The Weak End (part IV)

Chapter 17

 

Denise continued to hurl, her body convulsing like it was possessed while Dusti and Charlie tried to comfort her and Rene assessed the chaos that was unfolding.

“What a fucking mess.” Rene says, pushing Dusti and Charlie aside and wrapping her huge arms around Denise in and attempt to keep her body in control.

“I’m so sorry…” Denise utters out before vomiting again.

“Try and stay calm, baby.” Rene tells her with a surprising sense of compassion then looks at the crowd that’s formed with phones in hand.

“Y’all need to get back to minding your business before I put you out of business.” she yells. “And whoever is dumb enough to put this online, I will destroy you and your family.”

The crowd disperses and Rene turns to Charlie.

“Run to admissions and grab the first aid kit, there’s nausea medicine in it.”

“Ok.” Charlie says, sprinting away gracefully in her high-heels and pin-up dress.

Denise’s involuntary personal protein spill finally subsides and she leans her body up against the towel bin trying to catch her breath as if she’s just finished running a marathon.

“What got her sick?” Rene asks Dusti whose eyes go as big as Frisbees.

“Uh…”

“C’mon now, take baby girl’s lead here and spit it all out.”

“She’s uh…”

“I’ve got food poisoning.” Denise says, panting for air. “I had something bad the other night, thought I was better but…”

Dusti and I share a glance then look at Rene for the verdict.

“Oh fuck. I’ve had that so many times and it’s hell when it hits you.” She says, grabbing a clean towel to wipe Denise’s face. “Just be glad it ain’t comin’ out both ends.”

She’d bought it hook, line and sinker.

It was Denise’s most spectacular moment of cunning and clarity because if there was one thing Rene couldn’t contest or be unable to sympathize with it had to be the result of accidentally getting sick from eating because Rene was a professional eater.

Charlie ran up with the first aid kit, popped it open and handed Rene the medicine.

“Stuke.” Rene barks. “If you’re gonna stand around then make yourself useful and get this girl some water.”

I do as I’m told and come back with a bottle of water for Denise. She pops the pills and chugs the water.

“Thanks.” she says, passing the bottle back to me as her body starts to settle down from being dope sick.

“You’ve gotta be burning up in this jacket.” Rene tells her as she pulls on its sleeve to take it off.

“It’s fine.” Denise says, yanking the sleeve out of Rene’s grip. “I’m just really cold.”

“Ok” Rene tells her without pushing the matter.

“Is it ok if I go back to class?” Denise asks.

“I think you need to take it easy.” Rene says, putting an arm around Denise’s waist and moving her toward the stairs. “There’s an empty office upstairs, I want you to go there and lay down ‘til school lets out.”

“But what about my Core exam this Friday? I need to study so I can be prepared.”

“Denise, don’t worry about it. You’re going to be allowed to take it on your own time with no penalty. Right, Rene?” Charlie says without waiver.

“That’s not gonna be a problem. You just need to relax right now.” Rene says.

“Ok.” Denise tells her, allowing Rene to guide her up the stairs.

“Stuke.” Rene says, turning back at me. “Make sure all them towels in the bin get clean.”

Oh you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.

“Can’t we just throw ‘em away?” I ask in an attempt to avoid the revolting task I’d been given.

“You gonna pay for a buncha new towels?”

“Haven’t I already with my tuition?”

“Don’t push me, boy.”

“I’ll help ya.” Dusti says.

Rene and Denise disappear upstairs and I grab the vomit filled bin and walk to the washing room with Dusti at my side while every Future Professional and their client cringe at the sight of the container in my hands.

“That was a close call.” Dusti says.

“What’s a close call is if I can make it to the laundry room without getting any of Denise’s puke on me.”

“Well if you do you can just add it to the list of all her other fluids you’ve gotten on you.” she says with her Southern sass.

We go into the washing room and I do my best to shake all the towels from the bin as well as its liner without having to come into contact with them.

“Do you think she’ll be ok?” I ask Dusti as she dumps an entire bottle of detergent into the washer.

“As long as she lays up there ‘til schools out she should be.”

“How about you?”

“How ‘bout me what?”

“Are you gonna be ok having her at your place for the next week, taking care of her?”

“Yeah, we’re gonna be fine.” Dusti says, closing the washer’s lid and firing it up.

We walk back to class and everyone looks at us as we walk in.

“Everything good?” Charlie asks.

“Oh you know, just right as rain.” Dusti says as we take our seats.

“Good.” Charlie says with a sigh of relief.

“What was going on with Denise?” Bree, the waif-thin blonde who swore to Rene she’d never cheat on her fiancé asks.

“She got food poisoning.” Dusti says matter of factly.

“I’ve never known food poisoning to make you nod off or act stoned before.” she says with a roll of her eyes.

“And I’ve never known people with uninformed opinions to look smart before.” Dusti says, glaring back at her.

“I mean…we can poison you and see how it all plays out.” Jimbo adds.

“You don’t have to be bitches about it. I just think it’s wrong if someone comes to school all fucked up and throws up all over the place.”

By this point in the day Dusti has been under so much stress, uncertainty and pressure that all of her nerves have been grinded down to one singular, distressed strand and now Bree has decided to jump on it like its a god-damn trampoline.

“I THINK…” Dusti screams as she bolts up from her chair so fast and furious that it falls over. “YOU NEED TO SHUT YOUR FUCKING-“

“HEY!!!!” Charlie yells in a desperate attempt to gain control. “Everyone needs to calm down and get a grip on their emotions ok? It’s been a crazy day and scrapping with one another isn’t gonna make it any better.”

“Well I’m just saying-“

“We heard what you had to say, Bree and while I value your concern the truth is Denise has food poisoning and the past few days have been rough for her and we’re leaving it at that.”

“And if you got anything else to say about it then start a fucking blog.” Jimbo tells Bree with a sneer.

“Jimbo!” Charlie yells.

“Or say nothing at all.” Dusti follows up.

“Dusti!”

“I’ll say whatever I want.”

“Bree!”

“We’re all family here so stop your bickering because it’s un-lady like and unprofessional!” Charlie says, chiding the testy trio.

Dusti picks up her chair and sits back down while Jimbo grumbles something about a spit-roast and Bree adjusts her posture to look prim and proper.

“We’ve got a lot more to cover for the exam in 3 days so open up your books and lets get to it.”

We spend the rest of the afternoon reviewing for the written exam because Charlie has figured the only way to instill order is by assaulting us with a steady stream of information like a cop with a firehose to keep us paralyzed and in in-line.

But a few minutes before school is to let out Charlie ends up undermining all the order and obedience she’d acquired by saying these 6 fatal words:

“Why don’t we play a game… “

I’m gonna hit the pause button right now to fill you in on a little something about Charlie…

Charlie was every student’s favorite Learning Leader. If you were to ask any Future Professional what they thought about Charlie you’d hear nothing but praise and adoration.

She was smart, sincere, and polite and always conducted herself in a way that showed she was wise beyond her years and she LOVED to teach with kindness and support.

But Charlie had one mortal flaw:

Charlie loved orchestrating games.

Now when you have a group of normal, secure, emotionally stable adults, any game can be played without someone becoming aggressively competitive, taking things personally or losing their shit.

However, when you have a group of creatives, most of whom are insecure, emotionally unstable, ruthlessly competitive, take everything personally and are always losing their shit, it’s better you don’t have them play a game because all you’re doing is starting the timer on a thermonuclear bomb.

Yet for some reason Charlie could never grasp this fact.

No matter how many times she’d have Future Professionals play a game that game would always nosedive into chaos and explode with a high velocity impact. Because when you have 200 creative students under one roof it’s not so much a student body as it is a village of savages.

And those savages require very little provocation to turn murderous on one another.

“What kind of game?” Bode makes the mistake of asking.

“Musical chairs!!!” Charlie shouts as if we’ve all won some Publisher’s Clearing House prize.

She gets a gaggle of groans in return.

“Oh come on, it’ll be fun, especially after a tense day so let’s get in touch with our inner-child!”

“Charlie, everyone’s inner-child is a raging lunatic.” I tell her in a plea to abandon this venture.

“Oh stop it, Stuke and get up and play.” she says as she moves all the tables out of the way and puts the chairs into formation.

I do as I’m told and assume the position along with everyone else.

Charlie turns the music on and we all walk around the chairs with the same heightened anxiety as a platoon of soldiers walking into a minefield and then…well, you know how this fucking game works.

