I've had some hard times, worse than some, better than others. For starters, I have a severe form of chronic bowel disease. As a result of multiple surgeries I became addicted to painkillers and checked myself into a substance abuse facility. So instead of sipping cocktails at trendy seaside bars I sit in AA meetings, where I introduce myself as “Danny, an addict, sober by the grace of God.” Far worse than both of these things, however, is my bone-straight hair. I am not joking when I say I have never seen straighter hair on another living person. I have seen straighter hair on a tennis ball, one that has been smacked so many times that it is nothing but stray threads of fabric hanging on indifferently to a worn down nub of its former self, the word “Wilson” barely legible in faded pink print.
Growing up I wanted to be tough, so I hung out with some of the tougher kids in my hometown of Newton, Massachusetts. All the tough kids had flattop hairstyles with rat-tails dangling down the back. Some of them had three lines, or “cat scratches”, as we called them, shaved into the sides of their heads. When I employed this technique my head looked like a patch of backyard weeds after someone started gardening and then gave up after ten minutes.
The only time my hair looked good was after a shower, soaking wet. I would comb the sides back and let my bangs swoop down to my eyebrows, and pray that it would never dry. It always did, though, and by the time I got to school my hair would be the same hopeless, light, feathery pelt of baby alpaca that it always was, thousands of defiant strands of hair that refused to cooperate with the rest of my body.
On weekends I took day trips into Boston with my friend, Matt. We’d go to Stairway to Heaven, a rock n’ roll paraphernalia shop in Downtown Crossing, where you could buy things like an Ozzy Osbourne t-shirt or a Guns n’ Roses poster. On the way there we’d cut through the Boston Commons, passing homeless people asleep on park benches or sprawled out on the grass. We would get quiet as we walked by them, and I noticed that even they had great hair, thick, black manes with poetic waves sweeping through them. “Why?” I’d ask myself, “Why can’t I please have what they have?”
In seventh grade I discovered two things: the movie Top Gun, and Dep styling gel. I would go to CVS and, for $2.99, purchase a bottle of this crap, which came in three different colors: green, pink or yellow. Then I would go home and spend half an hour meticulously working it into my hair, molding a part on the left side, just like the one Tom Cruise had in the movie. It was like building a volcano for a science fair, slathering on paper mache while marveling at the exquisite mess before me. I would get close to something desirable but then eventually my hair would start popping back into its natural state, one hair at a time; an hour later my head looked like a steepled rooftop thatched with dried, brittle palm fronds.
My hair was like a clown punching bag, the ones that are weighted at the bottom. Every time you knock it down it just bounces back up, laughing at you.
In 10th grade I decided to take action. When I mentioned my dilemma to Tina, the girl who cut my hair, she suggested I get a perm. I think she may have been joking, but I perked up. “Really? Isn’t that for girls?” “Not at all,” she said, perking up as well at the thought of another customer. “I give perms to guys all the time, mostly when they want their rat-tail to curl up in the back.”
“I don’t want my hair to look curly,” I said. “I want my hair to look like this.” I held up a picture of Tom Cruise from the movie Cocktail.
“Mm-hmm, sure. For that we’ll do a body wave. It’s a perm but the curlers are bigger and looser, so it just makes your hair really wavy.”
This sounded like a miracle drug.
“We’ll need to wait a little while, though,” Tina said. "Your hair has to be long enough for the curlers, or else it could come out kinky.”
I made an appointment for the following month and started counting down the days.
The next day at school I met my friend, Jason, in the cafeteria and told him about my perm. He was intrigued. His hair was straight (not as straight as mine), longer and shaggier. “Do you think she could make my hair look like Tom Cruise’s in Days of Thunder?" he asked, his eyes gleaming with hope.
“Probably,” I said, raising my eyebrows and swallowing a bite of my cheeseburger. “You should go talk to her!”
