by Johnnie Girl
A writer delves inside the mind and heart of an artist.
|The Hair Salon
The writer searches for something to write about, to care about, to muck about. Scraps of paper filled with half finished sentences cover (Everything she writes before are hollow bells of creativity that she dresses with flesh, alcohol, and colored lights.) the kitchen table. This writer is of average height, brown eyes, brown hair. When she’s stuck she chews on an ink pen, vacuums her living room, jogs around the block, stares dismally at the computer screen.
Then while she is deciding between one bunch or two of bananas inside the produce section, bam her muses tugs at her elbow, annoys her incessantly down the produce section to the meat aisle, at the check out station, and then at home in the kitchen while she cooks until she has no other choice but to respond.
She scratches away with her rolling ball, ballpoint, fountain, quill pen—cook those juices, boil all the flavor away, forget to follow the recipe until only a culinary mess remains. Her kitchen counter is filled with half-finished lasagna, uncooked celery, softening butter, brewed cup of coffee.
Forgotten is the everydayness of life, the grease splattered kitchen top that needs to be cleaned, the crushed corn flakes on the linoleum floor, dirty dishes in the sink, the flaking paint on the walls. The writer plans to paint the kitchen walls a kiwi green, to match her avocado green stove and refrigerator.
On a green legal pad, the writer jots down a character study of am artiste, a woman cursed with aspiration and the lack of inspiration, gets this pretentious piece of shit— a painter, a sculptor, a sketch artist, all of the above, sometimes none of the above— a discontented store clerk with no enthusiasm for life until a hairdresser, a woman with wide gray eyes and copper hair—that happened to have blond streaks entangles her thoughts in an endless maze until this artist finds herself sketching the same eyes, the same round face, the sameness. Then the questions loop into her head: Does the woman want her? Does she not? The artist finds herself in the tiny salon as she had many times before:
The woman plays with her hair, smiles at the artiste (coy, the writer thinks), taps her knee—even fingering the temple all before picking up the scissors. The stylist focuses on the blond hair (like straw, the writer decides).
But before the writer decides to draft the complex relationship on a piece of paper for readers to understand, she puts a lid on her pen and rubs her chin. The writer must be careful how to depict lesbian relationships, sexual or otherwise. She takes the lid off and makes the protagonist straight and her love object stuck in a monogamous love trap with an older woman she’s been with for a year or more. The two lovers are building a home—literally. They are building a house, foundation already there.
Then the writer puts a lid on the pen. Mind blocked, she packs up her notebook and writing utensils. The headaches are back. Caffeine calls.
At the coffee shop, the writer finds a corner, signals a waitress and orders a double shot mocha.
She takes the lid off the pen, scratches through her notebook and suddenly her artiste is just a plain, humble painter and a man. And the gray eyed woman is not a lesbian but a heterosexual engaged to an older man, who just happens to be her boss. And the painter feels nothing—nothing but joy for life until he meets her.
The writer chews on the end of her pen, gulps down her mocha.
She has moved too fast with her story.
Slow down and allow the reader to think, to absorb, to breathe in protagonist’s musk—she tells herself. She asks herself:
Is he handsome? Average. Is he intelligent? He doesn't think so. Talented? Yes. He stutters when he doesn’t mumble? Wait, again wait, the writer must give him a name.
What shall she call this artist? Tony. Bob. She makes it a mixture of the two: Toby. Toby DeWitt, nicknamed “The Witt” more out of irony than anything else.
What does he look like? Average. Average height (5’6”) and weight (140 lb). With his dirt brown hair and even muddier brown eyes he doesn’t look too extraordinary except for one scar on his right eyebrow. The scar is the shape of a cross, but no religious symbolism there. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar—the writer tells herself. A hello is just a hello. A smile is just a smile. Toby, though, reads whole universes into smiles, hellos and goodbyes from women.
Just ask Diana.
The name came quickly, like a thirty-year old deflowered virgin.
But the writer doesn’t know much about Diana yet, only that she seems to grab his heart, or some other vital organs and squeezes until it bursts. Blood gushes everywhere—metaphorically speaking only. Gore makes the writer nauseous, causing her to vomit. In the bathroom, she writes the rest of the passage on toilet paper.