I was happily one of the first casualties and after a few go-arounds it was down to 2 chairs and 3 students: Bode, Dusti and Bree.

Gulp.

Charlie hits the music, kills it and Bode immediately (and very gentlemanly like) takes a chair.

Dusti is hovering over the other chair and just as she begins to sit down Bree shoves her out of the way causing Dusti to lose her balance and fall face-first into the floor while Bree plops down on the chair.

A collective “OHHHH!” is let out as everyone looks at Bree with a WTF expression.

“What? I wanna win.” she answers back without apology.

The whole move demonstrates a reckless lack of foresight on Bree’s part because Dusti is a former figure skater whose entire body is toned muscle while Bree is a former bulimic whose entire body is a twig.

Still, you had to hand it to Bree for having balls so big she needed a wheel-barrel to cart them around in.

“YOU FUCKING CUNT!” Dusti screams, jumping to her feet with clenched fists.

“WHOA TIME OUT!!!!!” Charlie says, running over with arms flailing towards Dusti, intervening just as she’s within choking distance of Bree. “Let’s have you go outside and take five.” she tells Dusti, steering her to the door.

“Bree…” Charlie says. “You’re disqualified for unsportsmanlike behavior. Bode, congratulations, you’re the winner.”

“You mean I’m the musical chair king?”

“You are. May your reign be long and DIGNIFIED.” she says, locking eyes with Bree then ushering Dusti out of the classroom.

While Charlie is outside trying to convince Dusti not to pulverize Bree the rest of us move all the tables and chairs back to their original place while Bree stands off to the side.

“She didn’t have to call me a cunt.” she bemoans.

“She didn’t call you a cunt.” Jimbo says, pushing chairs up against a table. “She called you a fucking cunt.”

“I don’t know why you have to be so hostile to me, Jimbo.”

“And I don’t know why you have to keep breathing but here we all are.” Jimbo spits back.

Seconds later Charlie comes back in the room without Dusti.

“Stuke, can you take Dusti’s kit and purse out to her please?”

I grab her stuff and find Dusti at the foot of the stairs with Denise who looks coherent but spent.

Since school is one minute away from being let out Future Professionals loiter around the area where Dusti and Denise are standing and take turns gawking at them and then whispering amongst themselves.

“That was some fucked-up shit.” I tell Dusti as I wheel her kit and purse over to her.

“This whole day has been some fucked-up shit.” she says with a drained voice. “Thanks for grabbing my things.”

“Sure. You feelin’ better, Denise?”

She takes a deep breath and gives a faint smile.

“Yeah, I’m just tired, ready to sleep for a couple days.”

The 5pm bell rings and a herd of black stampedes around Dusti and Denise who slowly trudge towards the exit like two weary warriors, exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally.

 

On Wednesday Charlie breaks the day in two to simulate what our Core Exam will be like on Friday.

We spend the first part of the day practicing on our doll heads for the practical exam. Going over all the different services we have to know and reciting the 19 perm steps until our voices are hoarse.

The next part of the day Charlie has us taking multiple-choice practice exams. We’re given a set amount of time to complete each exam and when we’re finished we review it. Then we take another exam and review that one.

This monotony continues until it’s time to go home so I can practice everything over again until I pass out.

But since I’ve been diligent about not drinking more than two beers a day so I can focus on my prep it’s good to be passing out from doing instead of drinking. It’s also a good feeling to have my mind and body operating with a lucidity and precision that I haven’t experienced in a long time.

On Thursday we start it all over again, practicing every service on our doll heads until lunch then returning to study and prepare for the written portion afterwards.

“Is Denise good?” Bode asks Dusti during one of our 10min breaks.

“Yeah!” Dusti says with a big smile. “She’s been eatin’, sleepin’ and recovering.”

“When’s she coming back?” I ask.

“Next Tuesday.”

“Has she heard from her boyfriend?”

“He’s been blowing up her phone and leaving threatening messages but she refuses to give him the time of day which is good. Her parents are flyin’ in tomorrow from one of the Dakotas, Virginias or Carolinas, I can’t remember which, and they’re gonna help her get a new place so she can get away from him for good.”

“That’s awesome news.” Bode says.

“It is.” Dusti says. “And Denise has talked with the school about taking her Core exam at the end of next week so it looks like things are gonna work out.”

“What about her staying clean?” I can’t help but ask.

“She feels so shitty about everything that happened that she never wants to use again so she got in contact with her old sponsor from NA and is gonna start going to meetings and she also came clean to her parents about everything so they’re gonna help her get some outpatient treatment.”

“That’s so good to hear.” Bode and I say as the three of us walk back into school to prepare for another afternoon of practice tests.

“I have a proposition for you guys.” Charlie says as we take our seats. “Based on everyone’s results in all the practice exams we’ve done, you’re all more than ready for it. So if you’d like to take the actual written exam right now we can and that way all you have to worry about tomorrow is the practical exam. And once that’s over you can take it easy the rest of the afternoon.”

Everyone looks at everyone else, trying to gauge who falls on what side. Personally, I was more than ready. I’d been studying my ass off and had no doubt that I was going to ace this thing.

And as far as the rest of the class, they were also down to get it out of the way.

Except for Jimbo.

“I don’t want to do it, I don’t feel like I’m ready.”

“Trust me, Jimbo, you’re ready.” Charlie tells her.

“Besides, everyone else wants to take it today.” I tell her.

“Go fuck yourself and everyone else.” Jimbo yells back at me in a fit of anxiety.

“Jimbo, calm down.” Charlie says, walking over to her and putting her arm around her in a comforting manner.

“I’m just scared.” Jimbo responds, throwing both arms around Charlie’s waist and nestling her head against Charlie’s boobs.

Charlie tries to politely step away but Jimbo has her in an iron grip, slowly inching her hands towards Charlie’s ass.

“Ok, ok…” Charlie says, tapping Jimbo on the back and finally breaking free before Jimbo’s hands hit pay dirt.

“Alright, I feel better now.” Jimbo says, sitting upright and taking out a pen. “Let’s do this.”

Charlie administers the exam. I finish it in 20min flat, being the first one to hand it over to Charlie.

“How do you think you did?” she asks.

“I killed it.”

Once all the exams have been handed in Charlie grades them then calls us up one by one to give them back to us with our results.

Each person gives a smile of relief upon getting their exam and I’m the last one to be called up.

“You got the highest score.” she whispers to me, showing that I’d only missed one answer. “Congratulations.” she says with a warm, dimpled smile.

A sense of pride surges through me like an electrical current igniting a stadium full of bright lights.

“I’m proud of you, Stuke.”

“Me too.” I tell her, grabbing my exam and holding onto it as written proof that I can conquer whatever I set out to do.

“Everyone, I cannot tell you how awesome you all are. Each one of you rose to the occasion in taking this test by surprise. You all adapted to the situation, used your heads and came out on top, all traits of being a successful stylist. Now give yourselves a god-damn round of applause!” Charlie says.

The room erupts in cheers, hoots, hollers and clapping and seconds later the 5pm bell rings.

“Now don’t get cocky, you’re only halfway there and tomorrow is a monster. Make sure you get plenty of rest because you’re going to need all the concentration and energy you can muster.” she warns us as we spill out of the classroom.

On my drive home I look in the rearview mirror and realize that I like what’s looking back at me.

I hadn’t thought about Gums much and when I did I didn’t want to fall apart, I didn’t want to do anything because I had proven to myself that I could recover and become so much more than what someone had done to me.

It felt empowering, liberating and above all else, redeeming.

I was now on the path I was meant to be on and I was on my way to becoming who I was supposed to be.

I get home and grab a beer and then another one, drinking for the first time in months to celebrate instead of medicate and it feels soooooo good.

Good enough to break my self-enforced two drink maximum because feeling successful feels exhilarating.

So I have a few more, then a few more after that, then a few shots, celebrating with myself (and paving the way for a tremendous hangover) passing out around 4am and completely disregarding Charlie’s warning about needing rest, concentration and energy for the practical exam in a few hours.

 

 

 

The Weak End (part III)

Chapter 16

 

Dusti and Jimbo burst into the room with Denise while Charlie is giving a lecture on skin diseases.

An hour earlier Charlie had allowed the two to go to Denise’s place to check-in on her in response to the text she’d sent Dusti.

By the looks of it Denise was alive but to say she was alive and well was a stretch because anyone with functioning eyeballs could see Denise was anything but well.

Her bouncy, shiny chestnut hair was ratty and disheveled. Her smooth and manicured hands were marred with cuts and bruises. Her firm and youthful face was droopy and weary and her normally bright and attentive eyes were murky and lost.

