Chapter 12

 

What’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve done while being drunk?

How does one who’s been drinking for the past 3 decades even begin to answer a question like that?

Especially when they’ve complied volumes upon volumes of work, all titled Most Ridiculous Thing I’ve Done While Being Drunk that they could easily fill the Library of Congress with them.

For me to try to narrow down all the mishaps, misadventures and misdemeanors that I had engaged in while being under the influence of alcohol and crown one of them as THE definitive moment of absurdity was not only a fool’s errand but realistically impossible.

“C’mon, Stuke…” Marshall says, whisking his blonde hair from his face. “There has to be something you’ve done that stands out!” he yells as the crowd cheers in agreement.

Marshall had said he’d been saving me for last and there was one reason why:

Because of the way I look.

My image suggests I’m someone incapable of adhering to social norms and living a conventional life, that whichever route I take my destination always ends up at the corner of Ridiculous and Retarded.

And so Marshall had profiled me on my image, banking on the fact that whatever I had to say it would be gold, providing the most bang for the buck and rewarding his Paul Mitchell Mob with the utmost of merriment at my expense.

So he had waited until the very end of the shitshow to whack me off his hit list.

I had been saved as the headliner, the main event and the major attraction. I was the fat, sacrificial cow to be carved up and served to the masses as the fantastic finale to this morning’s morbid meet-n-greet.

“Well, Marshall, that’s a tough one…” I tell him in a bid to buy myself some time and devise a plan to keep from being annihilated by his venomous vitriol.

I knew I had to give him something of substance but at the same time nothing that could end up tarnishing me and making my life at school an unbearable hell.

I needed to feed him and his hungry horde a story that was humorous, harebrained and half-witted while at the same time harmless to me and my reputation.

“Give me a second to think on it.” I tell him, scrolling through my rolodex of drunken dipshitery,  searching for the perfect party-pleaser that would provide him with satisfaction and me with security.

“Take two seconds.” he says with a mischievous smile, spinning the mic in his hand.

I shave a lifetime of asinine anecdotes down to three specific incidents that stick out like huge, gaudy tombstones in a graveyard full of ludicrous exploits. I then go over each incident trying to gauge how vulnerable it will leave me to Marshall and his rancid ridicule.

The first incident is that time I and some friends started drinking on a Saturday afternoon and come Sunday morning I awoke to find myself in a bed…with four other ladies…in a brothel…in Tijuana, with a black eye.

One of the ladies was kind enough to give me a rundown of the prior day’s events as I was having a hard time making sense of anything.

“You and a couple friends came down and partied with us then we all went to a backyard fiesta, some clubs and then came back here. Everyone was drinking, dancing and having a good time.”

“How did I get this black eye?”

“Myra.”

“Who’s Myra and why did she punch me?”

“She’s one of our girls. You two disappeared into the bedroom then she came out a few minutes later yelling polla flacida borracho.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Because you were so drunk your cock-a-doodle-do became a cock-a-doodle-don’t and she took it personally.”

While this instance is a solid 10 on the Richter scale of rampant and reckless ridiculousness it’s also a hornet’s nest of humiliation.

And should I offer up this hornet’s nest to Marshall I know he’ll kick the shit out of it and I’ll end up getting stung with the status around school as the guy who got punched in the face by a Mexican hooker for experiencing temporary erectile dysfunction.

To share this experience would be a surefire way to commit social suicide.

VERDICT: FUCK NO

“Do you have THAT MANY options to choose from?” Marshall asks, wondering why it’s taking me so long to throw him a bone.

“I just wanna make sure it’s kid friendly.” I tell him, getting a wall of moans from the crowd.

The next incident I review is the time I went to Newport for a friend’s birthday.

He’d rented one of those triple decker boats that cruise around the bay for 3 hours and during that time you can eat from the buffet and drink from the bar to your heart’s content.

I was hammered within the first 20 minutes and then got hungry and ate until my stomach was so full it hurt to breathe and even worse, impeded my ability to keep drinking.

Naturally I didn’t wanna waddle around for the next 2 ½ hrs. uncomfortable and becoming un-inebriated so I went to the bathroom and pooped my brains out, ensuring that I could get back to drinking just as soon as I flushed the toilet.

Only this toilet didn’t work like regular toilets and when you flushed it a little metal flap would open up for the waste water to spill into the ship’s disposal tank.

But because I’d just emptied my ENTIRE STOMACH there was quite literally, too much crap to fit through the opening and as a result the thing backed up and flooded the entire floor while people were knocking on the door to get in.

So, I did the only thing a person could do when faced with imminent insult from a boat full of his peers…I shoved my hand into the toilet, grabbing all the shit, piss and paper that had formed into a glob of wet cement and pushed it through the metal flap and into the disposal tank, thus allowing the water in the toilet to drain properly.

Next I washed the shit out of my hands and then grabbed an entire roll of paper towels and mopped up the floor, leaving the place as pristine as it was when I’d entered it.

Although this incident reeked with repugnant ridiculousness I came to the realization that if I told Marshall about it I would be setting myself up for a bowlful  of bowel-movement backlash because the truth is nobody lives down a shit story.

Shit stories will stain your reputation and follow you around like a skid-mark for the rest of your days, making it impossible for you to get a good job, a decent mate or have any semblance of a normal life. It’s a bad social credit score that never goes away.

Plus, my name is Stuke, you know what rhymes with Stuke?

Dookie.

And I’d forever be referred to as Stuke Dookie for the rest of my tortured tenure at Paul Mitchell.

It’d be like living the 4th grade all over again.

No thanks.

VERDICT: FUCK NO

Next up was the third and final incident and it seemed to hold the most promise.

I went over the tenets of the story, scouring it for anything that could make me susceptible to Marshall and his sarcastic scorn and after doing a swift diagnostic concluded this incident to be the safest to offer up.

It was ridiculous yet relatable. Cringe worthy yet credible. And most of all, it didn’t have anything in it that could be used against me in Marshall’s court of law. There was no unforeseen flogging that could come from it and I’d be able to escape this whole inquisition unscathed.

It would work.

It had to work.

VERDICT: FUCK YES  

“Stuke, you gonna give us the goods or make us wait ‘til we’re all collecting social security?” Marshall heckles from on high.

“You betcha.” I tell him with brimming confidence.

“Ok! Most ridiculous thing you’ve ever done drunk.” he says as his posse of pancake eating perpetrators howl for one last morsel of mid-morning mortification. “And don’t leave out any details!”

“I won’t.” I promise him.

“And…GO!!!!” he says, sticking his mic up in my face.

“So I was dating this girl and her grandpa had recently died. He was to be cremated and then a few days later a funeral was going to be held for him.”

“Sounds…sexy.”

“It gets sexier. On the day of the funeral I wake up late because I’d been partying the night before which means I was also still drunk.”

“Oh I like where this is going!” he says with the glee of a prepubescent girl. “Did you get to the funeral and throw up? Spill the urn? Pass out?”

“Worse.”

“I knew you wouldn’t disappoint!” he says patting me on the back. “Go on…”

“So I speed to the address I was given which was 422 South Oak, jump out of my car and run in to a packed church where the service had already begun.”

“And let me guess, everyone looked at you like what the hell?”

“Exactly. So while everyone stares at me I find a seat and sit down and then look around for my girlfriend.”

“You didn’t see her?”

“No, but it’s not unusual for family members of the deceased to be seated in a private room away from everyone else.”

“Yeah, yeah, when my uncle died we had one of those rooms and I was like ‘what, no bottle service’?” he quips as the crowd chuckles. “Anyway, continue!”

“So after a few minutes I notice there’s a closed casket up front.”

“Wait, I thought you said he was cremated.”

“Right. But I figured maybe I got the order of things mixed up and maybe the family was going to have him in a casket for the funeral and then would cremate him after the service. Who knew what the hell was going on because I sure didn’t.”

“Yeah people want all sorts of funny things done at their funeral.”

“That’s what I told myself. So as the service goes on I notice people looking over at me and then whispering amongst themselves. But I figure it’s either because of the way I look or because I smell like a distillery.”

“Oh that charming smell of canine cologne.”

“Totally. So when the minister gets to the actual eulogy where he starts talking about my girlfriend’s grandpa he keeps referring to him as Paul. ‘Paul was a loving husband. Paul was a decent man. Paul loved his cats’.”

“So was Paul all those things?” Marshall asks, wondering where this is going.

“No.”

“NO?! Then what?! Was Paul a closeted penis pincher whose secret you knew and exposed then and there because you were drunk?”

“No. My girlfriend’s grandpa’s name wasn’t Paul, it was Bob. And while Bob was a decent man and loving husband, Bob hated cats because he was allergic to them.”

“Wait, so the minister not only had his name wrong but was also wrong about him loving cats?”

“No, I was the one that had it wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I was at the wrong funeral.”

“WHAT??!!!” Marshall screams incredulously as the crowd gasps.

“Yeah, it all the sudden fell together…right on top of my drunken head. The casket instead of an urn, everyone looking and talking about me, my girlfriend nowhere to be found, some dead guy named Paul…”

“Oh my god, oh my god, OH. MY. GOD. IT PAUL MADE SENSE!!!” So what did you do?”

“I got up real slow and then fled to the nearest exit.”

“But I don’t understand, if this was the church where the funeral was to be at why wasn’t your girlfriend’s grandpa there instead of Paul? Did you get the time wrong and there was another funeral before Bob’s?”

“I got the address wrong.”

“I thought you said you went to the address you were given…”

“I thought I did too but once I got outside I checked the street sign and grasped what I had done.”

“Were you on the wrong street and there just happened to be a church on that street that just happened to be having a funeral as well?”

“No, I was on the right street but the address I was given was 422 South Oak, the address of the church I mistakenly went to was 422 North Oak and since I was drunk I didn’t notice that small but crucial detail.”

“So you’re telling me there were two different churches on the same street with the same numbered address both having funerals at the same time?”

“Yep. I just hadn’t driven far enough down the street for it to turn from North to South.

“Holy Hell! Who has that kind of luck?”

“You’re looking at him.”

“So did you make it to your girlfriend’s grandpa’s funeral?”

“I did and it was just getting out.”

“And what did she say when she saw you?”

“I’m breaking up with you.”

It’s at this moment that Marshall loses his fucking marbles and laughs uncontrollably as the crowd joins in with him. Once he’s able to bring himself under control he looks at me with tears running down his face.

“Of all the times I’ve done this that has got to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in the best way possible!” he says dabbing at his eyes. “I really have nothing to say other than, Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Paul. Wow!”

My story of mistaken location due to intoxication entertained both Marshall and the school while at the same time allowing me to side-step his sadistic sarcasm.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

“Ok everyone, let’s give it up for our new class of Core Babies!” Marshall says, jumping onstage and throwing his hand up in the air like an Asian Freddie Mercury commanding a sold-out crowd.

The audience of Future Professionals jumps to their feet and gives our class of 12 a standing ovation complete with whistles, cheers and hollers as Charlie motions for us to exit stage right and retreat back into the safe and secure confines of our Core Room.

Once there we fall back into our chairs, exhausted from a hazing that was more brutal than the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and try to collect ourselves like rockstars that had just come off stage after giving the performance of a lifetime.

And as we all sat there trying to unwind Charlie takes front and center behind her podium.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am that you all weathered that storm.” She says with the look of a mom tending to an injured child. “And I just want to say-“

“Charlie…” a man’s voice beckons from the entrance of the room and in walks a Learning Leader that looks one part Obama, one part Denzel.

He sways to the front of the classroom with the swagger of a pimp and a politician, dressed in black tailored pants, grey cashmere sweater and a gold chain that hangs from around his neck.

He stands next to Charlie, rocking back and forth in his Armani shoes while holding his hands behind his back as if he’s waiting to address a crowd with the passion and fervor of MLK, Malcom X or Maya Angelou.

“Oh, class…” Charlie says both flattered and nervous. “This is Ron and I think he wants a few minutes of your time…”      

Chapter 11

 

We sat on the stage like fish in a barrel, being picked off one by one by Marshall and his unique blend of prodding and probing that produced maximum embarrassment from the 12 of us and non-stop entertainment for the rest of the student body.

A body, mind you, devoid of sympathy and strung-out on schadenfreude* because once upon a time they themselves were forced to endure this same type of sadistic social abuse.

“What’s a stupid trick you can do?” he asks one of the girls.

“Talk like Donald Duck.” she blurts out, not foreseeing the ramifications an admission like this will bring from Marshall and his merry mob of motley motherfuckers.

“Well Duck me gently!” he cries, tickled pink that he’s hit public persecution pay-dirt. “Why don’t you give us a taste of that disgruntled duck?”

