Creature Comfort

Chapter 34

“So as I bring the back section up to this elevation I’m gonna connect it with the front part of her head and use that as my guide moving forward. Is everybody with me so far on what I’m doing and why?” Kaleb asks the group of us huddled around the station where he’s giving an impromptu cutting class with Myday as his model.

“Yeah.” everyone murmurs, present company included even though I have no idea what he’s doing or why.

“What’s it look like?” Myday asks, unable to see what’s going-on because Kaleb has her turned away from the mirror.

“Mairena, there’s awesome and then there’s whatever this is which is a thousand times more awesome than the most awesomeness of awesome.” Kaleb tells her as he cuts away.

“Ok!” she says reassured. “Con-tin-ue!”

“What’s goin’ on over here?” a stern voice asks in my ear.

“Kaleb is teaching a cutting class.” I tell the voice as I turn and see it belonging to Captain Ron.


“Dreama told him since it was slow today that he needed to do something to keep us all from just standing around.”

“Dreama.” he says with a shake of his head. “That boy would be sellin’ fruit on freeway exits if it weren’t for his auntie Rene keeping him employed here…where the only thing he’s skilled at is annoying the rest of us.”

“So it’s not just Kaleb that he fucks with?”

“Lord no, but I wouldn’t be upset if it was, nothing against Kaleb, mind you. I’m just too old to be takin’ grief from someone like Dreama who’s so dumb that he couldn’t do something as simple as kick a tire down a hill without fucking it up somehow.”

“It’s good to know I’m not alone in that opinion about him.”

“Not an opinion, son, fact. The same way gravity is a fact. You getting’ anything from what Kaleb is doin’?”

“Not really. I get confused sometimes because it’s like he’s explaining trigonometry while I’m still trying to remember my multiplication tables.”

“His methods can be somewhat…”


“That’s a diplomatic word for it.”

“Yeah but all that being said, working with him has made me feel more comfortable behind the chair than when I started…even if my work still looks like I just started.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’ve got promise.”

“How do you know? I mean, I’m not questioning your authority-”

“That’s wise of you.”

“It’s just that I’m wondering how you know about students out here when you’re always up there.” I say, motioning towards the segregated area of Phase 2.

“Just because I’m up there don’t mean I’m not paying attention to what’s going on over here. I’m always keeping an eye out for those that show potential for Phase 2 and I know your performance has improved and that you aren’t the type to give up or give in which is crucial to learning new skills. Where you at on your hours?”

“A little over 700.”

“So you’re about halfway through the program and a hundred hours shy of being eligible for Phase 2.”

“Yeah, I guess I am. I’ve been so caught-up with just trying to learn that I didn’t realize half my learning is done.”

“Boy, if you smart you know that your learning is never done. Have you given any thought to working up there with me once you hit 800?”

Bode had mentioned us doing this way back when he was an aspiring hairstylist and not a certified rockstar. But I felt, at least in regard to me, that it was a pipe dream because every client I touched could potentially end up looking like the victim of a pipe bomb. Plus, Captain Ron was intimidating and I was enjoying the fact that my intimidation levels out on The Floor had waned since starting.

Now I know a person is always supposed to be putting themselves outside of their comfort zone in order to grow but whatever person said that was clearly a person who didn’t know how comfortable being comfortable truly is.

“The only thought I’ve given Phase 2 is that I shouldn’t do it.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I don’t feel like I’m good enough and I know you expect nothing less than the best and I’m certain I couldn’t deliver that to you on the daily.”

“Listen, while I do expect the students in my crew to do their best I don’t expect them to be the best. They’ve just gotta have the willingness to learn, take direction and keep their ego in-check, I handle the rest. Also, when you’re in Phase 2 you’re treated like an adult, not some high school kid like you are out here on The Floor.”

I’m not gonna lie, the thought of being treated like the immature 38yr old that I was instead of the immature 17yr old that I wasn’t did sound appealing.

“And I promise that the more clients you take the better you’ll get. You can watch cutting videos, do your classes and talk about the ins and outs of hair all day long but none of that’ll give you the experience you’ll gain from constant, real-world repetition which is what you’ll get from doing hair 7hrs a day 5 days a week. Think about it.” he says, patting me on the shoulder before turning to leave.

Ron’s words had dispelled some of my preconceived notions about Phase 2 and planted a tiny seed but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to water that seed because it could potentially grow into a nasty weed that would only serve to trip me up and the low stress flow I’d grown accustomed to while working out on The Floor with Kaleb.

If I were to take The Captain up on his offer and join P2 then I’d be leaving my comfy lo-pro position in exchange for one that’d be filled with pressure, expectations and scrutiny. And not just from The Captain and the clients but from fellow students as well, both the ones in P2 and everyone else in Gen-pop out on The Floor.

When a student was in Gen-pop it afforded them a certain amount of anonymity and invisibility which bred a feeling of safety and security. Out on The Floor if a student fucked up it usually went unnoticed because everyone else was so concerned with trying not to fuck-up themselves that they never paid attention to the mistakes others might be making.

But in P2 you were under a microscope and a spotlight. If you were there it meant you were the most advanced, competent and proficient of everyone else at school which meant everyone paid attention to you.

This is why the clients paid more for services done by Phase 2 students and why the rest of Gen-pop either revered you out of admiration or sneered at you out of jealous insecurity.

Either way, you were 100 percent exposed and vulnerable which meant that if I fucked up I’d be gang-banged by criticism in every orifice imaginable from every angle possible, netting me with more pain, embarrassment and humiliation than I had any interest in dealing with.

Now would I like to improve my skills by doing hair all day long instead of the usual one client diet I’d been fed on?


Would I like to be treated like an adult and be considered an “untouchable” like all the P2 students were? Free from all the typical rules, regulations and rituals the rest of us in Gen-pop were beholden to?

Without a doubt.

But did I want those things at the cost of feeling like I was walking a tightrope every day that had a clan of bloodthirsty hyenas beneath it that were waiting for me to fall so they could rip me apart limb from limb in between mania

Fuck no.

I didn’t need that kind of stress in my life and until I did, Phase 2 would be a hard fucking pass.

Speaking of stress…

“Hey sexy.” Justine says, coming up behind me and pinching me on the ass, causing my eyes to dart over to Myday who thankfully didn’t witness this transaction because her back was to us as Kaleb blew her out.”

“Hey! Don’t do shit like that where people can see. I don’t want the entire school talking.”

“Relax, daddy, nobody saw.”

“You finished with your client?”

“Yeah, I can’t tell you how pissed I was that I chose to work in the only row that had people in it today. But he was nice…and wouldn’t stop flirting with me.”

“Oh yeah?” I ask with minimal interest. “Was his pick-up game on point?”

“Puh-lease. He was some young kid that probably pisses his pants every time he gets a boner, not an experienced man like you are.” she purrs as she runs a finger along my neck and down to my shoulder.

“Will you stop?!” I tell her in a hushed but strict whisper. “Don’t make shit so obvious.”

“Fine, I won’t touch you and I’ll just touch myself instead.” she says with a laugh. “What did Kaleb do to Hot Cheeto?”

“Hot Cheeto?”

“Yeah, the girl he’s blowing out.”

“You mean Myday?”

“That’s her name?”


“I never knew what it was but since she’s always eating Hot Cheetos that’s what Leslie and I decided to call her.”

“Adorable. Kaleb was using her as a model for his cutting class.”

“That’s like the ONLY time you can put the words ‘Kaleb’ and ‘class’ in the same sentence.

“Be nice.”

“Why? He’s never nice to me, in fact, I don’t think he’s ever nice to ANYBODY.”

I turn and give her a disapproving look.

“I’m sorry. I promise to be nice, the same way last night was nice on your couch.”

“You mean until your mom called?”

“Oh my god, so embarrassing. She can be a real cunt sometimes.”

“Harsh words for the woman that pushed you out of her uterus.”

“Who’s been making me pay for it everyday since then. But let’s not talk about her, let’s talk about how I’m gonna make it up to you.”

“You think I deserve compensation because of your sudden departure last night?”

“Ugh, I know, I know, and yes, you do. And if the rest of your skills are as good as your tongue’s then trust me, it’ll be my pleasure. Are you free Saturday night? You know, to see the rest of me.” she asks, running her hand from her hip to her tummy and then up to her round, plump breasts.

“I uh…” I stammer, my brain momentarily short-circuited due to her not-so-subtle allusion to having me fuck her brains out.

“You wanna fuck this pussy hard don’t’ you, daddy?” she whispers in my ear.


“I really want you to too.”

“And there you have it boys and girls, a long triangular shape with round concave layers in the back to tame the density and square layers up front to give it some movement and shake.” Kaleb yells as he spins Myday around where she’s facing Justine and I dead-on.

“How’s it look???” She asks, straining her eyes upward in a useless attempt to see her own hair.

“Fantastic.” I tell her while clapping my hands.

“So Saturday?” Justine asks.

“I can’t Saturday because of a prior commitment. Can I get a rain check?”

“I guess. But don’t keep me waiting. I hate waiting for things that I want.”

“Alright mongrels, if you have any questions on what I did then you’re SOL because it’s officially my lunch break.” Kaleb tells the group as he walks towards me, his oncoming presence being a natural repellent to Justine.

“Talk later.” she says with a bat of her eyes and then saunters off.

“You’re welcome.” Kaleb tells me.


“Making Mairena’s hair look top-notch for your date.”

“OH MY GOD! She’s so pretty!” Myday says giggling while she admires her hair in the mirror and makes faces at herself.

“What was Justine talking to you about?”

“Getting together on Saturday.”

“Like together together?” he asks as he makes the universal fuck sign with his fingers.


“Too bad, so sad. You’ve got better plans.”

“Do you like my hairs?” Myday asks as she trots over to me.

“It looks really good.”

“I know! Thank you, Kaleb!” she exclaims as she goes in to give him a hug and he sidesteps it.

“Sorry, physical contact makes me ill.” he tells her.

“Ok, by-EEE.” she says as she half dances, half walks over to a friend of hers.

“She’s such a fucking weirdo. But she’s a million times cooler than Justine.” Kaleb says as he hands me back my sheers.

“I know how you feel about it all.”

“I don’t feel anything. It’s what I know. You got plans for lunch?”

“I assume you’re gonna say that I owe you food since you did Myday’s hair ‘for me’.”

“I am appalled by that assumption but far be it from me to argue about how you wanna spend your money.” he tells me as I pocket my sheers and we walk out into The Galleria. “Let’s get some Pollo Loco.”

“Tell me something…”

“What’s that?” he asks as he lights up a cigarette.

“What are your thoughts on Phase 2?” I ask with the ulterior motive of hoping to receive some pure, unadulterated confirmation bias that will make solidify my decision to not want to join.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students.” he quips without missing a beat.

“You do?” I say with total surprise.

“Absolutely. I can’t think of a better place for one to go…”

I’m both dumbfounded and concerned by his response because if he thinks P2 is worth doing then that means I have to reconsider which is something I don’t wanna do because I want my time behind the chair at school to be comfortable not complicated.

“…if they wanna have an illustrious career at Supercuts.”

There it is.

That was the kind of Kaleb answer I was looking for.

An answer that relinquished me from all personal accountability in regard to my education and allowed me to feel OK about wanting to do nothing more than just be an OK student. No pushing myself. No walking the scissors edge everyday. Just plain, run-of-the-mill, mediocre OK.

“That’s what I figured.” I say as we step onto an escalator to take us to the street level.

“Why? Do you wanna go up there?”

“Not at all.”

“Good, you’ll learn more from me. And why the fuck are you doing that?” he asks with disgust.

“Doing what?”

“Putting your hand on the rail!”

“I don’t know, habit I guess.”

“That’s a dangerous habit.”

“How’s that?”

“Haven’t you seen the movie Contagion* that just came out?”

“The one about the plague?”

“Not a plague but a killer virus.”

“No, should I have seen it?”

“Well if you want to survive the coming apocalypse you should. Or at the very least take some pointers from it by not putting your hands where millions of other dirty, filthy, virus transmitting hands have been, like on this rail.”

“Relax. There’s no apocalypse coming and I’m not gonna get sick by putting my hands on something that’s here for my safety. Besides, that’s just a movie.”

“It’s more than ‘just a movie’ It’s a god-damn public service announcement! A warning of what’s to come! You’ll see, oh you shall see.” he quips as he takes a drag off his cigarette.

“It amazes me how you’re so worried about some fictitious virus while simultaneously inhaling some very real toxic chemicals.”

“They keep me calm in the face of a looming disaster. And when that disaster does come and society does crumble you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be riding the whole thing out in my germ-free bunker that you won’t be allowed into because you use escalator rails.”

“If it takes a global pandemic for you to lock yourself away from the rest of the world then the only thing I have to say about it is that it can’t come soon enough.”

“Be careful what you wish for.”

*Contagion is a 2011 film that accidentally predicted the COVID-19 pandemic with striking accuracy.

And even though the virus in the movie was over sensationalized with a much higher mortality rate it did share some eerie similarities to the real-life virus that would consume the world 8 years later.

For instance, the movie’s virus originated in the Far East (Hong Kong) and was of a bat-borne illness. It was transmissible among humans by both respiratory droplets and by way of any inanimate objects that when contaminated or exposed to infectious agents could transfer the disease to a new host.

The film also foreshadowed cities being locked-down, people sheltering in place and widespread panic-buying, looting and violence.

The only thing the movie fell short on was not including the murder of a black man by police officers that would spark weeks of nationwide race riots, but then including something like that would way too realistic for even Hollywood’s standards.

The movie starred an aloof and immune Matt Damon who was married to Patient Zero which was an unfaithful Gwyneth Paltrow. It also co-starred the always elegant Kate Winslet who was killed off WAY too early and a sleazy Jude Law who’s character paved the way for the real-life Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli.

And although the movie inadvertently got so many things right, the one thing it really hit the nail on the head was that the end of the world was brought about by Gwyneth Paltrow which, lets face it, isn’t hard to believe at all.

The Taste of Magic

Chapter 33

I was dying.

Not from a heart attack, mortal wound or liver failure (although at my current rate of alcohol consumption the shutting down of one of my body’s most vital organs couldn’t be too far off). No, what I was dying from was the excruciating task of listening to a 19yr old girl talk about 19yr old girl things.

From the second I’d met Justine at the cliché Italian restaurant I suggested we go to for our date I’d been the unwitting victim of a non-stop verbal assault that had to do with the likes of high school ex-boyfriends, family drama and the various plots and sub-plots of at least 10 different reality TV shows.

At first I thought this audible diarrhea would subside after its initial outburst but as time wore on it became clear that there was no end in sight to Justine’s raging river of rant.

So I was downing drink after drink in an effort to endure this ongoing earful of agony. Nodding my head and asking questions I had zero interest in knowing the answers to in a desperate attempt to fill in the space between now and when our food would arrive so it would give her mouth something else to do besides talk.

“Wow, you sure can drink a lot.”

“I thought it’d be polite of me to drink for the both of us since you’re (gulp) underage and all.”

“How thoughtful of you. By the way, did you know that I used to be a model?”

“No but something tells me I’m about to hear all about it.”