“Is everything ok?” Charlie asks with a look of shock as Dusti and Jimbo steer Denise to a seat.

“We’re fine.” Dusti says.

“You sure?” Charlie asks, walking towards Denise.

“I’m fine.” Denise mutters, holding up a hand to stop Charlie’s advance. “I wasn’t feeling good earlier but started to feel better and wanted to come to school. Sorry if I messed anything up.”

“It’s ok.” Charlie says, hitting the brakes and backing up towards her podium to give Denise space. “Just let me know if you need anything ok?”

“I will, thanks.” Denise says, pulling her jacket around her as if to fight off a chill.

“We’re just finishing up a lecture before lunch so feel free to take notes if you like.”

“Ok.” Denise mumbles.

Dusti puts a pen and piece of paper in front of Denise and she looks at them like they’re foreign objects.

“For your notes.” Dusti says in a hushed tone.

“Right.” Denise answers back, still staring at them.

Charlie takes her place behind the podium to resume her lecture while we try to resume listening and taking notes however that proves to be a challenge because none of us can keep our eyes off Denise.

Her head keeps swaying back and forth like a palm tree on a breezy day and on more than one occasion she nods off and Dusti has to nudge her with an elbow in an attempt to keep her awake and aware.

Charlie notices this too and winces every time she sees Denise fading out, prompting her to cut the lecture short and send everyone to lunch early.

“Be ready to practice shampooing when you get back.” she says as the class leaves the room.

IS everything ok?” I whisper to Dusti as we walk out behind Denise.

“Well…” Dusti says.

“Oh, hey you.” Denise slurs to me as she turns around then speaks to Dusti. “I need to use the bathroom. Can I meet you out front?”

“Sure, hun.” Dusti says.

As Denise hobbles off to the bathroom Charlie comes up on Dusti.

“What exactly is going on with her?”

“Oh she’s just had a rough few days and hasn’t gotten much sleep so she’s a little out of it.” Dusti says, taking her best shot at damage control.

“What happened?” Charlie asks.

“Her and her boyfriend got into a fight on Saturday night and it got physical.”

“Oh my god, is she alright?”

“I think so. He ran off and hasn’t been back but just to be safe I’m having her stay with me for the rest of the week.”

“Ok, well let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“I sure will.” Dusti says with a face full of smile and then grabs my hand and bolts for the front door.

“That was only half of it…” she tells me as we make our way out front. “Denise is high as fuck.”

“Wait, what? THAT’S what’s wrong with her?”

“Uh, duh. Haven’t you ever seen someone smacked out before?”

Throughout my life I’d seen a lot of people do a lot of things with drugs.

I’d seen people put a hit of acid in their eye and trip their balls off for 12 hours straight.

I’d also seen people shoot up coke and run around like escaped mental patients.

But in all my years I’d never witnessed anyone doing heroin or being high on heroin except for in the movies and Denise’s behavior looked NOTHING like it did in the movies so…

“No.”

“Really?” Dusti asks astounded.

“Trust me, I’m just as surprised about it as you are. How’d it all go down?”

“Well like I said, she and her boyfriend got into a fight Saturday night and it got really violent. She said a neighbor threatened to call the cops so he hightailed it outta there but left his stash behind.”

“And so she just said-“

“Fuck it, and as you can see, it hasn’t been pretty.”

“Not at all.”

“And speaking of not pretty, when we got to her place…Jesus Christ, Stuke…”

“What?”

“It was something straight out of Trainspotting. The whole apartment was trashed and she was wearing nothing but a filthy pair of sweats and a blood-stained tank-top. Jimbo and I had to help her get dressed and told her that under no circumstances was she to take her jacket off.”

“Because of track marks?”

“Exactly. It’s unbelievable how fast she’s unraveled.”

“So what now?”

“Now? Now she’s gotta try and stay coherent enough to get through the day and hope that Rene or no other Learning Leader finds out that she’s high ‘cause if they do she could get kicked out.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes! Weren’t you paying attention our first day when we had to go over all that code of conduct bullshit?”

“Not really, I was drunk.”

“Well, coming to school high is definitely a crime punishable by expulsion.”

“Then why’d you bring her here in the first place?”

“Believe me, I tried to talk her out of it but she insisted on coming because she didn’t wanna do anything to jeopardize her standing at school.”

“She didn’t see the irony in doing just that by coming to school…high?”

“She can’t grasp the concept of irony at this point.”

“Then can’t you just take her back to your place now?”

“I’d love to but she’s dead set on being at school so I’m just rolling with it and hoping for the best.”

“Yeah but can’t we convince her it’s in her best interest to take a sick day?”

“She’s on drugs. You know as well as I do you can’t convince people to do anything they don’t wanna do while they’re on drugs. At least if she’s here I can keep an eye on her. It’s not the ideal situation but it’s better than her being alone and in harm’s way.”

“Dusti?” Denise says as she shuffles out the front door of the school.

“Yeah, babe?”

“Can we sit in your car during lunch so I can smoke some cigarettes and chill?”

“Whatever you need.” Dusti says, walking off with her and then doing an about face to tell me one last thing.

“B-T-dubs, don’t say ANYTHING to ANYONE. I already swore Jimbo to secrecy and expect the same from you, for her sake.”

“My lips are sealed.”

 

“So she’s at school high as a kite.” I tell Bode as we eat our Tofurkey sandwiches, betraying my word to Dusti and making me less than an admirable and trustworthy human being.

“Aww man that’s not good.”

But since I know Bode is an admirable and trustworthy human being I’m certain he won’t repeat any of this to anybody so it’s pretty much like not saying anything to anyone anyway.

“Is there something we can do for her?”

“Not really. Dusti is just hoping Denise can make it through the day without anyone noticing she’s fucked-up so I guess the best way to help her is to…I don’t know…ignore it all?’

“It sucks that we’re powerless over this and the most heartbreaking thing is that Denise is too.”

“Yeah, the next few hours are gonna be dicey but hopefully nothing bad happens and she just goes to Dusti’s and gets better.”  I tell him as we head back into the school.

“Alright, everybody, we’re going out to The Floor to practice shampoos so pick a partner and take turns on each other.” Charlie tells us as we all prepare to shampoo another human for our first time ever. “It’s super busy today so please be courteous to all the other Future Professionals out there as well as their clients and remember to be patient and kind.”

“Hey.” Denise says, tugging at my arm with a subtle wobble. “Could you shampoo me?”

“Umm, hold on a sec.” I tell her and then scoot my way over to Dusti.

“Denise wants me to shampoo her, what should I do?”

“Fucking wash her hair then…and take as long as you can. The more time she’s just sitting somewhere out of the way the better.”

“Gotcha.” I tell her and go back over to Denise.

“Let’s get you nice and clean.” I say as I take her hand and lead her onto The Floor.

All 8 shampoo bowls are occupied so we wait in line until it’s our turn.

“This is gonna be so nice.” Denise says as she leans up against my arm.

“I don’t know, it might be a good idea to keep your expectations low.”

“Stuke…” she says with a faint laugh. “You should learn to be more sure of yourself…and I know it’s gonna be good ‘cause I like the way you touch me.”

“That’s nice of you to say.”

We finally get our turn at the shampoo bowl and Denise sinks into the chair as I put a towel around her shoulders. She then leans all the way back as her long, brown, ratted up hair fills the bowl.

Even though I’ve been naked with this girl and have had my hands over every part of her body those hands are still shaking from nervousness because this is the first time I’ve ever washed someone’s hair besides my own.

I turn on the faucet and let it run until the water hits that perfect temperature of comforting warm and then run the nozzle all along her hairline, using my other hand as a barrier between her hair and face so I don’t accidentally water board the poor girl.

I then run the water throughout the rest of her hair making sure every inch of it is soaking, sopping, drenching wet.

Next I grab a bottle of detangling shampoo and mix it with a heavy conditioner, rubbing it into her scalp until it’s frothy and then gently work it from scalp to ends, untangling all the knots it had gotten itself into over the past few days.

Once the hair is loose and free again I rinse it out and then apply another glob of conditioner, working it in until all of her hair is creamy, shiny and slippery.

Then I intuitively start massaging her temples, behind her ears and up and down her neck.

Even though I’ve never done any of this before it all feels natural, healing and makes me feel intimately connected to someone in a way I’ve never experienced.

