leftists sit in easy chairs and dream of worlds never to be."

Upon Graduation I was lucky. I received a commission and stateside post. Yet, luck did not hold. Within a year I had wrong client and the wrong case; the old King James, orders for the combat zone soon followed.

On final leave home, I took to pub crawling in safe neighborhoods which weren't infected by the tide of anti-war sentiment. In the Irish pubs and taverns, a captain's epaulets still merited a few free drinks. They had their own cause and were uninterested in ours, such as it was.

Not long after I crashed into a bar stool, a strawberry haired waitress told me that a gentleman invited me to sup. And there was Professor Ughettis, one cigarette in hand and one festering in the ash tray and one burning out in a plate of food.

Mario was lecturing a semi-circle of blond and red haired waitresses on his moments of glory. "And they called me in like all the rest: some whimpered, some stood tall and went to jail. Me ? I answered the question: "Do you believe in God ?'"

"And what did you tell them, Mr Professor?" a waitress prompted.

Mario reflected as a plume of smoke ascended toward the heavens. " I didn't answer right away. I paused to think before I replied."

"Think, you say," Mario's chorus of white aproned admirers teased, "not drink?"

Mario smiled as he guzzled his drink. "I said, "Glad you asked that, Senator, I recall many long conversations with Him while I lay bleeding my guts into the Forest of Ardennes.'" Mario laughed uncontrollably. "So those pompous Senators whispered to each other and declared me a "Reformed Communist !'" Mario rocked his head.

"Miraculous," chanted Mario's angelic chorus.

Mario added, "Now if they declared me a Reformed Alcoholic..."

Mario struggled to light another cigarette and turned to me, "So, soldier, did you ever hear of the Battle of the Ardennes with tiger and panzer tanks crashing on unprotected..." He stopped in mid-sentence. "You're a former student ...And now," Mario leaned forward to touch the branch tab on my lapels, "an Army Lawyer...I have a special treat for you..."

Mario turned and whispered to one of the waitresses who signaled the band to stop. As the band filed away a small figure dressed in black with a black beret crept out of the shadows and sat at the piano and pounded out a tune. Chatting stopped. I'm sure I heard some say what a pretty melody.

With an evil smile and elbows on the table Mario leaned forward to ask if I knew the song. "The Communist Internationale," I replied.

Mario crashed back in his chair with complete satisfaction. "Few people," he waved his cigarette, "choreograph their own funeral."

As I sighed, a sad look came across Mario's face. "You've got the old King James, orders for a combat zone: Vietnam." The very name sent a shudder. "I can't wish you luck... I have no sympathy with your cause... But indulge me in Bourgeois sentimentality. Take this hat..." Mario handed me his prized cap. Slumping back in his chair in a swirl of smoke, he added, "I don't think I'll need it much longer."

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