“I’d rather not.” she says, seeing the train of consequences barreling towards her now, realizing too late that she should’ve lied and told him something less combustible.

“You know, honey, sometimes ya just gotta say what the duck? Am I right guys?” Marshall shouts to the blood-thirsty crowd.

“YEAH!!!!” they roar back then start chanting “WHAT-THE-DUCK! WHAT-THE-DUCK!”

“Just get it over with.” one of our classmates screams who’d just been put through the wood-chipper of shame herself by having to get up and twerk in front of 200+ strangers.

“Fine! Fine! What do you want me to say?” she asks Marshall, handing him creative control over what happens next, making this her second mistake of the day.

“Hmmm…” he hums while tapping his teal painted fingertips up against his chin. “How about…your ABC’s?!!”

“YES!!!!” everyone thunders back as Marshall shoves his microphone in her face.

She closes her eyes (to imagine she’s anywhere but here), takes a deep breath…

“Don’t forget the song at the end!” he squeals, upping his antagonistic ante.

…and against her better judgment recites her ABC’s in the voice of Donald Duck.

By the time she gets to the “Next time won’t you sing with me…” part she looks relieved, glad that her torment is over and that she’s made it to the finish line.

“EVERYBODY NOW!!!” Marshall shouts, goading her into doing the whole thing over again while the rest of the school joins in with her.

I look at everyone singing, laughing and shoving pancakes in their mouths and think to myself:

So this is what 23 thousand dollars buys you.

Once Marshall is finished with her he turns his attention to the three of us who have yet to be crucified by his nail gun: Jimbo, Bode and myself.

“Who’s next?” he asks the crowd impishly.

“HIM!!!” they yell, pointing at Bode who sits there with the rugged smile of a cowboy as if to say “give it your best shot, fucker.”

“Ok! Let’s go to the guy who’s been using all the handsome cream!” Marshall says, skipping his way over to Bode.

“What’s your name, Mr. Handsome?”

“Bode.”

All the girls let out a long “Woooooooooo.”

“Bode, like Body…like in hot body?” Marshall asks as the girls and the gays whistle and cheer.

“Just Bode.”

“Well tell me hot body Bode, what’s one thing, one HUGE, GINORMOUS thing people would never guess about you?” Marshall asks with a wink and a smirk.

“I like to sew.” Bode tells him matter of factly, making the record skip.

“Wait…you sew?” Marshall asks surprised.

Yeah dude, you sew?

“I do. Have you ever heard of a seamstress?” Bode asks Marshall.

“Hello, I’m Asian, it’s mandatory one person in our family owns a dry cleaning-alteration business.”

“Ok, well I’m the male version of that…I call myself a seamster.” he says with unshakable confidence.

“Well smack me on the ass and call me Monty. This hot homo sapien is quite the homemaker!!!” Marshall exclaims as the audience gives its first legitimate round of applause.

“So when you sew is it to make your pants bigger to hold those great big…thighs of yours?” Marshall asks to a roomful of laughs.

“No, but I do like to rip things apart.” Bode says, leaning in towards Marshall. “And then stitch ‘em back together so they look torn and distressed.” he tells him while looking him square in the eyes to let him know he won’t be razzed.

Realizing he can’t heckle Bode into humiliation Marshall gives him a coy smile then takes a step back.

“Well, Hot Body Bode, I promise you we’ll all be paying attention to what you’re wearing from now on.”

“And wondering what’s underneath it!!!” some random girl screams from the masses.

“Amen to that.” Marshall says as he waltzes over to Jimbo who’s perspiring as much as she’s hyperventilating.

She’d been stewing in a soup of trepidation throughout this entire process, watching her fellow classmates get struck down around her and dreading the moment the executioner would come calling on her.

“Sooooooo….what’s your name?” he asks, slithering up next to her and twisting the tension tighter than a Boy Scout knot.

I remember she’d warned us that she throws up, passes out or soils herself when faced with social anxiety so I’m wondering which one will happen and if Marshall knows he’s in the ‘splash zone’.

“Jim…Jimbo.” She tells him with a shaky voice, putting the scent of fear in the air.

Marshall circles around her like a vulture getting ready to swoop in and feed on a carcass.

“Did your parents give you that name or did you get it in county?” he asks as the audience giggles.

“I…I named myself that because I don’t like my real name.” she says, avoiding eye contact with him.

“Really? What’s your real name?”

“J- Jamie.”

“Why don’t you like the name Jamie?” he asks.

“Because…because…” she stammers.

“Because?” Marshall asks, positioning himself to go in for the kill.

And then something clicks inside her the same way a gun does when it’s locked and loaded and she goes from fearing the reaper to facing him.

“Because it didn’t sound butch enough and I’m the biggest, baddest butch there is!” she says, firing away at Marshall point-blank as the crowd explodes into hoots and hollers.

“And if anyone has a problem with that then I’ll happily stick my fist so far up their-“

“Ok, ok! You’re one hardcore honey!” Marshall says, trying to reel in this minnow that has suddenly become a mako. “Any special talent you have?” he asks in an attempt to steer the conversation away from fist-fucking.

She takes a second to plot her next move, knowing that whatever she tells him has to work in her favor not his.

“There is a special talent I have, Marshmallow.” she says, riding her wave of unexpected boldness and making the crowd howl with laughter.

“Aren’t you a feisty one!” he volleys back. “What can you do?”

“I can do 10 push-ups, in a row, like a man.”

“Where did you learn to do such a thing?”

Jimbo looks at him while cracking her tattooed knuckles. “In county.”

“And you can make it all the way to 10?”

“Start counting.” she says as she drops onstage and starts doing push-ups up like a soldier while Marshall and the rest of the school count aloud.

“8…9…10!!!!” the crowd yells in unison as Jimbo hits her mark and the entire room blows the fuck up in wails and cheers.

“Give it up for the biggest, baddest butch around!!!” Marshall screams into his mic.

Jimbo gets to her feet and raises her hands like a triumphant gladiator relishing in her moment of glory.

And then as quick as her bravery came, it went.

She gazed around the room at everyone cheering for her then started to wobble and sway as the wave of boldness she’d been riding came crashing up against the shore of her social anxiety.

Without warning she bolted offstage and out the side door, no doubt fleeing to the restroom where she could throw-up, soil herself and then pass out in peace.

Godspeed, Jimbo.

And then there was one.

Marshall pated his forehead with a towel like a minister preaching a sermon that was about to hit its climax.

“What’s your name, mister?” Marshall asks me, leaning his elbow up against the long table I and the rest of the damned have been sitting at.

“Stuke.”

“Well, Stuke I saved you for last.”

“Thanks?”

“No, thank you because you look like a treasure-trove of stories.”

“I’ve done a couple things in my life.”

“Ever do a couple things at the same time?” he asks with a school-girl snicker.

“When I was drunk.”

You would think that after sitting here for an hour and watching most of my classmates getting tripped up in Marshall’s traps that I would have learned to be careful with what I told him so I could avoid the same fate.

“And what’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done while being drunk?”

But no, I hadn’t learned at all and because of that I’d totally just fucked myself.

 

 

*Schadenfreude comes from two words in the German language; Schaden, meaning damage or harm and Freude, meaning joy.

Schadenfreude is the act of getting pleasure from another person’s pain, something uniquely human because there’s a part in our brain that gets turned on when we’re rewarded at someone else’s expense.

This best way for you to experience Schadenfreude right now would be to read about this asshole. 

Chapter 10

 

I open my eyes and they sting like they’ve been soaking in bleach all night.

My head pounds from the bridge of my nose to the back of my skull.

The inside of my mouth is an arid desert full of dirt, gravel and sand and every bone in my body feels like it’s being crushed in a car compactor.

Welcome to the hangover.

During the past two months I’d built up such a tolerance to alcohol that it’s been taking more and more of it to numb the pain which means the next days are becoming more and more painful.

I get out of bed, get in the shower, get out and get dressed. I have a beer, a shot and a Smirnoff smoothie to combat the effects of today’s hangover while also planting the seed for tomorrows.

I trudge to my car, trudge through traffic then trudge from the parking lot to the school dragging my kit behind me and joining a herd of other black-clad Future Professionals doing the same.

To the rest of the world we must look like some Emo-nomadic tribe on the move and searching for the next My Chemical Romance show-asis.

I walk into school and it’s back to its normal pulsating, gyrating, spirited self.

Beyoncé and all her Single Ladies blare over the sound system as 200+ Future Professionals set-up their stations on The Floor then crowd their way into the Theory Room while the smell of pancakes floats throughout the air.

I go into the Core Room, everyone else has arrived, parked their kits against the wall and sat their asses down.

Bode sits at a table and motions me over. I push my kit in with the others then take the seat next to him as he hands me a Starbucks.

“Wasn’t sure how you like your coffee so I kept it black.”

“I like it free, thanks.” I tell him. “And is it just me or do you smell pancakes?”

“I do, I think it’s coming from the Theory Room.”

“I wonder why.”

A trio of attractive women burst into the room and circle around us.

“Hi! I’m Jackie.”

“I’m Diane.”

“I’m Tasha.”

“I’m Jimbo!” she yells, waving to them from the table next to us.

“Oh-kay.” Jackie tells her with a WTF look then turns back and smiles at Bode.

“Fuckin’ straights.” Jimbo growls.

“We heard the new Core had two boys so we wanted to introduce ourselves.” Jackie continues.

“I’m Bode and this is Stuke.” he says, pulling me in as I take a sip of my coffee and spill it down my shirt and into my pants.

A confused look flashes across Jackie’s face.

“Wait, are you two…together?”

“Together?” Bode asks surprised. “Because I have my arm around him?”

“I don’t know, maybe. Just thought I’d check. It is the hair industry you know.” she says.

“No, we’re just buds.” he says as if it’s a no-brainer.

“Whew!” she says relieved. “But if you guys were gay that’s cool too cuz I’m all about the rainbow…”

“Wanna taste my rainbow of flavors?” Jimbo says in a low, predatory voice. Jackie ignores the beast and goes on talking to Bode.

“I just thought, you know, if you two were together then you were probably the cute, sweet one and Stuke was the angry, bitchy one.”

“Now that’s something I can’t hear enough of.” I tell her.

“I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just, well…you look mean and stuff.”

“It’s a side-effect of this drug I’ve been on.”

“What drug?”

“Life.”

“It’s a hell of a drug.” Bode adds, making the trio giggle.

“Oh my god, will someone please staple my ears shut?” Jimbo moans.

“Ladies.” Charlie says to Jackie and co. as she saunters in. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the Theory Room?”

“Yes.” Jackie says annoyed. “We just wanted to meet the new guys before everyone else did.”

“How hospitable.” Charlie says without her usual smile.

“See ya guys at the meet-n-greet.” Jackie says with a wink as she and her crew scanter off.

“Meet-n-greet?” I ask Charlie with moderate to severe concern.

She looks at me like she’s about to break some bad news but try to spin it as good.

“Yeah it’s this little tradition we have every time a new Core starts.”

“And what does this “tradition” entail?” I ask, officially scared shitless now.

“Good morning, everyone!” Charlie says, addressing the class instead of my question. “How are you all doin’?”

She gets a few nods, a few half-hearted responses.

“Great! I wanted to let you know that before we get started today we have a little surprise for you.”

Everyone smiles while Bode and I remain suspicious. I have a feeling this is less of a “You won a new car” surprise and more of a “You have herpes” surprise.

I don’t like this.” I tell Bode.

“Me either.” he says. “Somethin’s rotten in Denmark*.”

Charlie goes on with her surprise spiel…

“So every time a new Core class starts up we do a meet-n-greet on stage in the Theory Room. It’s a chance for you to introduce yourselves to the rest of the school, plus, we serve coffee and pancakes!”

All those smiles morph into looks of horror as the class realizes the cruel nature of this ‘surprise’.

Introduce ourselves to 200+ strangers? On stage? Are you fucking mad, Charles?

“I promise it’s not that bad.” she says knowing full well no one is gonna believe that line of horseshit.

“I can’t do this.” Jimbo says, fanning her face with her hands. “I have social anxiety and I could throw-up, pass-out or soil myself.”

“You’re gonna be fine, Jimbo. Every Core does it and they survive.”

“If I wanted to survive I’d be on Survivor!” Jimbo screams, making her hysteria contagious.

“I can’t do it either.” Tracie the sad giraffe whines. “I have a fear of public speaking, my throat swells up and I’ll suffocate!” she says as her eyes fill up with tears then cascade down her long face.

“Guys, guys, guys.” Charlie says, attempting to regain control. “You’re in the people business and in your profession you’ll be meeting new people every day and you’ll have to talk to them.”