“Yeah, when I was in junior high I used to model for stores like Macy’s, JC Penny’s and Old Navy. You know, mall fashion.”

“Ahhhh the mall.” I say with a note of nostalgia that takes me back to the days I was in junior high and going there with my girlfriend so we could have sex in the fire escape stairwells. What I wouldn’t do to be doing that right now. Actually to be doing anything other than what I was currently doing, which, as already stated, was dying.

“Yeah, I made a lot of money from those jobs that my mom still has control over but once she gives me that cha-ching I’m getting a fake ID. That way I can have drinks with you at dinner and go to the bars with you and your friends.”

Drinks at dinner AND going to the bars with me and my friends? Only twenty minutes into our first (and probably last) date and Justine was already seeing a lot of her illegally intoxicated self in my future.

I on the other hand was wondering if I’d still be in her future by the time the food came or if I’d have already excused myself to go to the bathroom so I could crawl out its window and flee this conversational crime scene with some semblance of my sanity still intact.

“Yeah there’s nothing I enjoy more than to get a few drinks in me and get fucked doggy-style.”

It takes very little to change a man’s mind about something especially if that something has the words get fucked doggy-style in it.

That being said, within the span of one one-thousandth of a millisecond I found myself paying full, upright attention to what Justine had to say with no desire to go anywhere except further into the conversation she’d just initiated.

“Did you just-“

“I did.” she says in a low, sultry tone as our dinner arrives. “So let’s enjoy dinner and then go back to your place, have some drinks and enjoy whatever magical things might happen.”

“Uhhhh…sounds good.” I tell her as our waiter sifts parmesan over our dishes and gives me a subtle nod as if to say Yeah I bet that sounds good, buddy. Bone appetite.


“How brutal was it? Are you ready to cut and run?” Kaleb asks as we stand out on The Floor twiddling our thumbs because there’s only a handful of clients in for services and they’re all in another Learning Leader’s row.

“We’re going out again next week.”


“Because I think I actually had an ok time with her.”

“You think? Were you drunk?”

“Not so drunk to where I can’t remember anything.”

“I’m listening…because there’s literally nothing else to do right now. What happened?”

“We had dinner then went back to my place and-“

“Did you fuck her?”


“It takes a lot to shock me and right now I’m shocked. Did you guys do anything?”

“Yeah. We had some drinks, watched some stupid TV show-“

“Which one?”

“I don’t know, some reality show where a bunch of women were yelling at each other in a restaurant.”

“Black or white women?”

“The majority were black.”

“That would be the Real housewives of Atlanta.”

“How and why do you know this?”

“Kaylie watches it.”

“Oh does she now? And when she watches it does she do so at your place?”

“Don’t try to Jedi Mind me, young Padawan. We’re talking about you and Justine right now, not about me and Kaylie.”



“So we watched that stupid show, had some drinks and then started making out.”

“Did her breath stink? Was she a good kisser?”

“No, her breath didn’t stink and sure, she was a good kisser.”

“And that’s everything that happened?”

“Why? I already told you we didn’t do it.”

“Which I still find hard to believe given Justine’s reputation.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“People talk, other than myself of course.”

“And what do these people say?”

“They say things like when her and Vin were dating that they’d go out to her car during sex and have lunch.”

“Uhhhh, did you mean to say they’d go out to her car during lunch and have sex?”

“Isn’t that what I said?”

“No. Anyway, who’d you hear this from, Vin? The guy that always had something to say other than the truth itself?”

“No I heard it from Ron.”


“Yeah Captain Ron. You know, the tall black dude over there running Phase 2?” Kaleb says, pointing at the section of stations by the school’s entrance that’s reserved for the crème de la crème of students that’s overseen by Ron or Captain Ron as he was known around school by enemies and friends alike.

“I know who Ron is what I don’t know is how he’d know something like that.”

“You know he smokes cigarettes right?”

“I do because he smells like them the same way you do.”

“I’ll remember that the next time you ask me for one.”

“Just get on with the story, Mongo.”

“Anyway, Ron likes to take walks when he smokes and for whatever reason his walking ground of choice is the parking garage.”

“That’s kinda weird.”

“Yeah I know. It’s almost as weird as going out there to, oh I don’t know, have sex in a car or something preposterous like that.”

“Can you just cut to the chase before we’re both so old that we’re collecting social security?”

“Sure. So on more than once occasion he’d be out there loitering around during the lunch hour and see the same car rocking back and forth.”

“And so one day he walked up to the car and saw Justine and Vin going at it?”

“No. But what he did see was a pair of feet sticking up that were wearing beige Jeffery Campbells and noticed that Justine was wearing those same pair of shoes later on that day. By the way, what was she wearing on her feet last night?”

“Beige Jeffery Campbells.”

“And there you have it.”

“So Ron came back and shared this with everyone?”

“Only the people he knew who would think it was funny which was pretty much myself.”


“So I ask you, anything else happen last night? Blow job, hand job, finger-bang?” he says pointing his hands at me like guns.

“Ok, something else did happen but first you have to tell me what’s going on with you and Kaylie.”

“Are you suggesting a quid pro quo, Agent Starling*?”

“I am. Besides, I know that deep down you’re dying to tell somebody anyway.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Because you’re the type of person that can’t allow any opportunity to brag about himself pass you by. So whatever it is that’s going on with you and Kaylie it’s gotta be eating you up inside by not being able to boast about it to someone else.”

“Wow, you really do know me. I’m touched.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“Fine, we’ve been seeing each other but you’ve gotta-“

“Not say anything to anyone because it could jeopardize your employment and even though you hate your job you’re too lazy to go out and find another one.”

“Spoken like a true scholar.”

“Have you guys gotten naked yet?”

“No! We’ve only been seeing each other for a couple of weeks. We’ve just made out and yes she’s a good kisser and no her breath doesn’t stink. Your turn, what else happened?”

“Ok, so we were making out and then she pulls down her pants and the next thing I know my face is in between her legs and my tongue is inside of her.”

“So you’re saying your tongue had sex with her but your dick didn’t?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying because something happened while I was going down on her.”

“Did she fart? Queef or Throw-up?”

“No her body didn’t expunge any air, gas or liquid.”

“Then what happened?”

“Her fucking mom called and she HAD to answer it and when she did they started fighting and then she started crying.”

“All this while her pants were down?”

“Yep. Her pants down, my dick down, everything down and then she ended up leaving.

“So how was it?”

“Watching her fight with her mom while her cha-cha was staring right at me?”

“Well, her cha-cha, how was that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, did it smell?”

“No dude, she’s a clean person, at least on the exterior.”

“Ok and?”

“And what now?”

“How was the terrain?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake. It was waxed and as smooth as…fucking Dreama’s bald-ass head.”

“Dreama? Why would you compare her vadge to his head?”

“Because he’s coming right towards us.”

“Why is the universe always trying to cram on more inch of its cock up inside my ass?”

“Yo, K!”

“It’s Kaleb, Jerome.” he says, turning slowly to face his eternal advesary.

“It’s dead in here.”

“What an astute observation. What do you think should be done about that?”

“I think you need to make some magic happen.”

“Welp, here’s the thing, Jerome, I’m not a magician. However, beings that you’re an actor, director and rapper I’m surprised that doing magic isn’t also included on your extensive entertainment resume.”

“I don’t find your sarcasm entertaining and for your 411 I’m SAG / AFTRA and ASCAP registered. I’m legit.”

“Too legit to quit aren’t you?”

“Get moving.”

“Doing what exactly?”

“Rounding up all the Future Professionals that don’t have clients and teaching a mini class.”

“A mini class on what?”

“Hair, smart guy.”

“I’ve got a better idea. How about I round up all the students-“

“Future professionals.”

“And you freestyle some of your sick-ass rhymes for us. You know, G’s up hoes down, that sorta shit.”

“If anyone wants to hear me rap then they’ll have to buy my album, you especially.”

“Yeah ya see, I don’t think I could afford such a musical masterpiece on my meager salary.”

“And if you’d like to keep that salary then you’ll do what you’re told because I don’t wanna come back here and-“

“Then don’t. I won’t be upset and I won’t feel abandoned, I promise. I won’t even miss you.”

“And see everyone STANDING AROUND.” Dreama crescendos by losing his cool. “Now get to it!” he concludes as he storms off.

“Are you still planning on going out with Mairena on Saturday night?” Kaleb asks while rubbing his chin.

“I am.”

“You plan on kissing her with the same mouth you went down on Justine with?”

“Jesus dude, why do you have to make it sound like that?”

“Because it’s fun.” he says as he scans The Floor. “ But beings that you’re going out with her…Hey, Mairena!”

“Oh! I know her!” Myday yells back from across the room as she talks with two other girls while munching on a bag of Hot Cheetos.

“I need you for a sec.” he hollers then turns to me. “I’ll make her pretty for your guys’ date. Now grab your shears and a cape and follow me.”

I reluctantly do as I’m told both wondering and fearing what Kaleb’s idea of “pretty” is going to be.

“Ok for anyone who doesn’t have a client which is pretty much everyone, I need you to come over to the last station in the first row because I’m about to make some magic happen.” Kaleb shouts.

“Ooooooo I love magic!” Myday screams as she glides over. “It’s a dream of mine to be a magician’s assistant!”

“Well then your dream is about to come true because I’m gonna make your hair disappear.”

“Ok! Wait, WHAT???!!!!”

*Agent Starling is a character from the book and movie Silence of the Lambs. The movie is a warm and endearing coming of age story that centers around a young female student at the FBI academy who’s tasked with the job of interviewing a brilliant psychiatrist named Hanibal Lecter in the hopes that he can help her and The Feds track down the serial killer Buffalo Bill who, when he’s not skinning his victims alive to make a human body suit he’s dancing around his living room with his penis tucked in-between his legs.

Dr. Lecter, who is not only renowned for his superior intellect and charming charisma but also happens to be a violent psychopath, is housed in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane due to the fact that he enjoys dinning on human organs while paring them with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

It’s here where Agent Starling and Dr. Lecter build a rapport. She asks him questions pertaining to Buffalo Bill and he asks her questions pertaining to her childhood in a give and take fashion, otherwise known as a ‘quid-pro quo’. Lecter ultimately garners the intimate details of Starlings life through his subtle ways of extracting information from her the way any good psychiatrist would and in the end helps her come to terms with the tragedies of her past which allow her transition to the woman-warrior she becomes.

The film cleaned up at the 1992 Academy Awards garning both Anthony Hopkins who portrayed Dr. Lecter and Jodie Foster who played the role of Agent Starling as well as winning for Best Picture and Best Director.

The sequel Hannibal as well as it’s prequal Red Dragon, didn’t nearly do as well but they were far better franchise installments than The Fast & The Furious with plenty of audacious violence, snarky dialogue and the continued consumption of body parts for dinner.


Chapter 32



“Thatsa me!”

“It’s Stuke.”

“Aloha, what are you up to?”

“Calling you.”

“Are you enjoying the experience so far?”

“I can’t complain.”

“She’s happy to hear that.”

“Good. Anyway, I was wondering if you’d like to go out again.”

“For more burgers and beer?!”

“I was thinking something a little nicer…”

“What’s nicer than burgers and beer?”

“Sushi and sake. There’s this awesome spot in Santa Monica that’s great for a date and I was thinking that-“

“Date? As in me going on a date…with you?”

“I’m not asking on someone else’s behalf. Is there a problem with you going on a date with me?”   

“I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so as in you don’t wanna go or you don’t think so as in it’s not a problem to go?”

“That one.”

“Which one?”

“The last one.”

“It’s not a problem to go?”


“Yes it is a problem to go?”

“No, it’s not a problem.”

“To go?”

“Yes…I mean yes to the no, it’s not a problem.”

“To go?”

“To go.”

“Ok, cool.”

“There’s just one thing.”

“You mean that last thing wasn’t enough?”

“What thing?”

“That thing we just…never mind. What’d you wanna tell me?”

“Uh…I forgot now. I’m confused.”  

“You’re not alone.”

“Oh wait! I remember what it is!”

“I’m listening.”

“I’ve never been on a date before.”

“Did I just hear you correctly?”

“If you heard the words ‘Mairena has never been on a date before then yes, you heard me correctly, your ears weren’t lying.”         

“You’re a quarter of a century old, how could you have never been on a date before?”

“I dunno, no one has ever taken me on one or asked me on one. Is that weird?”

“Super weird. What kind of people have you gone out with?”

“Apparently the kind that don’t believe in going on dates.”

“But you’ve been in at least one relationship during your life, right?”

“Two actually.”   

“Then how…you know what, we can talk about it later. Why don’t I pick you up at 7 on Saturday.”

“A.m. or p.m.?”

“Unless you want sushi for breakfast I’d say 7 p.m.

“Okay it’s a date! Wow…I’ve never said that before. Can I say it again?”

“Knock yourself out.”

“It’s a date! It’s a date! It’s a date! Weeeee, this is fun! Ok, I’ll see you tomorrow at school, by-eee.”

Even though I’d broken my promise to Kaleb by texting Justine earlier in the evening I felt I could atone for it by following his advice on asking Myday out on a bonafide date afterwards. I figured one misdeed followed by one good deed amounted to total equilibrium on the morality scales.

And while I was 90% Myday and 10% Justine I couldn’t help but feel there was this fog of ambiguity that surrounded Myday when it came to how she thought and felt. It was clear that she spoke a love language so foreign to me that I could neither understand nor decipher it.      

Justine on the other hand, was the polar opposite (and according to Kaleb, just plain bi-polar). Because within the timespan of our brief texting she had asked me out tonight (which I declined) and then followed it up by asking me out tomorrow night (which I accepted).

If Myday was this haze of confusing vagueness then Justine was a bright, blaring light of certainty. The only problem was this light could be attached to a freight train barreling towards me at top speed.

So on one side of the barbed wire fence was a woman who had the propensity for being cold, calculative and malicious and on the other side was a woman who had the propensity for being aloof, unclear and puzzling. My job, as I saw it, was to stay balanced atop this razor-sharp fence without slipping and slicing my nutsack open.   

But never been on a date before?

What planet did Myday come from and how many light-years was it away from the one the rest of us inhabited?


“You talked to Justine last night didn’t you?” Kaleb asks with a conviction as icy as his blue eyes.

“What makes you say that?” I respond, pretending to peruse the Starbucks menu while we wait in line so I can avoid the accusatory look on his face.  

“Because while you were working on your client she kept looking at you like a dog in heat from the row over.”  

“Really?!” I say, facing him.   

“Dude. You promised.” he groans while shaking his head of shaggy hair.

“I know! But if there’s one thing I can promise it’s that I’m horrible at keeping promises.”

“You know, I’ve given you every warning I can that she’s a 10-ton twat, you’re just gonna have to find out on your own when she squashes you like an ant. When are you gonna hang out with her?”


“I guess the sooner you jump into that quicksand the sooner it’ll all be over. I take it this means no more Myday?”



“We’re going out on Saturday.”

“Jesus Karen Carpenter Christ! It’s dodgy enough to shit where you sleep but shitting AND pissing where you sleep? That’s just E.coli waiting to happen. Did you hear NOTHING I said about dating more than one woman in the same ecosystem?”