Back in her corner of the coffee shop:
Where does the story start with Toby DeWitt? With him in the morning where he wakes up in a single bed with perfectly pressed white sheets. No, the writer decides she’s too hard on him. She will have him sleep in comfort, albeit in solitude, in a king sized bed (he likes maneuver room) with purple satin sheets. His body has an internal alarm clock. He wakes up at five thirty every morning, showers at six o’clock and is up in the basement (his studio) by six thirty. If nothing, the writer wants the protagonist to go through hell of creating his art from crap—translation: scratch. The Witt is a tortured artist who every morning stares at the blank canvas until his stomach growls, before he smacks the side of his head and returns to the kitchen where he eats a half bagel and swallows a half gallon of orange juice.
With a monk’s appetite, a monk’s sex life, he suffers for his art. Or his art suffers for him. Lethargic, the Witt imagines himself napping in Venice, a Hawaiian island, or under a tree in his backyard. But by now he has had three cups of coffee and twitches and can’t slow down his thoughts or his heartbeat. He imagines himself everywhere. Not able to calm his nerves, he grabs his keys and goes for a walk until he happens upon a shopping center area that has a hair salon.
Toby stops at the window where a woman clips hair of a scraggily man. He notices the gray-eyed woman with the fiery hair, but he averts his eyes when she glances at the window. Instead he becomes preoccupied with his perspiring hands and twisting stomach. The writer thinks that the protagonist will vomit or fart, but decides that she hates flatulence in stories for humor sake. Instead his knees slack and he hold onto the window lest he falls. He feels himself falling, so he grabs onto the glass. This must be—the writer has him to think—be desire.
The Witt can’t put his feelings in words, so he hurries home, leaves the groceries on the counter, the milk will keep, and scurries to his attic where his fingers fumble with the brush. Once his fingers are steady, they swoosh along the canvas and he creates the eyes. The eyes. He stops because for now that is all he can see is those slanted gray eyes. Those gray eyes control the power of his limbs, his intestines.
Toby sticks the tip of the brush in his mouth and chews. Then he tastes the paint thinner, so he spits out the brush and picks out a virginal brush and sticks it in his mouth before the bristles get stuck in his teeth. After brief interlude into the bathroom where he picks out the bristles, Toby sips on his chocolate milk and studies the canvas. Toby sinks into the whiteness, the blank slate that he is eager to cover it with color, with acrylic. Any moment now it will happen. Soon, the inspiration will hit him.
The clock ticks. Birds chatter outside. The clock ticks. A dark barks.
The clock ticks.
He will swear that he hears the coffee maker dripping next door and a mouse sleeping in the wall. The writer forces the chant inside Toby’s head that has the same rhythm of a lock ticking: Haircut, haircut, haircut. Toby can’t concentrate.
Haircut. Haircut. Haircut.
Toby twirls his long strand. His brush strokes a long line. Another line. Again, again, she paints shorts strands with reddish brown.
Hair cut. He must get a haircut. Only then can he work. Haircut. Haircut. Haircut. The Witt splashes on some cologne and checks his teeth for broccoli, stuffs his pocket with wads of bills with plans to tip big.
The Witt, the big tipper. Make way for Toby thye will say when he comes back. Everyone will want to his hair, but he will only let Diana do it.
He imagines what she will first say to him.
Will it be “Hello, Toby” or “Glad to see you, Toby” or will she tick with the informal, fake intimate “Sweetie Pie.”
He wipes his sweaty palms on his pants leg and stares at the door. His legs won’t move beyond the living room. His arms are limp against his body. His mouth is dried up and he feels his whole system shutting down. But the writer is laughing as she sips her chocolate martini. Maybe her first, maybe her third. Maybe she’s about to pass out. But no-the writer is relentless with her hero. The chant echoes, reverberates and regurgitates out of is cavernous mind.
Haircut. Haircut. Hair—His fingers tingle and he feels his legs relax. Yes, he will see her today after all.
The writer places her pen down and takes another swallow of the chocolate martini. Then she picks up the pen and guides it to the hair salon.
Diana, the antagonist, sweeps up strands of hair and flirts with her next customer. Within the fifteen minutes it took her to shave his head, she reveals her astrological sign, her wedding date, her mating rituals, and her favorite movie. The shaved man shoves money in Diana’s hand and scurries out the door. This gabby woman—he thinks—is a friendly woman.