“Yeah but they’ll be paying us to do it in money not pancakes!” another girl blurts out, bringing the panic in the room to a fever pitch.

“People, it’s really not that-“

“We’re ready for you, Charlie.” a random Learning Leader says as he pops his head into the classroom.

“Thanks.” she tells him, sounding like a worn out mother of 12.

“Now let’s put on our big kid pants and make some magic.” she says, motioning for us to stand up.

“The only magic I’m making is a mess in my pants.” Jimbo says as we follow Charlie out of the room.

Charlie leads us to a side door of the Theory Room and opens it…

The room is packed in black while The Black Eyed Peas “Imma Be” pumps through the speakers and the frenetic murmur of a hundred different conversations going on at once puts a buzz in the air.

On stage sits a long table and 12 empty chairs.

“Okay, just walk out there and have a seat.” Charlie directs us.

We walk into the room and onto the stage as applause erupts like we’re a much-loved sports team sitting down for a press conference before the big game.

I take a seat next to Bode and look out into an ocean of black and 400+ eyeballs staring back at me. Up against a side wall is the pancake buffet where a line of Future Professionals wait to be served dessert for breakfast.

Once we’re seated and the music dies down a flamboyant, charismatic Asian kid with shaved sides, blonde hair and wearing all black strolls out with a mic in his hand.

“Gooooooood morning, Paul Mitchell! How is everyone today?” he says with the charm of a beloved talk-show host.

Everyone screams and loses their collective shit which tells me two things right away:

  1. People love this student.
  2. Whatever’s about to happen will come at the cost of our dignity.

“Now all you old hags know me but for you Core Babies my name is Marshall and I’m the host of the coast, the master of ceremonies and the sweet, sugary syrup to your pancakes…” he says, running his hand from chest to crotch, thrusting his hips and driving the crowd in-fucking-sane.

“And Babies…I’m about to make it real sticky for you up on this stage!” he says to deafening, rabid cheers.

This wasn’t a meet-n-greet.

This was an ambush.

An execution.

Charlie had sold us out on the cheap for some sort of twisted, initiation based hazing that involved 12 unsuspecting dupes and a mob of ravenous Future Professionals hopped up on sugar, caffeine and the wanton lust for public humiliation.

This was gonna hurt and it was gonna hurt bad.

But hey, at least there were fucking pancakes…

 

 

 

 

*While the phrase Something is rotten in the state of Denmark first appeared 500 years ago in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ as a term to describe a situation in which something was wrong, it’s best known today as being used twice throughout the 1993 neo-noir film ‘True Romance’.

The film was written by a then unknown movie nerd named Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott who knew how to capture and stylize action, violence and adrenaline because he was one hardcore motherfucker.

19 years later, staying true to his hardcore ethos, Scott would throw himself from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in L.A. after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, choosing to end his life on his own terms rather than that of the disease’s.

The film boasted a goldmine of who’s who at that time in cinematic history due in large part to the sheer awesomeness of the story Tarantino wove and the larger than life characters he created.

It stared a relevant Christian Slater, a young and sexy Patricia Arquette, an out of focus Val Kilmer an unknown Michael Rapaport, an always stoned Brad Pitt, an unrecognizable Gary Oldman, a vicious Christopher Walken, a sadistic James Gandolfini, a gruff Dennis Hopper and a brief appearance by Samuel L. Jackson who talked about eating “the pussy, the ass…all of it.” right before his sternum was unexpectedly blown out with a 12-guage shotgun.

In addition to the well-known line something’s rotten in Denmark the movie also had another line immortally tattooed into pop-culture lore:

You’re so cool

If you’re a fan of the movie then reading that line right now just made your eyes juice a little and your heart flutter.

If you haven’t seen the movie I implore you to do so as it’s a timeless film with superb acting, captivating storytelling and tons of cocaine raining down on our heroes in the 3rd Act.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

“I’m talkin’ to you, Thelma and Louise, where you two been?” Rene asked Bode and I as we stood speechless and frozen at the entrance of the room like we’d just stared into the eyes of Medusa.

The rest of the class looked at us with a mix of fear and relief. Fear that we were in Rene’s crosshairs, relief that it wasn’t them.

“You know how late you are?” she asked, shoving a handful of fries in her mouth.

I looked at my watch, 7 minutes late.

“They probably just lost track of time, it is their first day.” Charlie said from her sidelined seat.

“Charlie, I don’t care about excuses cuz I’ve heard ‘em all…

Rene, my alarm didn’t go off.

Rene, my car broke down.

Rene, my abortion took longer than I thought it would.

I’ve heard every bullshit thing under the sun when it comes to people being late and I don’t give a shit.” she said as she chomped down on her hamburger while Bode and I ran to our seats.

“You need to understand you have a certain amount of time to finish school and if you go past it I charge you more money.” she said with a mouthful of meat. “Just last month I had to charge a girl 4 grand cuz she went over her time and you know what she did to get the money?”

“Porn? Prostitution?” Jimbo asked with excitement.

“No.” Rene said with a look of ironic disgust.

“She had to sell her eggs to a fertility clinic. So unless y’all wanna be human chickens I suggest you be on time, every time, all the time.”

“I know you don’t want excuses but Bode and I got caught up at lunch, we’re sorry, it won’t happen again.” I told her.

“I saw them, they were on a man-date and it was so cute.” Denise said, batting her eyes at me.

“Yeah we kinda have a bromance going on.” Bode added, making the class erupt in laughter.

“Enough!” Rene yelled as she slammed her fist down on the podium. “I’m not here to play around!”

A tense silence fell over the room and we all wondered if Rene was about to snap and go on a rampage like a pissed off circus elephant.

“Rene, no one wants to upset you. Just let the class know why you’re here and what you need from them.” Charlie said with a soothing voice to calm the savage beast.

Rene let out a long, fry scented sigh then went on. “I know Charlie went over the rules and regulations in your binders but a contract got left out that I need you to sign.” she said as the two classroom assistants went around handing out papers that said:

I ___________________do solemnly promise not to engage in any type of sexually illicit activity with a fellow Future Professional. Should I violate this contract I understand that my status as a Future Professional can and will be suspended for an undisclosed amount of time resulting in late fees or that I may face expulsion without refund.

Name___________            Date__________       

 

And so it appeared that all of us free-willed, responsible adults were being told to sign a purity contract.

I knew Rene was zealous when it came to students hooking-up but this was on a whole other scale of ridiculous fanaticism. This was something you’d be told to sign if you were joining the Priesthood, the Taliban or The Jonas Brothers.

The waif-thin blonde girl whose name I couldn’t remember from Charlie’s Pointing Game held her hand up.

“What?” Rene asked.

“I don’t think this applies to me because I have a fiancé and-“

“If you have a penis or a vagina it applies to you, end of story.”

“But I know I’d never cheat on him*.” she contested.

“You don’t know what you’ll do. In the time I’ve been here I’ve seen it all. Marriages and engagements broken up. Fist-fights, pregnancies and STDs break out. Straight people turning gay and gay people turning straight.” Rene said, resting her gaze on Jimbo.

“Never.” Jimbo hissed, recoiling like a vampire in the presence of a crucifix.

“Students come in as one person and end up being sexually reckless with 10 others. That behavior breeds jealousy, discord and drama that I have to deal with and I don’t wanna deal with that petty bullshit anymore. So it’s simple; you sign this contract and if you break it I break you.”

“Guys…” Charlie said as she walked over and stood next to Rene.

“While it’s perfectly normal to connect with someone physically, it’s caused problems here in the past. So we feel it’s best that Future Professionals keep their focus on hair and this agreement helps with that. This agreement also ensures you get the best experience while being here and who doesn’t want that?”

Charlie’s good cop speech convinced the class that chastity belts were fashionable prompting everyone to scribble their name on the dotted line. And as I signed away my right to party naked one question burned so bright in my mind that I had to spit it out.

“Rene?” I asked as the assistants came around collecting the contracts.

“What is it, Stuke?” she said with a roll of her eyes.

“What if someone is accused of hooking-up with another person but it didn’t really happen?”

“What are you saying?”

“Like let’s say I piss someone off…”

“I couldn’t possibly imagine that happening.”

“I know, but let’s say I did and so to get back at me that person makes an allegation that I hooked-up with another student just to get me in trouble. Has anything like that ever happened?”

“One person lying about another? I don’t think that’s ever happened in the history of mankind.” she said as the assistants handed her our signed contracts.

“Seriously, what’s the protocol for something like that? Is there a school tribunal that handles it or are you just judge, jury and Sexecutioner?”

She took a deep breath and then rubbed her temples.

“Here’s my advice to you to make sure nothing like that ever happens…do your best not to piss anyone off, starting with me.”

And with that Rene took her bag of food, stack of purity contracts and pungent personality and charged out of the room.

Charlie reclaimed her spot behind the podium giving us all a reassuring smile.

“In your profession you’ll come across difficult people that you’ll have to get along with. They can be clients or co-workers and your success will depend on how well you handle yourself and them. So remember, being nice to others is being nice to yourself.” she said, giving us all one to grow on.

Seconds later the assistants started hauling in one big box after another.

“Your kits!” Charlie screamed with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning. “Let’s open them up and go through them!”

Charlie left out the word ‘meticulously’ in her last sentence as in “Let’s open them up and meticulously go through them.” because we spent the next 4 hours going over every single item in our kits, that item’s purpose, its evolutionary history and its country of origin.

We had duckbill clips, two pronged clips and butterfly clips. Round brushes, wrap brushes and boar bristle brushes. Tension combs, barbering combs and detangling combs. Cutting sheers and texturizing / thinning sheers. Clippers, edgers and cutting capes. A blow dryer, curling iron and flat iron.3 doll heads, a partridge in a pear tree and 1 giant rolling suitcase to haul this shit around in.

We were also informed we needed to bring all this paraphernalia to school with us every day for the next 364 of them.

By the time we were finished getting acquainted with our kits my head was pounding from its lack of alcohol.

It was close to 5pm and I was ready for a few drinks and a few cigarettes but what I and the rest of the class got instead was another box put in front of us.

I shuddered to think what was in it and how long THAT would take to go through.

“This is the second part of your kits!” Charlie said as if we were given a bonus prize. “It’s almost time to leave so I promise this will go fast.”

Based on how quick we were able to get through this box would determine if Charlie was a liar or not.

“Now keep in mind that what’s in this box you won’t be using on clients but you will use it on weekly face sheet assignments because knowing how to apply it is part of the cosmetology curriculum.”

No one has a clue what Charlie is talking about so we all just tear into our box to get to the bottom of it both figuratively and literally.

Upon discovering its contents the girls scream with joy and I even hear Bode yell out an ‘oh cool’.

As for me my heart sinks, my eyes water and a sadness engulfs me.

In the box are pallets of makeup and makeup brushes.

The same brand of pallets and brushes Gums used in her professional and personal life.

She’d had dozens of these things stacked in our room, so many in fact that I cleared out one of our closets and installed shelfing, a mirror and a chair so she could keep them organized and have a vanity to apply her makeup at.

Watching her sit at her vanity and do her makeup in the morning while I still laid in bed became one of my favorite rituals.

I ran my hands over the pallets like they were cursed artifacts capable of casting a dark and haunting spell.

And then I’d had enough.

“Here.” I said, giving them to Jimbo.

“What are you doing?”

“I don’t want these so Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah or Feliz Navidad. Whichever way you roll.”

“Shitbrick, did you not hear what Charlie said? You’re gonna need these for face sheet assignments.”

“I’d rather use magic markers.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, give ‘em to your ex, maybe you’ll get her back.”

“I can’t come within 500 feet of her but I can break into her complex and leave them at her door.”

“Now you’re thinking like a true romantic.” I said, ready to get the fuck out of this room.

“Alright everyone, great first day! See you all tomorrow morning and for the love of god, don’t be late!” she says as we grab our massive kits and disperse.

“See you tomorrow, brother.” Bode says, holding his fist out for a bump.

I force a smile on my face, bump him back and then head to my car.

As soon as I get in my car I scan the parking lot to make sure no one is around.

Once I see it’s just me I take a deep breath and SCREAM at the top of my lungs until my ear drums rattle, my throat burns and I almost pass out.

Then I do it again, and again, and again. Trying to exorcise the demon of hurt, anger and sadness that just demonstrated it can possess me at any time and be triggered by anything.

I look in the rear view mirror and wonder if I’ll ever feel better, if I’ll ever feel normal, if I’ll ever be free.

In the first few days of our break-up the thing that scared me the most was knowing that one day I would feel indifferent towards Gums, that one day I wouldn’t care about her. Knowing that all the love and adoration I had for her would eventually evaporate terrified me.

