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Thursday, May 6, 2010

In the club - part 1 of 2

     There’s a guy I know at the drug store that’s got the same Baldie program going as I have. He runs the register at the store so there’s no avoiding him. I don’t know his name and we hardly speak, but it’s clear that we’re brothers in the club with no name: We’re twins from the forehead up.
     He stands on a raised platform behind a high counter and from that vantage point the man’s got a damned good look at the top of my head. I can tell he’s aware that we’re in the same boat, it’s the glimmer in his eyes and the way he runs me that coy smile. I give him the same look. I can see that head of his in the convex mirror they’ve got up in the corner. It gives me the willies each time I see the distorted reflection. It’s as if someone’s playing a lousy trick on us. We look nothing alike in the face, but over the top and from behind we’re interchangeable.
     So you’d figure we’d have something to talk about. You’d think that we’d spend a little time comparing notes on the state of our domes, but we don’t. We exchange pleasantries, smiles and howdy-do’s. It’s been years now but we never go near the bald thing. We don’t touch it. You see, this is the Baldie dilemma we’re in: He’s not going to bring it up because he thinks I might get embarrassed. I’m not going to bring it up because I don’t want to embarrass him or myself for that matter. So we don’t bring it up.
     Even thought its right there, right smack on our heads, we can’t say a thing about it.
     Last week I decided to push my luck. I wanted to hear the man at the register say something about my head, his head, anything at all regarding our common plague. So I came up with a plan. It was going to take some work but I figured what the hell, I visit the damned place three times a day as it is.
     I ran through the strategy in my head a couple of times and set out for the drug store.
     The first time I walked in there I picked up some of the usual items: a roll of paper towels, some cleaning supplies and then I picked out something new, some scalp revitalizing shampoo. I put it all on the counter and nodded to the man at the register.
     “Yep,” I said, “Time for some new shampoo!”
     He nodded graciously, checked out each item then bagged it all without questioning the shampoo gag. That was fine, I figured, because I was only setting up the show.
     The next day I took another visit. I picked up a bar of soap, a package of sponges, and I grabbed some volumizing cream and hair root nourisher from the hair-care aisle. I pushed it onto the counter and beamed at my Baldie twin.
     “Sheesh! I’m in here all day long, huh!” I said, grinning ear to ear.
     He checked the soap and the sponges and bagged them but he had to find the prices on the other two items. He rolled the boxes around in his hand and raised an eyebrow. I waited for a comment but he found the prices, rang them up and bagged the stuff without even looking up. I gave him my money and he gave me the change and the bag, smiled politely and said, “Thanks”.
     The following day I picked up a can of cat food, hair intensifier, hydrating gel, and a three-part scalp treatment.
     “Oh boy!” I said, “Looks like I’m gonna spend some money today!” I brought my hand down onto the hair products and tapped them lightly.
     They went into the bag one after the next as he rung them up. I frowned. When he got to the cat food I stopped him.
     “You know,” I said caustically, “I actually don’t need that...”
     “Oh?” he replied, with nearly a hint of interest. “Well, don’t worry about it,” he continued offhandedly, “I’ll put it away for you.”
     “Yeah,” I tried, “I just needed a lead in…” I winked, “if you know what I mean…”
     “Sorry?” he wrinkled his brow and shifted his gaze to the can in question. I’d lost him.
     “No, say listen…” I went on, “This stuff here,” I poked one of the tubes of goop rapidly with a stiff index finger, “This stuff’s for men, right?”
     The tube swam around in his hand as he made an effort to read the small print on the back of it. I grabbed it out of his hand and tossed it into the bag.
     “Never mind! I’ll read it myself.”
     “OK, thank you,” he said, smiling again.
     I put my elbow up onto the counter and rested my head on my arm. I looked around. No one else was in the store. I thought of robbing it.
     “Do you need anything else?” asked the man behind the counter with some discomfort.
     “Nah!” I said. “I’m just not right today.”
     “See you later!” he said, half smiling.
     “Yeah! I guess so.” I said, defeated.
     I walked home vexed. My experiment wouldn’t put up; I’d spent a lot of money on the game and the rat wasn’t playing. That hair crap costs and I’m a man with holes in my socks as it is. I didn’t have much left in me.
     When I got home I tossed all the hair tonics into the growing pile in the bathroom. Then it hit me. I looked around the bathroom and found my wife’s shower cap under the sink. Just when you think there’s no use for something…
     I squeezed a sample out of each of the hair products I’d purchased to find the ones with the most vivid color. There were two that counted in; one was lime green and another was pink. I made a big mess of them, squeezing half the tube’s goop out into my hands - it’s diabolical stuff, this hair-care crap. They really know what they’re doing: they’ve got it smelling like French desserts and a summer vacation in the Bahamas. It looks like cartoon orgasms and if you could squeeze the juice out of the Garden of Eden, that’s what it would feel like.
     So I slapped the nasty balm all over my head, making sure to get it good and thick. Then, for good measure, I squirted the rest of it into the shower cap and carefully placed it over my head. This, I thought while looking at myself in the mirror, would get a reaction out of him.
      I hopped down the stairwell of my apartment building filled with excitement. By the time I got to the street I was so thrilled with expectation, the thought of sharing the details of our common but embarrassment-shrouded plight, I completely forgot about the long length of sidewalk between my apartment and the drug store.
     A little girl, standing with her mother outside the Japanese restaurant on the first floor of my building, screamed like hell and fell backwards when I shot out the foyer door. Her mother leaned back in horror, clutching her coat close to her neck. Little kids can scream loudly; the sound of it struck like an electric shock and shook me from head to toe, stopping me dead in my tracks. The girl screamed again and that’s when I realized she was screaming at my sudden, bizarre appearance. I raised my arms instinctively, hands palm out and thrashing fearfully, apologetically - but that only made things worse.
     The owner of the Japanese restaurant vaulted out of his place onto the sidewalk with a long bamboo cane clutched in his hand like a sword.
     “No, no no!” I shouted. “It’s me from next door! I’m just going to the store and she just – she just…” I stammered.
     I felt the thick goop dripping down behind my ears. A good bit of it, the lime green stuff, came off on the cuff of my shirt when I wiped my forehead in fright.

End of part 1 of 2

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