(Havelock, NC)

I lay on the floor and watch her disrobe, her naked body, hovering over me. She starts the shower. She soaps her hair and I watch the lather run down her curvy body, a bit irritated by the moisture since it’s taking years off of my life.

I go to bed with her. I rest on her chest as she sleeps and slowly make my way towards her belly as she lightly snores. Life with her is good.

(Venice, CA)

I giggle, knowing that you’re back home, struggling to pay your bills, knowing you can’t see all the nudity. I don’t need to go to therapy, drink, even in moderation and I stay 214 pages all of my life while you count calories and exercise so you can keep your 32 inch waist.

You don’t see the tears that well up in her eyes when Gabe is heartbroken. Or how she giggles when Gabe describes the world around him, pulling her in, making her care.

She threw me across the room because some lover betrayed her. I smacked that fucker in the head. Damn straight. Don’t mess with my woman, even though she makes me mad because she dog-ears my pages. She makes up for it by smiling when she reads a moment of victory. Oh her sweet dimples.

(Nanterre, France)

Not all is well for me. Sometimes you really wouldn’t want to be in the bathroom with these people. I won’t even discuss the toilet, but a fat English bloke peed in the shower. And the sex, there are some things that if you witnessed them they would turn you off of sex forever.

I sat on his lap for a full five minutes and he just looked at your name on the cover, trying to figure out if he’ll look more French if he brings me to a cafe. Yes, DuShane, it’s French, now open me up.

(Houston, TX)

I remember when she took me off of the shelf, stroked by tender hands. I was like an orphan looking for a parent. A dog with his paw to the cage. Me, me, me, I yelled. When she took me to the cash register I felt like I sent a farewell note to you. This is it. This is what you wanted. Good-bye.

Then I snicker because you will be judged. They do those little star-thingies on those book websites. What you put me through, what you put all of us through for three years? Back when we were naked, when we had no spine. Those days you just sat there and looked at us, half formed, deformed, a few of us characters bloated like we were force fed popcorn and chili. That wasn’t fun, but you wrote your way through that time and now I don’t feel like farting as much.

(Cleveland, OH)

I just sat there, not a care in the world and then this two-year-old kid showered me with a bowl full of milk and Cheerios. Nobody read a word of me and down the trash shoot I fell. Four stories.

By the way, there is an after life, and it doesn’t involve a heaven or hell or ghosts bothering humans or anything like that. Wait a second.

What? Oh, I can’t tell him. That’s funny.

(Brooklyn, NY)

I’m at another writer’s house. He’s good. I mean, wow, the wealth of material. I’m up against his manuscript. I know I can’t call you, but maybe there’s some weird shit in the universe that will make it to your brain and into one of my younger brothers or sisters.

(Halifax, Nova Scotia)

I heard you might adapt me into a film. I wish someone would throw me at your head, what are you thinking? They’re going to change things around. And, have you seen some of these films? I’m with a woman who insisted we watch Eat, Pray, Love. Twice in a row! She brought me into the theatre bathroom after seeing it once.

Yeah, I got to go into the women’s bathroom and I know you’re thinking there are a bunch of bare breasted women applying makeup, comparing their front bottoms and splashing water on each other, but don’t get your hopes up too high on that idiotic fantasy. She just sat there, looking at her ugly mug in the mirror, actually thinking she was Julia Roberts, or that she could be Julia Roberts. We bought two boxes of Junior Mints and she ate all of them before the previews, of course, and I had to watch that crap film again.

I swear on my holy…..if you…if they….if Julia Rober-…..I will hurt you. Somebody place me on a computer I will one-star-thingie the shit out of you. Amazon. Barnes & Noble. Powell’s. Goodreads.com. Why would I care, we’re done, I’m home and you’re back in San Francisco doing whatever you San Franciscans do when you’re not writing or waxing your hipster mustaches.

And, you didn’t have that mustache when we started. Yeah, I’m calling you out on it to the world. You were fat. You were a fat bearded fuck. 234 pounds. I know, you go on and on about how you lost 50 pounds and the first 20 pounds were easy because they were heartbreak pounds. What was that pithy little sentence you wrote?

“Divorce is the number one cure for weight loss without a prescription.”

Actually, that’s not bad. And it was good to see you get healthy. Well on your exterior since we both know your insides are just rotting guts and you’re still a tormented artist, blah, blah, blah. I wish I could write your next book for you and call it, I’m Tormented, Help Me.

Forget what I said about Julia Roberts, you and I spent so much “quality” time together, you know what I’m talking about you delusional sod, that I now want Julia Roberts to play the role of Mom. Yep. If I could call your agent and sound halfway intelligent with the limited sentences you gave me, I’d find out. But I can only say sentences the way you wrote them. Let’s see:

“Did you touch her?” Page 8. Not going to work.

“Shitfaced.” That’s a sentence on page 142. You’re not too shabby on the internal dialogue stuff when Gabe says what he’s thinking.

Okay, flipping through myself. Hrmm. That feels kind of good. Flipping through my pages. Flipping through. Flipping through. Flipping through. Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip, I’ll be right back.

I’m back. All of a sudden I feel a little tired. I thought I broke something there for a second.

“It was a very Norwegian way to communicate something that hurt too much.” Page 62.