“I did! I just thought that-”

“NO! NO, NO! That’s your problem, you’re not thinking when it comes to your dating life!”

“Oh I’m the one that’s not thinking?”

“Yes YOU.”

“Don’t you think that’s the Negro calling the ghetto black right now?”

“The Negro calling the–what in the five-star fuck are you talking about?”

“There’s a rumor going around that you might be involved with a student by the name of Kaylie which, if true, would be a HUGE non-thinking crime on your part wouldn’t you say?”

“Who’d you hear that from?” He asks with a petrified look as we reach the counter.


“Hi fellas, what can I get for you today?” our barista Shorty asks full of bright-eyed cheer.

“For starters you can get this son of a bitch to say who ‘they’ are!” Kaleb yells.

“I’m sorry, Kaleb but employees aren’t allowed to interfere with the relationships of our customers.”

“You’ll have to excuse him today, Shorty, he’s on his period and a little sensitive.”    

“No problem, we have feminine products in the bathroom for your convenience.”

“Shorty, I come in here every day, you know I’m a man, why would I need a tampon?”

“Because they’re also good at soaking up tears and right now you look like you’re about to cry.” Shorty says straight-faced. “So would you like your usual venti upside down caramel macchiato with three extra shots of espresso, extra whipped cream and half and half instead of milk to make you feel better?”

“He will because if you can’t tell already, health is his #1 concern. Add a black coffee to that and I’ll pay for both.”  

“That’s nice of you, Stuke. Should I put it under your name or just ‘Son of a Bitch’?”

“Dealer’s choice.” I tell him as Kaleb and I grab a seat.

“Don’t think that just because you bought me a coffee-“

“An 8 dollar coffee.”

“That you’re off the hook, little worm. I want you to tell me who you heard this ‘rumor’ from.”

Now I had heard this rumor from three different people in the last two days who, as far as I knew, weren’t in the business of baking bullshit which lent credibility to their story. The real litmus test, however, was gauging Kaleb’s reaction to this news which based on his current state of agitation pointed towards the allegations being true.

But knowing Kaleb and how much he was apt to act like, well…Kaleb, I knew I had to handle this thing with care in order to keep his anxiety at bay. Because if that anxiety got out of hand (which it would) it would lead him to doing something irrational which would lead him to losing his job at Paul Mitchell which would lead him to blaming me for everything.         

So I did the best thing I could do to diffuse the situation.   

“Relax, I was just making it up, no one is talking about you guys.”

I lied to his face.

“I don’t believe you, young grasshopper. Give me names.”

“Ok, what’s with all the bug references today? I’ve been an ant, a worm and now I’m a fucking grasshopper. Have you been getting high and watching Microcosmos again?”

“You know the insect world fascinates me, but what we’re talking about right now is-“

“I swear on my mother’s grave no one is talking about you.”

“Is your mom dead?”

“I haven’t heard from her in a while so…maybe?”  

“Maybe doesn’t count.”

“Fine. But I promise I was just fucking with you, you’re safe.”

“You just said you were horrible at promises.”

“That’s only when it involves my own welfare.”

“So you’re being honest? No one’s talking? Because I could get fired for a rumor like that.”

“No one has said anything. Just chill out before you give yourself an aneurism.”

“It’s bad enough I’ve got a heart murmur…”

“Which is why you drink a gallon of coffee and smoke a pack of cigarettes every day.”  

“That shit keeps me calm.”

“But you have to admit…”


“Son of a Bitch your order is ready!”

“There IS something going on between you and Kaylie isn’t there?”   

“Alright, Poindexter, why do you think there’s something going on?” he asks as we grab our coffees and head outside.  

“Well, aside from you looking like you were pissing razors when I said people were talking about you two, I noticed you guys have been talking a lot at school.”

“SO? You and I talk a lot at school and that doesn’t mean anything. Besides, I talk to a lot of girls at school because as a teacher that’s my job and most of the students, as you know, are female.”

“And most of those females have a shit look on their face within seconds of talking to you because you’re as charming as a broken septic tank. But not Kaylie. She’s always laughing, smiling and babbling around you non-stop which is super strange because I’ve never seen her talk to anyone at school. So much so that I thought she was a mute for the longest time.”

Kaleb remains mute himself as he laps at his drink and gives me a blank stare while we walk back to school with all the other students on break.

“Are you gonna tell me or not?” I beg, hoping that he comes clean before we reach our destination.

“If I tell you and you repeat it to anyone, there’s gonna be hell to pay. Not just for me but for what I’ll do to you.”

“Sounds sexy.”

He takes a deep breath in anticipation of spilling his guts and then…

“Ok…so for the past two weeks we’ve-“

“Stukeeeeeee.” a voice beckons from behind us at the most inopportune time, prompting us to turn around and see Justine and her friend Leslie striding towards us. 

“Mother of all fuckers.” I mumble to Kaleb.  

“And with that I bid you ado.” he says with a whipped cream smile bigger than the great state of Texas, fleeing the scene at a speed I had no idea his ramshackle of a body could create.

“What’s up, Justine?” I ask while trying to hide my annoyance.   

“Do you think after we do dinner tonight we could go back to your place for a couple of drinks?” she asks while twirling her hair and making Leslie’s eyes roll.

“I don’t see why not.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.” she says as her phone rings. “One sec.” she tells me with a wink and then steps away to answer the call.

“So you two are going out tonight?” Leslie asks with a face full of suspicion.


“And then back to your place where you’ll contribute to a minor?”


“Uh-huh. How old are you?”

“Why? Are you writing a book?”  

“You’re not interesting enough to write about.” she chortles. 

“I agree.”  

“So what is it, 29? 30? 105?”

“Just turned 38.”

“Wow, that’s like super old…and gross.”

“Doesn’t seem to bother your friend.”

“That’s because she’s always in search of a father figure since hers left.”

“Well I’d say she’s found that in you.”

“Aren’t you funny.”

“Depends on your sense of humor. Is there any reason you’re being so awesome today?”

“Yeah. I think it’s shady that a 38yr old man wants to go out with a 19yr old girl.”

“Why is that?”

“Because all you’re interested in is fucking her.”

“Is that so?”

“Well I don’t think you’re hanging out with her because of her conversational abilities or award winning personality.”  

“And here I thought you two were friends.”

“We are.”

“Doesn’t seem like it.”

“Why would you say that?”

“Because I think you’d say nicer things about her if you were friends.”    

“What in the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, so far you’ve said she has daddy issues, can’t hold an intelligent conversation and is so lame that the only thing she has of value is what’s in-between her legs.”  

“I never said any of that!”

“No, but you implied it with everything you did say.”

 “Sorry about that.” Justine chimes as she comes back over while Leslie mad dogs me. “What part of town are you in, Stuke?”

“Valley Village.”

“Where’s the restaurant?”

“Sherman Oaks.”

“Ok. I’m in Woodland Hills so why don’t we meet at the restaurant?”  

“Works for me. I’ll text you the name and address of the place in a minute.”

“Purrrrfect…by the way, what kind of food is it?”


“Oh my god I love Italian!”

“Right? Who doesn’t?”

“So. Fucking. Cliché’!” Leslie roars before storming off.”

“Except for your friend I guess.”

“I’m sorry she’s just a little-“

“It’s ok, Kaleb is on his period too. They must be synched up.”

“You’re so bad!” she laughs. “I’ll see you in specialty class…and then later on tonight.” she says as she squeezes my arm and then runs to catch up with Leslie.

As she sprints away the enormity of what I’ve put into play smacks me upside the head leaving me with one question burning inside of it like a funeral pyre.

What the fuck have I gotten myself into?

Yesterday when I was arguing with Kaleb about dating more than one woman in the same ecosystem it seemed like a good idea because none of it was real. So of course I was looking at it through the lens of it being something fun and easy.

But now that it was real carrying with it real-world consequences I no longer felt I was looking through the lens of fun and easy but instead looking into the barrel of a gun and playing Russian roulette with two bullets as opposed to one.

But as sobering as this realization was it in no way persuaded me to put the gun down. Because even though I knew this act of carelessness was sure to bring about catastrophic results I was still dead-set on doing it. Nothing was going to stop me from spinning the gun’s chamber and pulling the trigger regardless of who might get hurt.

I didn’t know why I felt the urge to stomp on the gas instead of the brake and put people’s hearts at risk. All I did know was there was a huge hole in my own heart from when Gums had left and instead of doing the work to fill it myself I chose to have others try to fill it for me which only served to dig the hole deeper.        

I told myself I should feel bad for what I was doing but most of my feelings (including remorse, respect and regret) had been hacked away and cauterized by Gums, leaving me only with the feeling of wanting to be wanted by as many people who would want me despite whatever costs may come with that.

I wanted to feel whole again and that would become the sole driving force behind all my actions romantically, even if that drive was on a collision-course with a brick wall.      

This is Wonderland

Chapter 31

Tuesday 11:30 a.m.

“What do you mean you and Myday didn’t make out at all?” Kaleb yells over the roar of my dryer as I
finish blowing out a client named Jan. “That’s like first date criteria.”

“I know, but we didn’t and it was the weirdest thing.”

“Did you even try?”

“Of course I tried. We were standing in the parking lot and I was leaning into her with my hands on her
hips and a smile on my face. You know, the universal sign for ‘let’s stick our tongues in each other’s

“And nothing?”

“Nope. She just looked at me and then gave me a hug and said ‘Okay, by-eee.’ Then got in her truck and

“She drives a truck?”


“Why doesn’t this surprise me? What kind of truck?”

“The pick-up kind.”

“What brand?”

“I don’t know. All l know is that it’s red and has a name.”

“Like, she named her truck the way you name a kid or a pet?”

“Yes, and his name is-“

“It’s a he?”

“Apparently so because his name is Vladimir.”

“Vladimir? They don’t make trucks in Russia, why would she name him that?”

“Fuck if I know, nothing about this girl makes sense.”

“I’m beginning to see that.” Kaleb says as he twists the ends of his molestache. “Are you sure she knew
you were trying to make-out with her?”

“How could she not? Anyone else would’ve gotten the hint, the memo, the vibe and acted accordingly.”

“Yeah but clearly she’s not just anyone else. She drives a truck named Vladimir for God’s sake. But-“

“But what?”

“Maybe she doesn’t think you like her in that way, maybe she didn’t even know it was a date date.

“Why would she think that? I don’t take out girls for burgers and beers just for the fuck of it.”

“Now if that doesn’t scream romance I don’t know what does.” Jan chimes in with sarcasm.

“I’ve gotta agree with Jan on this one. Plus, it took you like three weeks to call her after you got her

“THREE WEEKS?” Jan screams.

“Yeah, so?”

“Waiting that long probably made her think you weren’t interested in being anything other than

“Again, Jan for the win.” Kaleb says as I turn off my dryer and run my fingers through Jan’s hair.

“Here’s the thing, every other girl I’ve dated, hooked-up with, whatever, there was a mutual attraction
and we both knew it and acted on it. But with Myday it’s like she’s running on a different operating
system and it confuses the shit outta me.”

“Oh blame the girl.” Jan says as I take her cape off and she inspects her new do in the mirror.

“I’m not blaming her, I’m just saying that-“

“Hey Kaleb, sorry to bother you but can you sign off on my task sheet for the haircut I just did?” says
Justine, a fellow Future Professional with curvy hips, terrific boobs and long, mahogany hair.

“If you’re sorry for bothering me then why are you doing it?” Kaleb asks in a voice full of snoot, snot and

“You don’t have to be a horse’s ass about it.” she snarls back, shoving her pen and paper in his face.

“But I’m thoroughly bred that way. Get it?”

“Get what?”

“That’s a hard no.” he sighs as he scribbles his initials on her paper.

“How was your weekend, Justine?” I ask in an attempt to diffuse the tension between the two.

“You always ask me that at the beginning of each week.” she says as Kaleb hands her back her pen and
paper with a look of disdain.

“I do?”

“Yeah. And I’m wondering if that’s because you’d like to take me out sometime. Would you like to do

Both Kaleb and Jan look at me as a seductive smile stretches across Justine’s starlet face.


“Good.” she says, writing her number down on the corner of her paper, tearing it off and shoving it into
the front pocket of my pants. “Text me tonight.” she purrs and then saunters off.

“What the fuck was THAT all about.” Kaleb asks with a strange look of concern on his face.

“It would appear that Justine just asked me to ask her out, which I did, and to be honest, I did not see
any of that coming.”

“Boy…” Jan says, picking up her purse. “You’re about to screw yourself in so many ways and none of
them are of the sexual nature.”

“For real, dude. You don’t wanna mess with Justine, she’s all drama.”

“C’mon, she can’t be that bad.” I counter.

“No? How about that shit she started with Shawna that day I was teaching specialty class?”

“When she said it figured that Shawna lived in Watts?”

“Yeah. That’s not something a tiny white girl says to a 200 pound black girl with prison tattoos. Shawna’s
friends had to step in to keep her from shanking Justine with her sheers.”

“That whole thing was a misunderstanding about residential statistics in urban areas.”

“Residential statistics in urban- did you just pull that out of your ass?”


“It’s amazing the things a man can say when the head between his legs is doing all the thinking.” Jan

“Preach.” Kaleb says to Jan as he holds one of his color stained hands up in the air. “And speaking of
dickheads, do you remember that guy Vin who used to go here?”

“Squirrely gutter-punk dude that was always name dropping?”

“Yeah. He dated Justine and after they broke up she went around telling everyone he was a closet-cased
homo who had a fetish for watching gay porn with old men in it.”

“You know, it was common knowledge Vin was sending dick pics to every gay guy here at school
because they were either telling me or showing me. And is there really such a thing as senior-men gay

“Now how the fuck would I know? The thing is nothing good will come of you getting involved with
Justine. She’s unpredictable, reckless and vindictive.”

“All traits that most of the women I’ve been with have in common, soooo?”

“Soooooo she’s also 19.”

“Really? She looks so…mature.”

“Don’t mistake tits and ass for sophistication and sagacity.” Jan interjects.

“Exactamundo.” Kaleb adds. “Not to mention, all the time I’ve spent working with 18 and 19yr old girls I
can honestly say that they’re all basket cases and you wanna know what’s inside Justine’s basket?”

“Oh I give up, what?”

“A fucking cobra that’s gonna sink it’s fangs into you. Plus, what about Myday?”

“Yeah, what about Myday?” Jan asks. “How old is she?”


“That’s the safer bet.” Jan says as her and Kaleb both nod their heads.

“Yeah but I don’t even know if she likes me and it’s obvious that Justine does. Besides, can’t I go on
dates with more than one person?”

“You can, it’s just not smart to date people within the same ecosystem, especially as small as the one
here at school. It’s even less smart to be doing that with someone like Justine who’s more toxic than
Chernobyl 1986.”

“Kaleb, it’s not like I’m gonna end up sleeping with the both of them and then Justine finds out and goes
DEFCON 1 on me.”

“And why don’t you think that could happen?” he asks.

