Fu Manchu, Foo Man Choo, Man Chew Food

For a clean shave, every time

It was time to resume clean living, starting with a nice, hot, lathery shave. It’d been so long since Honeycutt’s face had been hairless that just thinking about its possibilities made his cheeks tingle with anticipation.

Honeycutt was finally ready for this. As proof, he was investing a large portion of his remaining assets in shaving gear — a tungsten machete-of-scissors to hack through the briary scrub; a sleek, aerodynamic quadruple blade for strafing the facial landscape; a glinting safety blade for hard to reach areas, a canister of frothy white “Comfoam” brand shaving cream; and a tube of “advanced” gel with aloe, for sensitive skin (which he assumed he still had, underneath). Gathering his purchases, he reassured himself again that he was making the right decision.

If he had been more successful with his beard, he might’ve felt justified for his misgivings about shaving. At first, he’d grown it in order to manufacture an image appropriate to his role as the bass player for a bluegrass band called the Iuka Ravine Bootleggers, but he kept it even after they fired him, because it’d just grown beyond the point where it itched constantly, and thus seemed a shame to shave now. So, broke, bearded, and bedraggled, he refashioned his entire look to shout “Kiss My Snot” to the world. This wildly whiskered demeanor became a symbol of his angst and uncompromising bohemianism, which suited his self-image as a creative martyr, someone who should be revered and abhorred. (Being indigent was not incompatible with having a healthy ego — it was almost essential, if you weren’t truly crazy). Now, though, bereft and exhausted, he was ready to bow to the need to resume a countenance that wouldn’t repel potential employers. He even figured that once he righted his financial situation, he might go back school, take a couple of business courses, which would be useful for whatever he eventually decided to do for a living.

The pure white light in the Zippy Mart convenience store induced Honeycutt’s pupils to dilate. At 11:18 pm, it was well past the after-work rush when people stopped to buy quarts of milk and loaves of bread, and it was also past the evening bustle of people buying six packs of beer and nacho chips on their ways to or from some activity, and the last wave of bedtime shoppers had just gotten their aspirin, cigarettes, toothpaste, cough drops, dog food, or whatever else they needed to tide them through until morning. It was at about this time that the night bodies brought their distinctive smells and edgy idiosyncrasies into the crackling static air. Honeycutt appreciated being among them — the forlorn, the insomniac, the runaways, the strung out, the night stalkers, and the secret keepers; but he felt wistful in their company on that night, for he knew that he was preparing to abandon them for a day face.

“Hello, hello, hello,” chirped the cherubic young cashier, whose lips quivered when she beamed, so that the delicate runnel between her nostrils and upper lip plumped into a kind of goldfish kiss. She had red hair and pixy freckles. Her name tag, pinned to the very tip of her right nipple, proclaimed that her name was Mindy and that she was Here to Help You. “How’re ya doin’ this evening?,” Mindy queried cheerfully.

Stroking his beard, Honeycutt found a discarded toothpick in the underbrush; he took it out and, with due consideration to the gross-out potential of his action, began to pick between his molars. He spat out the nutty residue of a Pay Day bar, and was then seized by an esophageal spasm which caused him to heave and retch. What he coughed up into his brownish handkerchief looked like a ball of something toxic. “Oh uh,” he somewhat apologized.

Mindy seemed unaffected by his vulgarity. She had a pert, mousey nose, dimpled cheeks and a plump chin that had no cleft whatsoever. Kinky strands of her hair broke away from her pony tail, adding an endearingly disheveled quality to her cuteness.

“I hope that you’re having a super great evening,” Mindy sang as she scanned his purchases.

Honeycutt wondered what somebody like Mindy, so clearly not a nighthawk, was doing working the graveyard shift at a sleazy convenience store in a not-so-great neighborhood. Instead, she seemed better comported for a job as a jovial office receptionist with a jar of chocolate kisses on her desk, or a short-skirted barista at some overpriced Short North coffee shop where her cuteness helped fill the tips cup, or even a comely but pleasantly dizzy weather bimbo on a local news station, where her impish looks and buoyant personality would make folks feel good about lousy weather.

“That will come to exactly twelve hundred and fifty six pennies,” Mindy giggled.

“Uh?

Also behind the counter was a cross-eyed man with a comb-over his bald, mottled head, who wore suspenders with his striped Zippy Mart shirt. “She means twelve dollars and 56 cents,” he explained, rolling his eyes.

“Tee hee!” Mindy shrugged her shoulders.

“Meh.”

When Honeycutt dumped the loose coinage from his pockets onto the counter, Mindy immediately began arranging it into quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies… and when she found a Sacajawea dollar coin, she gasped as if she’d just discovered a gold nugget. From her pocket, she removed a crumbled dollar bill and exchanged it for the coin, which she kept.

Somehow, that didn’t seem right to Honeycutt. He thought about asking for it back, but Mindy interrupted his intentions by piping, “Let me get a little bag for you,” in such a pleasant, helpful voice that it made him reconsider.

“Umm,” he grumbled

Transaction complete, Honeycutt took the plastic bag and wrapped its handle around his wrist. He looked past Mindy, to where the cross-eyed man took a cigarette from behind his ear and began fingering it; “Goodnight, Cowboy,” he said, nodding in the direction of the door. Honeycutt considered making some retort, until Mindy’s parting wish for him to “Have a wonderful night, sir” made him forget what he’d wanted to say.