Look, you’ve given me nothing to work with here so you’re on your own. I’ll never speak to you again if the world knows my story through some starving, numbskull actors who rubbed the right people the right way to get into the-.

Rubbed. They flipped through my pages. Flipping through my pages. Flipping. Flip, flip, flip. I feel a bit light headed. I’ll be right back.


Hair Today

By J.E. Fishman

Essay


By happenstance or predilection, I am generally surrounded by people who embrace change with the enthusiasm of a koala hugging a porcupine.  For example, my parents stayed on the same floor of the same hotel every winter in Boca Raton for more than a decade before moving there from Great Neck.  And for the past ten years, they’ve stayed in the same hotel in Great Neck every summer when they’re not in Boca.

My father has done the New York Times crossword puzzle every morning of my entire life.  My father-in-law has used the same style date book for as long as I’ve known him, and probably much longer than that.

My stepmother — whom I’ve known longer than I had my deceased mother — didn’t learn to drive until she was nearly forty and then did so only under duress.  My mother-in-law takes one of three identical walks on her Eastern Shore farm every day she’s there, rarely venturing a new one.

My wife kept the same cell phone until an AT&T store salesman informed her that replacement batteries could no longer be found.  For twenty-five years, she has squirmed when I mention that I’m thinking of revising my hairstyle.  For family peace, I never do.

Hair is one of those things some people change as frequently as their shirt.  My people, not so much.

A few weeks ago, my parents, ensconced in their Great Neck hotel — not a place they own, mind you, though, at a month at a time, by this point they might have — invited us out to brunch (which they eat daily) at a place called Bruce’s where we always meet at least once when they’re in town.

They were already seated when we arrived, and after forty-seven years I am pretty familiar with my father’s face.  So what was this thing under his nose?

I did a double-take and a triple-take.

He arched his brow.  “You haven’t seen the mustache before?”

“Before when?” I wanted to say.  “Before the seventy-nine and a half years you’ve been clean shaven?”

But my mind was at sea.  All I could think of at first was the line from Jerry Seinfeld, who once said he’d thought about growing a mustache, but then he’d have to walk around in a bathrobe carrying a pipe to complete the look.

When I recovered a few senses, I tried to put the mustache in a more personal context.  This mustache on the man whose prior attitude toward facial hair took inspiration from the ancient Romans, who, after all, coined the word “barbarian”?  This fresh mustache on the man who drove the same model car (though a new one every time his lease expired) for three decades?  This new mustache on the man whose every suit and sport jacket bore the Paul Stuart label for literally half a human lifetime?

Maybe the shock wouldn’t have been so bad but for an announcement that my wife had made three months ago.  “I’ve decided to grow my hair out.”

It seemed like an innocuous statement at the time.  In the quarter century I’ve known her my wife’s hairstyle has evolved at a pace so glacial that distinctions between periods lay beyond recognition by heterosexual males.  So I wondered, how long would it have taken me to notice if she hadn’t mentioned it?

“I like it short,” I said, “but sure — whatever you want.”

Well, three months later and my wife’s hair had become an entity unto itself in our marriage.  A tote’s worth of equipment attended to it: bobby pins and hair blowers; a brush with a giant cylinder at its center and dangerous-looking spikes coming out; hair clips that could eat the world.

One day, when we were packing to go somewhere, she called up the stairs: “Could you put my flat iron in the bag before I forget!”  I thought: So that’s what that thing is with the cord and the prongs.

Worse than the equipment is the disruption of routine.  A good quarter hour has been added to her prep time, and when we’re both pressed I find myself showering to the roar of what sounds like a three-stroke engine on the other side of the bathroom.

Similarly, my father — who shaved for his whole life with a manual razor — now travels with a Norelco for trimming the weed under his nose.

Thus we all become slaves to our own ornamentation.

One evening this summer in Williamsburg, my immediate family signed up to attend the re-creation of a small ball, the kind they’d have put together for fun in 1774.  It felt like two hundred degrees, no air conditioning, and the Williamsburg women were wearing layered silk dresses and gloves up to the elbows.  They plucked me from the audience to join in a dance, and I ended up paired with the one who was playing the role of eligible widow.

“Mr. Fishman,” she said in character, “what a pleasure to make your acquaintance.  Are you married?”

I could hardly deny it with my wife and daughter sitting in the audience.

“Do you know of any eligible bachelors, then, a friend or a cousin perhaps?”

“No straight ones,” I said.  “Aren’t you hot under all those layers?”

She’d been asked that question a thousand times, I’m sure, and had some diversionary reply ready.  And then the dance was over and I was back in my seat.

But it occurred to me that the authentic clothing they wear in Williamsburg, so impractical for hot and humid Virginia summers, wasn’t born here.  It was the fashion brought over from England, where the weather is, well, English.

These people, our Founding Fathers and their peers, were slaves to fashion just like the rest of us.  Maybe clean-shaven George Washington spent half the morning primping his wig.  Maybe he let his beard grow at Valley Forge when no portraitists were around to make a record of it.  Maybe he returned to Mt. Vernon for a long weekend and Martha took one look at him and laughed her corset off until he got the razor out.

As I’ve documented, though, the members of my modern tribe don’t change so quickly.  My best guess is that I’ll be lugging around totes full of hair supplies for the foreseeable future.  And my father will wear that mustache until some salesman tells him he can no longer find replacement batteries for the Norelco.