“Because shit like that doesn’t happen to me in the real world ok? Girls only seem to like me one at a
time, not multiple girls at once. So I’m certain that I’m safe from any sort of radioactive fallout,

“Listen, I know from experience that you’re a slow learner and can be super dense…”

“I don’t even know you and can tell you’re those things.” Jan says with a wink.

“You’re both just a never-ending stream of feel-good aren’t you?”

“Anyway, you may not have realized this yet but since the day you started here, you, just like Alice, fell
down a rabbit-hole and ended up in Wonderland.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Things are different in here than they are out there…” Kaleb says, pointing towards Ventura Boulevard.

“Out there women are pursued by men but in here it’s the other way around. This is because straight
men are scarce and scarcity creates value which makes it easy for you to hook up with a bunch of
women, get caught in a spider web of those hook-ups and then get eaten alive. I’ve seen it happen
before and it’s not a pretty sight.”

Kaleb’s words remind of something Rene had said to me the day I enrolled but I couldn’t for the life of
me remember what it was.

“Why do you look constipated?” Kaleb asks.

“Because I’m trying to remember something Rene told me.”

“What’s that? That she’s hungry? Allergic to soap? Wrestles rhinos?”

“No, I remember it being something like a warning and it had to do with ummmm…a unicorn?”

“Now all I can see is a unicorn with a naked Rene on top of it. Thanks, I’m gonna be sick.”

“That’s it!” I yell. “She told me that there’s not many straight guys here which makes me a unicorn and
that every girl at school is gonna wanna ride my sparkly dick to freedom.”

Kaleb and Jan look at me with total bewilderment.

“What? I didn’t say it was sparkly, Rene did.”

“Who’s Rene?”

“You’re better off not knowing.” Kaleb tells Jan. “Listen, I never agree with Rene but on this subject I do.
And like I said, this is Wonderland and Justine…well, she’s the Queen of Hearts around here and if you
fuck her over or she thinks you did then it’s-“

“Off with his head!” Jan yells with glee as she brings her arm down on the back of my neck like it’s an

“No that didn’t hurt at all.” I tell Jan while I rub my injured neck.

“Sorry, I get excited about impending tragedies that don’t involve me. What was your name again,


“Ok. When I pay am I able to book with you in another six weeks?”

“Absolutely!” I say, stoked that this is the first time a client has ever asked to see me again. “Do you like
your cut?”

“Sure. But what I’m really gonna like to see are all the 3rd degree burns you get from playing with fire.”
she says, handing me a five dollar tip and then walking to the front desk.

“Stuke, as much as I think drama is the greatest spectator sport on Earth I’d hate to see you as a player
in that game with Justine because when it ends it will end badly.”

“What could she possibly do that hasn’t been done to me already?”

“Who knows? That’s what makes her dangerous. Take Myday out again, kiss her and make things
happen in that category.”

“Are you all the sudden Team Myday now?”

“Well, other than the fact that she’s a fucking weirdo.” He says, looking two rows over where Myday is
pretending to ice skate around her station while a Learning Leader checks a cut she did. “She seems
pretty chill. Justine on the other hand is zero chill and all kill which is why-“

“Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine! You’ve proven your point, I won’t fuck with Justine, ok?”

“Promise me.”

“Seriously, dude?”


“Alright I promise.”

Tuesday 8:47 p.m.

I’m so glad you texted me Stuke. Are you free to get together tonight?

It would appear that I’m horrible at keeping promises, especially those that are meant to keep me out of harm’s way.

The End is the Beginning

Chapter 30

“Can you draw me an abstract octopus?”

“What does one even look like?”

“How should I know?” she says with a giant smile handing me a pen and paper “It’s abstract!”     

It was Thursday afternoon, Theory class was about to start and I was in my usual spot, a two-person table second row from the stage and off to the side. It’s where Bode and I always sat but since he’d made the full transition from aspiring hair stylist to bonafide rockstar it had been just me and a revolving cast of students filling-in the chair he’d once occupied.

Today’s filler-in was a girl who with her long, jet black hair and striking facial features reminded me of Kat Von D if Ms. D was free of ink.

I’d always noticed her walking around at school and would at times, catch her dancing by herself in some random spot when she thought no one was looking. Other times I’d seen her hovering near my station watching me cut, color and curse my way through a client while she munched on a bag of Hot Cheetos.     

Still, for all the times we were in proximity of one another we’d never exchanged words until today.                        

“Sure.” I tell her, figuring that if she didn’t know what an Octopoda of the abstract variety looked like then anything I came up with would be sufficient.

So I sketched something that took all of ten seconds that had a square head and eight extensions protruding from it that resembled scythes, brooms and toilet-plungers.  

“Here ya go.” I say, presenting her with my masterpiece.

“Ooooooo very nice.” she purrs.

“What’s its name?”

“The octopus?”

“No, yours.”

“Oh, I’m Mairena*.” she says, spitting out a three-syllable word that’s impossible to pronounce unless you’re A. real Latin (which I am not) or B. dialect gifted (again, which I am not).

“Mah- what?”

“Mairena.” she repeats while looking at the drawing and tracing her finger over it.     

“What kind of name is that?”

“The kind that’s hard to say.” she says, beaming up at me with pride.  

“Is it Spanish?”

“Si senor. It means where the ocean meets the shore.

“How poetic. Are you Spanish?”

“I’m Rican but-


“Puerto Rican, but my ancestors are Spanish. Hernan Cortes was my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great uncle.”

“As in Cortes the Conquistador?”

“So you’ve heard of him?”

“Who hasn’t? But how do you know you’re related?”

“Because we have the same last name.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Uh, excuse me, I think that means everything.”

“Well, Mah-blah-blah, your name isn’t gonna work for me. Anything else I can call you?”



“Yeah. When I was younger my mom used to call me Myday for short and all my friends thought she was saying Mighty so it just stuck.”

“That’s as gay as a rainbow flag. Can I just call you Myday instead?”


“I’m Stuke.”

“I know.”  

“How did you know?”

“Cuz you’re sexual.”

“I’m what?”

“Nothing! English is my second language and I get confused sometimes! Disregard!” she says with a simmering giggle while squirming in her seat and hiding behind her hair.

“Awkward much?”

“Lil bit…but she likes it that way.”

“Who’s she?”

“Meeeee!” she yells as the giggling explodes into laughter causing her eyes to water. “Oh god, my eyeballs are juicing!” she says as she wipes away the tears with her shirt just as our Theory teacher Christine walks onstage.

Christine takes us through a riveting hour-long lecture on hair and skin which keeps getting interrupted with her having to yell at Future Professionals to quit talking, quit looking at their phones and in the case of one narcoleptic student, quit snoring.   

I glance over at Myday who’s paying less attention to the lecture and more attention to the strand of hair she has balanced between her upper lip and nose.  

“It’s my moose-stache” she says when she notices me gawking at her.

There’s no doubt that this girl is fucking weird but it’s the type of weird that’s enchanting and intriguing like a Tim Burton movie. And although she has a somewhat intimidating exterior with the pitch black hair and fierce face there’s a whimsical nature to her that’s disarming and playful.   

At the end of the hour we’re given a practice test that’s supposed to help us prepare for the written part of our state board exam that for me is still a million miles away and it’s a good thing it’s that far off because I fail the practice test in spectacular fashion.

Once theory is over we’re given a 15min break before our specialty class begins so everyone bolts for the nearest exit to make the most of their time.

“Where are you off to?” I ask Myday.  

“Coffee and snacks!” she says, pulling a bag of Hot Cheetos from her purse. “But first I gotta get rid of this pee-belly.”

“What the fuck is a pee-belly?”

“This thing.” she says, lifting up her shirt and showing me a perfectly round pooch protruding from her otherwise toned and muscular core.

“That’s…impressive.” I tell her because I don’t know what the proper response is to someone who’s showing me their stomach that has a piss-balloon in the middle of it.

“What are you gonna do?” she asks.   

“Kill myself slowly.”


“I’m gonna have a cigarette.”

“You smoke?”

“Yes and no. I’m trying to quit so I stopped buying and started bumming which has reduced my access to them and in turn, made me cut down.”

“Oh-ho-ho. Look at you with all the big ideas.” she says as we go our separate ways.        

When I get to the smoking area I come across Jimbo and her new girlfriend Laura who are courageously defying their purity contracts with their aggressive form of PDA. It’s an odd sight to see because Laura is this timid, sophisticated, stylish young woman while Jimbo looks like a garbage truck driver who bare-knuckle boxes and spits chewing tobacco.

Speaking of tobacco…

“Hey Jimmy, can I get a smoke from you?”  

“Motherfucker again? Don’t you have any money?”

“I do, I just can’t commit to a whole pack.”

“Well you’ve bummed an entire pack from me this week already. This is the last one, Fucker.” she gripes as she tosses me a cancer stick then goes back to groping Laura with the ferocity of a lion feeding on a lamb.    

“Can I get a light?”

“Oh for fucks sake.” she moans, stopping her molestation of Laura long enough to light me up and then waving her hand in my face with a sinister smile. “Smell anything fun?”  

“I do and it’s far from fun.”

“And here I thought you liked pussy.” she says as she turns to Laura. “You’re still on my fingers from earlier, babe.” she coos as she sucks on her chubby tatted digits and Laura’s pale face turns a bright beet red.

As I try to enjoy my free cigarette that came at a steep price Kaleb comes from out of nowhere and pulls on my arm to follow him. “We need to talk.” he says in a hurried voice.   

He’d been shitty all morning while helping me with a client but each time I asked him what was wrong he brushed it aside so I was hoping this ‘talk’ would shed some light on whatever gerbil was burrowing up inside his ass.

“What’s up?” I ask when we’re far enough away from the group of future cancer patients to have a one-on-one.  

“****and I broke up last night.” he says, yanking the cigarette out of my mouth and claiming it as his own.  


“I need this more than you. Besides, you’re trying to quit so this is my contribution to your health.”

“Whatever. Why’d you guys break-up?”

“She was cheating.”

“Cheating? As in having sex with someone else?”

“That’s usually what the definition of cheating is.”

“Yeah but I’m just wondering how it would be considered cheating since…”

“She does porn?”

“In a word; Yes.”

“Ugh, it’s like I said before, that’s just a job. But this was different because it was a betrayal of my trust.”

“Well then I’m sorry to hear that, dude.”  

“You know, I saw this whole thing coming, I really did. I saw every red flag but I decided to color them green because that’s her favorite color. Fuck my life I’m such a fucking idiot.”    

“You gonna be ok?”

“Do I look ok?”

“Do you ever?”

“Thanks, asshole.”


I watch Kaleb standing there, puffing on my cigarette and staring at the ground as if it’s going to offer him some sort of advice to alleviate his pain. I’d done this for weeks after Gums had left and for all the time I spent looking at the ground not once did it offer me any words of relief.

That relief would only be found on the other side of all the pain I had to work through. It was a long, arduous journey and one I knew I still hadn’t completed but I couldn’t deny that I was much better now than before and I knew that eventually Kaleb would be too.

But in the meantime I figured I should try to be there for him the best I could.    

“Was it someone she works with?”  

“Someone she…god damn dude, what’s with you and your fucking questions?”

I’d like the record to state that I never claimed my best was any good.  

“What difference does it make if it was someone she works with?” he complains.  

“I don’t know…you know…a lot of affairs start at the workplace so…”

“You’re saying if it was with a co-worker how could it be considered cheating since she’s probably already had sex with them?”

“Your words not mine.”  

“It wasn’t someone she works with, it was her therapist ok?”

“Like her therapist therapist?” I ask, pointing towards my head.

“Yes her therapist therapist.” he says, tapping hard on his temple.  

“How’d you find out?”

“I’d been feeling like something was off for the past month. She was canceling on me with lame excuses, being more sporadic than usual and just treating me like I was a nuisance. So when she came over last night and fell asleep I got into her phone and came across some texts between the two of them.”

“And then what?”

“I woke her up and confronted her about it and she came clean right away.”

“At least that’s good.”  

“No, that’s not good, that was the most insulting part.”

“How’s that again?”

“Because she didn’t even try to lie which means I wasn’t worth the time or effort of making up a story to try to keep me around.”

“That’s a weird way of looking at the truth but ok. Can therapists go to jail for sleeping with their patients?”

“Only if their patients are underage, otherwise it’s just bad customer service.”

“I guess that depends on who’s getting serviced.”

“Jesus man, how far do you plan on driving this knife into my back?”

“I’m sorry. But in all honesty she’s the one that put it there, I’m just kind of wiggling it around at this point.”

“Can you be a little more compassionate and sensitive?”

“Sure, I just never thought those two words were something I’d ever associate with you.”

“I’m not some retard on the spectrum. I have feelings and emotions you know…”

“Ok, ok.  I’ll be more compassionate and sensitive.”

“Thank you.” he sighs.

“So what does he look like?”

“God damn, dude! Why did I even think it was a good idea to come to you in my time of need?”

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m just…curious. And maybe you’ll feel better if you talk through it. You know, get it out in the open and out of your system.”

“FINE. It’s not a he, it’s a she.”

“Ohhhh. That makes sense.”

“It does?”

“Of course. She’s doin’ men at work and then has to come home and do you. All day long it’s nothing but dick, dick, dick, dick, dick. She probably just got tired of all that male genitalia and wanted to pound the pink for a while. You really shouldn’t take any of this personally.”   

“Is this supposed to make me feel better?”

“I get the feeling it’s not.”

“It isn’t.” he says with his trademark scowl. “You know, right before we started dating I was talking to this really cute girl that was nice, level-headed and had even donated a kidney to a family member. But did I end up choosing her? Fuck no, I chose the girl that gets bonuses for getting gang-banged. I swear to god there’s a part of me that’s addicted to the worst kind of chaos. I need to get my head examined.”    

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, we like who we like. I mean, just look at Jimbo and Laura over there dry humping one another. Who would’ve thought that in a gazillion years ANYONE would wanna be with Jimbo? Yet there’s Laura, scissoring her right in front of our fucking faces.”  

Kaleb glances over at them then turns back with a sour-milk look.

“Can you imagine Jimbo riding your face…while on her period?”

“Dude, that’s such a disgusting picture in my mind that it should be considered mental assault.”

“Payback for your poor friendship skills.” he says, taking a long drag off the smoke and then stomping it into oblivion. “I got handed specialty class duties today so I’ll see you back inside.” he groans then turns and leaves.

As he scoots away with his head hung low I can’t help but identify with his comment about being addicted to chaos. 

Throughout my life I’d been drawn to people that possessed that chaos factor that I knew weren’t good for me yet I still ran towards them as if I had no control over it. It was like an out-of-body experience where I saw myself strapped into a car that I knew was destined to go off a cliff but the only thing I had the power to do was to press down harder on the gas.

And if by some miraculous chance the person I was drawn to wasn’t a source of chaos then I in-turn became the chaos. Wreaking mental and emotional havoc on an unsuspecting victim that had made the cardinal mistake of just wanting to love me.

But as long as I could remember things were always chaotic on my insides. My thoughts and emotions that would manifest into actions, causing harm to myself and those around me. It seemed to be a never-ending inner tempest that no matter how many times I’d sought help from a therapist none of them could teach me how to quell it.

Which is why I think I was always attracted to other people that had the chaos or why I would conjure it up if they didn’t. The mania, the uncertainty, the anxiety, the disarray and devastation that it brought.

