To the Supercuts Trainee Who Let Me Know Exactly Where I Stood
I am sending you this letter even though my probation officer told me to destroy it upon completion. For the record, I'm sending it, then telling her I tore it up! I'll joke that I tossed the shreds in a special bin marked "Symbolic Reparation Letters," or maybe that I scattered them across the ocean while weeping into my cupped, arthritic hands. She'll blame this quip on my institutional hubris, and then, with exasperation, she'll thank me.
Truthfully, this is more a letter of gratitude, although it certainly bears no likeness to the thank you cards you'll find at supermarkets and drug stores: those water-marked cardstocks dazzled with kittens, embossed letters spelling things I'd never heard uttered in the real world, like "THANK YOU FOR ADDING TO OUR SPECIAL JOY, IN SUCH A SPECIAL WAY," and so on. Those were the cards my mother would pin to my chest at the end of each school year. The notes were eventually plucked off by all of my teachers, when they weren't zonked by the cubic zirconia that jazzed up their turkey necks. It wasn't until I was twelve that I realized she was thanking them for keeping me alive.
Enough nostalgia. Me, last Thursday, at your Supercuts in Buena Park: I was already living in the ruins of an uncertain future. I was there with five other residents from the Fall City Realization Center, for the free haircuts. We were "the models." You piloted us through a tangle of civilians bibbed on pleather lounge chairs in the front of the Supercuts, eventually taking us behind a door made out of chipboard. You told us to sit and wait. We sat and waited.
Before I go on, I must thank you for providing us with reading materials while we waited. Fourteen volumes of Ellery Queens Mystery Magazine fanned on a footrest withpuma feet. I haven't read rhyming detectiverse by Phyllis Diller in forever, and I am notcomplaining, Botan. Do you know what the sign says in the Realization Center's reading room? "We Only Have Your Body."
Long story short, you butchered me, then said you couldn't fix my hair without shaving it off. I told you that this was not acceptable. You apologized profusely, but it wasn't enough for me. Foolishly, I threatened to throw you a "blanket party." You wrinkled your face in confusion and laughed, while I clarified, angrily, that a blanket party is "thrown" when I put you under an electric blanket, plug it in, and pelt you with an extension cord until one of us stops moving.
You laughed again, thumbing me while exchanging disbelieving looks with the other trainees. Sporting a new hairstyle that should have come with a flashing siren helmet, I went after your neck with a pair of shears that perhaps spent a past life in a medieval hysterectomist's office. You were lucky to escape, although I hear you ran in front of a bus in your haste, and were almost struck by it as it pulled in for a stop. I never would've done that intentionally-- chase you into the path of a moving bus. I gave up Italian karate twenty five years ago.
I don't know what compelled me to race back to the Realization Center, but I did. It was the only place I knew to go. As soon as I walked in the others started in with the barbs. Most questioned my manhood, even though I continued to impress upon them that when I have freedom, I tie rebar in the desert. I have a beautiful grandson in Central Florida. I am not one of these institutionalized louts who trade themselves for snacks and cigarettes. I try to carry myself.
This meant nothing to them. In the shower stalls that evening, I became the center of attention among the "shower sharks," a pack of hungry-looking men on the witness-protection program who saw my new hairstyle as a green light to strike up conversations with my midsection. I soaped myself briskly, filled up my plastic pail with the hardwater spurting from the showerhead, then doused myself. They continued to stare until I turned off the water, threw on my paper robe, and got the hell out. Mummified in the sheets that evening, sleep was impossible.
The next morning, my probation officer was waiting for me beneath the palm trees that swayed as if they were paralyzed from the waist up. Remarkably, the cuffs still fit.
Botan! You gave me bangs. My neckline climbed high above my nape, allowing staff members to see the spider web tattoos at the base of my skull. My sideburns were replaced with a crosshatch of razor marks, and I had a cowlick that simply defied my age. I confess that you were right: the only real solution would have been to shave my head, but even that would have been a violation of my probation, a contract that also prohibits jay-walking, visiting neighboring towns, and frequenting old places affiliated with past crimes, such as the sidewalk.
I understand that both of us were, in a way, playing out our respective roles in a symbiosis of cosmetic doom. You, having practiced on wigged mannequins for weeks, were not quite ready to cut the hair of the public at large. I, having been diverted from prison to a behavior modification program, approaching the end of my commitment, was bussed over to your salon to receive a free haircut that would smooth my transition back to society.
It made sense, in a sad kind of way. Who else but convicted felons could bridge this gap between mannequins and civilians, split the difference between beige polymer and flesh and blood? This is where I want to register my gratitude. When I chased you out of the back room, racing past people brazen enough to shell out twelve bucks for a haircut, it occurred that I was, at that very moment, privileged enough to occupy this breach.
I knew, at that moment, precisely what I amounted to in this world.
I'll probably be required to take yet another anger management class in prison. Although I still don't know how civilians forcing me to chew bananas underwater will help slow down my breathing. And I still don't understand, no matter how hard I try, what slower breathing has to do with any of this.
About the author:
Tony Antoniadis lives in Brooklyn. His first story, entitled Rescue 907! will appear in Open City #20. He also has work online at McSweeneys.net and Yankee Pot Roast.