I come to the conclusion that out of everything I’ve done with hair throughout my time in Core, this is by far my most favorite. It relaxes me, grounds me and makes me feel, without effort, confident and in control.

“That feels so wonderful, I knew you’d be amazing at this.” Denise says with her eyes closed as I continue massaging her.

I look down at her face and feel an overwhelming sense of sadness for her.

Sad that things had gotten so bad she thought turning into this person was the only viable option for her. All her vibrancy, vitality and beauty had evaporated and in its place was a dazed and ravaged victim.

A victim from a misguided sense of obligation to a man that never thought twice about hitting her.

A victim from substance abuse that stemmed from wanting to numb all the confusion, hurt and emptiness that was eating away at her heart.

And a victim of the monster that was now coursing through her veins, eroding everything beautiful about her from the inside out.

I looked at her and saw myself.

Someone so crushed that they said to themselves If I’m gonna get beaten down it’s at least gonna be done at my own hands.

Just then Denise’s glassy eyes pop open and stare up at me.

“I’m sorry.” she says in her most lucid voice yet.

“For what?”

“That you have to see me like this. I know you know and it’s not who I am I just, sometimes, I just don’t wanna be who I am anymore and this lets me forget.”

“It’s ok.” I tell her as I rinse the conditioner out of her hair. “We all have our days and we all have our demons and some days, those demons win.”

“I just wish I could get ahold of things…keep shit together. It’s so hard to build a life when the bottom keeps coming out from underneath you. You get to a point where you get so tired of things falling apart that you just wanna fall with them.” she says as a tear rolls down her cheek. “And that’s what I did, I chose to fall.”

I turn off the faucet and run my fingers through her clean, fresh hair.

“The best part about things falling apart is that some of those things weren’t good for you anyway and now you get to rebuild with things that are good for you.”

“Thank you.” she says as I blot her hair with a towel, help her up out of the chair and then toss the towels in the dirty towel bin.

“Thank you as well.”

“For what?”

“For asking me to wash your hair, I wouldn’t have wanted my first shampoo to be with anyone else.”

She takes a few steps away from the chair then suddenly stops and turns back at me, a look of horror on her face that’s become a pale white.

“Are you ok?” I ask.

“It’s coming…”

“What’s coming?”

“The…”

She stops her sentence short by covering her mouth with both hands then running to the nearest container, the towel bin, and starts throwing up violently.

Everyone in the vicinity stops and looks on in disgust and repulsion as Dusti runs over and puts her arm around Denise in a vain attempt to try to help.

“Denise, honey, everything is gonna be ok.”

“I can’t…stop.”

Are the only words Denise gets out before she resumes heaving uncontrollably again.

Seconds later Charlie is rushing over to her as a crowd emerges around what’s playing out.

“Oh my god, Denise…” she says, trying to pull back all of Denise’s puke speckled hair as she goes on vomiting.

Two Learning Leaders dash their way up the stairs leading to Rene’s office and in under 30 seconds Rene is charging down the steps double-time.

She bulldozes her way through the crowd, coming onto the scene of Denise viciously throwing up into the towel bin and her eyes go wide.

“What in the good god-damn fuck is going on here?” Rene roars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weak End (part II)

Chapter 15

 

Weak 4:

 

Perms.

Yes perms.

Even though no one in the industrialized world has gotten one since Ronald Regan was president we’re still required to know how to do it in the event there’s a revival in people wanting to look like Jon Bon Jovi or Madonna circa 1980.

As far as the school is concerned when it comes to doing a perm there are two stages to it, neither of which involves the actual act of doing a perm.

The first stage consists of sectioning and clipping the hair into a 9 paneled pattern where each panel is equal.

The second stage consists of knowing the 19 steps of doing a perm on a client such as your client consultation, double-draping them and having them sign a release form stating that they understand it’s their own fault when they end up looking like a deranged poodle in need of a Swatch watch.

For the first part of the week Charlie has us practice sectioning and clipping our doll heads in the 9 paneled pattern over and over again.

What this means for me is that I continually curse at my doll head over and over again because the only pattern I’m able to create is a pattern of failure and at this point I’ve gotten tired of blaming myself so I’ve taken to blaming inanimate objects.

“Fuck you, I hate you.” I tell my doll head for the billionth time.

“You ok over there?” Dusti, the healthy looking Amy Winehouse girl asks me in her Southern drawl.

“I mean if my doll head is supposed to look like Bob Marley then I’m tip-top.”

“I think I know what’s wrong.” she says, coming over and combing out all the rats in my doll head’s nest.

“Perms being legal is what’s wrong.”

“No, I think it’s where you’re standing. If you change your position it’ll help you keep your patterns even.”

She demonstrates where to stand and then sections and clips my doll head in no time flat.

“Give it a try.” She says, undoing the sections and re-combing it’s hair.

I stand where she suggests and section off my doll head with the concentration of a surgeon.

“I had a lot of fun at your party.” she says as I focus on the task at hand. “And from what I hear you and Denise did too.”

I stop and look at her then over at Denise who’s across the room sectioning her doll head with ease.

“Word travels fast.” I tell her as I get back to work. “Let’s just make sure that word doesn’t travel all the way up to Rene.”

“Don’t worry, I’m the only one she’s told and I won’t tell anyone, she’s my girl.”

“Did your girl tell you about her boyfriend?”

“And that he’s a junkie psychopath?”

“That too.”

“I’ve met him and seen his bullshit in action firsthand.”

“You did?” I say, stopping again so I can give her my full attention.

“Yeah, I was at her place and he went all Captain Crazy on her, screaming that she shouldn’t have spent all her money on school because he could’ve used that money and then he started throwing shit around and breaking things.”

“What’d you do?”

“Grabbed her and got the fuck outta there. She stayed with me for the night and I told her she could stay as long as she wanted but she said she needed to go back and take care of him.”

“Take care of him? That sounds all sideways.”

“It is but I think she feels some sort of obligation to him. They’ve been together for years and there was a time when they were both strung-out together.”

“Really? On what?”

“Heroin.” Dusti says with a look of pain.

“Fuck, that’s like major league Janice Joplin shit.”

“I know. She went to rehab and got clean but obviously he didn’t so I think she feels responsible for trying to help him.”

“That’s admirable but living with an active user after you’ve gotten yourself straight is a threat to your own recovery.”

“That’s what I said. I told her she needs to focus on herself, but he’s got this hold on her. Plus, she says he tells her that if she were to leave him he’d kill himself by overdosing so, she feels trapped, both by him and her own heart.”

I glance back over at Denise, she catches me and gives me a warm, carefree, cherubic smile as if everything were right in the world and she wasn’t always within an arm’s reach of total annihilation.

I knew she was in a bad spot but there’s two kinds of bad. The bad you can walk away from and the bad where 6 pallbearers walk away with you.

Before this conversation with Dusti I thought she was in the former but it was blaringly obvious she was in the latter.

“Is there anything we can do?” I ask Dusti.

“I mean, I’m always checking in on her or taking her out to do things or having her over so she’s not stuck at home with him but that’s about all anyone can do until she’s ready to leave him for good.”

“That’s so true. Let me know if you ever need my help.” I tell her as I get back to work on my doll head in an attempt to distract myself from feeling helpless.

“I will.” she says as I finish clipping up my last section, surprised at my own work.

“Holy shit! I did it!” I scream, wrapping my arms around Dusti.

“I told you! It’s all about where we stand.” she says, her words resonating far deeper than she realizes.

For the last part of the week Charlie has us focus on the second stage of perming which is memorizing all 19 steps involved in doing a perm.

To make the memorization process more fun (or ridiculous) she breaks us up into groups of 3 and has each group write a song that incorporates all the steps in chronological order and then perform said song in front of the class.

Charlie puts Bode, Jimbo and I in a group and tells us we have 15min to compile a song  before we’re expected to perform it.

“Do we put the 19 steps to an existing song or just make up our own?” Bode asks as he and I tap our pens on empty sheets of paper.

“Let’s perform the song in sign language.” Jimbo says while chomping on her pen.

“You know sign language?” we both ask surprised.

“No, but I’m sure no one else does either. That way we can just make random gestures and no one will be the wiser for it AND we get out of having to write this stupid song.”

“But we’d all have to be making the same random gestures at the same time.” I tell her.

“Fuck, Stuke, can’t you just let me live my best lie?”

“What if we put all the steps to the song Danger Zone?” Bode suggests with a wild smile.

“Yeah, but instead we can call it Perming Zone!” I yell, struck with inspiration.