It felt like it was an integral part of me and it all felt so…familiar.   

And it’s the familiar that lures us in because it’s in the familiar where we find comfort no matter how destructive or painful that comfort might be.

But maybe that part of me had been exorcised when Gums walked out. She’d broken all of the good inside of me but maybe that break had also destroyed the bad and I could start afresh on a clean, new slate. Be something to someone and with someone in a normal, healthy way…whatever the fuck that looked like.

From the vantage point of the smoking area I could see The Floor and one of the entrances to the Theory room where our specialty class was about to begin.

And there dancing by the entrance was Myday. Swaying and spinning, off in her own little world with a bag of Hot Cheetos in one hand and a Starbucks in the other.

She was without a doubt her own person. Bold and secure, strange and unusual.

She looked dangerous but felt safe. Really safe…and warm, like a special place one goes to seek shelter from a storm, whether that storm was produced by Mother Nature or one’s own inner-nature.

She was different and that different was attractive and magnetic. So much so that as soon as I went back in I was going to ask her out.

*pronounced Mah-dane-uh 

Chapter 29

When the Past Becomes Your Future

 Of all the supportive people in my circle who could’ve given me a morale boost it turned out to be Jay, the crusher of dreams, the fucker of dads and the sultan of snark, who, with his patented blend of insulting inspiration, put my heart and my head in the right place.      

His tough talk about aspiring to be a better stylist, paying the price for one’s goals and remembering  that the sting of failure is always temporary, was the moment of clarity I’d needed that I didn’t know I was in need of. It had lifted my spirits, sharpened my vision and stirred in me a resolve that had me feeling bulletproof…which didn’t go unnoticed.   

“What’s with you today?” Kaleb whispers in my ear, his breath smelling of a Nicotine Frappuccino.

“What do you mean?” I ask as I comb out my client’s long, wet hair.

“Something’s different about you, you don’t seem like…yourself.”

“How do I normally seem?”

“Like someone who’s walking around with an IED jammed up his ass like that guy in Man on Fire* but today…”he trails off while rubbing his scruffy chin. “Hey Bode.”  

“Yeah?” he responds without looking over because he’s focused on a cut he’s doing. 

“Would you say Stuke seems different today?”

“I dunno. Does he still have black hair and tattoos?” he asks while keeping his eyes on his work. 


“Then no, he doesn’t seem any different today than he does any other day.”

“Whatever.” Kaleb gripes. “Do you know what you’re doing on your client?” he asks me.

“One length, round shape.” I tell him as I start to section her off.

“AH HA! There IS something different about you today because normally you would have ME section your client’s hair for you! Are you on drugs? You know, other than the ones we do together where I have to drive your car home because you’re too stoned.”


“Are you breaking up with me then is that it? You want me to feel the pang of rejection and beg you to beg me for my help?”

“Not at all. I just wanna get better at this and the only way to do that is to stand on my own two feet and when I fall, learn to get back up and not feel shitty about it.”   

“Speechless.” Kaleb says in disbelief.

“Good for you, Stu.” Bode chimes in, still focused on his work.

“Are you sure you’re not on drugs because-“ 

“Yo, Kaleb!” J.P. Dreama shouts as he comes galloping towards us high on his sheriff’s horse.

“Oh fuck me with a roto-rooter.” Kaleb sighs. “What is it, Jermaine, something?”

“I need a volunteer for beach day giveaway and you’re that person.”

“Jermaine, a volunteer is someone who offers to do something they wanna do, not someone who’s told they’re doing something they have no interest in doing.”

“You don’t wanna help students give out free haircuts on Venice beach?” Dreama asks with a nefarious smile.

“To people that bathe in public restrooms and don’t have a mailing address? No.”

“Well Rene put me in charge of beach day this year so I’m choosing volunteers since no one is stepping-up on their own.”  

“No one is stepping-up because the whole thing is dumber than a dick diaper.”    

“You know what your problem is?”

“Beach day giveaway is for starters.”

“You have a negative outlook, that’s your problem.”

“Trust me, if you were me and had to deal with you then I promise you that you’d have the same problem as me.”    

“You need a come to Jesus moment.”

“I don’t think he’d want me to get that all over him.”

“That’s disgusting and offensive.”

“So is working with the homeless which is why I’m giving beach day a hard pass.”  

“Ok.” Dreama says as he adjusts his bowtie and then struts off.   

“That was easy.” Kaleb says congratulating himself while he attempts to smooth out the wrinkles in his shirt.    

“Maybe too easy.” Bode says as he runs his fingers through his client’s hair and motions for Kaleb to come check it.

“Yeah Dreama isn’t the type of person to just walk away unless it’s to go get a knife.” I add as I start to cut the back of my client’s hair.

“Listen, things like beach day aren’t mandatory for anyone. So if he thinks he can force me into doing it then he’s crazier than he is stupid.”  Kaleb says as he analyzes Bode’s cut.

Seconds later Dreama returns to the scene with Rene as backup.  

“Kaleb.” She bellows out in her deep, foreboding voice.

“This job is such a Judas Chair*.” Kaleb mutters with a shake of his head. “Yes?”

“Jermaine tells me you’re refusing to volunteer for beach day because you think it’s ‘dumber than a dick diaper’. That true?”

“It’s not a lie.”  

“You know that Paul Mitchell prides itself on giving back to the community-“

“Yeah but this part of the community is riddled with lice-“




“And scurvy. It’s like taking care of a bunch of land wandering pirates.”

“Shut up and listen to me!” she roars, causing the usual din of The Floor to go quiet. “Taking care of the less fortunate is one of the ways this school makes a difference.”

“Then wouldn’t it make a bigger difference to give them free shopping carts instead of free haircuts? I mean, it’s not like they own mirrors or anything.”  

“One more fucked-up comment outta your mouth and you’ll be out of a job. Do I make myself clear?”

It wasn’t often that someone had Kaleb by the balls to the point of submission but if there was one thing Rene excelled at (other than calorie consumption) it was the squeezing of one’s testicles in the pursuit of gaining one’s compliance. And judging by the lack of color in his face it would appear that Rene had an excruciating grip on Kaleb’s chin knockers.   

“Crystal.” he utters as Dreama watches on with a look of smug satisfaction.  

“Good. Now you’re gonna go with Jermaine and help him figure out the details for beach day since it’s next week.”

“Right now?”

“I’m not talking about tomorrow.”

“I’m kinda in the middle of supervising a row.” Kaleb says, trying to press a point and definitely his luck.

“It’s slow today, I’ll have one of the other Learning Leaders cover your row while you’re assisting Jermaine.”

And with that Dreama led Kaleb off with his head held high, gloating over the fact that he was able to weaponize the homeless in such a way that it scored him huge points in his on-going game with Kaleb of I Hate Your Fucking Guts.    

As for me I was left without any supervision because Jake, the Learning Leader put in charge of us, was busy in the next row over with Bree, the waif-thin girl from our Core class who had just married the fiancé she’d professed her incorruptible love for on the first day of school.

Although going by the looks of how she was interacting with Jake, rubbing her ass up on his crotch and fawning all over him, it appeared that the honeymoon was over, at least in her great big blow job eyes. So I was forced to figure things out on my own which meant…

“Hey Bode, can you help me for a sec?”   

“Sure what’s up?”

“I’m getting ready to move into the front quadrant and I’m wondering which way I need to connect it.”

“Like this.” he says, drawing an invisible line with his tatted hand along the perimeter of my client’s hair.  

“Got it, thanks.”

“Of course. Also, I know we haven’t hung out much since Zahra and I started dating…”

“Dude, don’t even worry about it.”    

“I know but I do worry about it and miss you, so if you aren’t doing anything tonight Za and I were gonna go to Big Wangs in NoHo if you’d like to come, you know, if it won’t make you feel like a third-wheel or anything.”

“Not at all, plus, it’s Tuesday which means 25 cent wings and dollar drafts. And with the money we save we can hit The Star Garden* afterwards since it’s down the street from Wangs.”

“Yeah that’s not gonna happen.”  

Even though The Star didn’t happen the three of us made a night of it and from that point on morphed into a little family that would spend days after school doing each other’s hair, hitting the bars or just watching old Brando movies and eating cereal (a favorite pastime of Bode’s).

Spending all that time with them made me feel like a part of something warm and accepting which not only gave me a sense of belonging but also helped to thaw out the icy cynicism I’d had towards the idea of love ever since Gums had walked out on me.     

After she split I came to view love as nothing more than a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the heart. A gamble that when given a long enough timeline would leave you broke as fuck in more ways than one.      

But in the company of Bode and Zahra I was able to see it as something safe and nurturing that could enrich your life instead of destroying it and I began to think that somewhere in this brave new world of mine I might be able to have what they had.

My mistake in thinking this, however, wasn’t that I had overestimated my ability to love again, it was that I had underestimated just how much Gums had fucked me up and damaged me on the inside. A damage that, left untreated, would one day turn me into an emotional switchblade that would injure, maim and scar another human being for the rest of her life.


It was Thursday, I was setting up my station and listening to Kaleb bitch and complain about some rash he said he’d gotten from working with the homeless on beach day when I’d noticed that Bode hadn’t arrived yet.

Bode had never missed a day of school nor was he ever late so I tried calling and texting. When that led me nowhere my feet led me to the front desk where Zahra was checking-in clients.

“Have you heard from your man?”

“He texted me last night saying something had come up and that he’d tell me more about it today but that was it.”

“Did it seem like something was wrong?”

“Nah I didn’t get that from him otherwise he would’ve said something, you know?”

“Yeah that makes sense.”

Right before Theory class was supposed to start at 1pm Bode burst through the doors looking like he’d just won the cosmic lottery.  

“Dude, what the fuck is up?”

“Dude…” he blurts out while doing the pee-pants dance. “The guy that used to manage my old band hit me up last night about a bass playing gig, like a BIG one that involves a record deal, a paycheck and a national tour.”

“Seriously? With who?”

“You ever watch American Idol?”

“Fuck no.”

“Samesies. But there was a finalist this season named James Durbin and even though he didn’t win he did get a record deal with Wind-Up Records.”

“You mean the same record company responsible for shitting out audible diarrhea like Creed and Evanescence?”  

“That’s the one. They signed him a couple months back and his album drops next week so they want him on the road ASAP.”

“That’s cool but how did he know about you?”

“I guess he’d come see my band play whenever we’d do a hometown show in Santa Cruz and he liked my style so when the label started putting together a touring band for him he asked his manager to hunt me down to see if I’d want the gig.”

Bode didn’t have to tell me what his answer was because I already knew it.

We had both wanted nothing more from life than to become rockstars and we’d chased that dream over countless years and thousands of miles. Spilling blood, sweat and tears and sacrificing everything imaginable just to come within reach of grasping that dream.  

But that dream had eluded us both. It was like that one lover you become enamored with, obsess over and follow to the ends of the earth only to find out they’ve chosen to be held in the arms of another.        

But now that evasive lover had come back to Bode, telling him that things would be different this time. That he could have her and she wouldn’t stray, she’d remain monogamous and to prove it she’d put it in writing in the form of a record deal, promising him money, fulfillment and the chance to do what he’d always wanted to do; be a fucking rockstar.  

So I knew that his answer would be yes because that’s what mine would’ve been. And it wouldn’t have mattered what I was currently doing or how much money I’d paid to do it. I would’ve instantly answered the siren call of that dream and abandoned all that I had worked for to be reunited with it despite how much it had tortured or taunted me in the past.

You can leave a lot of things in life but the one thing you can’t walk away from is a dream that has become so embedded in you that it’s infused into your DNA.

“So when do you start?” I ask, not so much feeling the pinprick of envy as much as the pain of knowing that my best friend would be leaving soon.

“I was in meetings all morning, did a mini-audition and signed contracts. The tour kicks off next week so starting tomorrow I’m doing 12 hour day rehearsals.”

“What are you gonna do about school?”

“I’m gonna go talk, plead and beg with Rene right now to see if there’s any way I can pause my enrollment so when I do come back I won’t have to pay all over and start all over.”

“Fuck, man. Good luck with that and I’m so happy that this happened to you.”

“Thanks, brother and I want you to know something.”

“What’s that?”

“I tried to get you hired on as the drummer for the band because nothing would’ve made this better than to be doing it alongside you but they already have a guy. Just know that I tried because it would’ve been awesome being in a legit band with you.”  

If ever there was a time that someone’s thoughtfulness took me to the edge of breaking the fuck down then this was it and that made the cut of Bode leaving run so much deeper.

In reaching his long-fought moment of being served his dream his first thought wasn’t to bask in the excitement and glory of it all but to try and share it with someone else, to try and share it with me.

It was one of the most heartfelt and selfless things anyone had ever attempted to do on my behalf and it broke my heart into a million pieces with gratitude.  

“I really appreciate that.” I say, giving him a hug and trying to keep the tears at bay. “But this is all you, go out and fucking kill it.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep you posted on when we have an L.A. show and when I have a break in the tour so we can hang out.” he tells me then grabs his backpack and walks out the door to his new life where he’ll be wide awake in his dream.  

I settle into my seat to get ready for my hour of Theory and notice the empty chair next to me where Bode would normally sit and I can’t help but feel empty myself.

Bode had been here for me in so many ways since day one. A never-ending source of encouragement, stability and love. And his demeanor, always being as calm as a still pond, helped quell the emotional tides and waves that were forever crashing around inside of me. He was a buoy I’d had come to trust that I could hold onto when my inner storms were threatening to drown me.  

And now he was gone, off to do the one thing he had longed to do more than anything else and I was now on my own. Sure, I had Kaleb around but he when it came to anything deeper than a superficial friendship he was about as useful as a condom machine in the Vatican.

So it was up to me to be my own source of calm, reassurance and encouragement. It was something that I’d seemed to struggle with over the past few months but I was stuck here with me so I figured I might as well try my best to be the best person I could be to myself.

*You can watch Bode tearing it the fuck up onstage right here. He’s the gent with short, dark hair stage right with the white bass guitar. It should also come as no surprise that he did the entire band’s hair as well as customized their stage clothes.

*Man on Fire is a 2004 movie starring Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, Marc Anthony, Mickey Rourke and a very young Dakota Fanning. The story is about an alcoholic, ex-CIA operative (Washington) who’s hired by the father of a wealthy family (Anthony) to be a bodyguard to his daughter (Fanning) in Mexico City which is a hot bed of kidnappings for ransoms.

Everything is fine and dandy until Fanning is kidnapped and when the ransom drop for her goes sideways, the kidnappers kill her as punishment.

This, as you can imagine, sparks Denzel into doing what Denzel does best; fuck people up in the most vicious ways possible. During his campaign of retribution and revenge he utilizes rocket-launchers, an arsenal of guns and even gets creative by shoving a small, homemade bomb up one unlucky kidnapper’s fat, hairy ass under a freeway overpass.

And speaking of cars, he tapes one dude’s hands to a steering wheel and while he interrogates the guy slices off most of the guy’s fingers making it virtually impossible for him to ever flip somebody off in traffic again.

