Pink Hats, Darned Rats and Paying the Piper

by Emily Kemme
Pink Hats, Damned Rats and Paying the Piper

Saturday, January 21, 2017 was bookended by time spent in bars in San Francisco. Regardless of the side of the aisle on which you sit, it was probably a fitting activity for the day after Donald Trump’s Inauguration. For me, it was more than simply having a drink or two because for five hours during the middle of that long day of January 21, I wore a pink knitted hat — yes, one of those, the now infamous ones.

Pink Hats, Darned Rats and Paying the Piper

Saturday, January 21, 2017 was a day of the surreal. It began and ended in San Francisco bars. This elegant beauty is a Chinese dim sum restaurant, Hakkasan.

As a writer — an artist of sorts, I guess — I often find myself adrift in the sea of my mind. Following a train of thought, a word, concept or musical phrase, artists get caught up in the whorls and eddies, allowing them to suck us in and lead us to the truth, whether it be a sentence, a paragraph, a symphony or nirvana.

I also talk myself into doing things I possibly shouldn’t and maybe oughtn’t, simply for the sake of experience. You can’t write it if you haven’t smelled the surroundings.

In other words, you have to start with facts, which in this case was a Presidential election that took the nation by surprise.

That’s how I started off with plans to join college friends in Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March. It sounded so progressive, a chance to take society’s temperature. I’d get up bright and early (2 A.M.) to drive to the airport and catch my 6:30 A.M. flight to Baltimore. We’d have a college reunion of sorts (with group hugs and song singing), hop on public transportation to D.C. bright and early Saturday morning, go march and sing with the others along the Mall — and sightsee the Washington Monument along the way —, climb back onto public transportation to Baltimore and eventually make it back to Colorado late Sunday night.

It all sounded exciting, until I thought about it some more because:

♠ I was drowning in work

♣ It’s cold in January in D.C.

♥ I hate to get up that early, unless I’m going skiing — and even then, not so much

♦ I have this thing about being in crowds

The more I thought about it, in a becoming mired in quicksand way of thinking, the more I couldn’t. The trip occupied me day and night — I obsessed — and finally, embarrassed, admitted to myself and my friends it wasn’t going to happen. I hated me. I decided to travel, as originally planned that weekend, to accompany Dr. K to a medical conference in San Francisco. I could work, he could work, the obsessive-compulsive in my head would be happy.

But then another friend offered to knit me a pink hat. A pink pussy hat with ears, to be exact. It was her contribution to the cause.

I thanked her but explained I was going to be in San Francisco instead, that I had a crowd problem. She suggested I could wear the hat in the hotel room.

I was beginning to sound ridiculous, even to myself. I have no problem speaking to crowds. Why couldn’t I be in one? So I signed up for the march in San Francisco. How big could that possibly be, I reasoned? And it would certainly be warmer.

You have to realize, I’m a JAP. Don’t know what that means? Jewish American Princess — and although not of the practicing sort of Jewish-ness, there is still a cultural identity. Celebrating Hanukkah. Getting the manicures. Making dinner reservations. I have a classical music and jazz bent. We JAP’s can become a joke of ourselves. We tend to voice opinions, but not too loudly. Firm but not aggressive; we try to make friends with everyone. We are Jewish, but more than that, we are Americans. We want to fit into our surroundings because of the stories we’ve heard again and again from our parents, those who left much behind in Nazi Germany and other European countries.

I had friends who were pleased I was going to march — that I was breaking out of JAP-dom to speak up — and a few were equally astonished by it. “The pink hats —” they would sputter. “You do know what they represent? They’re so dirty . . .”

The morning of the march dawned on a drizzly San Francisco. Dr. K asked if I’d like to go out for lunch and I declined, explaining I had to work.

And then I changed my mind. It was becoming a common theme associated with the happenings of January 21, 2017.

An elevator whisked us up to a crowded dim sum restaurant where an elegantly dressed Chinese woman asked if we had reservations. I looked down at my ragged jeans and tennis shoes. Clothed for the March, it was obvious I didn’t fit in, and I began to feel uncomfortable. I was as un-JAPlike as could be, at that moment.

“We can seat you at the bar,” she said, her voice lilting and musical, and she gestured to a stretch of glowing cobalt blue glass where lights twinkled, illuminating crystal bottles in immaculate rows. I was beginning to float; it was the surroundings, it was the perfumed air, both floral and subtle Asian spice, it was the lack of judgment from the hostess. We were welcome, no matter what we were wearing.

Still feeling lulled and surreal, we strolled back to the hotel for a quick rest and then Dr. K would head back to his conference, and I would brave the crowds. The pavement was already dotted with groups of women, many dressed in pink, many sporting pink knitted hats. Passersby looked, pointed, comments were discretely made. Market Street hummed with an unseen energy.

Back in the room, I popped on the pink hat and evaluated which layers to wear; the rain, as predicted, was beginning to fall.

“I think I’ll go along,” Dr. K said.