“That’s the gayest thing I’ve ever heard.” Jimbo says, tossing her saliva soaked pen on the table. “And I know a thing or ten about being gay.”

“Then you should feel right at home singing it.” I tell her.

“ME? No fucking way.” she protests.

“Why? It’d be great, and it makes the most sense.” Bode says.

“How so?” She asks him.

“I used to play bass and Stuke played drums. I can hum the melody while he keeps the beat by tapping his foot and hitting his leg.”

“And you bring the whole thing together with your angelic voice.” I tell her, glad that all I have to do during this fucked-up fiasco is make noises with my feet and hands.

Jimbo mulls the proposition over with furrowed brows.

“Fine, but since I’m the star I have a list of demands before I perform.”

“What do you want in your Rider?” Bode asks.

“A pack of cigarettes from each of you and a box of Twinkies.”

“You want a box of Twinkies from each of us too or just one in total?” Bode asks.

“Jesus cross-hanging Christ just one box in total, I’m not some white-trash waste basket.”

“Then what color of trash do you prefer to be called?” I ask her.

“Stuke, you can chew the chubbiest part of my clit ‘cause I don’t have to do any of this you know…”

“Ok, ok. Two packs of smokes and one box of Twinkies.” Bode says to keep the peace while I start scribbling down the words to our song.

“Okay guys, you’re up.” Charlie says, motioning us to the front of the room.

Bode starts off the melody and then I come in with the beat. Jimbo holds the lyric sheet in front of her face while shifting back and forth on her roomy hips, waiting for the part in the song when the lyrics kick in and then…

Rev up your motivation and do your CONSULTATION slow…

Make sure your clients DOUBLE DRAPED and they sign a RELEASE FORM so they know…

They’re on the highway to the Perming Zone, they’re gonna take a ride into the Perming Zone.

 Next you’re gonna CLARIFY with shampoo, WRAP and COTTON them then watch the PROCESS go…

Do a CURL EVALUATION then RINSE ‘em but don’t tell ‘em they can go…

‘Cause they’re on the highway to the Perming Zone, gonna look a fly way in the Perming Zone…

We make it through the entire song, listing off the other 10 steps in the process with minimal cursing from Jimbo throughout the performance.

Once we’re finished we receive a tepid response from the class as Bode shoves both fists in the air. “Thank you, Cleveland!” he yells while Jimbo crumbles up her lyric sheet then drops it like a mic.

“That was really good!” Charlie says while clapping her hands as we walk back to our seats.

“Thanks, you wanna sleep with the drummer?” I ask, instantly turning the color of her fair skinned face into a bright burning red.

“Those days are over, Stuke.” she says trying to regain her composure.

“Sad I missed them.”

 

Weak 5:

 

Just like last week this week is split in two. The first part of the week is spent practicing highlights on our doll heads.

For those of you unfamiliar with the highlighting process it’s a tedious procedure that involves sectioning the hair into specific patterns depending on the desired result and then taking small slices of hair from those patterns and weaving it with a weaving comb.

THEN you place a slice of tinfoil underneath the hair that’s been weaved and apply color or bleach to it and then wrap it all up in the foil as if it were leftovers from a BBQ.

The whole complicated and time consuming technique takes my frustration to heights unknown.

AND since Charlie once again has us using conditioner instead of actual color, I’m once again covered in white stains that make me look like I was the pivot person in a 10 man circle-jerk.

Marshall is brought in on our second day of practicing highlights because in addition to being the school’s resident roaster he’s also considered the school’s resident highlighting king.

A man of many talents this Marshall guy.

But to everyone’s surprise, instead of taking on his role of tormentor he takes on the role of mentor and walks from student to student, giving tips, demonstrating technique and being an all-around source of help, knowledge and encouragement.

“How’s it going, Stuke?” he asks with his signature smirk.

“It’s going right off a cliff, Marshall.” I say as I get my weave tangled into a knot while my foil slice falls to the floor.

“Can I give you a suggestion?” he asks.

“You can give me twenty.”

“Try doing the weave moving your entire arm instead of just your wrist because it’s the motion from your wrist that’s getting your weave tangled and knotted. If you employ your whole arm then it will keep you more balanced and in control.”

I try this a couple times and look like a robot having a violent seizure and knocking my doll head off it’s tripod.

“Let me help you…” he says, placing my doll head back on her stake and then positioning himself behind me like a puppet-master, placing his hand on my arm.

“Whoa! You’re stiff as a corpse!”

“I’m a tad stressed.”

“Lets loosen you up.” he says as he starts massaging my arm and shoulder.

“Marshall, is it appropriate for you to be massaging Stuke?” Charlie asks, giving us an instant audience of my fellow students.

“He’s too tense, besides, doing hair falls into the touching people industry so this is perfectly acceptable.”

“I’m not gonna lie, it feels good.” I tell Charlie.

“Fine.” she relents. “Just make sure his shirt stays on.”

“Ok…” he says, taking hold of my arm and then guiding me through the weave, making the act seem light and effortless. “There, see how easy that was?”

“Yeah.” I tell him surprised, looking at a perfect weave.

Next he walks me through foil placement, product application and then folding the foil into a nice, neat square.

He has me do a few more while he watches and coaches, each weave and foil I do getting better and better resulting in my doll head not looking like she crawled out of a dumpster.

The second part of the week we watch cutting videos in preparation of our first haircut on our doll head.

After watching the videos and a live demonstration by Charlie showing us the step-by-step process of cutting a basic one-length she has us chop away.

Everything I watched in the videos and in Charlie’s demonstration made perfect sense but since my mind, eyes, arms hands and fingers aren’t accustomed to working in tandem for the purpose of cutting hair, my doll head ends up looking like she’d gotten her mane caught in a blender.

There’s no doubt that if this poor thing had a fully functional body then she would definitely grab the shears from me and slit my throat.

Also the end of this week marks that we have one more week left in Core.

But before we’re able to transition onto The Floor with all the other Future Professionals in gen-pop we have to show that we kinda know what it is we’re doing.

So to prove that we’re not total dipshits that might hurt ourselves or someone else we have to pass two exams at the end of next week.

The first exam is a written covering all the chapters we’ve gone over and the tests we’ve taken in our Milady Cosmetology Textbook. Charlie tells us that the exam will consist of 50 questions spanning 10 chapters.

The second part of the exam is a practical exam in which we have to demonstrate our ability to do highlights, single and double process color applications, perm sectioning and being able to recite the 19-steps to doing a perm as well as shampooing and blow-drying.

All of this is to be done, mind you, on a living, breathing model (which we’re tasked with finding).

In the event the student fails either part of the exam that student will be forced to repeat another six weeks in Core.

This not only means they’ll be six weeks behind their graduation date and have to pay Rene extra money  but it also means they’ll endure non-stop taunts and ridicule for the rest of their tortured time at Paul Mitchell for being the slow kid that got held back a grade.

I take this consequence very seriously because I do not want to be held back.

So I have Bode come over after school lets out on Saturday afternoon and we spend all night Saturday and all day and night Sunday and Monday practicing on our doll heads for the practical exam.

We also make flash cards to quiz one another on subjects related to the written exam.

In addition to that I decide it’s in my best interest to pump the brakes on my drinking so both my body and mind have the chance to operate in the way they were intended to.


Weak 6:

 

Starting bright and early on Tuesday morning Charlie has us review all the material we’ve read from our textbook and has us taking practice quiz after practice quiz.

Everyone is stressed the fuck out with the exception of Denise who’s absent.

“Have you talked to her at all?” Dusti asks me while I’m smoking a cigarette on our 10min break.

“No, why?”

“We were supposed to hang out on Sunday but I never heard from her. I’ve been calling her like a stalker ever since and it keeps going straight to voicemail.”

“Maybe her phone broke or she’s sick or she’s sick AND her phone broke.” I say in a lame attempt to hope for the best even though we both know Denise lives in the land of the worst.

“Maybe I’ll swing by her place during lunch to see if she’s ok or needs anything.” she says.

“Want me to go with you?”

“I would but I’d hate to do anything that could trigger her boyfriend if he’s there. ”

“Fair enough.  Let me know if you change your mind.”

“I will.” she says as we head back into school.

An hour later Bode, Dusti and I are in class sharing a table, trying to memorize the differences between the Anagen, Catagen and Telogen phases of hair growth when Dusti’s phone gives a text alert.

“Dusti, you know this is a no-phone zone right now.” Charlie says.

“I’m sorry.” she says, opening up her phone to check the text. “I’ve just been worried about- OH MY GOD!” she says petrified.

