(I first published this in a blog about 4 years ago. The blog’s been gone for a while, but I also copied it to Facebook, where I re-read it today and decided it’d be fun to post here. This was originally written in early 2009 and I’ve only deleted one sentence from the Facebook note and added this paragraph.)
You’ve heard of mysterious Men in Black, or “MiBs.” They’re the odd guys that show up, sometimes when UFOs are sighted, and vaguely threaten witnesses before disappearing forever in what could be a government-issued vehicle (though it’s just as likely to be a cleverly concealed spacecraft).
My own personal experience was not with MiBs (not to be confused with comedian Michael Ian Black, or MIB). My experience was with the Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats. Or, if you like, MiTSFHs.
I am still trying to figure out just what the hell they were all about, even 20 years later.
I am not making this up.
The first time I recall seeing the pair, I was going to the Wave Pool in Donelson, TN. It is/was (don’t know if it is still there) by Two Rivers Park, less than a mile from my old high school and always a favorite way for us to waste a few bucks in the summer, even after many of us went to college.
My friends and I may have been in a state of chemically-enhanced amusement, but my memory of the Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats is clear. I saw them as we were pulling into the parking lot.
They were standing outside the 8-foot fence that surrounded the Wave Pool. It was June and just as hot and humid as it ever gets in Nashville, but these guys were wearing full, three-piece suits, sans ties. The suits were tan and looked like winter-weight wool. Even in 1989 in Nashville, tan, 3-piece suits were some 10 years out of style. Tan 3-piece suits in the middle of summer? Surreal.
Both men were bearded, one perhaps more gray than the other. To go with their matching tan suits, the men wore matching furry hats. Not the comically tall hats such as you see on guards at Buckingham Palace, but short hats roughly shaped like cake pans. Both men were fairly tall – over 6 feet.
The men stood side-by-side, oddly close, and one of them had his fingers meshed in the links. They did not appear to be holding any sort of conversation. They were just staring in at the half-naked folks enjoying the Wave Pool.
Perfectly innocent, I’m sure.
That was sighting one. The Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats were gone when we left the Wave Pool a few hours later, nicely burned and water-logged.
Sighting two took place some time around Christmas, 1990. I was rooming for the holiday with an old friend at his place in Murfreesboro and both he and I were single for the first time in a while. I was more mopey about it than he was – mopey, hell, I was just depressed – and he was into trying out the bar scene in Nashville. So one night he coaxed me out to a pseudo-industrial style place to “pick up chicks,” even though I’d lost any interest in “picking up chicks” in bars shortly after I entered college in late 1986. We went in and got beers and sat around scoping the place. Eventually I had to discharge my rented beverage and I headed to the can.
I sort-of bopped across one corner of the dance floor and into a shadowed area lit mostly by neon lights.
That’s when I saw them.
They were standing by the mens’ room, beneath orange neon spelling out the name of some now-defunct brand of beer. Or some random sex act, I’m not sure (my memory can sometimes be excellent, but not photographic).
The Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats stood on either side of the corner one rounded from a water fountain to enter the recessed doorway to the mens’ facilities. They were in identical poses – arms crossed, legs shoulder-width.
They wore the same tan, winter-weight suits (appropriately, this time) and the same disconcerting fuzzy hats.
I got a slightly better look at them than I’d had at the Wave Pool. They were the same height, which is to say, pretty tall – at least 6’4” (I’m 6’0) – and both heavily built without being fat. Their beards were mountain man thick and in the half-lights and neon glow of that stupid fucking bar, I couldn’t tell what color they were, though again, one seemed to have darker hair than the other.
One of the Men in the Tan Suits and Fuzzy Hats was smiling this rather odd, detached half-smile and clearly observing everything going on around him. The other was staring straight ahead, his face utterly unreadable beneath his fuzzy hat and heavy beard.
I am fairly sure I stood there and stared at the pair for a moment before going on into the restroom to do my business. I just couldn’t believe I’d seen them again. I couldn’t really believe they were real.
When I came out, they were still there.
When we left, (chick-less, of course, for we probably both had LOSER painted on our foreheads in neon brighter than any beer brand or sex act emblazoned on that bar’s walls) they were gone.
I told my friend about them, and he thought I was imagining things, even though he’d been with me at the previous sighting and could confirm they were there by the Wave Pool that day.
I know, to this day, that I was not imagining things at all.
Why, though, have they stayed in my brain? It isn’t like you don’t see weird people all over Nashville. Granted, the percentage of outwardly, boldly odd people in my hometown may be a little smaller than it is in less conservative, larger cities, but they are still there, to be sure.
I guess I’ve wondered if I really did see them. Maybe I even convinced myself my friend saw them too. I’ve also wondered, when assuming these dudes were real, just what the FUCK was UP with them? What normal adult male does that? “Hey, let’s put on these old suits and funny hats and just go hang out places and be weird in our beards?”
I can see a couple of teen boys doing stupid crap like that. Hell, I may have even been guilty of such a thing as a teen. But these guys were clearly grown-ups, and one or both of them older than me at the time.
If they were non-existent, simply figments of my heat-oppress’d imagination, it may be that my psyche is trying to tell me there is weird, bearded behavior in my future. Or that I should avoid men in tan suits. I don’t know.
I’ve really concluded over the years that they were real and their true purpose unknown. Maybe – see, between 1994 and 1998 I worked for a public TV station in Nashville (THE public TV station, actually) and my chief engineer there looked just like one ofthose dudes, without the tan suit and furry hat. Chief Bill was an unusual dude, too, to say the least. He had a heavy, white, mountain-man beard and stood about 6’3”, and he told odd stories about his past – one, for instance, of how he and his friends once wore pink shirts in high school just to mess with everyone else.
Not long after I started working there Bill brought in a new guy named Dale, who – big surprise – looked like a young Bill. Same thick hair (only not gray), same thick beard, same thick build. Bill and Dale seemed to be friends from way back, and Dale – who was a few years older than me – tagged along behind Bill like a puppy, much of the time. One engineer, a very snarky gay jewish dude named Steve, would say, “look, it’s a parade!” each time he saw the pair galumphing down the hall.
I used to wonder, in idle moments on that job – there were many of those – if Bill and Dale had been the Men in the Tan Suits and Furry Hats. They looked the parts.
Ultimately, never seeing them in those getups, I just didn’t know.
So there you go. Now you know I’m a haunted man. And among the many specters that flit down the dark halls of my memory, there are two bearded phantoms in out-of-date, 3-piece, woolen suits, wearing furry hats. They are forever standing mute by the fence, watching the non-furry-hatted world swim, and dreaming their strange, unfathomable khaki-colored dreams.