Ask G&G

Eau de Chapeau

Cap care, wasp upsides, and Mardi Gras at home

Photo: Britt Spencer

Should you ever wash a favorite hat?

Just a few months ago, I’d have suggested you get in touch with a good shrink or a trusty preacher to counsel you out of that heresy. Hats—particularly ones that have enjoyed years of outings—are sacred tools in the kit. Touch them with soap? A thousand times no. Obviously, we all clean our guns, rods, and reels, just as we sponge the blood and feathers out of jacket pockets and brush mud off boots. But a recent domestic debate provided me with nuance on washing a hat. To wit: One favored cotton fishing hat has seen action in the Florida Keys, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Europe. Its nicks and frays are the proud record of its battles. Once dark green, the thing has settled to a soft dove gray. The inch-wide sweat-and-grease stain at the crown took a decade for me to curate. Many fish, much sun: It had attained field-hat perfection. But around the house, its reception had grown less fond, to the point that, like a prisoner of war selected for delousing, it was frog-marched to the laundry. My beloved partner’s position was: ‘‘That thing is revolting.’’ I had visions of disaster, but the hat emerged whole, if with a shade less soul, and tighter, like a pair of jeans. The idea of washing a hat still gives me the heebie-jeebies, but domestic harmony is sometimes worth its sacrifices. Especially if you’re grinding other hats into perfect shape.

Already dreading the serial assaults of hornworms and their ilk on this spring’s kitchen garden. Tips?

By evoking this enemy, we take you to mean that your tomatoes, the holiest of Southern fruits, were targeted last year. Before you reach for the old-school carbaryl—the nerve agent that paralyzes pests while doing a number on your own system—take an early spring evening to dip into the third-century B.C. Sanskrit political canon. The Arthaśāstra is a treatise on statecraft, economics, and military strategy attributed to the Indian scholar Kautilya, a.k.a. Vishnugupta, a.k.a. Chanakya. While Kautilya wouldn’t seem to have much to offer on marauding hornworms laying waste to your prize Cherokee Purples, his point is a tactical one—namely, that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Consider engaging an armada of Trichogramma, head-of-a-pin-sized parasitic wasps and the tomato hornworms’ dread adversary. Trichogramma lay their eggs inside the moth’s eggs, which then, having nourished the wasp larvae, “wake up dead.” Bye-bye, Mr. Hornworm! Trichogramma come in egg form, attached by the thousands to cards you strew about as soon as you see moths. Once hatched, the wasps begin their own hunt for cozy moth-egg birthing beds. Ordering a half million or so Trichogramma means you’ve attained a peculiar farm rank: You’re the newly minted squadron leader of your own microscopic-insect air force.

Thinking about moseying on down I–10 to New Orleans for the fat days this year. Reckon I oughta? 

Scylla and Charybdis time, bay-bee. This rocky question is one we’ll face regarding every enjoyable occasion for some time. Fortunately, New Orleans has reined it in by canceling parades. The Quarter and the Marigny might be open, but our stalwart Anthony Fauci rules: Less maundering, less drinking, less howling at the moon, okay? For our New Orleans and Mobile brethren, Mardi Gras is not the one mad day, it’s a season. Stage a gentler staycation for you and yours. Duck season just flew by; cook a friendly pot of duck-and-andouille gumbo. Your pièce de résistance will be your playlist. Scare up some Jelly Roll Morton to set you right, temper with Allen Toussaint, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, King Oliver, Irma Thomas, the Neville Brothers, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Louis Armstrong, any Marsalis, Jon Batiste, and salt in a touch of Fats Domino’s silky baritone. When it’s time to twerk and wail in the living room, Professor Longhair. Among the young ’uns, go for Tank and the Bangas, Eric Vogel, Raja Kassis. The list is endless because nothing—no hurricane, no virus—can stop the cradle of American music from rocking steady.