“What?” I ask.

“It’s from Denise.” she says, showing me the cryptic one word message she’d sent:

 

 

help

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weak End (part I)

Chapter 14

 

Weak One:

We go over what Charlie refers to as the nuts and bolts of hair styling which consists of shampooing our doll heads, flat-ironing their hair and blow drying it.

The shampooing and flat-ironing is a cinch. Blow drying however, hell on earth.

Tension, constant movement and keeping the blow dryer parallel with the round brush are all basic requirements to pulling off a successful blow dry, none of which I can do after 49 repeated tries.

Each time I attempt it the result looks worse than before, my doll head’s hair ending up in a giant ball of frizz or giant dreadlock. The only comfort I get from each failed effort is the fact that my doll head can’t talk because if she could she’d be yelling at me a very long and angry torrent of obscenities.

“You know what you can do that will help you with your blow drys, Stuke?” Jimbo asks as she looks over the 50th shitty blow dry I’ve done.

“What’s that, Jim?” I ask exhausted.

“When you go home tonight practice blow-drying your doll head in the shower, that way you can both be put out of your misery.”

“I appreciate the suggestion and judging by the way you smell when you come to class every day I never would’ve guessed you knew what a shower was.” I tell her.

Yet even without her fucked-up feedback I know that out of everyone in class I’m that person.

I’m the one all the others look at when they’re feeling bad about their work so they can feel better again.

I’m the patron saint of sucking at hair and when someone is feeling down on themselves all they have to do is pay a visit to my altar of atrocity and recite the following prayer for solace:

I may not be that good but at least I’m better than Stuke. Thank you, God. Amen. 

Weak 2:

We practice doing single and double color application processes which means I either make a regular mess or twice the mess.

Charlie has us using conditioner instead of color to practice on our doll heads which means I get the milky white substance EVERYWHERE and on EVERYONE which nobody appreciates.

I’m constantly making such a mess that I’m quarantined to a separate part of the room so the only one who’s a causality of my inability is me. By the end of each try I look like the unwilling participant of a bukake party.

Weak 3:

Charlie bludgeons us over the head with our Milady Textbook of Cosmetology for the entire week causing the sort of blunt force trauma that would make even the most seasoned ER surgeons puke with disgust.

At the end of our 6 weeks in Core we’re to be tested by having both a practical and written exam before we’re able to go onto The Floor and start taking clients so she has us reading chapter after chapter and taking test after test.

Every day is a never ending rapid river of information that we have to absorb and regurgitate…total mental bulimia.

And if all that weren’t enough I keep thinking about this upcoming Sunday because it was the day that I was supposed to be getting married to Gums.

The constant thought of it looms over my head like a dark storm cloud that keeps pouring down on me a million could haves, would haves and should haves to the point that I feel like I’m drowning inside my own head.

Since the wedding was supposed to be at Jay’s I call him up during my lunch break and ask him if I can come over that day, get drunk and take the wedding dress he’d bought for Gums as a gift (and still had possession of) and set it on fire in his backyard.

“Your absurdity never ceases to amaze me.” he says.

“I don’t see what’s so absurd about wanting to burn that dress in effigy.” I tell him while eating my own Tofurkey sandwich that Bode has been thoughtful enough to make and bring me every day for lunch. “Think of it as a bonfire of the vanities.”

“I most certainly will not. Besides, my homeowners insurance doesn’t cover drunk idiots accidentally setting my yard ablaze so the answer is NO.”

“Then can I at least have the dress so I can destroy it in some sort of symbolic way?”

“NO.”

“Why not?!”

“Because I might give it to Matlin.”

“Who the hell is Matlin?”

“This guy I’ve been seeing a lot of lately and he just might be the one.”

“Be the one what?”

“The one I marry, hello.”

You’re thinking about getting married?”

“Don’t judge me, it could happen, and if it does that dress would look spectacular on him.”

“You’ve gotta be joking.”

“I don’t joke when it comes to me marrying someone and the dress I want them to wear while doing it.”

“Fine, whatever. Can I at least come over and hang out with you then?”

“Why? So you can get drunk and ramble on about Gums all day long? No thanks, I’d rather put my dick in a salad shooter.”

“That’d be one of the safer places you’ve put it in recent times.”

“I’ll give you that…but I won’t give you my Sunday afternoon.”

“Why not?”

“Because Matlin is coming over and we’re gonna watch Rupal’s drag race and then I’m gonna watch him go down on me ‘ALL NIGHT LONG…’ he sings as if he were Lionel Ritchie.

“Well then what am I supposed to do? I don’t wanna spend that day alone!”

“I dunno, invite some of your schoolmates over for a party, you paid a lot of money to meet them so put it to good use. Jesus, do I have to think of everything for you?”

I didn’t wanna admit it but Jay’s idea was good. And even though I didn’t really know anyone in my class besides Bode that didn’t stop me from inviting everyone over to get rip-roaring drunk with me in an attempt to keep my attention diverted for the day.

Since we had to order the wedding invites in bulk that meant there were more than enough to use as invites to my party. So I took a black sharpie and drew a giant X over the front of the invite and on the back wrote:

You are cordially invited to get shitfaced with me on the day I was supposed to get married but won’t  be now because my bride is busy banging a banker. Also, please bring a covered dish.

And then I handed them out to my Core class.

At around 2pm Sunday almost the entire squad showed up, including Jimbo who’s brought a super-sized cake.

“It’s Vegan.” she says as she tosses it down on the table.

“Thanks, but you didn’t have to do that because I’m not vegan.”

“I know. But you’re just as lame as a vegan so it’s appropriate.” she says lighting up a cigarette.

By 9pm everyone is wasted, dancing around, laughing, screaming and bringing a positive life-force to my apartment, a life-force that’s been absent for months on end.

Denise, the cute girl next door type had shown up looking stunning in a short summer dress and had been cozying up to me but then disappeared sometime after 9:30 so I figured she’d had too much to drink and just peaced out on the down-low.

By 10:30pm everyone has dispersed leaving Bode and myself as the last ones standing.

“You gonna be ok by yourself?” he asks as he helps me clean up the place.

“Yeah I’ll be fine.”

“You sure? I’m happy to stay if you need me to, I know this day was tough for you.”

“It’s cool, you’ve done more than enough and I really appreciate you, thanks.”

“You’re a good person.” he says, pulling me in for a hug. “Don’t let the actions of your ex make you think otherwise.”

“Thanks, man, that means a lot. I’m glad we met.”

“Me too. I’ll see you in class next week, call if you need anything.”

“Will do.”  I tell him as he walks out the door, leaving me alone with the pestering company of my thoughts.

The Killers “Mr. Brightside” comes on and I grab a bottle of vodka and think about everything that was supposed to be happening today but didn’t.

I was supposed to be with Gums and our group of family and friends celebrating our marriage.

I was supposed to be holding her in my arms, dancing with her in Jay’s backyard under the starlit sky.

I was supposed to return home with her, kissing her neck as I unzipped her wedding dress and then ran my hands over her brown, tattooed body.

And then I was supposed to be having sex with her for the first time as her husband, knowing without a doubt that she would be the only person I’d ever want to be with like this for the rest of my life.

Being with her felt like home. She had been my home.

But that home was gone now and in its place was a mausoleum where her ghost and I were its sole occupants.

As I listen to a song about a guy whose girlfriend is cheating on him a slogan I’d heard years ago randomly pops into my mind.

Life doesn’t always give you what you want but it always gives you what you need…   

As I chugged the vodka to escape the disappointing reality I’d been forced into I wondered why life in its infinite wisdom thought I needed any of this bullshit.   

“Stuke…” a voice came from my room, scaring the shit out of me to the point I started choking on the vodka and had to spit it out.

I went to investigate, thinking that maybe I’d finally reached that level of alcoholism where one starts to hear things and hallucinate.

Upon entering my room I was assured that I wasn’t tripping and that it had been an actual person.

It was Denise and she was in my bed, cuddled under the covers.

“I thought you’d left without saying goodbye.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t feeling good so I snuck off.” she says, pulling the covers away and revealing a very attractive and very naked body. “I hope you don’t mind…”

“I think with enough therapy I’ll get over it.”

“That’s good.” she says, running one hand through her long, chestnut colored hair and the other one down the side of her body.

“How are you feeling?” she asks with a smile.

That was the million dollar question.

One minute I think I’m all alone and preparing to drown myself in misery, the next I’m looking at a hot, naked woman lying in my bed who I had no idea was here in the first place.

