Wednesday, June 17, 2009
You, Me and the Bear
Okay. Let's start with the hair. The summer before 9th grade, I was on the phone with a friend, absent-mindedly giving myself a trim. Unfortunately, I underestimated both the duration of our conversation and the absence of my mind, and when I hung up the phone, I was horrified to discover that I had accidentally 'trimmed' myself a set of short, uneven, horrendous bangs. Think Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber meets bad facsimile of the Bettie Page 'do. Oh God. I already had braces and bushy eyebrows my mom wouldn't let me pluck. These babies made it official. I wasn't awkward. I wasn't goofy. I was just unattractive.
I threw on a thick headband and went over to my friend Brooke's house to spend the night. Brooke was a year older than me, so I respected her opinion a lot. "What's with the stupid headband? You have a zit on your forehead or something?" I nodded my head 'No' and shamefully pulled it back, the way a sobering drunk might reveal a fresh tattoo bearing the slogan 'Powered by Deez Nuts'. Her jaw dropped.
"What are you going to - "
"I don't know,"
Brooke thought for a minute before breaking the news to me gently. "There's really only one option," she apologized, as she led me to her sink. She pulled a can of Gillette from her medicine cabinet and worked it into a lather before spreading it onto my bangs. "I mean, you're just going to have to get rid of them. They're just..." She handed me a fresh razor, "Awful,".
"Are you sure?" I took a deep breath, staring into the mirror.
"Oh, yeah. You can't start high school like this."
One scratching swipe of the Bic, and a chunk of them hit the sink, leaving a gaping hole smack in the center of my hairline. This is when it registered. This was a really shitty idea. Still, there was nothing I could do but man up and finish the job. It was like being an executioner who's only half killed his criminal.
Scrape after difficult scrape, I kept at it, until I'd annihilated every last banglette, and successfully given myself a nice, clean shaven forehead. Brooke laughed. I cried. Neither of us brought up the elephant in the room: that she really should have told me "Just let them grow out. You'll look normal by the middle of July,"
Now I was destined to be a homely social pariah by the middle of July, and that wasn't the worst of my problems.
I was also involved in community musical theater.
At our community theater, Denny's was the place to be apres show. It wasn't just that it was the only place open after 10:00. There were waffles and milkshakes and giant banquet style tables where the whole cast would gather round, laugh about the night's show, and talk shit about anyone who wasn't there. There was also a waiter named Chuck. He's the man in the picture.
Chuck was quiet and slow and could be seen around town bicycling with his huge helmet on, or buying cases of Cadbury Eggs at the local Rite Aid. Where he really shined, though, was on the job at Denny's. He loved to entertain large parties, and did so by approaching our table with a gleam in his eye, presenting, for our amusement, his blood pressure machine.
Yes. Blood pressure machine. The kind with the digital reader and the velcro cuff that you pump with a rubber squeezer. In a way, it was endearing that he wanted to share with us his favorite toy. We'd put the cuff on our friends, read their vital signs, and then continue laughing and daring one another to drink half 'n' half or hot sauce. Still, we couldn't help but be a little weary of Chuck. It could have been the sheepish grin he always had on his face when he asked "Would you like something to drink?" Maybe it was his black nursing shoes, or perhaps it was that uneasiness that one invariably feels when a stranger asks you to play with his medical equipment.
Let's just say he wasn't the type you'd want to single you out one night after a performance of The Wizard of Oz. You wouldn't want him to make a come hither motion at you that was so awkward it brought the whole party of self absorbed show folk to a dead silence as he presented you with a giant stuffed bear, leaving you powerless to do anything but giggle nervously and wonder how long he'd been planning this for, which is too bad; because that is exactly what happened to me.
"Thank you?" I tried to avoid eye contact with him, but that meant looking at my friends, who just made me laugh harder. He stood there nodding proudly.
"It's really nice. Thank you again,"
He stayed right where he was. What did he want? A hug? That wasn't going to happen. A handshake? A high five? How does one properly address a gift giving server with irregular blood pressure without going against everything their parents ever told them about not talking to strangers?
"Can I get a picture of just me, you and the bear?" He mumbled.
He had transported the thing on the back of his ten speed, I guess it was the least I could do.
I'm I did, too, because after this night, Chuck never spoke to me again. It was embarrassing, actually. I'd brag to my friends about Chuck My Stalker, and we'd go into Denny's only to have him ignore me completely as he handed the blood pressure machine to a girl on the opposite end of the table.
Clearly Chuck didn't have a long term obsession with me, so why did he chose me of all girls, to give the bear to? I have a sneaking suspicion it was the bangs. Did he think my mangled hairline put me on his level? Did he assume that anyone who would do that to their own face would be willing to take attention anywhere they could get it? Or did he suppose that having faced the reality that I would go into high school looking like a horsey goon, I had given up on taking life seriously and would take any bizarre or creepy turn of events as a joke? If so, he was right. He got the picture.