But now I’d happily welcome that indifference the way a burn victim welcomes morphine. I’d do anything to have the opiate of irrelevance pumping through my veins and delivering me from the pain and anguish that pulverized me every time I thought of her.

I wanted to get on with my fucking life and get on with not caring about her.

But until that medicated relief of indifference came I’d have to keep medicating myself.

 

 

*After this student was married and before she graduated school, she ended up banging one of the school’s Learning Leaders (who lost his job as a result) and also a fellow female student. Go figure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

He didn’t walk in as much as he strutted in.

With his handsome features, five-foot-eleven athletic frame, tattooed arms and dark, spiky hair he looked like the punk-rock version of David Beckham and was the type of good-looking that even straight men would take notice of and say “Damn, I bet HE never hears the word ‘NO’ unless it’s No, don’t stop.”

He checked-in with Simone (who eye fucked him hard enough to knock him over) and then came over and sat with us because attractive people don’t need invites.

All the girls swooned and smiled at him and as he smiled back with his perfectly aligned teeth I sat on my hands so I wouldn’t knock them out and fracture his perfectly chiseled jawline.

Just minutes ago my self-esteem was soaring and I was feeling like the King of the World standing at the bow of an unsinkable ship ready to sail on an ocean of female adoration.

Turns out that ship was the Titanic and it’d just hit an iceberg and that iceberg’s name was:

“I’m Bode.”

Bode.

What kind of Point Break*, bro-hug, frat-boy shit was this?

“Hiiiiiiiiiii Bodeeeeeeee.” all the girls cooed back at him.

I had long questioned the existence of God but now I knew God was real and had a sense of humor more sadistic than Hitler, Stalin and Kris Jenner combined.

It would’ve been one thing if this Bode guy was average looking like myself because at least then the playing field would’ve been leveled. But no, this pretty boy had to be Apollo the Sun God who’s superior genetics bitch-slapped my adjusted 8.5 rating all the way down to a 3 in comparison to him.

What an asshole.

The only way I saw things playing back in my favor was if Bode played for the other team and was as gay as a pride parade.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” asked the girl that looked like she’d had two kids before finishing high school because OF COURSE SHE WOULD.

“Nah, we broke up last month.” he said.

All the girls let out a collective “Awwwwww.” while I died a little more on the inside.

It was official, this year was gonna suck more dick than Courtney Love at a truck stop.

So I cast aside my dreams of being Tha Shit and went back to feeling like A Piece of Shit thanks to Bode being born and deciding that he should start hair school at the same place and time that I did.

My only hope now was that he would meet some early demise by way of an elephant stampede, spontaneous combustion or an allergic reaction to gluten.

“Good morning, everyone!” a tall, slender woman in a vintage 1950’s dress with tattoos and hair as yellow as Big Bird said while gliding towards us with grace and poise.

“I’m Charlie your Core Learning Leader and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be on this journey with you! So if you’ll follow me back to the room we can get started!”

We did as we were told and followed her single file back to the Core Room.

Upon entering the room we were blasted in the face with dubstep music that sounded like a chainsaw fucking a toaster while two classroom assistants gave out high-fives and threw confetti on us.

By the look on my fellow student’s faces they were thinking the same thing as me:

What the fuck?

This wasn’t the calm, tranquil, Zen-like atmosphere it had been when Anime Amy gave me a tour of the school a week ago. This was the exact opposite of that, this was like being at a clown orgy.

Charlie danced her way to the front of the room then stood behind a podium with the perfect posture of a mannequin.

On the left and right side of the room were rows of tables. Each table had 2 chairs to it and on top of each table were 2 big, black binders filled with papers.

“Take any seat you want.” Charlie said as the music died down and we wandered around the room covered in confetti as if a giant disco ball had detonated over our heads.

I looked around to check Bode’s locale. He’d taken a spot in the back of the room (which meant I’d be taking one up front) and was already flipping through his binder when I noticed both his hands were tattooed.

I’d been wanting my hands tattooed.

For fuck’s sake was this guy annoying.

I found a spot in front of Charlie’s podium and took a seat next to the pear-shaped girl with bad tattoos.

“Hi, I’m Stuke.”

“I’m Jimbo.” she said in a guttural voice. “And I’m gay so don’t think about coming on to me. The only reason I’m talking to you is because my probation officer says I should be more social.”

“O-K.” I tell her as I read the words I’M FINE that are tattooed across her knuckles which she catches me doing.

“FINE stands for Fucked-up Insecure Neurotic and Emotional.” she informs me.

“All at once?”

“And then some, plus, I like girls.”

“Yeah I got that. I do too.”

“You have a girlfriend?”

“No she left me a few weeks ago.”

“Mine too.” Jimbo sighed, unleashing a torrent of coffee and cigarette breath. “She broke up with me cuz I wanted to drink her urine.”

“The closed-mindedness of people these days.” I tell her, wondering if she’d requested that urine in a cup or straight from the source.

“That’s what I kept telling her right up until she called the cops.”

Based on my 10-second interaction with Jimbo it’s apparent that Paul Mitchell does not have any sort of pre-screening processes in place to keep people of questionable character from enrolling in their school.

“Alright, alright!” Charlie shouts as everyone settles into their seats. “Again, welcome to Core! I like to think of Core as the 31 flavors of hair school because over the next six weeks you’re gonna get a taste of everything.”

“I’d like to taste you.” Jimbo says in the faintest of whispers, leading me to question just how many active restraining orders she has against her.

“We’re gonna cut, color and perm. We’re gonna straighten, curl and updo. We’ll be doing highlights, lowlights and blowdrys but most of all we’ll be having fun!” Charlie says to a roomful of blank faces.

“Ok, I can see we’re a little shy so to break the ice let’s play a game.”

“I’m down for a game!” Bode shouts because he’s a dickmunch.

“I love your enthusiasm!” Charlie shouts back. “We’re gonna play the Pointing Game and it goes like this: When someone points to you you say your name and one thing you love then you point to someone else. I’ll start. I’m Charlie and I love coloring hair!”

Charlie then points to the sad giraffe.

“I’m Tracie and I love Maroon 5.”

“I’m Marie and I love my kids.”

“I’m Rachel and I love my dog.”

“I’m Dusti and I love ice skating.”

“I’m Bode and I love surfing.”

“I’m Jimbo and I love pussy.”

Suddenly all the air is sucked out of the room.

“Uh…Pussy Riot, they’re an underground band.” Jimbo follows up with a nice save. She then points to Denise, the adorable girl next door type.

“I’m Denise and I love…” she says looking over towards me. “Short guys with tattoos who wear women’s jeans.”

Seriously? What were the fucking odds of her knowing I was in women’s jeans?

I wasn’t sure if this was a back-handed compliment or not but I appreciated at least ONE girl being on team Stuke. Then Denise smiles and points at me.

“I’m Stuke and I love…”

What did I love?

Drinking?

Too degenerative.

Smoking?

Too cancerous.

Popping pills?

Too Brittany Murphy.

“Hey, shitbird, what do you love?” Jimbo said in a low growl.

“I love doing what I love…”

“Nice!” Charlie says, making me feel like I’m off the hook. “And what’s that?”

Jesus tap dancing Christ.

“I love doing hair, and I’m so glad to be hair with you all today.” I say, punning my answer to the nth degree and sending Charles to the fucking moon with it.

“Oh my god that’s the best answer ever!” she says, commending me on bullshitting my way to the top.

“Thank you all for playing! I feel like this is a special group and I look forward to spending the next 6 weeks with you. Now before we do anything else I want you to write your name on the black binder in front of you and then open it up so we can go over all the official stuff.”

“All the Official Stuff” took two hours of our lives and covered such things as the school’s code of conduct, sick day policy and a litany of rules and regulations no one would ever remember.

Once we were finished Charlie had us break for a 30min lunch and I ran to the bathroom before my alcohol-filled bladder burst.

While in the middle of one of the most gratifying pees of my life Bode strolled in and saddled up to the urinal next to me confirming once and for all that there wasn’t anything I could enjoy that he couldn’t ruin.

I stood there and imagined myself drowning him in one of the toilets, keeping his head under water until the bubbles stopped and his flailing arms fell limp.

Then from out of nowhere my daydream was interrupted by a HUGE, RACCOUS fart that exploded like a grenade, shook the bathroom and no doubt registered on the Richter scale.

“Whoa did you hear that beast come outta my ass?” he said.

“I’d have to be deaf not to.” I told him as I buttoned up and went to wash my hands.

“Sorry man, I have a gluten allergy and made the mistake of eating pizza last night and now I’m-“

Another ginormous fart blew out of him almost knocking me over.

“Paying for it.” he said, hunching over as if in labor pains as one more colossal flatulence flew out.

“Don’t worry.” he gasped in between bated breaths. “They don’t stink…just hurt.”

Once his agony subsided he hobbled over to the sink.

“Ugh, never again, I don’t care how much I like pizza, it’s not worth it.” he said, washing his hands and looking at my arms. “That’s some really nice ink ya got there.”

Dude, did you not get the memo we were mortal enemies? Still though, a compliment is a compliment.

“Thanks. I like your hand tats.”

“I got ’em done right before I went on tour but since I was playing bass every night they never got a chance to heal so I’ve had to get ’em re-touched. Did you do music? Cuz you look like you did.”

“Yeah, used to play drums.”

“Don’t anymore?”

“Nah.”

“Same. Some things happened and I had to give up that whole gypsy lifestyle. You feel like grabbin’ some lunch?”

“Lunch?” I asked dumbfounded, wondering if he had his own plans to do me in once he talked me into going to a secondary location.

“Yeah I figured since we’re the only guys in class we prolly have more in common with each other than we would with all the ladies.”

He had a point.

“Sure, man. I could go for a beer.”

We walked to some random restaurant and over the course of our lunch Bode talked about the band he’d been in, all the touring they’d done and how they almost clenched a record deal but in the end it fell apart.

Then his dad was diagnosed with cancer so he quit the band to take care of him but unfortunately the cancer was too aggressive and he passed away. A few weeks later Bode found out his father had taken out a life insurance policy for him so he used the money to move to L.A. and go to Paul Mitchell.

“I would always cut and color my bandmates hair so I thought I’d learn to do it professionally, plus it was a good way to put the money my dad left me to good use.”

I told him about my past life and everything that had led up to why I was in school.

“I’ve gotta be honest with you…” he said as he finished up his gluten-free salad. “When I walked in and saw you I thought to myself ‘Look at this tattooed douchebag, he’s prolly gonna end up banging every girl here, who does this guy think he is?’”

This sounded familiar.

“Then I saw your neck tattoos and was like ‘And he’s got neck tattoos, I want neck tattoos! What an asshole’.”

It was like someone was playing back my inner-monologue from earlier this morning.

“In fact, I was so put off by you that when we went into the Core Room I made sure to sit as far away from you as possible.”

It was at this point that I realized we weren’t mortal enemies, we were soulmates.

We’d both been traveling down unpaved roads that ran parallel to one another. Both lost the same dream and both were brought to school by way of heartache. We’d even had the same ridiculous first impression of the other.

And then I felt bad.

Bad for making assumptions about him. Bad for projecting my insecurities on him due to how he looked on the outside and bad for not considering the personal battles he might have been fighting on the inside.

“To be honest, dude, everything you said, and I mean everything, is exactly what I thought about you.” I confessed as I finished my second beer. ” And I also made sure to sit as far away from you as possible when we went into the Core Room.”

“No way!!!” he said laughing. “Here we are, two grown men acting more catty towards one another than a roomful of girls.”

“Ironic huh?”

“I’ll say.” he said as we got up to leave. “But I’m glad we’re cool now. It’s good to know we’re gonna go through this next year together.”

“It is.”

And it was, because things worked out better for people when they decided to take on the world instead of taking on each other.

We went back to school and upon turning the corner that led to the Core Room we were smacked in the face with the smell of vanilla perfume and meat which could mean only one thing.

We entered the Core Room and were the last to return from lunch. Charlie sat off to the side with a worried look on her face while Rene was front and center behind the podium, eating a hamburger and scooping a handful of fries from a fast-food bag.

“And just where the hell have you two been?” she asked as her voice thundered across the room.

 

 

 

*Point Break is a 1991 action movie starring Keanu Reeves before he was Jon Wick, Gary Busey before he was insane and Patrick Swayze long before he was dead.

Swayze played the film’s villain, Bode, who was a sky-diving, bank robbing, surfboarding adrenaline junkie. Reeves played the FBI agent in charge of apprehending Bode and Busey played Reeves’ partner who spent most of his time apprehending meatball sandwiches.