Life doesn’t always give you what you want but it always gives you what you need…

“I’m okay.” I tell her as I lean up against the door and take a swig off my bottle.

“Just ok?” she says rolling over and exposing her toned backside and perfectly peach shaped ass.

“Yeah.”

I hadn’t had sex since Gums had left 3 months ago which is the longest I’d gone without it since I was 15.

I wasn’t sure if I could remember how to do it and even if I could remember I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it through without breaking down and crying like some broken-hearted bitch since tonight was technically my wedding night.

“I bet you’d feel a lot better if you were in bed with me…” she says, coming up on all fours and looking over her shoulder.

And she was right, I did feel better.

Being wanted by someone made me feel better.

Connecting physically with someone made me feel better.

And fucking their brains out and making them feel good made me feel better.

It was the best hour of my life that I’d had in what seemed like forever.

I felt worthy again, wanted again and attractive again.

I felt alive and liberated, if only for a while, from all the oppression of my suffering.

“Just so you know…” I tell her as we share a post-coital cigarette. “We’re violating our purity contracts.”

“It was worth it.” she says, caressing her hand up and down my chest.

“Do you wanna stay the night?”

“I’d like to but I need to get home. Are you ok to drive me?”

“Yeah, I’m not so drunk that I can’t act sober.”

We put our clothes on and walk out to my dilapidated Honda Del Sol.

“Oh my god I love these cars! Can we take the top off?”

“Sure.” I tell her, feeling like a baller in my poor man’s Porsche.

We drive to her place, blasting Depeche Mode’s “Home” on repeat as the warm night air breezes around us and she keeps her hand on my leg.

For a minute I feel like the old me again, the confident me, the me who was free of heartache and free of being haunted by the memory of someone.

It felt good.

It felt better than good.

It felt like coming up for air when you’ve been underwater and how that first breath of oxygen fills your lungs with life and your heart with gratitude.

“Do you want me to walk you to your door?” I ask as we pull up to her apartment complex.

“It’s ok, I don’t know if he’ll be up or not.”

“Your roommate?”

“My boyfriend.”

HUH?

“You have a boyfriend?”

“Yeah…” she says, dropping her head. “It’s bad though, it’s really bad.”

“You didn’t think about telling me?”

“I’m sorry, it’s just really embarrassing to talk about it because he’s strung-out and gets violent and I need to leave but I can’t because I’m broke and…and…and I really like you but…”

Her gentle sobbing kept her from finishing her sentence.

And even though she’d made me the other man, the Rob the Banker, I couldn’t be mad at her because she’d also made me feel normal again.

By her wrapping her naked body around mine, kissing me with a raw and primal passion and looking at me as someone of worth she had helped me re-connect with a part of myself I was convinced had been lost forever.

She had helped me find my way home to myself, if only for a little while, but a little while was all I needed to be assured that it still existed, that I could find my way there permanently.

“It’s ok.” I tell her, running my hands through her hair and wiping the tears from her cheeks. “Are you gonna be safe when you go inside?”

“Yeah, hopefully he’s passed out in an oxy-coma but if things get rough can I call you to come get me?”

“Of course.”

“Thanks and thank you for taking me home. I had a great time with you tonight and the sex was…”

“Was what? Nauseating? Frightening? Regretfu-“

“It was amazing.” she says with a wide grin. “I haven’t felt so good or so valued in such a long time.”

“Me too.”

“I’ll see you at school next week.” she says as she gets out of the car and collects herself.

I watch her walk up to her door and wonder what’s waiting for her on the other side of it and if it’s waiting to do more damage to her than it’s already done.

I think about how we’ve all been broken by others and in turn we go out and break others in the same ways we’ve been broken.

We’ve become a population of zombies that take turns biting one another, infecting and re-infecting. Not because we’re evil but because we’re all hurt, and hurt people hurt people.

Denise puts her key in the lock and before turning it looks over to me, blows a kiss and mouths the words “Thank you” then goes inside.    

Chapter 13

 

Ron stood at the front of the room continuing to rock back and forth on his heels with his hands behind his back, sizing up our class while Charlie stood at his side like a lower ranking officer accompanying a general addressing his troops.

“Good morning, everyone, my name is Ron however I’ve gained the moniker Captain Ron around school. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it is what it is.” he said in a commanding, rhythmic voice.

“It’s a great thing.” Charlie says, beaming a smile of adoration at him.

“Thank you, Charlie.” he tells her while keeping his gaze on us.

“I’d like to congratulate you on making it through the meet-n-greet. While they aren’t easy they are an honest introduction into the hair industry in the fact that they make you feel uncomfortable, which is something you should get used to feeling for the rest of your lives as stylists.”

Charlie nodded her head in agreement.

“You should also get used to feeling stressed-out, worn-out and freaked-out as well because the truth is, hair is war. It’s a war with your clients, it’s a war with science and it’s a war with yourself. And every day that war starts anew.”

Well this day was turning out to be quite the face-fuck all before noon.

First we’d been dragged onstage to be ambushed by Marshall and the rest of the school and now we have Captain Ron telling us that the profession we’ve chosen is comparable to being in a violent conflict with a high mortality rate.

What was next? Rene force-feeding us her chili dogs and then sewing our asses shut?

Sheesh-us Christ.

“I know it’s only your second day but in a few short months you’ll be out in the real world, taking real clients and being neck deep in the trenches of that war. And the only way to win that war is to have confidence.” he says, placing his elbow on Charlie’s podium and leaning into it.

“Now I believe confidence is something that’s earned, it’s not something you can fake even though it’s encouraged that you do so with the whole ‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ mantra…” he says with a heavy sigh.

“But I don’t buy that BS. True confidence comes from competence and competence comes from doing something over and over again until you’re good at it. And as your competence grows so does your confidence. Does that make sense?”

We nod our heads in agreement because seriously, who’s gonna disagree with this guy?

For all we know he could be a former army general or a former pimp, prone to doling out thrashings for any type of insubordination and none of us were in the mood for a court martial or street side beat down.

“So what I do here at the school is I oversee the accelerated learning program called Phase 2. In Phase 2 we take the best students and make them better. They do hair 7 of the 8 hours they’re here and you know what happens in all that time?”

“It builds competence.” Charlie chimes in.

“That’s exactly right, Charlie. It builds competence…through repetition. And from that competence comes your confidence. Confidence in both your skills and knowledge.”

“Can we join Phase 2 as soon as we’re finished with Core?” Bode asks.

“No, you have to have 800 hours before you’re eligible.” Charlie says with a hinge of disappointment.

“But again, that’ll be here before you know it.” Ron adds. “And one of the requirements to be considered for Phase 2 is to have a perfect attendance during your time in Core. You have to demonstrate early on that you’re serious about your craft.”

Ron takes his elbow off the podium and regains his regal posture, turning to Jimbo who still looks a little queasy post push-up performance.

“Nice job on that stage, girl.” Ron tells her. “You had great form.”

“Thanks.” she tells him with a thumbs up as her head drops to the table.

“Anyway, thank you for your time, everyone, come see me when you’re ready.” he says with the bow of his head.

“Thank you, Ron.” Charlie tells him as he walks out of the room with the same statesmanship and swagger that he’d strode in on.

“I encourage you all to try to join Phase 2 when you’re eligible because Ron is one of the most gifted and effective Learning Leaders at the school. Now, speaking of school…” Charlie says, skipping over to a giant box and opening it up. “Let’s get to some learning!”

She digs into the box and brings out an 800 page book titled: Milady Standard Cosmetology Textbook. She then hands everyone a copy of this huge hardback and has us open to page 1.

3 hours and 199 pages later we’ve covered the entire evolutionary history of hair starting with the first hair cut which dates back to the ice age.

Apparently some scientists defrosted a frozen caveman and discovered that not only was he wearing a prehistoric fanny-pack but he was also rocking a mullet to match it. No doubt this guy was the fucking fire at every primordial party right up until the weather turned cold for a few thousand years.

We also learned that when ancient Egyptians weren’t busy having slaves build pyramids for them they were busy having slaves color their hair for them with a mixture of lead oxide, slaked lime and water.

It was obvious that even sex-symbols as far back as Cleopatra knew that you can’t bring a Roman Emperor to his knees if your greys are showing.

In addition to all that, we also read that the iconic red, white and blue barber pole people associate with haircutting actually evolved from the treatment of bloodletting.

The white pole symbolized the staff a patient would squeeze to make their veins pop out, the blue stripe symbolized their vein and the red, well, you get the gory picture.

