Playing the Hats Off Game

Playing the Hats Off Game

Kim Willis

Emergency Exit 11 by Dounya Salehi (full series)

I am playing a game

with a group of strangers

on Zoom

It’s called Hats Off game

The Game Master invites us 

to spend some time listing out

the different things that distract us

The idea is that we are to identify

the main thing that distracts us

from fully being with other people 

or from doing the other things 

we’re supposed to be doing in life

They clarify:

(The Game Master, “Sir,” prefers the pronoun They)

They clarify:

It’s the thing we’re always doing 

rather than the thing we are meant to be doing

My number one thing

The thing I’m always doing 

Rather than what I’m meant to be doing

Or, in addition to what I’m meant to be doing

Or, what I’d rather be doing


Well, I have this idea, 

or this sense, 


So what I’m always doing is 

looking for what is hiding in plain sight

And so I’m constantly looking out of the corner of my eye 

and trying to figure out how to see it

I’m looking beyond what’s in front of me trying to see it

Trying to hear it, sense it

Trying to perceive what might be right here that’s being missed

Even now I’m doing it

While playing the Hats Off game

It’s like what I’m looking for

is the door in the hall of mirrors

The door that gets us out of here

The door that opens to the next glorious realm

This is an obsession of mine 

This is my obsession

And strangely enough

sometimes I call what I’m doing, 

I call what I’m looking for…

the slight of hand…

“The Hat Trick”

So it’s interesting to be looking for the hat trick 

while playing the Hats Off game

The Game Master invites to

put this thing that we do

this thing we do rather than doing what we appear to be doing

on our bodies

and look at it

I feel very anxious about this

stressed out even

Don’t f*ck with my obsession, Sir

Don’t play games with my game

I can feel, already

how this game works, 

you know, like

Here I am looking for a secret passageway 

and then what?

I put a door on my arm

and walk through it?

I put a hat on my head and take it off?

F*ck you Game Master


It’s not going to be that easy

F*ck you, Sir

I am very uncomfortable

Mad even — a little bit

Annoyed at the very least

Don’t take this thing — this thing 

that is Mine

my obsession

and turn it into something so

you know, 


It isn’t that simple of a game to play

It can’t be

so simple

But of course it is 

And I don’t want to play

I want to discover that it’s simple by myself

Not in front of a group of strangers

I can feel just my

desire not to play this game

And it’s not a door anyway that I’m looking for

The door is just a metaphor

for the thing that’s hiding in plain sight

I don’t know what that thing is

It doesn’t feel like a thing anyway

And it’s not a hat

So, I settle down 

And settle under 

An invisibility cloak

That’s what hides what’s in plain sight, right?

The Game Master asks for volunteers

Is anyone willing to let us play with their “hat”?

Someone raises their hand 

I don’t

We can ask questions 

About the color, shape, sensation

We can ask questions about this thing on their bodies

They can tell us when to stop

They can tell us when their boundaries

have been crossed

The Game Master goes first to show us

Their nephew and niece are on their shoulders

Questions are asked:

Are they heavy?

How long have they been there?

Do they look up to you?

Do you feel responsible for them?

They hold their hands up and tell us to stop

Boundary crossed

A man raises his hand

He has a giant mouth on his face with clenched teeth

The teeth are white

Sparks fly from them sometimes

Questions are asked

He does not know what’s behind the teeth

He does not know the color of its tongue

A woman raises her hand

A wire coils through her body and comes out of the top of her head

She sleeps with it on

I do not ask her any probing questions

I do not want

to be


by other people’s minds 

I am sitting quietly, watching

Underneath my invisibility cloak

I do not want my obsession trivialized

I’ve been at this game for a while now 

I’m an expert

And I do not want 

any careless questioners

I do not want others plucking away 


I don’t want someone else

to just see

this thing, my obsession

I don’t want it found

this way

Finally, we are running out of time

The Hats Off game is nearing its end

The Game Master invites us

to take our hats off together

A group hat removal ritual

They demonstrate

Hands to head

Mime taking off a hat

“Ta Da!”

They say

“Now everyone together”

They say

Muted on zoom

I say



No no no no nonononononono

Another level to

this ridiculousness

I don’t agree

F*ck F*ck


The invisibility cloak

My obsession

I grasp my distraction

My search for what is hiding in plain sight

For the sake of the Hats Off game

The cloak is covering me

It’s just for the sake of this game that it’s there

I assure myself

It’s just for the sake of this game that it’s my hat and that it’s covering me

I reassure myself



I am in a heightened state of annoyance 

sensing what is coming next

Perhaps you can see it too

“Ready?” they say


nope, I hunch down under my cloak





“Hats Off!”

I don’t agree 

Fine, I agree

“Hats off” they say.

“Ta da!”

And that’s how you play the Hats Off game.

Kim Willis is seemingly still straddling the fence between trying to be someone and becoming nobody.