The film is directed by the late, great Tony Scott who’s able to portray grit, grime and violence in such a raw and sexy way that it makes you wanna go out and choke your partner during sex.  The flick is highly recommended as is establishing a safe word with your significant other so you don’t accidentally kill them and end up with a manslaughter charge.

*A Judas Chair was a medieval pyramid shaped and sharpened device on which a naked victim was lowered onto via ropes and as the victim was lowered the device would slowly tear open their anus and split them in two.

While the chair isn’t something you can order from West Elm you can experience the pain of one by ordering anything else from West Elm and then enduring their months’ long parade of excuses and incompetency when it comes to you never getting the furniture you ordered and then once you finally do get your order, it’s not the fucking furniture you ordered.

*The Star Garden is without a doubt L.A.’s sleaziest, seediest and scuzziest strip club. Located just north of Victory Blvd on Lankershim the club hosts an array of fresh off the bus girls from small towns, girls in abusive relationships who are dancing topless to support their aspiring musician boyfriends and girls that claim to be actresses, models and musicians but who really are just crystal meth-heads driving around their Ford Probe with a broken headlight.

And if crystal meth is your thing then you can always score an 8 ball from a Mexican dude named Miguel who has a fake leg and will take you into the bathroom to do the deal where at which time he’ll take off his fake leg (which is where he keeps his stash) and dispense the drugs accordingly.

But The Star isn’t all shit stains and pock marks and actually boasts the success story of one dancer who was able to swing herself off the pole and become a semi well-known frontwoman of a metal band back in the day.        

Chapter 28 Pt. II

Bloodstains and Battle Scars

 I figured in order to illustrate to Jay just how much of an impact Kelly’s speech had on me earlier in the day I first needed to tell him about the god-awful time I’d been having at school every day up until today.

And now that he had promised not to say anything while I filled him in on how my life had been going (especially the words I told you so) I felt like I could tell him everything.   

So I ran down my shit-stained laundry list of experiences at Paul Mitchell, informing him of all the heads I’d butchered, colors I’d botched, and all the demoralizing bullshit I felt because of it. When I was finally finished he just sat quietly across the table while sucking the salt off a deflated edamame skin.


“Well what?”

“What do you think?”       

“I think it all sounds so…”  

“So what?”  

“Horrible.” he says with a voice full of surprising concern.

“It’s been one big butt-plug and up until today I was convinced you’d been right all along.”

“About what?”

“That my decision to do hair was a big mistake.”

“You know, after hearing all that I’ll just go easy on you and call your decision a gross miscalculation.”


“Yeah, like that time I was with that guy I nicknamed Spartacus. You remember him don’t you?”

“Six foot ten Nubian dude that had a wife and kid?”

“That’s him. Anyway, we were fucking one day at his house, I mean really going at it, and then all the sudden his wife and kid came home earlier than we had expected them to. A total gross miscalculation on our part…it got even grosser when his daughter threw-up all over herself. I’m sure she’s still in therapy to this day.”

“Jay, I don’t know how that’s even remotely comparable to my ‘miscalculation’ but-“

“Like you were saying, up until today your experience with hair and school has been more fucked up than Jim Carrey on acid.”

“Right. And then-“

“You heard this Kelly guy talk and you were miraculously bestowed with all the wisdom and confidence to go forth and succeed.”   

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“Neither would I because it was a fucking joke. But I wanna know what it is he said that made you go from wanting to jam your shears in your jugular to making you as joyful as a pride parade in June.”

“If I’m being honest, it wasn’t what he had to say as much as it was how he was saying it.”

“Just like a neutered dog, I’m not getting it.”

“Alright, so he gave the usual spiel about starting off as a nobody and ending up as a somebody…”

“Cliché to the nth degree.”

“And now he owns a bunch of salons, offers cutting classes and speaks at entrepreneurial seminars. And while-“

“What’s his rate for the cutting classes?”

“I dunno, three hundred bucks or something?  There was an advertisement for it on his merch table.”

 “He has merch?”

“Yeah, t-shirts and shit.”

 “So this guy owns salons, sells merch, offers classes and talks at unemployment seminars.” 

 “Entrepreneurial seminars.”  

“Same fucking difference. And you said nothing in his speech was any good?”

“No. I mean, it was ok. He talked about the value of persistence, having principals, your attitude your altitude blah-blah-fucking-blah. None of it was bad but none of it was life changing either.”

“So then what struck a chord with you?”

“Like I said, it was the way he said what he was saying. He was able to hold the room’s attention with his charisma and body language and was one part comedian and one part rockstar. It was all performance and that’s what resonated with me and got me thinking hey, this is something I could do.”        

“Which is what?”

“Go from school to school and talk to students like Kelly does.”

“What on God’s gangrene earth would you have to talk about?”

“My own journey.”

“Uh, my handsome prince, might I remind you that your ‘journey’ has only gone a couple miles so far and by the sounds of it it’s been so shitty that it probably won’t go much further.”

“But don’t you see? Now I have a reason to keep going! I’m inspired about school again because when I graduate I can just do what Kelly does and not have to worry about doing hair since I suck at it anyway.”  

“Ok, setting aside the fact that this is the most hair-brained idea ever, pun intended, how would you earn a living this way?”

“By selling merch.”

“T-shirts and shit?”


“You’ve just got it all figured out, don’t’ you?”

“It seems to work for Kelly.”

“Yes, but in regard to all of the things you’re not thinking about, the most important one is that YOU’RE NOT KELLY. You’re a nobody and nobody is gonna buy from a fellow nobody. People will only buy from a somebody and in order for you to be a somebody you’ve gotta have-“

“Most of the people today didn’t know who Kelly was and that didn’t stop them from buying t-shirts with his name on them for twenty-five bucks a pop.”

“I get that and the reason they did that was because unlike you Kelly has-“

“And in addition to t-shirts I thought maybe I could write a book and sell that as well.”

“What did you say?”

“I thought I could write a book and sell that.”

“That’s what I thought you said. Christ smoking crack this gets dumber and dumber.”

“Hey! Don’t hate on it! I thought it could be a memoir or self-help book. Something like that.”

“You need A LOT of self-help if you think you can write a book of any type.”

“That’s not true! I’ve always been ok at writing, I even had that website a few years ago remember?”

“The one where’d you’d post about all your horrible dates and sexual exploits?”

“Yeah. People seemed to like it. You said you liked it. Your uncle Frank loved it.”

“Uncle Frank just wanted to bury his bone in you so he enjoyed reading about all the insidious places you were burying yours.”

“Still, the site went over well and you wanna know what I heard from people over and over again?”

“That you shouldn’t fuck bartenders from The Rainbow whose vagina is a bed and breakfast for every rockstar in town?”

“Ummmm, no.”

“But you did fuck that bartender and she was in one of your stories, right?”

“Yes and yes, Ghost of Christmas Past.”

“What was that decrepit woman’s name again? Jada? Sheena?”


“That’s it. She still alive?”

“Last I heard she got a new liver so she could keep drinking, so, maybe?”

“Sounds like an extraordinary woman, you must be so proud of your-“

“Like I was trying to say, even though the subject matter may have been lewd and vulgar, people kept coming back to it because the writing was good.”

“Okay, I’ll admit that the prose was decent. But compiling a book is totally different than writing little stories about having sex on a buffet table during a Halloween party.”

“I understand that, and-“

“Or having to go to the ER while you were in Colorado because you were pissing razors.”

“That really was a horrible trip to Denver, but-“

“Or how your girlfriend punched you in the face when you came home with a cum stain on your pants and tried to play it off by saying you spilled mashed potatoes all over yourself.”   

“I’ll admit that wasn’t one of my more admirable moments, however-“

“You know what? I don’t think you should write a book about anything…ever…so long as you live.”

“Always the supportive friend.”

“Oh like you’d listen to me anyway. So let’s say you graduate Paul Mitchell and instead of doing hair you decide to go from school to school talking to students and trying to sell your book and t-shirts with your name on it. Have you put any thought into what your qualifying factor might be in all of this?”

“What’s that?”

“The fact that you don’t know what it is means you don’t have one. And if you don’t have one that means you won’t sell anything and if you don’t sell anything that means you’ll be homeless and if you’re homeless you’ll wanna move in with me and I won’t do it, Stuke, I just won’t. You know Edward and Randolph don’t do well with long term guests.”

“Then for the love of all roosters big and small, as well as your dogs, tell me, what the fuck is a qualifying factor?” 

“Well…” he says, stretching his sun soaked arms, locking his fingers and cracking his knuckles. “The reason Kelly can do what he does is because he has a stamp of legitimacy that signals he’s seen a lot, done a lot and paid his dues in this industry. Hence, his qualifying factor. It lends authority to what he says and gives value to what he’s selling. You with me so far?”  

“Yeah, you’re saying he’s put in the manpower and the mileage for his career.”

“Exactly. Now if you were to come fresh out of hair school and try to do what Kelly does, what sort of knowledge or experience are you bringing to the table to validate your worth? What sort of insights would you have to offer in this book of yours that you’re selling? Why would people pay $25 for a t-shirt with your name on it?”


“Do you own a salon? Nope. Will you be offering classes? Nope. Will you have spent any time in the industry whatsoever? Nope, nope and nope. The only thing you’ll have under your studded belt is the fact that you survived hair school and graduated.”

“Isn’t that enough considering how hard it’s been for me?”

“Fuck no. Hair school is hard yet most people survive it and end up graduating. And if that’s the case, what’s gonna make you stand out to a group of people that will soon be accomplishing the only thing that you’ve accomplished in a few months’ time?”

“I hadn’t thought about it like that up until now.”

“That’s because you haven’t thought about this at all. If you had then you’d know that it’s crucial to put in the time and torture that’s necessary to establish yourself as someone who’s worth listening to. You’ll need to have gone places and done things that your audience has only dreamt of doing or didn’t know was even possible. You getting me?”

 “You’re saying I need to have some skin in the game.”   

“Not some skin, all of it. And it needs to be tattooed with welts and wounds to give your words weight. People don’t want survivors ok? They pity survivors. People want fighters who are covered in bloodstains and battle scars because it shows they were willing to do whatever it took to get to where they wanted to be.” 

“So what you’re getting at is-“

“That you have to aspire to do more than just graduate school if you’re serious about doing what Kelly does. You’ve gotta commit to wanting to succeed in this industry and be prepared to pay whatever price it is to do so.”

“Of course I wanna succeed, I just don’t think I can do it the way most people do it which is why I like the idea of following Kelly’s path. It just seems more attainable.”

“It is attainable but if you’re gonna follow his path then you have to follow it the right way, no shortcuts. Make yourself become a better hairstylist. Put in the time, effort and energy. Put in the blood and sweat this industry requires for a few years and then you’ll be able to talk about it to a group of hair students and your words will be worth listening to and your book worth buying because you’ll have your qualifying factor.”  

“Fuuuuuck! Why can’t anything be easy?” I groan as I drop my head to the table.

“Because true steel is forged in the fire.”

“Is that a Confucius saying or something?” I ask, lifting it back up.

“Fuck if I know. It’s in a frame on the wall over there.” he says. “Listen, I think you’re on to something with this idea of yours. You just need to apply yourself, spend time in the industry and not allow the failures to stop you.”

“I know. They’re just so discouraging though.”

“Yes and they’re also temporary. Plus, and this is really important so I want you to remember it, especially when you’re down, the industry we’re in, is the only industry in the world where you can have some far-out, fuck-faced idea and still succeed with it.”


“One thousand percent. For instance, just the other day a client of mine was talking about some goofball that claims he’s made something better for your hair than shampoo. It’s called Ten or Fin or Ben or something ridiculous like that. Ever heard of it?”

“No. Paul Mitchell wants me to believe that they’re the only company in the world that makes hair care products.”    

“Ok, well, I guess he calls it a cleaning conditioner or something preposterous like that. Anyway, my point being, as long as you have the vision and the willingness to go the distance, pay the price and make the sacrifices, then even the most bat shit craziest of ideas can catch fire.”

“Like this guy and his no shampoo thing probably will?”

“Absolutely. God help us all.”

Sushi Rolls, Grindr Tolls & Career Goals

Chapter 28

Wait, wait, wait…” Jay says, interrupting me in his gaysally voice while pulling apart his chopsticks and using them to shovel a wad of wasabi into his soy sauce. “You’re telling me that your entire life was changed by listening to some homeless guy give a speech at school today?”

“I never said he was homeless.”

“Well the way you describe him makes him sound homeless. Nappy dreads, goatee…”

“You have a goatee.”

“Yeah but I also have a home, one that’s not made of cardboard boxes and milk crates.” he says, mixing his wasabi and soy sauce with such fervor that it ends up all over the table and me.     

“A little restraint.” I ask as I wipe my soy splattered shirt with a napkin.

“Oh don’t be a queen, your shirt is black anyway, it’ll blend right in.” he chides, dipping a piece of rainbow roll in his sauce and then stuffing it in his mouth while continuing to talk. “So the way you said this guy looked…Courtney? Kerry?”


“Sure. It just made me think of your typical transient trash troll, that’s all. No need to get your pubes tied up in a knot about it.”

“I never said my pubes-you know what? Can I just get back to what I was saying before you interrupted me?”

“By all means.” he says, cramming another piece of sushi in his mouth. “Tell me all about this awakening you had today, this moment of clarity, this-“

“Is making me think you’re being a jack-off right now.”


“Yes you. Who else is in this dump besides us?”

He scans the restaurant and realizes it’s just the two of us, our waitress and the unkempt sushi chef who’s licking something off the very knife he used to prepare our food with.  

“This is not a dump.” he protests. “It’s an authentic dining experience modeled after the iconic Akachochins I love to visit in Japan.”

“Well we’re not in Japan, Jay, we’re in Van Nuys, which makes this place nothing more than a dark, dingy shithole where the only thing more dangerous than the gangbangers loitering in the parking lot is the “C” rated food sitting on our plates.” 

“Well, your majesty, since this place offends your sensibilities so much I’ll be sure to never invite you here again.”

“I really hope you mean that.” I say, hunching over to sniff my Philly roll to make sure it’s safe for consumption.

“Jesus Helen Keller Christ, I don’t see you for three months and in that time you’ve become Gwyneth Paltrow sitting high atop your throne and judging us all.” He complains as he takes a slurp of his Sapporo beer.

“Is there any reason you’re being saltier than the soy sauce tonight?” I ask.

He takes another swig, glares at me, belches and then softens up.

“I’m sorry I’m just really upset and being a total hag about it, you don’t deserve my ire.” he confesses.   

“Anything you wanna talk about?”

“No, go on with your personal transformation story.”

“You sure?”

“Yes I’m sure.  It’s far too traumatizing for me to talk about right now so let’s focus on you.”

“Ok then, like I was saying-“

“FINE! If you’re gonna keep hounding me about it then I guess I have no other choice but to tell you!”

“Lucky me.” I say with a long sigh. “So what horrible tragedy has befallen you, my friend?”

“It’s Matlin.”

“The Latin guy you’ve been dating for a while?”

“Past tense, was dating. We broke up yesterday.”

“Really? Why? I thought you said he might be the one.”

“I know and I really thought so too but he uh…”


“He…ummmm…sheesh how do I say it?”