Jason scheduled his perm for a Saturday, immediately following my appointment. We went to the hair salon together, each with $65 we had saved, the cost of the perm. We were like two Army privates getting tattooed. Only instead of an eagle with machine guns under its wings we were getting boy band hairdos. Jason got underway while I was in the final stages of mine. He passed me while I sat underneath the plastic bubble, curlers in my hair, and gave me a dubious look. I reassured him with a thumbs-up. He looked bewildered as Tina came out and gestured for him to follow her into the other room.
Afterward we sat in front of Star Market, waiting for our bus, staring at our reflections in the doorway. Jason still looked bewildered. We both looked like Little Richard, Jason’s hair even curlier than mine. “She said the curls will relax in a few days,” I told him. But he said nothing, just turned his head from side to side, his face growing more solemn with each rotation.
The bus came and we got on. It was full of strangers but they all stared at us. At first I thought they were in awe of our hair, but by the end of the ride I realized it was because we stank of hydrogen peroxide. A man sitting in front of us had to cover his mouth with his hand.
We both wore baseball hats for the first three days back at school. On Thursday we made a pledge to take them off, convinced that enough time had passed for the curls to loosen up and not be so noticeable. Our first class on Thursday morning was theater arts, which we were both in together, a class that was predominantly female. We felt it was a safe testing ground for our new perms.
We sat in the back row of the Little Theatre. The girls filed in. As soon as they saw us they started laughing. Vicki Saris, the tall, outspoken, alpha-female of the group, pointed at us. “Hey, curlicues, did you guys get your fucking hair permed?”
“No,” I said, defensively. Jason sank down in his seat.
When class started Mr. Schaeffer asked who would like to begin with some improv, as was our custom. Vicki blurted out, “Maybe Jason and Danny can do Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water for us.” The class broke out in laughter, along with Mr. Schaeffer.
Think what you will, but I was proud of my perm. When kids asked me if I got a perm I’d say, “It’s not a perm. It’s a body wave. Totally different thing.” And they’d nod dismissively. Every now and then I’d catch some shit but I’d shrug it off. Nothing would break the newly processed, reformed bonds of my wavy hair. Nothing.
A month later the curls had relaxed to a more natural, wavy state. Two months later they were almost entirely gone. All that remained was a lazy sweep at the bangs and a nice bend around my ears. The hair I had always dreamt about, what so many others take for granted, like a healthy bowel movement, or an evening glass of wine.
Ten weeks later and the perm was completely gone. But its ghost was there; I felt it late at night, or when I lied out in the sun. It whispered in my ear in my darkest hours and most trying moments.
“Nothing lasts forever, Danny. Not even permanents.”
It has been almost seven months since I quit smoking weed, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying some of the benefits, like standing inside the Hess gas station quick mart, in front of a kiosk stocked with Twinkies and Devil Dogs, at 9:00 PM on a Friday night, nibbling on my fingertip while carefully assessing my options and asking myself the eternal question of which is better, Hostess or Drake’s.
I sigh, contemplating. The store is empty except for the young Haitian girl at the register. My back is turned to her but I can feel her staring at me, her hands planted on the checkout counter. She looks at me the way a person might look while waiting for someone to finish a long, drawn-out, unconscionably moronic sentence. If I wasn’t there she could at least go back to watching World Cup soccer on the portable black and white TV behind her, next to the display of Phillies blunts and grape-flavored condoms.
My hand slowly moves for a pack of Yo-Hos but then stops and hovers above it for a moment. It is as though I am Indiana Jones, and removing the Yo-Hos will set off a tripwire, releasing a symphony of poisonous darts from the walls. I am not sure I want the Yo-Hos, now that I notice the Ring Dings. How can I possibly choose between the two? They are both so similar, and I will inevitably make the wrong choice. Then it occurs to me: they are both of the Drake’s persuasion.