The film also had a guest appearance from Red Hot Chili Peppers front man Anthony Kiedis in which he got a gnarly gun-shot hole blown into his foot which was retribution to millions of people who had to endure the song “Under the Bridge”.

The movie received positive reception and has gained a cult following.

But don’t try to show it to a group of Millennials or Gen-Zer’s because they’d rather watch some shitbrick playing video games on YouTube than watch guys robbing banks in dead president masks, jumping out of airplanes with no parachutes and telling hot surfer girls their parents were dead just so they could get laid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

At 9:01 a.m. I park my car at the top of the Galleria’s 5-story parking lot, the area reserved for Paul Mitchell Students, Galleria business employees and suicide jumpers serious about their craft. I get out and watch the activity happening in the shopping area below.

A business man gallops out of Starbucks with his coffee in one hand and swinging briefcase in the other.

A janitor pushes a broom with the dispiritedness of being on the Bataan Death March.

A woman walks from the gym with a yoga mat and wearing a peace symbol shirt screaming into her phone, threatening to chew someone’s balls off.

It’s a typical L.A. morning and as the rest of the world is getting started with this new day I’m getting started with this new life.

I take a swig of my O.J., strawberry and Smirnoff smoothie and wonder what the next year of school will be like.

Will I love it or hate it?

Will I be a model student or end up getting kicked out for truancy like I did in high school?

And most important, will I be able to focus on something other than my god-damn broken heart?

There was only one way to find out.

So I chugged my smoothie and told myself “here goes nothing.” Although at a tuition of over 20 grand this was the most expensive nothing I’d ever had.

At 9:10 a.m. I walk into the school and it’s dead and deserted. No pounding music, no dancing students, no lights on. The only sign of life is a girl behind the front desk counting out-loud on her fingers.

I wonder if I’ve come on the wrong day because given my current lifestyle that’s a real possibility.

“Oh hi!” the girl yells at me with a Valley Girl accent. “I’m Simone, can I help you?”

“Yeah, is school open?”

“Sure is! Do you start today?”

“I think so… but uh, where’s the rest of the, you know, school?”

“Oh they’re at The Getty studying how color is used in art so you have the whole place to yourself! You can have a seat with the others over there.” she says pointing to a corner of the room.

I look over and there’s a group of girls huddled together that I hadn’t noticed before because:

  1. The lights are off
  2. They’re dressed in black
  3. I’m drunk

“Sit over there?” I ask to make sure.

“Yeah. Your Learning Leader Charlie will be out in a few minutes to get you.”

“What’s a Learning Leader?” I ask confused.

“A Learning Leader is like a term we use for teacher.”

“Why not just call him a teacher?”

“Who’s him?”

“Charlie. Our Learning Leader.” I say with air quotes.

“Oh. Charlie is a her.”

“He is?”

“Yeah, she is. We use the term Learning Leader because the word ‘teacher’ has a negative contagion to it.”

“You mean connotation?”

“Sure.” she says unconcerned. “Just think of the teachers you’ve had in your past.”

I do this and think of the teachers throughout my life that punished me for petty crimes such as talking in class, passing out cigarettes in class and (allegedly) inciting a food-fight in class. All the sudden I feel pissed-off and annoyed.

“You know what? I get what you mean about the word ‘teacher’, Simone.”

“Yeah it doesn’t connect well with our Future Professionals.”

“Wait, wait, wait…what the hell is a Future Professional?”

“You are, mister.” she says smiling and poking my chest.

“Me?”

“Yeah, we use that word instead of student because ‘student’ can make you feel inferior and we want you feeling empowered.”

“Words are that important here?”

“Totally! The school has done a lotta research into the power of words.”

“Well my mistake.” I tell her in an apologetic tone.

“Oh my god!” she says clapping her hands. “You didn’t make a mistake, you just made a discovery!”

“I made a what?” I ask, feeling like I’d done something shameful like shit my pants in public.

“The word ‘mistake’ implies blame and guilt and we don’t want you experiencing those kinds of things. So anytime a Future Professional does something wrong, especially when cutting or coloring, we tell ‘em they’ve made a discovery instead of a mistake.”

“Wow.” I tell her, rubbing my chin. “If you think about it though, mistakes are what teach us so one could call a mistake a Learning Leader…if one were so inclined.”

Instantly Simone’s brains are splattered all over the wall behind her because I’ve just blown her fucking mind.

“That’s like…SO AMAZING!!!” she says with her jaw dropped. “I love how fast you’re drinkin’ the Kool-Aid!!!”

“Drinkin’ the Kool-Aid’?”

“Yeah! It means embracing our culture.”

“I know what it means but do you know where that term comes from?”

“Paul Mitchell?”

“No. You ever hear of Jim Jones?”

“Is he the guy that sings Margaritaville?”

“No that’s Jimmy Buffett. Jim Jones was a cult leader in the 70’s who convinced his church of 900 men, women and children to move from San Francisco to the jungles of South America.”

“Gross. Why would he do that?”

“He’d been accused of sexual abuse so he and his followers fled there so he could avoid prosecution…and that’s where it happened…”

“What happened?” she whispers, leaning in close.

“He went crazy and had his followers commit suicide by drinking Kool-Aid mixed with cyanide. Once everyone was dead he sat amongst the landfill of bodies, put a gun to his head and then…BANG! Killed himself.”

Simone reels back in disgust, looking at me as if I’m holding a dead kitten in one hand and a bloody crowbar in the other. It’s obvious this was not the type of discovery she’d planned on having this morning.

“Far cry from Margaritaville huh?”

“Very far.” she says inching away from me.

“Can’t have your culture without the cult.” I tell her with a smile. “Anyway, I’ll go sit with the others and wait for our Learning Leader to get us Future Professionals so we can slurp down that Kool-Aid and start making discoveries.”

I go over and find a seat among the group of ladies, wiggling my ass in between one girl that looks like she just finished high school and another that looks like she’d had a couple kids before finishing high school.

I glance around to see what the rest of my classmates look like without looking like I’m glancing around to see what they look like.

One girl looks like Brittany Spears if Brittany had never met 2007 and another girl looks like Amy Winehouse if Amy had never met crack cocaine.

A tall, lanky girl sits across from me with a frown on her face making her look like a sad giraffe. There’s a blonde, waif-thin girl next to her who’s pretty and talking to herself. Sitting next to the waif is a large pear-shaped girl with cropped hair, bad tattoos and a scowl on her face. And off to the side is an adorable “girl next door type” who’s giving me a million dollar smile.

“Hiiiii.” she says. “I’m Denise.”

“I’m Stuke.”

“Did you say Sexy?”

“Uh, no.”

“My bad.” she says with a wink as two more ladies dressed in black walk in and check-in with Simone and join our group.

And then it hits me.

I’m gonna be the only guy in class.

This realization sends a rush of endorphins through my body resulting in a big, dumb smile on my face.

My male brain starts calculating the odds. Based on this group alone it was 10:1 in my favor, just think of what it will be with the rest of the school’s population factored in!

This is more awesome than a monkey doing Kung-Fu while dressed in a tuxedo.

Jay and his insistent claim that doing hair was a bad idea. What-the-fuck-ever, dude.

Doing hair was the best idea I’d had in my young, sexy life and it was about to get a lot sexier.

Sure, on the hotness scale of 1-10 I was a 6, maybe 7 if the girl was drunk. But scarcity creates value and with me being one of the few guys in school who liked girls that would put me at a solid 8 ½.

Less than 30 minutes ago I was wondering how this school year was gonna be and now I had my answer:

Incredible.

The next 365 days of my life was gonna kick more ass than a herd of donkey.

I was gonna be the Head Honcho, The Dude, The Man. I was gonna be…

The Unicorn.

“…and every girl will be trying to ride your sparkly dick to freedom.”

Rene had said, following it up with a cryptic warning about not giving pony rides…or else.

Or else what?

Who cared?

An opportunity like this only comes around once in a lifetime and I’d be damned if I was gonna let some linebacker of a woman (who could crush me into a million pieces) scare me into not taking advantage of all this potential. I just knew that if I was going to engage in any after school activities with fellow female students I’d have to do it without running onto Rene’s rocket-launching radar. Problem solved.

And then I noticed something else…

For the first time since Gums had left me I was feeling good about myself.

I felt my self-esteem start to re-inflate after weeks of laying limp and lifeless and a glowing sense of pride and invincibility was pumping through my veins as if I was some undefeated cage fighter.

I was about to become the star of a one man show with an audience of women and my ratings were guaranteed to go through the fucking roof.

Life was finally about to go my way.

9:29 a.m.

One more minute until the Stuke Show kicked off to rave reviews.

 

 

And then…

HE walked in.

Start (Game Over)

Chapter 6

 

“NO!!! I don’t wanna do it!” Jay screamed while banging his bald head against the car window like an angry toddler.

“Hey! I drove all the way to LAX…in rush hour traffic…sober, just to pick you up. The least you can do is go shopping with me.” I said. “And did I mention I was sober?”

“You did. It must be terrifying.”

“It is. So will you help me pick out some clothes for school? It starts tomorrow and I need your whole queer eye shit so I can look good.”

“Remember that time I told you not to do hair? That was me trying to help you and look where it’s gotten me now. The answer is NO.”

“Please???”

“Why do you need new clothes for school anyway?” he whined.

“Because Rene said the dress code is black on black, no exceptions.”

“Who the fuck is Rene?”

“Rene is the Head Mother Fucker In Charge and I don’t wanna be on her bad side, which is probably all of her sides but still…”

“Lemme ask you something, even if I did wanna go with you do you think I look or smell like someone that should be allowed in public right now?”

He had a point.

Jay had gone straight from a sex party in Thailand to the airport to begin his 20 hour trek home in a flying metal tube, fermenting the entire way. Both his body and his clothes were stained with god knows what from who knows where making his odor the only thing more offensive than his attitude.

“Right now everything about you is obscene but I’ve suffered worse for less, I’ll be quick I promise.”

“Who did I wrong in a past life to deserve this?” he said, putting his hands over his unshaven face.

“Does that mean you’ll help?”

“Fiiiiiiiine, as long as you’re fast because I need a Silkwood shower* stat.”

He had me drive to the Beverly Center which is an upscale mall in Beverly Hills. I pulled my rickety Honda into the garage, parking amongst the pristine BMW’s, Land Rovers & Benz’s.  As Jay got out of the car he slammed the door hard enough to make one of my headlights fall out.

“Awesome piece of machinery you have there.” he said as the light dangled from its cord like an eyeball out of its socket, causing every 90210 shopper to stop and stare.

I bent over and shoved it back in its frame before more One Percenters could gawk at my Section 8 ride.

“What store should we go to first?” I asked, wiping my dirty hands on my shirt.

“On your budget the only place we’re going is H&M.”

“Really? Because there’s a Ross across the street and I figured-“

“I don’t do Ross or any of those other barbaric dumpster dives. The lowest I’ll stoop is H&M. That is where we are going, that is the only place we are going and when we’re finished you’re taking me home or I’m calling 911 to report my own kidnapping.”

Once there I picked out clothes that Jay would either give a thumb’s up to, a middle finger to or if he really hated it, just grab it out of my hands and throw it on the floor.

“You need some skinny jeans.” he said.

“No. They’ll make me look emo.”

“Young man you brought me here for a reason remember? And you don’t think you’ve been acting emo these past few weeks?”

“Fine, I’ll try a pair on.” I said defeated.

I put on a pair and came out to show him.

“Still too baggy.” he said while munching on some airline pretzels he’d saved. “Go to the women’s section and try on a pair, they might fit better.”

“I’m not wearing women’s pants.”

“You are if they keep you from looking like Floppy the Clown. You need to look slim and sharp, not saggy and soft. Now chop-chop.”

I moped over to the women’s section knowing that the humiliation of trying on women’s clothes was his way of punishing me for dragging him to the store.

I found a table of skinny jeans and held up each pair trying to figure out what I was in a woman’s size.

9? 10? 12? Who the fuck knew?

I just hoped no one I knew was around to see me doing this.

“Stuke?” a woman’s voice said from behind me.

Fuck.

I spun around and saw it was Gums’ good friend Deya and I instantly felt vulnerable, exposed and embarrassed.

I had no doubt that Gums had told Deya everything starting from the first time she fucked Rob the Banker (probably telling Deya how nice his place was, how big his dick was and how much his net-worth was) all the way up to Gums telling Deya the wedding was canceled long before she’d told me.

I also had no doubt that Deya would be calling Gums as soon as she left the store.

Girl, I just saw Stuke and he’s so fucked up he’s wearing women’s clothes now. Good thing you left him.