“Hey, you. Love that shirt.” Diana chirps to the next man who is rather averagely dressed, a boring looking man with a tattered white shirt.
The customer smiles while his girlfriend unsuccessfully hides a frown. The writer invades the jealous woman’s mind. Just great. He is now going to be so puffed up that it will take the rest of the day to get his head back to normal size. And is she touching his arm? What about boundaries? Last time, the girlfriend would swear that the woman dropped her scissors on his crotch and then grabbed it—not the scissors. No accident, certainly, the dropping of the scissors.
“So how long have you two been together?” Diana’s voice is flirtatious.
The girlfriend glances up and waits for her lover’s response, but she knows that he is grinning smugly, probably thinking about how they met. Continuing the part of the voyeur, the writer peeks into the woman’s brain and hears these words: “Gay bar, lap dance. Sex fest with him and his buddies. Bastard, stop grinning.”
Diana leans to his ear and whispers but is mindful of the girlfriend—she has seen that type before—territorial and possessive—terrified. The territory may be marked but the young man is looking for someone to unmark him. If Diana isn’t engaged she says through the patting on the leg, the tap on the shoulder, the smiles, she would take that job.
Snipping here and snipping there, Diana chats amiably about her wedding. It should take place in a month’s time. She and Randy have been planning it for a year. Every now and again something goes wrong, though. The church they initially wanted was booked, and the Almanac said that it will rain on their outdoor reception, so they had to book a banquet hall. Such difficulties put her in a bad mood, but now that all is going well, she is surer about her future with Randy than ever. He is so much older than she, but she loves him and he will love her for a long time—at first she didn’t even know—he was her best friend first. Friendship among lovers is so important, you know, she tells him.
The writer isn’t too impressed and takes another sip of her chocolate martini before allowing Toby to re-enter the page.
Toby waits politely outside the door and gawks at the photogenic teenagers that stroll across the street. Once the squabbling couple escapes the salon, he squeezes through the narrow doorframe. He feels like he is bleeping Gulliver among the tiny people. Any moment those blessed with short height are going to tie him down and take away his manhood, his money, and the stick of gum in his pocket.
Go, Toby thinks. All of this is a mistake. All the while Toby stares at her through the window.
The door opens, and a goddess smiles at him.
“Don’t be shy. This is what we like to see: new people.”
Toby glances around. Inside this tiny salon with the two barber chairs and one sink, he sees only her, the woman with the red hair and blonde streaks. He notes her wide eyes, long nose, plump lips.
“Take a seat,” she says patiently.
Toby eases as gracefully as he can into the barber’s chair which means he trips over the base of the chair, slams against the mirror lights and knocks over the scissor set. Finally, he sits.
“You might have to slouch, honey.” The Witt slides down the chair nearly to the floor. “Not that much.” Diana tugs his shoulders for him to scoot up. He feels his muscles go taut, his skin tingle.
“There you go, honey. Now we are ready. And, um, I can’t wait to have my way with you and your hair. I love your hair. It is so thick. Sure you want me to chop it off?”
The writer gives Miss Diana a gibing, playful, vindictive tone. Miss Diana caresses his shoulder to further confuse and muddle him. Her script is the same: woo the client, make him the center of the female universe, the Adonis of East Texas.
She taps his knee, leans over, making sure her breasts touch his shirt. Finally, she tussles his hair, her fingernails scraping against his scalp.
Then it happens. Beyond his control, he feels a movement in his pants. His face flushes a deep red as the writer’s chocolate martini induced red face.
Diana looks straight in the mirror and back at him with her expression-less face, but she blinks or was it a twitch? Does she suspect his predicament?
No, he thinks. The writer laughs, yes. Diana says in chirpy, flirtatious tone:
“What’s your name?”
“What does your mother call you?”
“I don’t have a mother.”
“Does that mean you have no name?”
“No, no. I have a name. Toby.”
“So what do you do, Toby, for a living?”
“Sometimes. I also paint trees, people—whatever inspires me.”
“Oooh, Toby is an artist.”
