Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Second To Last Chapter

It was Friday and Brian decided to go to the barbershop to get his monthly haircut. Although he usually didn’t give religious holidays too much attention, it was Easter weekend, and since he had a vague recollection of being told to keep his face scrubbed and his hair groomed, he walked down the hill to Ben’s Barber Shop, which was within a block of both Queequeg’s and Videosyncracy. It looked as if he had a lot on his mind; his back was hunched over and he was staring at the ground as if he were shouldering an enormous weight. When he reached the door of the shop he stood back for a moment in the middle of the sidewalk and watched the barber’s pole.

Was it going up, or was it simply turning around and around? This one was red, white and blue, and he couldn’t even figure out a way to stick to just one color. His eyes followed the pattern up for one split second, then went down for another turn. He’d never been able to figure how the thing worked, and of course nobody has ever actually told him that he needed to choose one direction or the other. Like anybody else, he enjoyed diverting himself with a good illusion. It was like being hypnotized.

There he was, staring like a child, and who should walk by but Diana, carrying a sack full of lemons because Allen sent her out on an errand just a little while before. She looked at the Brian staring at the pole and started to say something before stopping herself short. Brian was so mesmerized that he failed to notice the woman standing right next to him. He continued watching the pole with a kind of puzzled stare, and Diana moved on down the street with a puzzled stare of her own. She was thinking to herself, wasn’t he the one . . .? but then forgot about him as she got closer to Queequeg’s. Meanwhile, Brian opened the door of the barbershop and paused for the jingling bells to announce his arrival. Ben must have seen him through the window, because he was already standing beside his chair, waiting for him, unfurling the plain black smock as if it were a cape in front of a bull, or – keeping the proper color scheme – a big, black flag. Or even a monk’s habit.

Brian seated himself heavily in the chair and Ben was still straightening out the smock when he noticed the man sitting in the seat next to him. They both snapped their heads back at the same time, more than a little startled. Brian went white as a sheet – or as the collar Ben had just wrapped around his neck. Ben put his thick, meaty hands on his shoulders and told him to relax. The barber had hardly seen anyone look so frightened. For a second there, poor Brian looked like he didn’t know who was looking at whom, and he sat for the rest of his haircut struggling against a state of panic.

Imagine a child growing up with most of the happiness and frustration usually associated with childhood. Because of the good as well as the bad, he wishes he were a man. One day he wakes up and realizes he is a man, but without a single clue about what to do with his life. And he wishes he were a boy again. Then he realizes that his whole life has been something of a dream, from which he is unable to awake.

Imagine a different scenario: a progression of writers and protagonists, in which the author of one novel becomes a major character in the next, and then the author of that novel becomes the protagonist in the novel after that, and so on, and so on, like links in a chain extending into a kind of infinity. What would such a series of selves serve? Where would it end? For it certainly would end, as all things must end, revealing the entire project as a pretense. Another trick, really. Not infinity, but the illusion of infinity, like the customer sitting between two mirrors in a barbershop, who if he could only get his own head out of the way would see himself reflecting forever above the sink, the scissors and the clippers, and that jar filled with blue antiseptic fluid where the combs are kept. Of course then there would be nothing to see.

After the haircut and a good, close shave, Brian paid Ben with a fresh, $20 bill, his very last, and then left to the sound of Ben saying “Thank you!” and little bells ringing overhead.

Once he stepped outside he ran his fingers through his hair a couple of times to shake some of the hair loose. He was still doing this when he’d made it to the corner. He still looked as if he had a lot on his mind; a haircut usually does a lot more for a man’s morale. He looked tired, and he seemed to be suffering. In this day and age it’s becoming more and more difficult to identify the source of your suffering, and you never can be sure how you might be contributing to someone else’s misfortune. At the top of the hill he took a right and walked another block down to the house with the attic apartment in which he lived. Some of his hair must have fallen down his back, since he was wriggling his own shoulders so that some of the cuttings caught in his shirt might fall free. He continued squirming, and all his contortions made for a funny looking walk. The clippings were all the more annoying because he was so tired. He needed a nap. He tried reaching behind himself to pull the shirt free from the middle of his back, but it wasn’t enough. Clearly that shirt would have to come off.

After letting himself in he shuffled through the last few envelopes: electric bill, phone bill, and the standard ream and a half of junk mail. He was happy to find that the last one was a flyer from Videosyncracy, announcing all the latest and upcoming releases and the private Thursday night screenings in the store for the upcoming month. What really took him by surprise was the address label. His name was wrong: not ‘Jove’, as he’d seen before, but ‘Joke.’ There is no justice quite so severe as poetic justice. As far as he could tell that pretty much said it all, really, and forgetting about his itchy back for a moment, he stuck it up next to the others on the refrigerator with a miniature magnet of the Space Needle. He forced out a little chuckle to let himself know that he’d gotten the joke. Grimacing for nobody but himself, he wondered just when and how he had happened to get caught in the grip of such a grim irony. He went into his bedroom, wondering whether he should try to write his way out by doing some more work on his novel. Or should he take a nap?

Maybe it was out of defiance, but he had the feeling he’d be better off with a beer. Then he spotted the manila envelope on the edge of his desk, and that sealed the matter. So he took off his shirt, brushed his back off with a towel, and put on an old sweatshirt instead. After grabbing the envelope to bring with him, he took out his wallet to see if he had any money left. He found a few dollars – enough for maybe two beers. He took another bemused look at the refrigerator door before leaving and began making his way back down the hill.


  1. almostgotit says

    Poor Brian. I wonder who was watching him suffer here? Is this the next author/next self?

    I like the bit with the barber pole. Those things have always bugged the hell out of me, too.

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