As I bring my hand back up to scratch my chin I hear a ding and a man in his late twenties briskly enters the establishment, followed by a trail of cologne and overall cleanliness. Out of habit I quickly move behind the aisle, obscuring myself. I spy on him through a metal carousel of various 8-ounce bags of potato chips. He is well dressed in herringbone slacks and a pink, tailored button-down shirt. The collar of his shirt is perfectly starched and defies all natural laws of gravity. He has a full head of dark hair, gelled back, and a day’s worth of stubble on his face. I look up at the surveillance monitor, which is positioned next to the letter board that brandishes all of the store’s winning scratch tickets. In the monitor I see myself: a bald spot, hunched down, hiding behind a slowly rotating bag of Doritos.
The monitor switches to a different angle, a wide shot of the pumps out front where, in grainy black and white, I see a Mercedes SL500. In the passenger seat is the silhouette of a woman, her hair possibly blonde. She applies lipstick while looking in a compact mirror, puckers once then folds the mirror shut and drops it into a large bag.
“Forty on pump six,” the young man says. I turn the carousel for a more optimal view. A bag of Smartfood passes my face, a black and yellow blur in my peripheral vision. The young man throws two twenties on the counter, then reaches into his pocket again. “And a box of Trojans, ribbed,” he adds, digging for more cash.
I hear the ding again and the young man exits the store. I look up at the monitor to see him approach the pump, grab the nozzle and stick it into the Mercedes' tank. The woman leans out of the passenger side window and says something to him. In profile I see her full lips make a playful comment. I am enrapt, desperate to hear their conversation, when the monitor switches back to my bald spot. I raise my hand and watch as the monitor mirrors my action. I wave it slowly back and forth, still studying the surveillance monitor as if to confirm that I am actually here, in this store, in this life. I stop when I see the Haitian girl at the register staring at me. Our eyes meet through the potato chip carousel. She looks concerned.
I decide it’s best to make a quick selection and leave the premises. I grab the Ring Dings and, out of impulse, snag a Rolo from the candy section. I feel rushed, and know I will resent this decision. It could be twenty minutes from now. It could be twenty years.
Upon leaving the Hess quick mart the gentleman who stands outside to greet people bids me farewell. “You have a wonderful evening, sir.” I don’t thank him, but I should. For a moment he makes me feel like the young man in the Mercedes with the pretty companion. He makes me feel like somebody. This is soon followed by an emptiness because I did not give him any spare change when he asked me for some on my way in. I could not give him any because I paid the $2.67 for my Ring Dings and Rolos on my debit card. I do not carry cash. I feel it is for amateurs.
I tear open the Ring Dings and stick one in my mouth. One side is melted and gets all over my fingers. I suck my chocolatey fingertips clean and then lick the residual chocolate off the plastic wrapper. As I do this I look over at the pumps and see a different woman, a few years younger than myself, pumping gas into a Honda Civic. She has a nice figure and long, dark hair. For a moment we lock eyes. Hers narrow. Is there a connection? A tacit understanding of sorts? I turn away and walk on, wiping the chocolate from my cheek.
Then I am standing on the sidewalk, waiting for a wave of Friday night traffic to pass by, cars full of young people on their way downtown. One of them honks at me. I do not acknowledge them and, when the last of the traffic goes by, I dutifully cross the street, in my flip-flops, hospital pants and inside-out Motley Crue t-shirt, still one more Ring Ding left and a whole pack of Rolos.
Back in my condo the television program is still paused, thanks to the DVR. I have not missed a thing. The pause button is one of the great inventions in life.
Joke’s on me.
For most of the two years Noosh and I dated she begged me to get a cat, a kitttteeee! as she affectionately liked to put it, smiling as big as possible around her clenched teeth and waving her arms around like a child who can’t wait, absolutely cannot possibly wait any longer to open her presents. Noosh always reveled in anticipation, and thus was usually let down to some degree. By gifts. By life. By me.
