Yeah, I felt good and artsy wearing my homemade obscenity shirt. With my leather jacket over it, you couldn’t read the front unless I stretched out my arms, but that wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was that I knew the message was there.
I had decided to leave Ziggy’s as soon as the shirt was done and give myself some time to walk around the city and think. I used to like doing that, I remembered. It felt like something I used to do a long time ago, even though I was sure I’d done it fairly recently. The weather wasn’t bad. A nice spring day. Maybe a touch cool in the shade but as long as I kept moving it was all right.
I made my way to Washington Square Park. A guy was trying to busk with a sitar there, but you really couldn’t hear him very well over the general noise of the city and kids horsing around and so on. He had the look of an old hippie in his weatherworn skin and denim and he didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the people around him, whether they dropped a coin in his hat or not.
That will not be me in twenty years, I thought emphatically to myself. Then I felt bad. Who was to say the guy was hard on his luck? Maybe he was out there because he really just liked playing in the park. I hoped twenty years in the future I’d have the freedom to decide whether I was going to play in the park or not.
I wandered some side streets after that. You never know what you’re going to find in New York City if you go down a block you haven’t been on before. Greenwich Village has a lot of little side streets. I amused myself looking in the windows of places that sold everything from architectural-looking lamps and light fixtures to imported spices and oils. My mind kept turning over my various problems as if cancer, capitalism, or corporate greed could be solved by a well meaning 24-year-old.
I realized after a while that I was standing in front of a beauty salon, staring through the window. My mind had been a million miles away–or at least several thousand, given that I was thinking about Japan–and I wasn’t really taking in what my eyes were fixated on. Then I realized it: Bernard was inside. He was just finishing up a cute twink’s hair and was showing the guy himself in the mirror with all angles. The twink seemed quite pleased. He got up to pay.
My own hair was in a pretty sorry state. I had basically no red extensions left in it, and while in Tennessee I’d been using the crappy motel shampoo and not conditioning it. I knew it was in bad shape when sometimes I had trouble getting a comb through it when it was wet.
I decided to go in and see if Bernard had an appointment this week. Of course I didn’t know what my schedule was for the rest of the week but, I don’t know, maybe I was tired of everyone else scheduling me and I wanted to do something myself.
The twink gave me a skeptical up-and-down look as he slipped his wallet back into his pocket on the way out. I stepped up to the front counter. Bernard himself had done the guy’s checkout and his face lit up when he saw me! “Daron Moondog, I do declare!”
It’s funny isn’t it, how some people call me that? I almost never introduce myself that way. But there it was. I didn’t object, really, either. “Hi, Bernard. I, uh, I’m in town for a week and just realized I probably need a trim.”
“Probably,” he said, his sarcasm so heavy it dragged his eyelids halfway down. “You want new extensions, too?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do. If I can. Do you have an appointment?”
“Well, I can see if there’s an evening to come over.”
“Oh, that’s not necessary. I don’t mind coming here.”
He gave me a skeptical eyebrow. “Oh, really? I suppose you’re not as worried as Himself is about teeny boppers mobbing you.”
“Or paparazzi,” I said.
“Well, if you’re not busy right now, I had a cancellation and could get you in the chair.”
“Really? I have to be uptown in about two hours.”
“Oh, we should have time then. Come on?”
So I followed Bernard to his station, which was one of several in the place with a big, three-sectioned mirror in front of a fancy barber’s chair. But after picking up some limp strands of my hair and making a few faces he said, “Come on over to the wash station.”
“I had a shower this morning.”
“I know. It’s still damp. But let’s do a rewet and then a deep condition.”
Of course having someone wash my head is one of the most ticklish experiences I’ve ever had. If you’re supposed to relax and enjoy it, well, I spent the whole time trying not to laugh my fool head off which is not conducive to relaxation.
But then the washing was done and we went back to Bernard’s chair. “So, you two were in Kentucky or somewhere?”
“Tennessee,” I said. “For Christmas supposedly, but then I got sucked into helping take care of my mother, who has cancer.”
“Oh my. That is no fun.”
“No fun at all,” I agreed. “Her doctor was being kind of useless, too. But I got some friends from the biz to come help out and they are plying her with weed and she’s very happy about that.”
“I’ve heard that. Mary Jane the miracle nurse. Had some friends turn to that during The Plague.” He was combing through my wet hair in a soothing way and even his tone of voice was soothing, even though the meaning of his words was not.
“Yeah. I’m probably going back down there to deal with her in like a week, but I’m hoping one of my sisters might help out. Or maybe we’re going to hire someone? I’m really not sure how all that works.”
“You mean with insurance and that sort of thing? Does she have insurance?”
“She’s got something, but it’s not very good, whatever it is.”
“Mm-hm. Insurance, or lack of it, can kill you in this country as sure as poison.” He began working some kind of liquid through my hair with his fingers. It smelled kind of like strawberry Pop-Tarts to me. I don’t think it was supposed to. I think that was just my brain taking a chemical smell and mapping it onto the closest familiar scent it could think of.
Bernard was very good at putting me at ease, which was kind of amazing when you consider that I’m not fond of getting my hair done. We chit-chatted easily about various things. “When I was little, my mother would take me and my younger sister to get our hair cut, and I was, like, confused and intomidated by the beauty salon she would take us.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“She would leave us with a hairdresser while she went and got her face and hair done by someone else. And the sound of the hair dryer hurt my ears. The hairdresser she left us with was a loud Southern lady who slapped me when she went to blow dry my hair and I reflexively covered my ears with my hands.”
“She slapped you? Lord. These days you can get sued for that kinda thing.”
“Yeah, slapped my hand down like I was ruining the hairdo or something. Which I couldn’t have been since it wasn’t like a fancy cut or anything. After that time, Claire insisted my father take me, so he took me to a men’s barber shop.”
“Was that better?”
“A little? I was like seven at the time and they made a big deal out of doing me and him at the same time, and when it came time to do the shave of his face, they, like, did a fake shave on me, which I was weirded out by, and then when they put the hot towel on my face I screamed because it burned.”
“Were you a handful as a child?”
“No. I was mostly silent and out of the way as much as possible.”
“Did they really burn you?”
“Not really. But it felt like it at first because I was surprised and didn’t know what it was. My father was completely embarrassed.”
“Because you were a sissy?”
“Yeah, I guess. Thinking back on it now, for sure. At the time I just felt sort of betrayed? Like, wasn’t my dad supposed to protect me from harm rather than scolding me for being harmed? Come to think of it, maybe it was experiences like that which turned me into the silent, out of the way child.”
“Well, no more silence. If my towel is too hot you yelp your little heart out, you hear?”
“You got it, Bern.” I saw there was a Silence = Death sticker on the bottom corner of the mirror. I’d been seing those stickers forever, it felt like, and I knew they were mostly about the AIDS crisis and how we were never going to get the care and rights we needed if we were silent and compliant. But my eye kept being drawn back to it, again and again, while Bernard trimmed my split ends and knotted in a fresh set of red streaks and then blew my hair dry so I looked like something from a shampoo commercial.
I felt like that priest was talking to me again. Like the universe was trying to tell me something. Silence equals death. If I didn’t get back to making music, in other words… yeah.
Let’s see what lawyers had to say about that.