“You’re funny, Toby. Randy, Toby is funny. How about if I scoot you to the shampoo station and get you wet, Toby.”
The writer has Diana revel in Toby’s predicament. Then the writer has her tell him that he’s cute in his awkwardness and shyness, has her lean in and whisper in his ear that he is a shy fellow and that she would coax him out of his shell if she wasn’t already engaged.
She turns on the faucet and the warm water washes over his head—her fingers rub his scalp. He wants to talk to her but she is so focused on rubbing shampoo into his hair, massaging his scalp, caressing his neck. He smells a soft scent of lilacs or is it lavender? A floral smell that would remind him of what he imagined his grandmother smelled like.
How is that he doesn’t have an identity? Who are his parents? No one seems to know. Only that he comes from a rich family.
The writer traces the rim of her martini glass. She thinks that maybe she should make him a grocery store clerk that lives in his parents’ basement. Wouldn’t that be more believable? After she drains the glass, the writer decides what the f-word, this is her story and she wants Toby to have something—anything. He already has no looks, intelligence or talent, so Toby must be rich, impossibly nice and shy.
When Diana has lathered his hair, she kneels by him and smiles—the upward movement of the lips that says: “you’re especially special” in a sarcastic tone. Then she yanks his head back and splashes it with icy water.
The writer then paints a different smile on Diana’s face, even as fingers rub his head, pull at his scalp, her smirk breaks into smile that reveals pointy teeth much like a vampire. Then the writer decides that is too much and softens her up a bit. She likes her job, the people that come to her for makeovers, for spoiling, for someone to talk to. Diana knows people, what they need to hear. So she will allow them to feel special for thirty minutes.
“Not too rough?”
Toby grits his teeth and shakes his head.
“Don’t move your head.”
Diana scoots Toby back to the mirror.
“Your hair is so long and thick. Sure you want to do this?” Toby nods. Diana leans over to pick up the clippers. Her breasts touch his shoulder again.
“Okay, you have been warned.”
Not able to look ahead at her reflection, Toby looks down at his loafers.
Snip. Snip. Strands of hair fall to the ground, like pine needles falling from a tree. The artist already sees it on his white canvas soon to be covered with brown lines and a bald head.
The writer puts down her pen, watches the barista take the customer’s money, ruminates what it will be like to be behind the counter, serving others, offering them elixer, poison—coffee, mocha, latte, wine, martinis. Then the writer points to her glass and picks up the pen again while she waits for another martini.
Diana? Where has she left her?
Snip. Snip. Snip. Flecks of hair rain on his black apron. He watches the snippets of hair land on the dark surface. It makes him think of snow just making it to the roof before melting away. He doesn’t know why he thinks of snow that he ahs never seen.
“Yes. Yes. More on the back,” he says.
Diana hold up the clippers, but when Toby looks up from his loafers, her clippers lower to his head again.
Diana snips, snips, snips, snips.
She combs, and she grunts. She is done.
Toby looks into the mirror.
The writer contemplates on the outcome—what kind of coiffure. A crew cut? A pompadour or page look? Should she be cruel or kind?
His hair. What does it matter in the hair? So what if his hair long in the front and short in the back? Toby’s eyes are hidden bay long bangs but his mole on the nape of his neck reveals his soul. He smiles which expose the craters that are in his teeth.
When Diana holds up the mirror, Toby nods his head and smiles at her shyly. Then Diana puts down the mirror, tugs the bib off. She tells him all is done in a dismissive tone.
Toby feels suddenly deserted like a stranded child on a street island amidst endless stream of cars. Dejected—pleased with his dejection—Toby hops up and trips on his feet. He then waves his arm and does a twist as he tries to regain his balance. Deciding it’s best to pay and get out, he pulls out the wads of cash.
Toby opens up his mouth to say something clever but the writer decides to give him no words, no verbal language. Instead, she has her hero, Toby the Witt, hand Diana a fifty dollar bill. Before the lady can make change, Toby is out the door.
He has what he wants from her: inspiration, desire, pain—everything it takes to create art and it only cost him fifty dollars, and a haircut in the bargain.
The writer shoves the glass to the barista and removes her bottom from the stool. She is done with Toby, Diana and the lot. It’s time to go home and sleep it off, for tomorrow is work.