As we walked quickly up Market Street towards the Civic Center, the trickle of people became a steady flow, then a river, then an ocean of humanity. Our steps were slowed by the numbers but not the rain.

Pink Hats, Damned Rats and Paying the Piper

Children perched in the trees at the Civic Center in San Francisco.

I had never been surrounded by so many others. Women, men, children, families — of all ages, races, interests and diversities. We stood in the rain and talked with each other before the rally began. We noted the signs, often laughing at the humor. We clustered, we nudged, we encouraged, we found out about each other.

Pink Hats, Damned Rats and Paying the Piper

The most notable thing about the Women’s March was that it wasn’t about women. It was about Human Rights and acting together. Because people are just people. 

We stood as individuals with particular wishes and interests, we stood together as a group resolved to right wrongs and promote individual freedoms — a mass of Americana — because that’s what this country is. So many differences, so much uniqueness, and yet so much willingness to acknowledge the sameness.

Five hours later, soaked and chilled, Dr. K and I returned to the hotel to warm up with hot baths before we changed for dinner. The reservations I’d made for a restaurant only half a mile away were impossible to reach, even by foot, so sans pink hat, we walked downstairs to the hotel bar, hoping for a table.

Pink Hats, Damned Rats and Paying the Piper

Sitting in the venerable Pied Piper bar in downtown San Francisco, there was a coming together of humanity, an understanding of purpose.

In Maxfield’s Pied Piper Bar, vestiges of the past are notable in the ornately gilded wood paneling, crystal chandeliers and comfy, green leather chairs pulled up to tables. Maxfield Parrish’s original painting, The Pied Piper glows across its 16 foot length, where on the canvas children caper and dance behind the colorful clown leading them to lives unknown. There is a legend, a tale told and passed down from events recorded in 1284 in the German town of Hamelin: a successful rat catcher whose fees went unpaid by the town extracted cruel retribution when he whisked away 130 Hamelin children forever. The painting is honored and esteemed, reflecting San Francisco’s heritage not in so much that it lectures; more that it acknowledges human foibles, weaknesses and folly.

That night of January 21, the normally staid bar was packed to the walls, abuzz with talk of the March, the community, the feelings of inclusion it had engendered. Drinks were ordered, smiles flashed between strangers.

The day was made meaningful because of a silly pink hat.

With the recent turn of events politically and even socially, I’ve become more outspoken in my opinions. As a writer, I express thoughts in novels and on this blog. But I perform factual research first.

I used to worry about what people thought; I’ve come to realize it’s more dangerous to suppress truth. I write stories, trying to make sense of the world, to take its mental temperature and to, hopefully, teach that in the long run, it’s human kindness and decency that wins and is remembered with favor.

Paying the piper is a euphemism of paying a high price for something deemed unfair, that when not paid can end up with dire consequences. We all end up paying the piper for something, whether it be in children lost, momentum redirected, attitudes changed or self-identification taking a different track. I probably won’t put on that pink hat again, but the experience of wearing it and joining with others will stay with me. Life turned a corner that day out on the streets of San Francisco and it’s time to move forward and speak up.

But I’ll still be making reservations for dinner.

Did you enjoy reading this? If so, please share! And thank you!

Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.

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Erica Suchman February 10, 2017 - 10:28 pm

Excellent! And good for you getting out of jap-dom

Pam Billingsley-Gilliland February 8, 2017 - 4:02 pm

Hahahaha! Ok. Whatever you say. 🤣

John Wray February 8, 2017 - 5:44 pm

whatever the “PURPOSE:” of that march was irrelevant.. You were lead by a Muslim who wants to subjugate women and an evil Nazi Soros… You are liberal fools who are puppets to the criminal DNC… FACT

John Wray February 8, 2017 - 5:45 pm

BTW, Emily, keep digging and you will be relegated to obscurity and irrelevance for decades… You are toast but we LOVE to see you keep digging.

Wanda Kirk February 12, 2017 - 9:56 am

The point is its my pussy and i get to choose who grabs it. If i want a pussy hat on my head my choice… Abortion, my choice, birth control, my choice, who grabs my pussy, my choice, wearing a hat that represents said pussy, my choice. That’s as simple as i can put it for you to understand John Wray the troll.

Cathy Veloza Baptista February 8, 2017 - 9:19 am

You do realize the pink hat was a pussy labia hat , right? You worry so much about someone saying pussy but you will go out and wear one on your head. Lol. That’s a move for self respect. Lol

Emily Kemme February 8, 2017 - 9:22 am

Cathy, you’re allowing a euphemism for a part of female anatomy to cloud your understanding of the purpose and effect of the March itself. The purpose was to stimulate solidarity amongst people who believe that the man is a bigoted, racist, sexist boor who is incapable of any governance, let alone governance of himself. The “labia” hats were merely a representation of people’s beliefs that he is disrespectful… to say the very least.