In her baby voice: “Wouldn’t it be so amazing if you came home and found me on the couch, holding a little kittteeee? Just a wittle, tiny kitty, with a small face and big ears and tiny wittle paws? Eeeee! Totes adorbs! It would be so cute and I could play with it and cuddle with it and sleep with it...”
At work she emailed me pictures, at least twice a week, of kitties. Kitties lying on their backs with their feet and paws in the air, litters of newborn kitties piled on top of each other, and one of a cat and a parakeet lying next to each other in bed, the sheet pulled up, revealing only their faces. Both animals looked stiff with rigor mortis. It was totes disturbs.
When we exchanged Christmas gifts, the night before she left for New Jersey to celebrate the holidays with her folks, I handed her a red box filled with Kiehl’s body lotions. She accepted it, kneeling next to my single-serving Christmas tree and electric fireplace. “Is it a kitty?” she asked.
“Yeah. It’s a cat. In a box. With no oxygen.”
She frantically began untying the silver ribbon.
Her shoulders sank and her smile disappeared as she untied the rest of the ribbon, opened the box and looked inside. “Thanks,” she said, promptly setting the box aside.
She handed me a gift. I opened it. A double DVD, Guns N’ Roses, live in Tokyo, ’92. “Nice!” I said, immediately turning it over and examining the set list.
“When are you gonna get me a kitty?” she asked, meek, dejected.
I set the DVDs on the floor. “Noosh...”
“Not for me; it would live with you, but I could play with it whenever I’m here,” she pleaded.
“Oh, right. I can take care of it, have it scratch up all my furniture, so you can cuddle with it the three nights a week you stay here. And then when you leave me and move to New York or L.A. or wherever the hell you want to go, I’ll be stuck with the thing, this living reminder of you, meowing all day, wondering where its mommy is.”
“Yesss! Yesss!” she said, clapping her hands together.
I shook my head. “Here,” I said, reaching for her big present, a coat from Longchamp. She opened it and forced a smile. “That’s the one you wanted, right?”
A few months later, in March, Noosh and I got into a wicked fight. It had been simmering since New Year’s. I complained about how we always went out with her society-type friends to fancy restaurants where they inevitably ran up obscene liquor tabs, drinking twice their weight, and then got all democratic when the bill came, splitting it up six ways even. I’d end up shelling out $120 for two chicken dinners, a glass of wine and a coke. On top of that Noosh forbade me to get stoned before the meal, which usually made the whole ordeal tolerable. I was not in a good mood when we returned to her studio apartment in Beacon Hill.
The argument ended with me calling her a “shameless faghag conformist”, or something to that effect, and then storming out the door.
The next day we didn’t speak.
The day after that the guilt set in. I drove to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Jamaica Plain and picked out a kitttteeee, an 11-month old Snowshoe Siamese named Noel. The instant the vet opened the cage Noel walked toward me and leaped into my arms. “I’ll take this one,” I said. The vet took her from me and said she’d need to be spayed and I could pick her up tomorrow. I thanked her and looked down at my black jacket. It was covered in white cat hair.
The following day I picked Noosh up from her Beacon Hill studio and drove her back to my apartment for some quality repair time. She stared out the window, silent, the whole way. Normally I’d be dreading the impending talk: the marathon discussion until dawn, the crying, the mental exhaustion, the valleys of despair followed by bursts of hope. But for once I had the antidote, the secret weapon, the ace up my sleeve.
I had a kitttteeee.
As I opened the door I finally broke the silence. “Oh, I got you something.”
“I’m tired. I just want to order pizza and watch S.V.U.”
“Okay,” I said. We entered my condo. It was empty. The cat was nowhere to be found.
“So what is it?” Noosh said.