Also, it wasn’t doctors that performed the bloodletting but Barbers. Yeah, in addition to shaves and haircuts they also performed tooth extractions, amputations and as already stated, slicing people’s veins open as an idiotic immunity booster.

And if all that trivial fun wasn’t enough, we learned about skin types, hair density, bacteria, and the fascinating evolution of perming methods that despite all their advancements, still smell like shit.

By the time we’d gotten to a stopping point everyone’s brains are throbbing, mine due to a lack of alcohol.

Charlie excuses us for lunch and I make a mad dash to the nearest restaurant with a bar, Bode coming along to keep me company and bringing with him a lunch that he’d packed.

We get to the restaurant and I have a Corona while he eats his lunch consisting of a sandwich and some carrot sticks.

“What’s in the sandwich?”

“Its Tofurkey with gluten-free bread.” he says proudly.

“To-what?”

“Tofurkey. Tofu made to taste like turkey. It’s really good plus it agrees with my stomach. The last thing I want is my asshole eating me from the inside out like yesterday. You want half?”

“Seriously?”

“Of course.” he says as cuts the sandwich in half and puts it on a napkin for me.

“Whoa! This is like the best thing ever!” I tell him after my first bite, genuinely surprised.

“I know!” he says back with a mouthful of tofu that identifies itself as a turkey. “So what’d you think of Ron and what he had to say?”

“Between Marshall and his whole live episode of Punk’d and then Captain Ron and his whole “looking for a few good men” speech it’s hard to know what the fuck to think at this second.” I say as I wash the sandwich down with my beer.

“Yeah it’s definitely been an intense day. But I did like what Ron talked about with Phase 2 and I’m down to join, what about you?”

“I don’t know, man, I’m usually allergic to authoritative people like him. I mean I didn’t come here so I could feel like I was in the military and a part of Seal Team Scissors.”

“Hahahaha, I get that but just think of how much better you’ll be if you’re doing hair at school all day long.”

“I know but that also means being stuck with THAT motherfucker all day long too.”

“Well I’m not giving up on you just yet. 800 hours would put us at roughly 5 months from now so I’ve got plenty of time to talk you into it. And think about it, we didn’t pay all this money to leave school being mediocre.”

“You make a good argument, especially with the aid of a Tofurkey sandwich.”

“Good. Then let’s make a pact not to miss a day of Core so you’ll at least be eligible to join.”

“I can live with that.” I tell him, bumping his fist with one hand and downing the rest of my beer with the other.

I pay my tab and we head back to school, making sure we’re not late to avoid the wrath of Rene.

As we enter the Core Room Charlie has pushed all the tables off to the side and has placed in the middle of the floor a doll head that’s been impaled on a tripod.

TLC’s “Waterfalls” is blasting over the room’s stereo and on the front wall is a poster with the outline of a head shape that has lines at different degrees protruding from it, making it look like some sort of lobotomy diagram from the 19th century.

“Welcome back!” Charlie says full of excitement. “Grab your doll heads and a tripod and set them up then grab some hairpins out of the box over here.”

We do as we’re told and then stand by for further instructions.

“So what we’re going to practice are pin curls. They’re super basic but it’s going to help you understand that the different angles hair is styled at will produce different results in its volume.”

Charlie quickly and efficiently sections out her doll head’s hair and then wraps three different pin curls at three different angles (on base, half on base and off base) each one looking light, bouncy and flawless.

“Ok, everyone, give it a try at all three angles and be sure to reference the diagram poster up front if you need to.”

Everyone starts working on their doll heads and as I brush through mine I realize that doing this pin curl will be the first time I’ve styled any hair other than my own. It’s quite the monumental moment.

So I section out my doll head’s hair then subsection it and do the pin curl, making this my first official step into becoming a bonafide hairstylist.

And then I fall flat on my face.

My curl doesn’t come close to looking like the one Charlie had done. While hers had these perfectly circular curves and bounce, mine looks twisted and mangled as if it were run over by an 18-wheeler.

So I give it another go.

And fall flat on my face again.

And again.

And again.

Aaaaaaaand again.

One more time.

I’m lying.

94 more times.

By my 100th try the section I’ve been working on has ended up in some type of complex knot which I’m sure would garner applause from a Boy Scout but would get a loud gasp from a hairstylist.

I look around and everyone else is pulling it off effortlessly, their curls looking flawless.

Mine, however, total shit.

And then the reality of it all hits me.

I’m no good at this and I shouldn’t be here.

Hair isn’t something that comes natural to me like it obviously does with everyone else. I’m an imposter here, a charlatan, a fucking lie.

I wanna crawl off in a dark corner and fall apart without any concern of putting myself back together again.

Enrolling in hair school had been my attempt at rebuilding myself and by the looks of the rat’s nest I’ve created on my doll head it had been the wrong course of action.

This was just another mistake in a long line of mistakes. Another log to throw on my raging fire of faults that was burning away any shred of self-esteem or hope I might’ve had left.

I look at the mess I’ve made and it’s the perfect metaphor for my life, all of it one big messy disasterpiece.

Charlie must’ve noticed me just staring at my doll head with the same vacant eyes the doll head was staring back at me with.

“Everything ok?” she asks, touching my arm with a loving gentleness only a female can exude.

“I can’t do this.” I tell her, my voice quivering from all the inner turmoil that’s rumbling inside of me. “This one simple thing I can’t fucking do it.”

“How many times have you done this before?”

“Today?”

“In your life, before today.”

“None.”

“Ok, so don’t beat yourself up over it.”

“Everyone else seems to be doing just fine.”

“Listen…” she says, touching my face and turning it towards hers. “When learning something new the worst thing you can do is pay attention to how well other people might be doing it. Don’t ever compare yourself to someone else’s progress. We all arrive at our destination in our own time and in our own way.”

She gracefully sprays detangler over my doll head and then tenderly brushes out the knot and mats.

“Don’t forget what Ron said about competence and what it takes to build it and don’t get discouraged.  Each try is a step closer to where you want to be, the only way you’ll keep from getting there is if you give up.”

Once she has the doll head’s hair nice and smooth she shows me again how it’s done and I try to emulate it, all to no avail, my hands refusing to do what my mind is instructing them to do.

“Fuck.” I say through gritted teeth as my hand turns to a fist, ready to strike my doll head down with furious anger.

“It’s ok.” Charlie says in a quiet voice. “You’re going to get this and everything else that follows and I’ll help you each step of the way.” She says as she brushes the doll head’s hair back.

“And one day when you’re an amazing stylist, accomplishing things you never knew you could do, you’ll look back on this moment with great reverence in how far you’ve come. Who knows, you might even write a book about that incredible journey.”

“If you think I’m gonna write anything about any of this then you’re certifiably insane.”

“Well change is constant, Stuke.” she says with a heartwarming smile. “And for now why don’t you give yourself a change of pace. Go outside and unwind with some fresh air, come back whenever you’re ready.”

I walk out to the smoking area and sit against the building, smoking a cigarette and watching the cars zoom by on Ventura Blvd wishing I could go with them so they could take me away from all the frustration, anger and anxiety I’d suddenly felt inside class.

As an adopted child I’d always carried with me a crippling fear of abandonment that I never outgrew. I always worried that the people I loved would leave, and then one day, Gums left.

And I hated this mess of a person she’d left me with, an emotionally unstable person who could lose his shit at the drop of a pin curl.

And although my fear of abandonment had been a specter haunting me throughout my life, I started to wonder how easy it’d be to abandon myself. Because the truth was, I was sick of who I’d become so I wondered if it’d be best to just walk away from this person and everything in his life.

I put my hand up to wipe away the tears, knowing that I really wanna walk away from all of this the same way Gums had walked away from me.

But just because she’d betrayed me didn’t mean I should betray myself. Just because she’d abandoned me didn’t mean I should abandon myself.

I knew, or at least I thought I knew, that deep down, buried beneath all this dysfunctional debris was a strong and defiant person.

But until that person returned I’d have make do with what I had, with the me that I was.

I turn and face the school, looking into it through its giant windows and watching all the Future Professionals working on The Floor. In the window I can see my reflection which superimposes me onto The Floor as well.

Hanging off to the side on one of the walls is a giant sign with 6 words written in bold, black letters like a commandment from God saying:

FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT 

Captain Ron didn’t believe in faking it but it looked like the rest of the school did and as far as I was concerned I had no other choice but to.

I was going to have to fake who I was until the real me showed back up.

 

 

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.