“Deya…how’s it goin?”

“Good. How have things been with you since…you know…?”

“Uh, well I’m definitely…here…heh, heh.”

Fucking Jay and his bourgeois attitude towards Ross. If we could’ve gone there I wouldn’t be standing here feeling like a dumbed-down dipshit.

“Are you shopping for…a girl?” she asked.

“Funny you should ask, I-“

“Bitch, are you gonna try those pants on or not?” Jay said, coming over and adding insult, injury and confusion into an already uncomfortable situation. Deya gave us both a WTF look.

“Jay! This is Deya.” I said in an attempt to ease the awkwardness.

“Charmed I’m sure.” he said, tossing more pretzels in his mouth and chewing loudly.

“Oh!! Is this the Jay that…”

I knew where she was going and I didn’t wanna go there.

“It is and we were just getting ready to lea-“

“Is this the Jay that what?” he asked, spraying pretzel crumbs everywhere.

“That was hosting the wedding. It was supposed to be at your place, right?” Deya asked.

I could feel the ground start to rumble.

“How do YOU know about “the wedding”?”

Here it comes.

“I’m ******’s friend.”

And there it goes.

“YOU’RE friends with Gums?”

It took her a sec to make the connection and then…

“OMG yeah!! She told me you called her by that name!”

“Oh trust me, I’ve got a lot more names to call her now.” he said with the lethal snark only a gay man can conjure.

“Listen, Maya…”

“Deya.”

“Whatever.” he spat, tossing his pretzel bag on the floor and putting himself in-between us.

“When you see Gums can you give her a message from me?”

“Sure.”

“Tell her she’s a piece of shit and that she can go fuck herself with a hedge trimmer and if she’s got a problem with that she can call me although I doubt she will because she doesn’t have the ovaries big enough to do it. Can you remember all that?”

Deya stood there speechless, dazed from Jay going full-on Kanye on her.

“I think you can. Now if you don’t mind, I’m making my friend over since your friend destroyed him, you’re excused.” he said, shooing her away.

Deya hung the items she had in her hand on a random rack then fled the store.

“You didn’t have to do that for me.” I told him even though the hurt child in me appreciated it.

“No, I did. I did it because you can’t and if you had it would’ve made you look bitter and weak and I want you to look strong and indifferent…even if you are bitter and weak right now.”

He hugged me, burying my face in the scent of body odor, 3rd world sex dens and street vendors but I didn’t care. It felt good to be embraced by someone that I knew loved me.

“What she did to you was fucked-up but I promise, things will get better.”

“I just wanna feel normal again, I’m so tired of hurting.”

“I know, it just takes time and time moves so fucking slow when we’re in pain. Don’t give up.”

He gave a big squeeze then pushed me away, tossing a pair of jeans at me. “Now try these on.”

20 minutes later we walked out with enough clothes to dress up a Black Mass.

“Well, even if you don’t feel like a new man at least you’ll look like a new man…in women’s pants”

I had to admit, I liked them, which explains why I bought 5 pair. Besides, who was gonna notice?

We left the mall and I snaked my way over The Hill and into The Valley. By the time I reached Jay’s house he was snoring and drooling all over himself.

As I pulled into his driveway I thought about my wedding that was supposed to have happened here in 3 weeks’ time, the kick-off to my life with Gums.

But now, instead of starting a new life with Gums I was starting a new life on my own, one that I hadn’t seen coming but had come for me anyway regardless of what I had planned.

If you wanna make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

Was a line from a movie that had always stuck with me. Now it stuck a little deeper.

I got out and grabbed Jay’s luggage then opened his door and gave him a soft shake.

“You’re home.”

He came to with a yawn and a stretch and then pulled himself out of the car.

“What time is it?” he asked, looking up at the twilight sky.

“Time for you to take a bath.”

I helped him carry his luggage inside and as I was getting ready to leave he put his hand on my shoulder.

“Listen, the hair industry isn’t always a nice place, especially in L.A., it can eat away at your heart and right now I’m worried you don’t have much left.”

“Well, maybe the less I have the less it can eat.”

“Maybe. I just want you to know I worry about you.”

“Thanks. I’ll be ok sooner or later.” I said then walked outside.

“Stuke?”

“Yeah?”

“Good luck on your first day of school tomorrow.”

 

 

 

*A Silkwood shower is a long, hot shower taken to decontaminate one’s self from dirt, grime and the bodily fluids of strangers that have accrued on one’s body over a period of hours, days or weeks.

The term comes from the name Karen Silkwood who was a chemical tech that died under mysterious circumstances after raising safety concerns at the atomic plant she worked at.

In the 1983 movie Silkwood starring Meryl Streep there was a decontamination shower scene which is not only the basis for the term but also the basis for one not being able to enjoy a shower for years to come after watching the scene.

 

 

And now a message from our sponsor…

 

 

Hi.

Do you have a few minutes to talk?

First, thank you so much for coming here every week and reading my story. I know that the one thing we have very little of and that can never be replenished is time so I can’t tell you how honored I am that every week you choose to spend some of your precious commodity by reading my material.

Your attention and positive response to the work I create makes me feel like a bonafide writer and I cannot begin to tell you the sense of fulfillment that gives me. Thank you for doing that, thank you for making me feel like an artist with a talent. I hope I continue to entertain you, give you inspiration and connection and if I’m really lucky…get you to laugh out loud.

Laughter is something we’re in short supply of these past few days and with good reason.

I was on the barbed wire fence if I should post an episode this week given all the heartache, fear, anger and severity that our nation has been faced with.

I wasn’t sure if now was the appropriate time to crack a joke or offer some sort of escapism because we as a country cannot afford to try to escape our race crisis any longer. All you have to do is turn on your TV and see the result of us evading this crisis for so many decades that the pressure cooker it was in has finally (and rightfully) exploded.

So now we must face it.

Now we must do something.

Only there’s no manual.

And so it seems impossible, that there’s too many layers of pain and suffering that our black community has endured for so long.

But that’s no excuse to run from the challenge, it’s a calling. A calling to do something about it and here’s the catch, here’s the hope…it doesn’t have to be gigantic.

Just do something small. It can start by listening with empathy. It can start by choosing a side. It can start by having a conversation, asking questions, and being vulnerable.

You can also broaden your understanding by reading. One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read was The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley. It takes you inside the psyche of black people and the damage that systemic racism has done to them.

All of this change starts with you and it starts with me and together we make an “us” and the bigger the “us” the better the chances we have of trying to figure out a way forward for the sake, survival and betterment of our black brothers and sisters.

Small steps will always lead to big things, we just can’t quit making those steps.

Listen, I’m not an expert on race relations I just know that when it comes to race in America it’s a toxic relationship and it has to change.

We are so much more alike than we are different and our differences make us unique and that uniqueness paints a prettier picture on our canvas of humanity. Our differences also give us the opportunity to grow from one another and become more enlightened and you can never have enough of that.

Just remember, at the end of the day, all we have is each other.

I need you, you need me and right now an entire community needs “us”. Needs “us” to listen, support and to fight alongside them to where we all become the same “us” which is how it was meant to be in the first place.

There are a lot of protests going on and with them come the opportunists piggybacking on the legitimate pain and frustration these protests are expressing so they can loot, vandalize and destroy. It’s unfortunate and greatly undermines and diminishes the death of George Floyd and countless others that have become innocent casualties in our American Race War.

With that being said, I’d like to invite you to a different type of protest. It’s happening on July 7th, it has a great message behind it and here’s the best part: you can participate regardless of where you live and you don’t even have to leave your house and look for parking.

It’s called Blackout 2020.

It’s simply a day that you do not spend a single dollar and if you do, spend it at a black owned business.

It’s an economic protest and let’s be real, while street protests and marching and chanting is cathartic and romantic, the one thing that captures people’s attention more than anything else is this little sign right here:

$ (insert cha-ching sound)

So I encourage you to join me in flexing our economic muscle. It’s warfare without the violence.

More info can be found here: https://www.blackoutday.org/?fbclid=IwAR2g9z_zAZoMrkseE0-yiPmzd7GxrNBh1hqkZFEkhwezUsdlWx4ytwrCMAA

Again, thank you for taking the time to show up here once a week and thank you for allowing me to speak with you about the issues we’re all faced with and hopefully give some sort of solution ideas. Doing something (no matter how small it is) will always be more effective than doing nothing.

Please take care of yourself and take care of your neighbors and your community and remember, every day is a chance to take a little bit of action and push things in the right direction.

Stay safe, stay beautiful and stay believing in the power of “us”.

 

-Stuke

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

“How’d you end up here then?” the bartender had asked.

His question forcing me to take a long, hard look at my life over the past 10 years…

 

January 2001

There was no way the entire band would go for it.  Not in a million years, not for a million blow-jobs.

Maybe one of them, two at the most, but the likelihood of me convincing all four members of my band 8 Degrees to move from the comfort of Kansas to the shitshow of L.A. was not gonna happen, especially when two of the members had wives and kids.

Still, that didn’t discourage me from asking, and knowing that the odds were stacked against me only served as fuel to be more persuasive with my pitch.

In the five years we’d been together we’d accomplished a lot. We had released two self-made albums that had gotten critical acclaim and a ton of radio play locally, regionally and with the advent of the internet, globally. Our music had been used in sports shows and video games and we had a reputation for being one of the most outrageous acts around where the shows would erupt in chaos, end in bloodshed and people would be hauled off to jail or the hospital.

Still, with all that we’d done the one thing that proved elusive was getting a record deal. A deal that would line our pockets with cash, put our album on Billboard, have us touring the world and catapult 8 Degrees to becoming a true monster of rock.

“Which is why I think we should move to L.A. if we’re serious about having a long-lasting career.” I said, wrapping up my case for the band to relocate. “We’ve hit the ceiling in Kansas and it’s only a matter of time before we get cramped, burn out and self-destruct.”

My four bandmates looked at me like my asshole was on my forehead then one of our two guitarists, Helmut spoke up.

“Stuke, you have a 3 bedroom house and a girlfriend that you love, why would you leave that?”

“She can still live in the house and come out and visit me. See how easy that is, Helmut?”

“It’s easy because you aren’t married with kids like I am.”

“Same.” our bass player Tim said who had a wife, a kid and another one on the way.

“Look, I understand your guys’ commitments and that whole ‘til death do us part thing but is that a good enough reason to not give it our all?” I countered.

“You think giving it our all means moving to L.A.?” Tim asked frustrated.

“If you wanna succeed in a certain industry you have to go where the industry is. We’ve done well here but what we really want is out there.”

“Yeah but even if we do move out there we’re not guaranteed to get a deal which makes it a gamble.” Helmut said.

“True. But whether we do or we don’t we’ll never have to ask ourselves ‘what if?’ because we tried. The regret of not doing it far outweighs any regrets that could come from doing it.”

“I’m in.” our perpetually unemployed singer Aaron said.

“Of course YOU’RE in.” Tim spat. “As long as you know you can find some stripper or waitress to support you you’re up for anything.”

“Don’t hate on my entrepreneurial spirit.” Aaron said with a smile.

“I’m also in.” Our other guitarist Erik said, which was surprising because he had never, ever entertained the thought of leaving Kansas.

With Erik now on board my long-shot proposition had turned into a majority vote to get the fuck outta Dodge.

And although Tim and Helmut weren’t sold on the idea I could see they were torn because we all prided ourselves on our commitment to the band and its vision. We were all bound by a unified purpose. They knew deep down it’d be harder to stay behind than it would be to tell their wives (who were fucking saints) that they were abandoning their families to chase a dream that had a 1 in 100,000 chance of coming true.

So within a few short weeks the five of us were packing our shit in a stolen U-HAUL trailer and saying goodbye to crying girlfriends, wives and children who no doubt thought we were the most selfish and delusional pack of bastards on the planet. And while that accusation may have been true, we were also the most driven, being pushed by a goal that couldn’t be inconvenienced by common sense or reality.

As soon as we reached L.A. we hit the ground running, playing shows every night, winning over fans, industry insiders and promoters who all saw 8 Degrees as the next big thing. We’d also got signed on to an artist management company who had us showcasing for record companies and producers.

The band caught the attention of a platinum-selling producer named Ian who had just been made Vice President of Elektra Records and he immediately saw potential in 8 Degrees.

The next day he met with us and laid out his plan.

“I wanna sign 8 Degrees to Elektra AND produce the album, but two things have to happen first.”

“What’s that?” we asked.

“One, you gotta change your name, its gay. Not West Hollywood gay but Aaron Carter* gay.”

“You think 8 Degrees is a gay name?”