“Um, let me grab it. It’s in the other room.” I looked in my study. Nothing. I walked back into the living room and furtively checked behind the couch. Nothing there. I made a quick stop in the bathroom and peeked through the shower curtain. Empty. “Hold on,” I said, taking my jacket off and making like I was hanging it in my bedroom. The cat was not there, either. I looked inside my laundry hamper. No kitty. I went back to the bathroom and opened the toilet lid. Nada. Noosh sat down on the couch and turned on the Law & Order channel. I started to panic. Where is the fucking thing?
Under the bed! The vet said they like to hide under things, especially when you first bring them home. I laid flat on my stomach and looked under the bed, moving around my empty duffle bags and plastic storage containers filled with summer clothes. Nothing! I was about to get up when I noticed a bulge in the fabric underneath the box spring. I crawled under the bed, far enough so that I could reach out and touch the bulge. I poked it and, sure enough, there was movement, accompanied by a faint mew. She had tore a hole in my box spring and climbed inside, effectively turning the fabric into a kind of hammock. As soon as I touched her she moved all the way to the other side of the bed, still inside the box spring, a moving bulge, like a mouse going down a snake’s gullet.
I got up, felt an aggravated ache in my lower back, walked back to my study and got my scissors. “What are you doing?” Noosh said, in a tone that implied she couldn’t have cared less.
“Nothing,” I said. Now I was on a mission.
I slid back under my bed like a car mechanic and cut a line down the entire length of the box spring’s fabric, careful not to cut the cat’s tail off in the process. “C’mere you little bitch,” I snarled. But the cat had now moved to the adjacent side of the bed, so I had to cut crossways, eventually tearing out the entire under-fabric from my box spring, ripping it away while quietly muttering obscenities to myself.
Finally the cat spilled out, scratched my eye, meowed, then scurried past me and out of the bedroom, into the kitchen, where she sat on her haunches, wide-eyed and scared shitless, staring at Noosh.
I heard Noosh gasp. “A kitttteeee!”
I wish I could have seen the expression on Noosh’s face, but I was stuck under the bed, trying to get out.
Noosh picked up the cat and held it. The cat looked horrified, like a fat kid getting his picture taken on Santa’s lap. “What should I name it?”
“Well, her name’s Noel, technically.”
Noosh petted her head. “I’m gonna call her Dixie. Hi, Dixie! Hi wittle babes!”
I wiped sweat from my brow. “Whatever.”
“Eeeeee,” she said, cradling the cat.
Two months later Noosh moved to New York. I haven’t heard from her since.
I still have the cat, though.
Ain’t love grand?
It totes is.
There is a young people's behavioral center down the street from my house and, truth be told, I love it.
First off, the teenage boys are extremely polite. When I walk to work in the morning there is usually a gang of them outside the door smoking cigarettes. I used to get nervous as I approached them but they always politely step aside and make an aisle for me, practically clearing the entire sidewalk so I can pass through. I attribute this to a) civil, well-heeled manners ingrained in them at an early age (not likely), b) the older, drill sergeant-type social worker who will beat their ass and lock them in solitary if they're disrespectful (probable), or c) the high dose of Lithium they take every morning with their vitamins and mood stabilizers (very likely). Regardless, they're a fine group of lads. I sometimes fight the urge to flip one of them a shilling and have him fetch me a Christmas turkey.
Even better than the teenage boys, however, are--you guessed it--the teenage girls. They are not as courteous as the boys, but that is okay. They are the only demographic of people that can take their sweet-ass time inside Dunkin Donuts, as far as I'm concerned. Some mornings I see a group of these girls walking across the street from the behavioral center to the D&Ds. They walk en masse, wearing wife beaters, Juicy Couture sweatpants and slippers, their midriffs and bosoms spilling out, tattoos on every patch of bare skin, menthol cigarettes hanging from their mouths. There is always one mild, timid girl among the clan. At any moment she will start singing "Hopelessly Devoted To you" while sipping a Coolata.