Cathy Veloza Baptista February 8, 2017 - 4:01 pm

Well realize your euphemism made you all look stupid. You’re so worried about a man saying pussy to another man in a private conversation. All men talk about pussy and the ones who say they don’t are liars. So you all go out and put one on your head, brilliant. Even all my liberal friends thought it was ridiculous. You made the purpose of the march look trashy and disrespectful to anyone who was there that had a legitimate cause to represent besides hating our new president and not being mature enough to “get over it”. This is an opinion of a large population of women not just myself, who would never put on a pussy hat, genitalia sweaters or penis heads.Classless.

Brenda Craft March 4, 2017 - 8:33 pm

The hats were pussycats actually. The women’s march was for all people. The spirit is fantastic. All about diversity, understanding and sharing.

Wanda Kirk February 7, 2017 - 8:49 am

Actually, that was the most powerful thing she will ever do.

Emily Kemme February 8, 2017 - 9:23 am

You’re right. Making the decision to be empowered was the most powerful thing to do at that time. The future is wide open.

Pam Billingsley-Gilliland February 8, 2017 - 4:08 pm

You’ll never convince many of us that march was empowering. I thought more like degradating. Just a bunch of women who wanted to take a few days off to sojourn to D.C. under the guise to prove I-don’t-know-what. It could have been a bond force, but instead became a joke. Sorry. Maybe you got a couple of stories out of it. 😏

Wanda Kirk February 8, 2017 - 4:38 pm

Pam Billingsley-Gilliland I just bet you are one of those good women that walks two steps behind your man and you do not believe in pro choice, planned parent hood, equal pay, and all those other horrible womens rights that we were marching for. Oh, and the right to deny men the right to grab our pussy. Yes, I went there.

John Wray February 8, 2017 - 5:15 pm

Emily Kemme YOU are an embarrassment to women and insulted Pam with that remark.. sick and hateful

Maribeth Jones February 8, 2017 - 5:16 pm

Pam Billingsley-Gilliland 2 million women, in 673 different sister cities, would disagree. Empowering! Sorry you missed out.

John Wray February 7, 2017 - 8:48 am

Your life became irrelevant if you wore a pink hat. Sad

Maribeth Jones February 8, 2017 - 5:14 pm

Only to those untouched by the power that day, Sad

John Wray February 8, 2017 - 5:21 pm

power???? breaking windows, burning cars etc etc etc… It was an embarrassment to America and you all know it

Emily Kemme February 8, 2017 - 5:22 pm

I’m not sure where you’re obtaining your information. There were over 4.7 million people marching in Women’s Marches worldwide on January 21, 2017 and there were no incidents of violence, no arrests. World wide. Zero. It was a peaceful, enlightening movement of women, men and children of all ages.

Maribeth Jones February 8, 2017 - 5:43 pm

John Wray that happened on inauguration day. No damage or arrests during the marches. Fact.

John Wray February 8, 2017 - 5:50 pm

Maribeth Jones LIE,, many many arrests and damage..What planet are you on??? and did you see the mountain of trash that YOU liberals left for working people to clean up??? You are disgusting and I have not found ONE woman who isn’t insulted by being associated in ANY WAY with a “woman’s” march lead by a Muslim.

Maribeth Jones February 8, 2017 - 5:46 pm

John Wray actually the post on your page about genital mutilation of women, with your caption, “coming for liberal women” is far more disguisting. Shame!

John Wray February 9, 2017 - 11:15 am

Maribeth Jones ah the usual liberal fallback on racism, sexism etc etc and all the phobias. My wife was one of only FOUR National bank presidents so you need to get a better scam. I have eight daughters who are ALL accomplished because I didn’t allow “girlie” whining. I put the first women into jobs for the FIRST time so it’s phony women like YOU that i detest. You are an embarrassment to real women who don’t need fake support like you. They don’t need a march. They have pride in their own accomplishments. I know of not ONE woman who thinks like YOU

You didn’t “meet” me and i have never been able to stand weak phony women like YOU who need someone else for their pride like you do. You are an embarrassment to REAL women. Ps my wife of decades was one of only four national bank presidents in the country. You just insulted het and she says she saw woman her entire career like you and never promoted them. You are the usual liberal man hater

Brenda Craft March 4, 2017 - 8:42 pm

There was not one single arrest on 7 continents. This was the largest assembly in Washington ever. Agree or disagree with caring about human rights, but don’t spread false news about the women’s march. Peaceful. It’s important for citizens to march peacefully to stop a dictator from spreading propaganda

Ginger Kenney February 6, 2017 - 2:16 pm

Yea for her and so many others

Lynne Hugo February 5, 2017 - 10:36 am

You’ve done a beautiful job sharing this experience, Emily. It was an amazing event and your conclusions about the importance of showing up and speaking up have the ring of truth.

Deb February 4, 2017 - 5:09 pm

I love this!

Judi February 4, 2017 - 1:59 pm

It was a day of inclusion, to be sure. Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Thank you for speaking up and standing up. Keep on keeping on sister!

Emily Kemme February 4, 2017 - 5:46 pm

You bet! And all the brothers and kiddos, too!

Michelle S. February 4, 2017 - 9:04 am

Love it!!!!!

Anonymous February 4, 2017 - 8:16 am



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