“Oh cut the shit. You’ve never had a problem with anything coming out of your mouth or going into it for that matter. So just say what it is you need to say before the suspense bores me to death.”

“Ugh! He caught me trying to cheat on him!”

“He did? With who? How?”

The adulterer lets out a long, dramatic moan while fanning his Botox filled face then goes on.

“It all started a couple weeks ago when he saw the Grindr app on my phone and asked me why I needed that since I had him.”

“And what’d you say?”

“I told him I’d had it long before I’d met him and had forgotten it was there. Then he asked So you don’t use it anymore to meet random guys to fuck? And I told him no.”

“Were you lying?”

“NO!!! I hadn’t been on it that day so technically I wasn’t lying but he still didn’t believe me, can you believe that?!”

“Easily.” I say as I take a gamble with my health and start eating.

“You know, I can’t decide if you’re my best enemy or my worst friend sometimes.”

“Probably both.”   

“Anyhow, in an attempt to smooth things over I deleted the app in front of him and at the time that fixed everything.”

“But let me guess, in true Jay fashion you went and reinstalled it behind his back didn’t you?”

“Maybe.” he says while looking away and gnawing on his chopsticks.

“Didn’t you?”

“Ok yes, I probably did!”

“Why would you do that if you liked him so much?”

“Because I get bored when I’m alone and drinking Patron, Ok?!”

“So take up a hobby! One that doesn’t involve tequila and fucking strangers on the internet!”

“Are you here to listen or lecture?”

“Oh I’m sorry, are my observations pissing on your penis parade?”

“They’re a torrential downpour.” he whines as he rubs his temples.

“My bad. Please continue with your tales of woe.”

“Thank you, Judge Judas. So like I was saying, I reinstalled it because I suffer from acute boredom and do you know what that sneaky little Matlin did?”

“I have no idea.”

“He entrapped me!”

“How, pray tell me, did he do this?”

“He went and made a profile on Grindr using a different name and only posted a picture of his backside. So the other night I’m on the site and come across his page-“

“And you hit him up not knowing it was him…”  

“And I hit him up not knowing it was him.” he confirms.   

“How do you NOT recognize the backside of your own fucking boyfriend?”

“I don’t know! But it was very captivating because never in my life have I propositioned anyone on Grindr before without seeing their face first.”

“That last part is a hard one to buy but whatever. So I take it he called you out on it?”

“You bet he did, called me right away yelling and screaming that I was a liar and a cheater…and a lousy cook…that one really stung.”

“This guy really knows where to stick the knife doesn’t he?”

“Right in my fucking heart.” he says, clutching his chest. “But since he’s never had my pork tenderloin he obviously has no idea what he’s talking about.”

“Obviously. So what ridiculous defense did you try and mount against his empirical evidence?”

“I asked him how it was considered cheating if the guy I wanted to cheat on him with was him. I said if anything he should feel good about it because it’s apparent that the only person I wanna fuck is him…even when I don’t know that it’s him who it is I wanna fuck.”

“Wow, dude, how do you ever find pants big enough to fit those gigantic balls of yours in?”

“I don’t know but in the end he didn’t go for any of it.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“And he told me he never wants to see me again.”

“Still not surprised.”

“I’m such a flawed individual.” he says, wiping away an imaginary teardrop from his face.

“Welcome to the club, Buttercup.”

“Do you have any idea how many gay men don’t care about monogamy and I get stuck with the ONE gay who does? I’ve been bamboozled I tell you! BAMBOOZLED!” he yells while slamming his hand down on the table, causing our waitress to scream something at him in Japanese.

“Oh pipe down, Konnichiwa, you’re lucky I didn’t wear my Godzilla mask in here tonight.” he snaps back. “Anyway, what was I saying?”

“Something about you being the victim in all of this.”

“Oh that’s right, I ended up getting stuck with the one monogamized gay in L.A. Had it been anyone else they would’ve easily said Oh, Jay darling, I don’t care if you wanna fuck other people and if you do be sure to make them dinner afterwards because you’re such an amazing cook.”

“Do we need to find you a support group so you can heal? Maybe go to an al-anon meeting again since it’s free therapy?”

“Oh fuck off, mister. Let’s hear about this Sermon on the Mount you attended today so I can quit talking about fucking myself in ways I don’t enjoy.”  

“Ok, but now that I’m thinking about it, before I get back to it you have to promise me something.”

“Didn’t I just demonstrate that I’m horrible at keeping my word with the whole Matlin thing?”

“I have faith in you…not really…but it was fun to say aloud.”

“What do I need to promise you, Stuke?” he asks with a groan.  

“That at no point will you interject with the words I told you so.”

“I can’t promise that! It’s my favorite thing to do! And right now I could really use some cheering up so don’t ask that of me, ok?”

“Promise.” I tell him as he reaches over and grabs a piece of my roll, plops it in his mouth and chomps down on it with his arms crossed like a petulant child.  

“Ok! But only because I’m in a vulnerable place right now and you’re taking full advantage of it, you emotional rapist you.”

“Thank you.”

A Sense of Purpose

Chapter 27

Dreama was out for blood.

Because of Kaleb’s brazen accusation against him and his threat to go to corporate over it Rene had been forced to yank on Dreama’s leash as an act of self-preservation. However, that yank hadn’t been hard enough to choke Dreama out, just piss him off to the point of declaring war on Kaleb and vowing to have him fired by any means necessary.

This meant Dreama had been working overtime in an effort to take him down, attempting to dig up whatever dirt he could find on Kaleb as well as watching his every move for any infraction that could aid him in his campaign to have Kaleb ousted. And although Dreama kept coming up empty handed time and time again, this didn’t deter his lust for payback but only strengthened his determination to destroy Kaleb once and for all.  

“So what do you think about Dreama’s crusade against you?” I ask Kaleb while setting up my station.

“I don’t.” he says with indifference as he cleans the crud from his fingernails with my shears.  

“You’re not the least bit worried that he’s named you Public Enema #1?”

“Not at all. If anything I’m proud of it.”

“You are?”

“Yeah, because in all the time that I’ve known Dreama I’ve never seen him work as hard as he has these past few weeks at trying to get me fired. In fact, I’d say I’ve done what nobody else, including himself, has been able to do.”

“And what’s that?”

“Motivate him.”

“You’re serious aren’t you?”  

“Dead serious, and to be honest, I’m so impressed with what I’ve done that I’m thinking I should quit hair altogether and become a life coach. Although if I quit that would make him happy and giving him any sort of happiness is not on my to-do list.”

“Maybe you could just bill him for your services then.”

“You never have ‘em but that’s a great idea.”

Still, despite his blasé attitude toward Dreama’s vengeful vendetta this didn’t mean Kaleb had been gallivanting around with the usual impunity he’d grown accustomed to, especially when it came to being at work on time.

In the past he’d meander into school ten to fifteen minutes late as if his schedule was more of a suggestion than a command and by the grace of God he’d always go unnoticed and unpunished for it. But now that he was walking around with a giant bull’s eye on his back he could no longer afford to waltz in at his leisure.  

And even though Kaleb was one of those people who didn’t give a single, solitary fuck when it came to 99.9% of things in life, the one thing he did care about was losing to someone like Dreama and so he was determined not to hand him an easy victory by way of tardiness.

This meant that ever since Kaleb had a price put on his head he’d been making sure to raise that head (along with the rest of his ramshackle of a body) at the butt-crack of dawn to ensure that he made it into work on time, which in and of itself was a HUGE life-improvement on his own part. 

So who knew, maybe Kaleb had a future in life-coaching after all.

As for me I’d been trying to follow his advice on not caring about the quality of my work and instead just focus on making it to school every day, not losing my shit and of course, not becoming a part of The 90%.

However, telling myself to not care about my work was easier said than done because it went against everything I’d held sacred about being a creative. As an artist I had always labored under the belief that whatever I created should be done with the utmost of care and held to the highest of standards.  

Now, though, I’d been told to abandon that belief in exchange for wholesale apathy which meant that even when I made someone’s hair look like it’d been gang-raped by a pack of chimpanzees hopped up on Viagra and methamphetamines my only response could be complete and total irrelevance.      

Which sucked because I’d always felt a responsibility and attachment to whatever I did or made. It was an extension of myself into the world and if I was gonna be someone who didn’t care about what they were bringing into the world then that didn’t make me any better of a person than Mary Jo Campbell*.      

And while I understood Kaleb’s reasoning behind it all (don’t burn your forest for the trees, in fact, don’t even care about the trees) that didn’t make it any easier or give me any sort of relief or resolve, it had only put me in the agonizing position of being miserable if I cared and being miserable if I didn’t cafe. It had been a lateral move, not a forward one, leaving me to feel like I was the resident of a shitty neighborhood and all I’d done to change my situation was move from one side of the street to the other. Sure, I’d done something but that something had still kept me in the same shitty place.  

So I needed a way out, I needed to find some sort of purpose to embrace that would get me through school in a more positive way. Something that would help me weather all the failures, disappointments and spells of self-doubt and self-loathing I’d experience while at the same time keeping my integrity as an artist in-tact.         

The problem was, I had no idea what that purpose might be or where I could find it and until I did…

“So what am I gonna be fucking up today? A haircut? Color? Highlights?”

It was back to the business of desecrating heads like I was Jeffery Dahmer.  

“Today’s fuck-up will be brought to you by way of a blow dry.” Kaleb says as he cleans the last of his fingernails with my shears then twirls them around like a gunslinger.

“Really? Just a blow dry?”

“Yeah, everyone has to be finished with their clients by 11 today so hopefully that’s something you can manage…god help us.”   

“What’s with the early cut-off time?”

“There’s an industry guest coming in at 11:30.”

“There is?”

“Yeah, didn’t you get the email?”

“The email? From who?”

“The school.”

“The school sends out emails?”

“All the time, you didn’t know about this?”

“About the emails or the industry guest?”

“Both I suppose.”


“How could you not?”

“I barely check my regular mail so the odds of me checking my email are right up there with you cleaning your apartment.”

“That’s a low blow.”

“Maybe, but for me to drive my point home I had to shit on yours.”

“You’re becoming more like me every day, did you know that?”

“I do and that’s a scary realization.”

Kaleb has me blow dry a professional middle-aged woman in a power suit that’s come in for a blow out before her big staff meeting. By the time I’m finished she looks like a homeless person that spends her days wrestling with pigs.  

She asks me if I’m genuinely ok with sending her back into the world looking the way she does and so I give her what’s become my default, couldn’t care less reply; a shoulder shrug with a side look of whatever.   

She makes the mistake of turning to Kaleb for an explanation or support and all he gives her is the same response as mine, uniting us both in our front to not give a rat’s ass in regard to the rat’s nests I’m making on the daily.

After she leaves, swearing never to return, the call goes out for students to take a 20 min break before reporting back to the Theory Room for the industry guest.

Bode and I run to Starbucks, grab our caffeine fix and then get back with a few minutes to spare.

Kaleb waves us over to a spot in the back where according to him he had to fight tooth and nail to save us seats because in addition to the 200+ regular students in the room there’s also another 100 former students who have shown up for this guest, packing the place beyond capacity and giving it that funky, sweaty, too-many-bodies-in-a-room smell.     

“How did all these past students know about today?” I ask our fearless seat-saver.   

“They must still be on the school’s email list.”

“Did you know that the school sends out emails?” I turn and ask Bode.

“Yeah I read mine all the time, don’t you?”

“No, and I feel so left out.” I say, looking around and sensing an excitement buzzing through the dewy crowd as if this guest can walk on water or raise the dead. “So who is this person anyway?” 

“Kelly Cardenas.” Kaleb tells me.   

“She must be pretty awesome at hair if she can bring all these people out of the woodwork. I wonder if she’s hot.” I remark.

“HE.” Kaleb says.

“Who’s he?” I ask.

“Kelly. Kelly is a he.”

“Oh she is is she?”

“Yeah, and even though he has salons throughout the country he’s more known for his inspirational speaking which is what he’ll be doing today.”

“So he’s just here to talk? And all these people are just here to listen?”

“That’s about the size of it.” Kaleb says, scrolling on his phone.

“Have you seen him before?” I ask Kaleb.

“Yeah, he comes here every year.”  

“What does he talk about?”

“I dunno, life shit and how to be good at it I guess.”

“You mean like Tony Robbins?”

“Sure, like Tony Robbins, only without all the yelling and big teeth.”  

“Interesting.” I say with a sarcastic overtone, knowing full-well that most “inspirational speakers” who claim to have all the answers are nothing more than charlatans preying upon the universal uncertainties every man, woman and non-binary person experience throughout their lifetime on Earth.

“Well I guess he can’t be any worse than Dreama.” I note.

“Or that father son waxing team that came in last month.” Bode adds. “Good lord that was a massacre.”

“To put it mildly.” Kaleb chortles with his face still buried in his phone’s screen. “Did Blake ever make a full recovery?”

“I don’t think Blake ever stopped being high long enough to notice that he needed medical attention.” I tell him.  

Blake was one of the few straight male students who attended Paul Mitchell and not only was he a promising stylist but he was also high AF every single day of his young, hot life. This, one can imagine, could impact his cognitive skills from time to time and there was no time more evident of this than when a father and his son came to the school to give a presentation and peddle their brand of body hair removal wax.

At one point during their spiel they asked for a volunteer to come on stage so they could smear their revolutionary new product over a part of that person’s body to demonstrate the “amazing abilities” it had in getting rid of unwanted hair.

Without bothering to ask which part of the body they planned on removing hair from, Blake was on stage, in a chair with his shirt off, more stoned than a biblical whore and wearing a big, dumb smile across his face.

Within seconds the father and his son were on him, slathering their golden goo all over his hair infested chest. Next they proceeded to cover said chest with dozens of strips of waxing paper until his upper torso looked like a paper mache. Once that was done the ripping off of the papers commenced, each tear making the same sound a tape gun does when it’s being pulled across a moving box.

Over and over again the dad and his offspring took turns yanking paper strips off of Blake’s chest, taking with them not only his hair but also bits of his top layer of skin as well. And as every yank of paper yielded more hair, more epidermis and more screams from the audience, Blake continued to sit there with that big, dumb smile plastered across his face, unfazed and unaware that this dipshit duo were filleting him like a fucking fish.

By the time it was all said and done there was a pile of paper strips rife with blood, wax, hair and skin both littering and sticking to the stage while Blake’s chest looked like it’d been pared with a potato peeler.  

“That was a bloodbath for the ages.” Kaleb says, breaking free from his phone’s spell and shoving it in his pocket as Capitan Ron swaggers on stage to address the crowd.

“Alright, alright, I know you’re all excited for today’s guest so please make sure to give him your full and undivided attention. That means putting your phones away and keeping them away or else I’ll be taking them away, understood?”

Everyone nods their heads and mumbles ‘YES’ knowing that Ron isn’t one to make empty requests or threats.  

“Now I know some of you have seen Kelly before and the fact that you came back to see him again is a testament to his skills as a speaker.” Ron says, looking around the room to make sure all eyes are on him. “For those of you seeing him for the first time I’d suggest you open your hearts and minds to what he has to say because he truly is a visionary who wants to help people make their lives better. So without any further delay, it’s my honor to bring out Mr. Kelly Cardenas.”