If I see them I'll slow down on my approach to Dunkins, in an effort to arrive at the door at the same time and hold it open for them. When I'm near they get real quiet, as though they can sense that, like them, I am also mentally imbalanced but yet untrustworthy because of my age and so-called "yuppie" status. Some of them look up at me and smile as I hold the door; others just flick away their Newports and blow smoke in my face and look at me like I'm crazy--not the best vibe to get from an institutionalized teenager.
As I wait behind them in line I eavesdrop on their conversations, which, incidentally, they do not temper for the public's sake. They talk about how Tommy is a fuckin losah and how some of the doctors are fuckin perverts and they swear to God that just about everything is fuckin bullshit, ya know what I mean? They talk about counselors and sobriety and sponsors and AA meetings. They never remove their aviator sunglasses. They order double dunkachinos to wash down their double dunka-klonopin. Some are plump and unkempt; others are stringy and have short, spiky platinum hair with the sides shaved, like PInk, or Brigitte Neilsen. When one of them looks my way (which is hard to discern due to the sunglasses) I smile cordially and the group gets quiet, undoubtedly wondering who the fuck I am and why I'm such a fuckin losah.
If they were older I would marry one of them. Of this I am certain. I would take her to five-star restaurants and opera houses and foreign films. We'd rent bicycles and ride them all over Nantucket. Over time she would become more refined and think things were less queer, but she would always be the same girl in the Juicy Couture sweatpants and jailhouse slippers, the girl I fell in love with at the Dunkin Donuts.
Years later she will be at my funeral, wearing a black hat and Chanel sunglasses. When mourners offer consolation she will drop her Virginia Slim 100 on the ground and, in a quiet voice, say, "Yeah whateva", and blow the smoke out of her mouth in a long, elegant stream.
Dunkin Donuts certainly has an affect on America. Not only does it serve a medium latte with as many calories as a weight lifter's protein shake, it has also become the new paradigm of choice for the proletariat. It is the modern stage of the impoverished, granting anyone who steps under the spotlight, i.e. reaches the front of line, absolute control, the power to ask unnecessary questions about the cuisine, order intricate iced fruit drinks that have no business in a coffee shop and attempt to negotiate a menu that is already broken down into #1, #2, #3....
It gives Americans the power to do what they do best: hold up lines.
I just spent ten minutes behind an older gentleman in my neighborhood D&Ds. He was already in conversation with the young Haitian man behind the counter when I walked in, at 8:40 PM. The man spoke softly so I couldn't clearly hear the exchange, but I believe it had something to do with the chicken salad sandwich because the Haitian employee kept walking back toward the wall menu and gesturing at it and nodding his head. This? No. This? No. This? No.
Exactly what they were talking about I'll never know, nor can I possibly imagine. If you have dietary restrictions, don't go to Dunkin Donuts. If you care about ingredients, again, don't go to D&Ds for anything other than coffee. If you have questions about the menu, please, don't go to Dunkin Donuts. Don't ask how big the ham and cheese sandwich is, don't ask how fresh the donuts are, don't ask how much something is with tax, and don't ask how many calories are in a packet of Sweet and Low. It's a coffee shop, for Christ's sake. Not a platform for your Constitutional right to be an asshole.
Good question. The answer is likely because you're a personal friend and I've forwarded you the link, and now you're stuck with reading a passage.
So...sorry about that.
Here's the trick: for those unfamiliar with reading blogs (like this author), scroll down to the bottom and start there. In the blogosphere, as in life, the bottom is the beginning. Things start off small and simple and broad, and the further up you get the more ambitious, dense and complicated they become.
So, my dearest legion of worshippers, Danny's advice for the day is: start at the beginning and work your way to the top. There are no shortcuts in life. Well, there are, actually, but don't take them. You should always take the road less travelled, but please remember to drive slow, enjoy the sights, feel the bumps and smell the roses.
Daniel Pellegrini is a recovering drug addict with an aggressive form of chronic bowel disease. That means he can't take painkillers after undergoing rectal surgery. He's here to show you just how beautiful life is.
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