“Yeah, for one glaring reason but I’m sure there’s eight…that was a joke.”

“Yeah, we got it.”

“There’s a boy-band called 98 degrees which everyone hates.” Ian said.

“Who’s everyone?”

“The whole world ok? And your name is too close to theirs. So no matter how hard you rock no one will take you serious because of that name. And if there’s one thing I’m serious about, it’s being serious.”

“Fine. What do you think about calling the band Dorothy?”

“What the fu- I said NOT GAY.”

“Transplant?”

“Christ crying on a crucifix…are you trying to keep my dick soft?”

“Ok, ok. How about, um…how about Fever Pitch?”

“Hmmm. sounds sexy. Fever Pitch it is.”

“Great. What’s the other thing that needs to happen?”

“Getting Tony’s approval.”

“Who the fuck is Tony?”

“Tony is the President of Elektra which makes him my boss.”

“Is that gonna be hard?”

“Fuck no. Tony knows I have the Midas touch with every band I produce. So we’re gonna go in the studio and record three songs then I’m gonna let Tony hear ‘em and he’ll cream his jeans or shit his pants… probably both, and then approve the record deal.”

“How much will the deal be worth?”

“A million and some change. And then 8 Degree- I mean…what were you gonna call yourselves again?”

“Fever Pitch.”

“Right. Then Fever Pitch will be rich-n- famous with a slew of drug habits, STD’s and alimony payments. Long live rock-n-roll, you filthy fuckin’ dirtbags.”

By then end of the week we were in the studio writing with Ian. Also by the end of the week billboards went up around town advertising a new Jimmy Fallon movie called “Fever Pitch”.

We didn’t know which was worse: having had a name that sounded similar to that of a boy band whom the whole world hated or having our new name sharing the same name as a movie that had an actor in it that we all hated.

But at that point we didn’t care. We’d recorded our three songs for Elektra and in a few days we were gonna be signing a million dollar record deal and becoming legit rockstars. All of the perceived insanity by those we’d left behind was going to be vindicated. All the suffering and sacrifice they’d endured hadn’t been in vain.

We’d made our dream a reality.

And then it happened.

Only not the way it was supposed to.

“I let Tony hear those songs and he wasn’t impressed.” Ian told us one night after we’d just come offstage to a packed house at The Whisky.

“You said he’d cream his jeans, shit his pants…what the fuck?” we screamed at him.

“I was wrong. He thinks your music sounds too much like another band on Elektra Records.”

“What band is that?”

“Staind.”

“Are you fucking kidding? We’re not clinically depressed, we don’t sound like Staind.”

“I know. But there must be millions of depressed people cuz Staind has sold millions of albums.”

“Ok so even if Tony thinks we sound like Staind that shouldn’t be a bad thing since they’ve sold millions of albums right? That puts us in good company.”

“You’d think so.” Ian said as he finished his drink “Just not this company. Sorry, fellas. Chins up, tits out. Ciao.”

And with that Ian cut his ties to the band and his promise of fame and success were revoked. No million dollar deal. No nothing.

To make matters worse, the music industry operates on a herd mentality. If one record company wants you then congrats, you’re the Prom Queen and everyone wants to bang you.

However if one record company says they want you, goes into the studio with you and then changes their mind the way Elektra did with us, then you’re now the Prom Queen with herpes and nobody wants to bang you.

And just like that, Aaron, Helmut, Tim, Erik and I were standing in the smoldering ashes of our dream.

Helmut and Tim were the first ones to return home, facing divorces, custody battles and the agony of starting over. After that Erik and Aaron left, leaving me as the sole person in L.A. floating around on the wreckage of the S.S. Almost Was.

Although I stayed in L.A. I didn’t know what to do with myself. The band which had been my life was over, my friends were gone and I’d lost a sense of purpose. I started to drift through life aimlessly and the fearlessness I’d always lived by had turned into fear. The fear of trying, the fear of failing, the fear of doing anything but keeping my head down.

I took unexceptional jobs that paid the bills but didn’t inspire any drive, settling for a sense of security at the cost of being mediocre, grinding away my self-esteem and pushing myself further into the darkness that comes from living an unfulfilled life.

And after a decade of living like this I’d met Gums and made the mistake of putting what little self-worth I had into her acceptance of me. And when she left she’d taken that with her.

My life without a purpose had become a disease, one that slowly ate away at me until all that remained was the drunken corpse looking back at me from the mirror behind the bar.

“Yo, Paul Mitchell, 7 shots of tequila and 3 beers enough for one Wednesday?” the bartender asked.

“Yeah.” I said, still looking at my reflection. “I’m fucking done.”

I paid my tab and walked out into the Galleria, thinking about the picture of my life I’d been painting and how it had gotten uglier with each year that had passed.

So I made a promise to myself.

Somewhere in this hair industry that I had just made myself a part of I would find my purpose. I would become something. Something that would rebuild me and keep me intact even when the rest of my world came crashing down around me.

Did I know what that something was?

Fuck no.

But it was a start and I had to start over anyway.

 

*Aaron Carter was the rough draft version of Justin Bieber in the early 00’s. Whereas Bieber has had staying power Carter obviously did not. This wasn’t from a lack of trying on Carter’s part as much as it was a lack of talent in the singing and dancing department. Carter also lacked basic intelligence which explains the shit-dumb tattoo he has on his face.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

“Thank you, Stuke…Stuke, thank you…STUKE!!!”

“Huh?”

“Thank you for grabbing that.” Amy said as she tugged on her wedding photo I had clutched in my hand, bringing me back to the school, her office and reality.

“I’m sorry.” I said, letting go of it like it was cursed.

“Are you ok?” she asked concerned.

I was far from it but if I tried explaining things to her about Gums, my broken heart and how I’d been living life like Keith Richards in the 70’s then she’d think I was crazier than a skunk fucking a football so…

“Yeah everything’s fine, are we gonna enroll me now?”

“You bet!” she cheered and then had me start filling out a pile of forms.

“Have you always wanted to do hair?” she asked as I was signing my name on a contract I was too drunk to understand.

“Ever since this morning.” I heard myself say aloud.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“…I meant ever since I can remember. I told my friend Jay I was coming here this morning.”

“Oh nice! What’s Jay think about you doing hair?”

I could hear Jay’s nasally voice echoing in my head It’s a HUGE mistake It’s a HUGE Mistake…

“He thinks it’s a huge…step…in the right direction.”

“Awesome! We’re so happy you’re joining the Paul Mitchell Family!”

Hearing the word “family” felt nice. Ever since Gums had left I’d been keeping myself isolated but the thought of being a part of something bigger than my own misery made me feel a sense of belonging.

Although I’m sure this is how people felt when Charles Manson told them how happy he was when they were joining his family too, so, you know, this whole thing could go either way.

“Alright.” Amy said as I finished with the last of the papers. “How would you like to pay for tuition?”

Here’s my problem when I choose to do impulsive things:

I only see the end result such as “If I do hair I’ll make lots of money” but I neglect all the steps that come before it such as “I must first pay money to learn how to do hair.” But in staying true to my impulsive nature I’d just cashed out my 401K so tuition shouldn’t be a-

“How much is it?”

“23 thousand.”

Problem.

“Oh.” I said, realizing the numbers I had in the bank were much lower than the numbers she’d said.

“But we do offer financial aid if you’re interested.”

I’d never gone to college because I wanted to be a Rockstar and Rockstars don’t go to college, Rockstars go to jail and rehab. So I had no idea how financial aid worked, how predatory lending systems operated or how high-fixed interest rates could fuck you longer and harder than prison rape for the rest of your life which means…

“Sure, let’s do that!”

“Perrrfect.” Amy said with a smile. “Rene handles all of our financial aid, follow me.”

She led me up a flight of stairs and down a long corridor stopping outside an office with black tinted glass and a pile of beaten up doll heads next to the door. The faint scent of vanilla perfume and meat loitered in the air.

“Here we are.” Amy said, devoid of her usual pep. She knocked on the door and then turn and ran, leaving me with the words “Good luck!”

Seconds passed and I was getting ready to knock again when a deep, masculine voice bellowed from beyond the door.

“Enter.”

I opened the door wondering if this Rene person was a man or a woman and then got my answer.

Sitting behind a desk was a large, foreboding, mountain of a black woman with a scowl on her face and all 6’1 and 300+ pounds of her body stuffed into a black dress that looked like it was about to explode.

She had long, thick dreads that fell to the desktop, laying there like tentacles that at any moment would reach out and choke me. And if they didn’t strangulate me then the smell of vanilla perfume and meat that filled the office would.

“What do you want?” she asked point blank.

“I’m Stuke.”

“So?”

“Are you Rene?”

“What’s the name plate on my desk say?”

“Uh, it has the letters HMFIC on it. Is that Russian for Rene?”

“No. It’s an abbreviation.”

“A Russian abbreviation for Rene?”

She let out a long, contemptuous sigh, allowing me to smell the chili-cheese dog she’d had for breakfast. “It’s an abbreviation for HEAD MOTHER FUCKER IN CHARGE.”

“OH!!!! Well it’s nice to meet you, Ms. HMFIC.” I said, holding out my hand.

“Put that thing away.” she said staring at me until I did so. “Why are you here?”

“I need financial aid.”

“Here.” She said, throwing me a pamphlet and a #2 pencil.

“What’s this?”

“A standardized knowledge test. We’re required by law to administer one to every student who’s applying for financial aid.”

“Why?”

“You’re full of questions.”

“My mom says I’m inquisitive.”

“That’s a nice way of saying you’re fucking nosy.”

“She’s told me that too.”

“I don’t doubt it.” she said, looking even more irritated. “The test is to demonstrate the student applying for financial aid has the competence to complete our course.”

“Anyone ever fail it?”

“Why do you think I gave you a pencil?”

“So you can change any wrong answers?”

“Ding, ding, ding.”

“Oh I got it right!?”

“Just take the god-damn test.”

I took the god-damn test which consisted of knowing things like how to operate a blow dryer, what a comb was used for and the difference between thinning sheers and cutting sheers. I handed it back to Rene when I was finished and she graded it.

“Perfect score.” She said with zero enthusiasm.

“That’s pretty awesome!”

“Dial it back, spaz. It wasn’t the Bar Exam.”

She had me fill out another stack of forms and then entered everything into her computer.

“Not only am I the person that facilitates your loan but I’ll also be keeping track of the 1600 hours you have to complete in order to graduate. Will you be attending school full-time?”

“Yeah, I don’t have anything else goin’ on.”

“I totally believe that. You’ll have a year to complete your course and if after that time you still haven’t done so you’ll owe us more money…a lot more money, and I’ll be the one getting if from you.”

“So you’re kinda like a loan shark?”

“Whale.”

“What?”

“A whale can easily kill a shark and baby boy, I’m at the top of the food chain ‘round here. So if you’re gonna call me anything, call me a whale because sharks are inferior.”

I didn’t know if she saw the irony in this but fuck me if I was gonna point it out.

“And if I’m at the top of the food chain do you know where that puts you?”

“The bottom?”

“Exactly, and don’t forget it.” she said handing me the forms that made me an official Paul Mitchell student.

“Class starts next Tuesday at 9:30 am. Dress code is black on black, no exceptions. Make sure you’re on time.”

“Gotcha.”

“Are you straight?”

“Like am I cool with everything you just said?”

“No, you god-damn dolt. Like do you like women?”

“Oh. Yeah. I love women, although they don’t always love me back.”

“That surprises me.”

“Really?”

She let out another long, chili-cheese dog scented sigh. “I was being sarcastic.”

“Oh.”

“Now I’m sure you noticed that most of our students are women. The school has very few straight men such as yourself which means you’ll be a unicorn here and every woman will be trying to ride your sparkly dick to freedom.”

Up until this point I hadn’t thought about my chances of getting laid. Now it was all I could think about.

“I implore you, DO NOT let your dude-piece get you into trouble.” She said standing up and towering over me like the Hulk. “Cuz if you start to hitting every piñata in sight, that’s gonna stir up drama and if you stir up drama you and me gonna have some issues. Do I make myself clear?”

In the course of my life I’d come to know the difference between an empty threat and a real one.

Empty threats rolled off like water. Real ones made my armpits tingle and right now they were stinging.

“I’m straight.” I said looking up at her with the most reassuring smile I could muster.

“Just. Leave.” she ordered.

I left with a stack of papers, a 23k government bounty on my head and a newfound appreciation for fresh air.

“You made it!” Amy said as I got to the bottom of the stairs, hugging me like I’d just dodged death.

“I did.”

“Why do you smell like hotdogs?”

“Don’t ask.”