At this the crowd of former students jump to their feet, cheering, clapping and whistling as if Jesus himself had returned and stopped by to see how everyone’s day at Paul Mitchell was going before continuing on with his rapture duties.

The rest of us who had yet to experience this Kelly Cardenas character didn’t know how to respond. So some joined in on the hootin’ and hollerin’ while others sat by and looked on with healthy skepticism.

I myself wasn’t sure what to think, including what this guy would look like. But whatever notion I may have had in regard to his appearance it sure as shit wasn’t what entered the room and ascended the stage.

Sporting a blonde, nappy mess of shoulder-length dreads and a dark scruffy goatee on his face, this guy did not strike me as someone who could change my life with the utterance of his words.

What he did strike me as was a burned out beach-bum who hit the bong 24/7, a third-world traveler that spent his life guzzling ayahuasca* and frolicking through the jungles of South America naked or the bass player of a Grateful Dead cover band that wasn’t above asking people for spare change at gas stations.

In fact the only thing that kept me from believing this guy played in a drum circle and sold sage sticks in Venice was his impeccable wardrobe that consisted of custom made clothes and a leather jacket that all screamed high-end rockstar chic. It was a total juxtaposition to say the least.

He stood still onstage beaming a warm, radiant smile from his round, cherubic face until the applause from his disciples died down and everyone returned their assess to their seats. Then he finally spoke, which is what we’re all here for in the first place.   

“Thank you all so much for such an incredible welcome.” he says in a voice that sounds just like Wayne Newton. “You know, I get to go to all the Paul Mitchell schools around the country and Sherman Oaks never fails to bring the love.”

This remark lights the crowd up again and gives way to another round of standing, yelling, clapping and cheering, making my tinnitus ring a little louder and my patience grow a little thinner.

I was already under the impression that this guy was full of shit and that the only thing of value he’d have to say would be ‘That’s all the time I have, thanks for being a great audience.’  

So I was hoping for a quick end to all this inspirational nonsense. Seriously, dude, let’s hurry up and get to changing some lives so the rest of us can get on with ours and go to lunch.  

Little did I know that the biggest life that was about to change was my own.  

*Mary Jo Campbell is the mother of Kris Jenner. Kris Jenner is responsible for giving birth to not only the Kardashian / Jenner kids but also spawning a reality TV franchise and product brand. Those two business entities not only celebrate her children’s status-driven narcissism but are also responsible for convincing a generation  of young women that their bodies aren’t good enough because they don’t compare to the plasticized, photo-shopped images of Jenner’s superficial offspring, prompting teenage girls as young as 13 to ask their parents for nose, breast and butt jobs in a sad and futile attempt to keep up with the Kardashians.

Had Mary Jo Campbell been a little more birth-controlling and a little less pro-creating when it came to the act of bearing children then the world might have been spared the damaging effects of having Kris Jenner and her descendants in it.     

* Ayahuasca (hi-uh-wah-ska) is a South American hallucinogenic tea that when consumed is believed to give people not only a beautiful and spiritual experience but also offer them unique clarity about their lives and bestow them with an enhanced sense of personal direction.

While the plant isn’t illegal in the U.S. per se, its active ingredient, known as D.M.T. is banned as a Schedule I Drug, the same category as heroin and ecstasy so the only way to slurp up some of this spiritualized soup is to travel to Brazil, Costa Rica or Peru for a retreat or if you’re in the States you can take part in an underground ceremony led by a Shaman at the tune of $250 a pop.

Which if you think about it isn’t a lot money when it comes to having profound realizations that the miserable job or relationship you’re in isn’t the right thing for you, thereby empowering you to seek out a path that gives you total happiness and fulfillment and in turn making you a better person and the world a better place.

The 90%

Chapter 26


“You did this on purpose didn’t you?” Kaleb asks while inspecting the gruesome bald spot I’d managed to cut into Trevor’s hair while attempting to do the scissor over comb technique.

“Why would I do that?”

“Same reason the mom from A Christmas Story used up all the glue.”

“So the Old Man couldn’t put the leg lamp back together?”

“So you’ve seen that movie?”

“Who the fuck hasn’t? And what does that have to do with this?”

“Just like the mom didn’t want the lamp around, you didn’t wanna do scissor over comb, you wanted to use clippers and so you decided to sabotage the whole thing by going and doing…this.” he says, poking his finger at the hairless patch on Trevor’s head.

“Do you really think I’d wanna do something like this on purpose?”

“No, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how you did this because the comb should’ve guarded against him being scalped.”

“I amaze even myself sometimes.”

“No shit. You’re like a magician that performs demented tricks on people’s heads. Anyway, like I was saying, because of this little mishap we now have to use the clippers.”    

“But I thought you said clippers were tools for the unskilled and incompetent.”

“They are but there’s no way I, or you, and I especially mean you, will be able to fix this by doing scissor over comb.” he gripes. “How do you feel about going super short on the sides?” he asks Trevor.

“I’m good with it but lemme ask Stickman.” he says then nods his head to an imaginary voice. “Stickman is good with it too.” he informs us, making me relieved that both he and Stickman were easy going clients.  

“Kaleb, babe, can you come over here and check my cut please?” Dusti yells to him.

“Babe?” he says to me with a scrunched up face. “That just made me feel like I did when I saw my parents 69ing, blech.” he utters then schleps over to Dusti.     

“Your boy’s a little salty isn’t he?” Trevor asks once Kaleb is out of earshot.

“You get used to the sodium.”

“I feel sorry for his girlfriend…if he even has one.”

“Oh he does, and she’s a pornstar.”

“What really? That guy?”

“Hard to believe huh?”

“I mean not if she was one of those fetish pornstars like a burn victim or an amputee.”

“She’s actually legit, her name is **** ******.”



“She’s fucking hot, and that moan of hers…god damn!”

“Don’t I know it, Trev.”

Kaleb returns and assess the tattered landscape I’ve left on Trevor’s head then devises a plan. 

“Ok, we’re gonna start off with no guard and blend it up using a 1 and then a 2. That’ll erase the bald spot and give a nice gradient look. Then we’ll take some off the top and texturize it. That good with you, dude?” he asks Trevor.

“Hey, man, anything is good from the person banging **** ******.  That shit is prime-time, yo!”

“Gee, I wonder how he found out that piece of information.” Kaleb says, looking at me.

“What’s it like having sex with her?” Trevor asks with excitement.  

“I don’t talk about my sex life.”

“Aww c’mon, man, ya gotta tell me! I gotta know! Besides, you cut my ear, doesn’t that deserve some kind of compensation?”

“He’s got a point.” I tell Kaleb.

“Fine, it’s good. Now can we move on?”

“That’s it? After every mind-bending thing I’ve seen her do on camera and all you’ve gotta say is ‘it’s good’?”

“Everything she does on camera is acting, it’s not real life. Sorry to burst your boner.”

“It doesn’t look like she’s acting, it looks like she’s loving it.”

“That’s the trademark of a good actor, to pretend. Besides, they have to do re-takes, get different shots, adjust the lighting and then edit it all. It’s no different than anything that goes into a regular movie.”



“She ever take you to work with her?”

“No because I’m too busy working this job where I have to answer questions like this because some people are chatty Kathy’s right, Stuke?”

“So we’re gonna start off with no guard then work our way up to a 2?” I say in a bid to take the focus off of me and my double XL mouth, realizing I’d be a horrible employee if I worked for The Mob.     

“Yeah.” Kaleb says, firing up the barbaric clippers and fixing the side with the bald patch on it and making it look crisp and clean.

“Now do the other side just like this.”  

“Ok.” I tell him, believing that using the clippers will reduce my ability to make mistakes only to find out that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Cementing once and for all my belief that there was no hope for me when it came to doing any hair of any type in any way on any person.   

“Holy hose-hound.” Kaleb says when he sees the Texas Chainsaw Massacre I’d performed.

“How’s it lookin’?” Trevor asks.

“Like Ray Charles did it right after shooting up.” Kaleb tells him.

“But you’re able to fix it, right?” he asks Kaleb as I look out the window and stare at the silhouette of the Santa Monica mountain range in the distance, wanting to flee from here to its highest peak and hoping some kind, understanding soul will bludgeon me over the head with a rock and then leave my corpse to be ravaged by birds and wild animals as if I was given a traditional Tibetan Sky Burial.     

“Of course I can fix it.” Kaleb says, grabbing the clippers once again and turning my mess into a masterpiece as the call goes out for our lunch break.

“You wanna finish the rest of the cut so we can get outta here before we all turn to dust?” I ask full of dejection and self-loathing.

“Sure, just watch me so you’ll know what to do next time.” he says, chopping into the hair on the top of Trevor’s head with a calculated frenzy.

As he cuts I look down the row and see the great shag that Bode did on his client which he’s finishing off with hairspray and the flawless A-line Dusti did on hers that she’s flat-ironing.

In fact everyone in my row has done an awesome job on their client with the exception of me who’s standing off to the side with his dick in his hand like some useless cuckold while his teacher finishes the job he couldn’t do.       

“Alright you’re good to go.” Kaleb tells Trevor, putting a dab of paste in his hair and styling it.

“Fucking rad.” Trevor says, admiring his reflection. “Stickman is gonna be off the chain this Friday, thanks dude!” he tells Kaleb as he white boy dances with his bandaged ear over to the front desk.

“I know you weren’t able to do the last part of the cut but do you still feel like you learned something?”

“Oh yeah, I learned that I’m a total fuck-up and shouldn’t be allowed to touch people’s hair because when I do it’s a crime against humanity.” I tell him as I throw my gear into my kit.

“Hey man, it was your fist men’s cut, of course you were gonna make mistakes.”

“Yeah? What about all the women’s cuts I’ve done? And how many times have I done a blow dry that looked even half-way passable?”

“Well you-“

“The answer is none, Kaleb. NONE. I feel like life is giving me a great big sign that says I should fucking quit and count my losses while they’re still countable.”

“You don’t wanna do that.”

“Pretty sure I do.”

“Pretty sure you don’t.”

“Yes I do! When I was in Core it bothered me that I wasn’t any good but I thought I’d eventually outgrow it, get better over time and improve the quality of work I did and the way I felt about it.”


“But none of that has happened and I’m fucking sick and tired of it to the point that I’m ready to quit and go deliver pizzas or something lame like that that that doesn’t kick me in the balls on the daily.”


“What, motherfucker?”

“If you quit you’ll never get to where you’re supposed to go.”

“And where’s that? A hair salon for the blind?”

“No, although that is funny.”

“It’s funny because you said something like that to me before.”

“That makes sense. But besides that, listen, you have the passion to wanna do good which is why you’re so hard on yourself but you need to ease up, man.”

“That’s hard to do when I see everybody else creating phenomenal work and all I’m making is garbage.”

“Fuck what everybody else is doing.” he says as my fellow students stroll past us towards the front door. “If you stick with this you’re gonna be more successful than all these people.”

“How do you figure?”

“The Law of Percentages.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Do you know how many of these students will actually make a career out of doing hair?”

“No idea, I’m not in charge of statistics.”

“Ten percent is your answer. At most, ten percent will go on to do hair after they graduate.”

“Doesn’t seem like much.”

“It isn’t.”

“Why won’t they?”

“Any number of reasons. They might decide they don’t like it, can’t handle the assistant phase, they get married or knocked up, die in a car crash…who knows, the factors are endless. But if you keep with it that puts you at an advantage.”


“Because ninety percent of your competition won’t even show up for the game. They’ll forfeit their career in hair which will give you more room on the field to flourish.”

“Flourish is the farthest fucking word to describe where I’m at right now.”

“I know but the right now doesn’t last forever. You’ll get better as long as you don’t quit. Plus, here’s a secret no one else will tell you…”

“What’s that?” I ask, thinking of Jan’s Dead Men Tell No Tales tattoo and wondering if Kaleb and I will find ourselves at the bottom of the Pacific once he reveals this secret to me.  

“You’re not really here to learn how to do hair.”

What was that?

“Dude, like the Virgin Mary said to God, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“What I’m talking about is that all you’re really here to do is get the 1600 hours you need to take your board exam and pass it so you can get your license. Everything else is just lipstick on a cop. The real learning comes when you start assisting at an actual salon.”

Kaleb dropping this revelation made me feel like I wasn’t allowed a choice between taking the blue pill or the red pill but instead had the red one shoved down my throat and was forced to swallow.

And upon swallowing it came to the realization that the reality I’d thought I’d been living in had been a lie and in its place a new and unsettling truth lay bare that I now had to contend with and accept.

All my notions about school had been an illusion like set pieces on a Hollywood sound stage that appeared to be 3 dimensional but were nothing more than cheap plywood propped up by a few beams and some brackets.  

What a fucking asshole this Kaleb guy was.

“You know if this was meant to make me feel better it doesn’t.”


“No! I already feel like I’ve been drowning in a sea of sorrow and instead of giving me your hand you use it to push me further down.”

“Well that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to help you see things for how they really are so you’ll quit stabbing yourself in the heart. I want you to know that you don’t need to know everything about hair when you finish school, you just need to finish it and all that takes is just showing up every day.”     

“So you’re saying just come here every day, get the shit kicked out of me and eventually everything will work out?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying and doing that doesn’t take any skill or talent, just determination.”

I finish packing up my shit and notice Bode and Dusti are waiting for me by the door.

“Stuke, more than anything else hair is a mind game. It’s a mind game between you and yourself and you and your clients and I know you’ve got the making of becoming a true Jedi so stick with it, ok?”

“That’s very Obi-Wan of you but I seriously doubt school was as hard for you as it is for me.”

“Trust me, it was a fucking nightmare.” he says, taking me by surprise. “And Sassoon doesn’t have the whole kumbaya culture they do here because Vidal was English and there’s two things the English pride themselves on.”

“What’s that?”

“Perfection and being cunts to those who can’t achieve it. And in their eyes I could never achieve it.”


“Yeah. There were so many days I’d go home and cry because I’d done something the wrong way and the teachers had humiliated me in front of everyone because of it.”

“Wow, I was always under the impression you’d been this god-like magi from the minute you picked up a pair of shears. I mean, what about that year you spent in London? Didn’t you go there because you were so good?”

“No, I went there so I could get good, and it was the hardest year of my life. But I became who I am because of it and you wanna know why?’

“Because you didn’t quit?”

“Doesn’t happen often but you’re right. And if I can do it so can you. So from now on the only thing you should worry about is not comparing yourself to others, not kicking the shit out of yourself and above all else, don’t become a part of the 90%.”

“Okay.” I say, coming down off the ledge of career suicide I was about to fling myself from.

“It won’t always feel good but that’s temporary and anyone can recover from temporary.”

“I understand and…thanks for the talk, it means a lot, especially from you.”

“Don’t mention it.” he says, pulling from his back pocket a smashed up pack of Marlboro lights that he digs a cigarette out of. “And by that I mean don’t mention what I said to anyone because I can’t afford to look like I care, got it?”

“Got it.”

“Good, now go to lunch while I kill myself softly with this cigarette.”