The entire process had taken enough time for me to start feeling sober which was not a nice feeling so I decided it was the perfect time to celebrate my new enrollment and new life by doing the same old thing.

I walked out of the school and into the Mexican restaurant 20ft away from it, sat down at the bar and ordered a shot of Patron, and then another one.

“Drinks this time of the day means it’s either a real good one or a real shitty one.” the bartender said.

“It’s good…I think. I just enrolled at Paul Mitchell.”

“You don’t look gay.”

“I’m not. Straight guys can do hair too, obviously.”

“True. I just figured you for some sort of rockstar with the tattoos and eyeliner, and the fact that you’re pounding tequila at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon.”

“Is that what day it is?”

“Even more of a reason for me to think what I thought.”

I slammed my second shot of Patron.

“I never made it to being a full-fledged rockstar, got close and then…poof. All gone.”

“How’d you end up here then?”

“I haven’t really thought about it but if I had to guess I’d say a series of bad decisions, one right after the other. I seem to excel at those types of things.”

“Well drinkin’ leads to thinkin’, Paul Mitchell’.” he said as he poured me another shot of Patron. “This one’s on me.”

I slammed the shot and then caught my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I hardly recognized what was looking back at me. Gone was the courageous, defiant dream chaser that had moved to L.A. a decade ago and in his place a broken down, mess of a man too afraid to face life sober.

I knew my current crisis was the result of Gums leaving me but I also knew she was just one ugly brush stroke in a larger picture I’d been painting that went back to the winter of 2001.

Back then life had seemed so bright but over time that light started to fade, both outside and inside of me. But it faded slowly, the type of slow that you don’t notice the light is disappearing until you find yourself standing in the dark, unable to see and unable to know which direction you should go. So you just stay there…

Chapter 3

 

It was a Tuesday morning, I know this because this was back when I was able to keep track of my days.

My fiancé and I had just gotten home from mailing out our wedding invites and I couldn’t have been more excited about the future. In a few short weeks I would be marrying a woman I was madly in love with. She was charismatic, funny, artistic and covered in tattoos. It seemed there couldn’t have been a more perfect match for me.

Before I’d met her I’d spent my life under the belief that weddings were ridiculous. The notion that anyone would pay thousands of dollars so their free-loading friends and family could spend an afternoon eating and drinking on their dime was beyond me.

But as with any belief, all it takes is meeting that one person you have all the feels for to throw it out the window and let it get run over by a parade of monster trucks.

This girl was that one person.

With her charm, beauty and humor people couldn’t help but be captivated by her presence, especially when she smiled because it was this big, warm smile that made you feel like the sun was shining on you.

“Oh my god your smile’s so big I see nothing but gums!” Jay yelled when meeting her for the first time.

I didn’t know if she’d take his words as an observation or an insult as is always the case with Jay but…

“I know! My family calls me Gums because of it!” she said laughing.

“And so shall I.”

It worked out fine.

And from that day on Jay and Gums were besties, spending countless hours shopping, brunching, gossiping and just being two magnificent Queens with one another.

So when Gums and I decided to get married and told Jay about it he insisted that the wedding be held in his backyard and that he would get ordained online so he could officiate the ceremony…while wearing a dress of his own.

And as our date drew closer we checked off our task list. She picked out her dress, we hired the photographer and the caterer, we made hotel arrangements for out of town guests and we booked our honeymoon.

The only thing left was to mail out the invites which had a song verse printed on the back of each envelope…and we had just done that this morning.

We were on our way to being married and our life was going to be full of adventures, growing old together and as she had said one night, dying together so we could share the same coffin (a little dark I know but let’s face it, death and romance have always been mutual partners).

Since Gums was a make-up artist her boss Lia was coming over later to help her figure out wedding looks so I decided to clean the place. Normally she liked to clean with me but today she kept herself on the couch texting non-stop like she’d been doing since we left the post office.

“Is everything ok?” I asked

She looked at me with a blank expression instead of the big, warm smile she usually gave.

“No. We need to talk.”

“Ok.” I said, taking a seat.

She sat there for a few minutes as her phone kept BUZZING with text alerts. Then she spoke.

“I can’t do this.”

“That’s ok, I don’t mind cleaning on my own. It’s in my Mexican DNA anyway.”

“No. The wedding. I can’t do it.”

“Like there’s something wrong with the date?”

“No…like…I don’t wanna get married.”

The air became harder to breathe and my heart started thumping.

She didn’t wanna get married? Where was this coming from?

Up until now she’d been just as excited about it as me, had even taken to using my last name with everything so what had changed all the sudden?

I tried to stave off my rising panic by running to the land of WHAT IFS.

Like WHAT IF she was feeling anxiety from all the planning? WHAT IF something was wrong with her health? WHAT IF someone in her family was against the marriage now?

WHAT IF?

WHAT IF?

WHAT IF?

I was sure that whatever it was it was something that two people who were in love with one another could talk about and resolve.

“Is the wedding stressing you out? Is everything ok with your health? Is there anything you need to tell me?” I asked, trying to keep a grip on my emotions that were trembling just beneath the surface.

“There is something I need to tell you.”

“Ok.”

She took a deep breath and…

“I’ve been fucking someone else.”

Ever been hit in the nose without warning?

It’s called a sucker punch and it leaves you stunned, hurt and pissed the fuck off which is exactly how I felt.

It had seemed in all the WHAT IFS I’d gone over not once did I think to ask WHAT IF she’s been cheating on me because the usual signs of infidelity weren’t there. Plus, our relationship wasn’t volatile, she never said she was unhappy in or out of the bedroom and barring the normal arguments couples have we never had a problem forgiving and moving on.

As I tried to wrap my head around it all a million questions were racing to get out of my mouth. The first one to escape was of course…

“Who is he?”

“It doesn’t matter.” she said, getting off the couch and going to the kitchen, taking her BUZZING phone with her.

“Is that him texting you?” I screamed, following her and allowing my anger to take control because…duh.

“No. It’s not.” she said as she opened the fridge, grabbed an egg and began cooking it.

I wondered how she could eat at a time like this and it reminded me of the serial killer Richard Ramirez who would murder people in their home and then make something to eat in their kitchen after he’d decimated their lives, hopes and plans.

And the plans. Jesus Christ the plans that were in motion, the invites that were on their way out.

MOTHER-FUCKER.

“Who is this guy?”

“You really wanna know?”

“That’s why I keep asking.”

“Fine.” she said, sliding the egg onto a plate we’d painted at one of those stupid pottery studios.

“His name is Rob.”

“How long have you been fucking Rob?”

“Are we really gonna go down this road?”

“You’re the one that steered us on it. How long?”

“Ugh. A month and a half.”

“A mon…WHEN?”

“Before or after work.” she sighed.

“Where?”

“His place.”

“How’d you meet?”

“My work.” she said, stabbing the egg with a fork and shoving it in her mouth.

“At the make-up counter? Does he do drag or something?”

“No, I was helping him pick out a gift for his sister.”

“How accommodating of you.”

“That’s my job!”

“Since when did your job include fucking the customers?”

“This is so dumb.”

“Why him?”

“Why? Because he’s someone that has a future.” she said, taking another bite of food.

“What does that even mean?”

She stood there chewing, looking at me like a defiant child in a power struggle with the parent.

“He’s in the banking industry.”

“So you’re into people who can count and talk dividends?”

“No, I’m into people who have a job, Stuke.”

“A job? Are you kidding me? I’m not some loser who won’t work, I just got laid-off, remember?”

“I certainly do.” she said with the roll of her eyes.

“Well do you also remember I got a fat severance and two years unemployment which means I’m still making more than you in my current situation?”

“It’s not about that. It’s about you not having a vison for the future, any career aspirations.”

“Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was expected to be J.P. fucking Morgan. Besides, YOU told me to take my time deciding what I wanna do next.”

“Yeah, well, it’s taken you too long and it’s become unattractive.” she said, finishing the last of her food.

“it’s only been a few–You know what? You’re just trying to justify your shitty actions. If this bothered you so much you could’ve told me some-THING instead of fucking some-ONE.”

She threw her fork and plate into the sink, busting that plate into pieces.

“HEY! It’s not my job to tell you what to do. I’m not your fucking mom and I’m sure as hell not ending up like mine, working in some flea-bag hotel because my dad never got it together. Unlike my mom I plan on getting what I deserve.”

“And what’s that?”

“Being taken care of.”

“Are you saying I don’t take care of you?”

“I mean financially.”

“Oh…which is why you’re fucking Rob the Banker. Makes perfect sense. No pun.”

“You know, I don’t have to take this. If you don’t like the answers don’t ask the questions.”

She brushed past me and over to the closet, stopping to check the text messages that’d been piling up.

“Who keeps texting you!?”

She stood there pecking away at her phone, ignoring me.

“Hello?”

“I’ve been texting people I invited to the wedding to tell them it’s off and they’ve been responding. Is that ok with you?”

“THAT’S what you’ve been doing since we left the post office? You let OTHERS know before me?”

“What difference does it make?”

“The difference is you could’ve told me BEFORE we sent the invites out! WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU AND WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

She stared at me and the hard exterior she’d been fronting started to crack under the pressure of the fight. Her lips started to quiver and tears trickled down her face.

“Who the fuck am I? WHO THE FUCK AM I? I’m someone who doesn’t know how the fuck they feel anymore, ok? I’m someone who isn’t sure about you, about us, about what I was doing, had been doing or how to tell you!” she screamed then broke into a fit of crying.

“The wedding, it seemed so far away, like it wasn’t real and I kept thinking there was time to figure all of this out, figure out how I felt about our future together. Time to fix it in some way. But once the invites went out something clicked. All that time disappeared making all the doubts I had about us solidify. Those invites were the nail in the coffin.”

“Mine or yours?” I said in a low, panting voice, trying to quell my temper.

“Ours.” she said softly.

When she said she wanted to share the same coffin I never imagined it’d be this way.

“So what are we supposed to do now? What do we do about all the wedding plans? What do we tell people calling to RSVP? What do we tell Jay?”

She regained her composure, wiped her mascara smeared eyes and looked at me like I was an injured animal she couldn’t save.

“I’m sorry, Stuke, there is no more “WE”. I’ve told everyone on my end, the rest is up to you.”

“Don’t you wanna at least talk to Jay?”

“He’s the last person I wanna talk to for fear of what he’ll say.” she said, opening the closet and grabbing a box we kept the Christmas decorations in.

“So I’m supposed to clean this mess up all on my own?”

“Do what you want, say what you want. Tell people I’m the asshole, its fine.”

She began dumping all the decorations on the floor.

“What are you doing?”

“Lia said I could stay with her until I figure out my next move so I’m grabbing some things.”

“That’s it? You’re leaving just like that?”

“Yeah. This is what happens when people break up.”

“I don’t understand how any of this is happening.” I said, the anger burning off as the grief started to creep in from all sides.

“I know, but you’re gonna have to accept it.”

I stood there helpless as she packed so many of her things I’d become accustomed to living with.

Her flat iron that would always burn me because she’d forget to turn it off. Her makeup that I’d watch her apply every day. Her clothes that made her look both stylish and stunning, and her bras and underwear, all of which I’d peeled off of her body countless times but would no more.

When she was finished she went over to a mirror and did her best to look presentable then she grabbed her box, car keys and purse and opened the door, her silhouette outlined by the bright, cheerful light of the day.

She was going to start her life over without me, leaving in her wake a trail of broken promises, broken dreams and a broken heart.

“I’m so sorry.” she said, turning to look back at me.

And then closed the door behind her, making me feel like I was being buried alive in a tomb and left to die.

I stood there shell-shocked from all that had just happened. In less than an hour everything I had loved about my life had been destroyed by the person I loved the most.

And then it came.

All the confusion, all the betrayal, all the rejection, all the sadness and all the darkness. All of it crashing down on top of me like a building crumbling in an earthquake.

I fell to the floor amongst the Christmas decorations and sobbed.

Not one of those quaint, graceful sobs you see in the movies but a violent, heaving, convulsing sob that contorted my face, pushed the snot out of my nose and made me moan sounds I didn’t think were humanly possible.

The wedding was over, my relationship was over, and anything that had meaning to me was over.

I was over.

After a while I pushed myself up off the floor and got a Xanax and beer to try to numb all the pain. A pain that was stinging me from the inside out. A pain that’d be shackled to me for months to come.

And as I washed the pill down with a beer, and another beer, and another beer I noticed something. Laying on the counter was an invite that had somehow gotten left behind.

One solitary nail left out of our coffin.

I flipped it over to read the words from the song we’d had printed on the back of it.

The Only Hope for Me is You

And then I drank until I could forget who I was, something that would become the new normal for me.