“Urg,” he muttered.

***

Honeycutt stood on the curb at 10th and North High Street, on top of a sewer cover dated 1966, looking toward the city, shielding his eyes from the shock white bulbs on the rows and rows of steel arches spanning the corridor and which seemed to recede in the distance when he closed his left eye, then converge when he closed his right eye, like falling and being rammed simultaneously. (This illusion might have had something to do with lasting effects of the pint of Monarch vodka that he’d drunk for dinner, and not that he was losing his mind, he reassured himself.) The autumn air was misty, dulling the tar, petrol, exhaust and assorted rotten scents from alleys and vacant lots. Honeycutt’s sister Michelle’s condo (the Jacksonian) was just six blocks away — a ten minute walk — but not wanting to return there until he was sure that she’d have gone to bed, Honeycutt paused when he reached the limestone sofa. There, he sat on a bench that was in reality a sculpture (or vice versa), in a little inset off the sidewalk, surrounded by iron railing and flanked by lanterns. It was a place where he liked to kill time and seek inspiration.

Appropriately, night people were out playing their roles. There was a man in flagrant violation of Columbus’s leash laws allowing his gnarly terrier to defecate on a mosaic piece of sidewalk art in front of what used to be the ticket booth for the Garden Theatre. Back in the parking lot of Magnolia Thunderpussy, there were a couple of kids sitting on the hood of a car, making no attempt to conceal that they were passing a joint. In the abandoned lot where the Good Boy Drive-in used to be, there was somebody sitting alone in the driver seat of a parked car. All were his kinds of people. Honeycutt permitted himself to doze on his sculpture, absorbing the passage of time in sodden reverie, until he was startled by the sound of a car alarm going off somewhere in the Village. He concluded that it was now past any chance that Michelle would still be awake. It was time, then, to start shaving.

Punching in the secret building code on the keypad, Honeycutt was careful not to let any of the loiterers outside of the Jacksonian slip in behind him. (They sometimes tried.) Michelle had left a light in the foyer for Honeycutt (it was a Mickey Mouse nite light, which she’d purchased as a souvenir of Disney World, when she’d gone there with her lousy, two-timing ex-boyfriend, before she kicked him out). The door to her bedroom was closed — not just shut, but closed; and that meant that she was yielding the run of the apartment to Honeycutt. He’d gotten over feeling guilty that she so frequently felt the need to lock herself in her own room of her own apartment in order to obtain a modicum of privacy. Michelle didn’t know that he knew that, as one of her last lucid requests, their mother had made her vow to “watch out for” her baby brother. So, he let Michelle vent, complain, threaten, and get exasperated with him, but he knew that out of respect to their mother, she’d relent to him, ultimately. There was one bottle of St. Pauli Girl beer in the refrigerator — not meant for him, certainly, but if she didn’t want him to have it, she should’ve known better.

Sitting on the toilet, Honeycutt pondered how to shave — where to begin, in which direction to cut, what could be felled with a blade, and what would require scissors. The seashell-shaped bathroom sink was just-scrubbed clean. He considered enclosing it in a towel, to preserve its cleanliness against the mess that he was sure to make while shaving. There’d certainly be knots, grizzle and stubble, flakes of skin, scabs and maybe blood. It was a lot to think about. Honeycutt began laying out his essential instruments: the blades, the gel, the cream, a washcloth and sponge, paper towels, and his St. Pauli Girl beer.

Contemplating the label on the beer bottle, the robust good cheer on the face of the buxom St. Pauli Girl made Honeycutt think of Mindy at the Zippy Mart.

And that’s when Honeycutt apprehended another tonsorial possibility. He hadn’t given much thought to the process of shaving, just the end result; this, it seemed now, was a failure of premeditation, putting the destination ahead of the journey. Honeycutt scratched his beard and fogged his mirror image with a heavy sigh. It occurred to him that he didn’t remember what he really looked like, and that opened his imagination to other possibilities. Such a tumultuous expression of facial hair was not something to be shorn without ceremony. This was as much a rite of passage as it was a shave.

Flexing the scissors, he tested their sharpness by bouncing an index finger over the serrations. He felt as if the blades were extensions of his digits, and he began snipping at the sideburns. A feeling of power surged in his hands, though, and soon he began seizing handfuls of tangled hair on his cheeks and jowls, sawing through hirsute masses in clumps, discarding the loose chunks into the sink where they were already forming a clog. When he had cleared enough of the most dense and coarsest growth, he scraped the razor blade over raw, exposed pores. Pausing to examine his progress, he surveyed a partially shaved face with sideburns leveled at the earlobes and bare jowls, but from the corners of his nostrils straight down to where the intact beard merged with chest hair, there remained a wiry mustache over a bushy van dyke beard. It looked like a firecracker had exploded in his mouth.

Initially, Honeycutt recoiled at this image of himself, but when he shook his head, allowing his greasy hair to spill over his shoulders, he beheld a most curious character. He looked at himself the way somebody might look at a police artist’s rendering of a crime suspect, with envious apprehension.

The visage in the mirror was that of a “Born to Be Wild” biker, a headbanger, and proud hellraiser. He liked it. HoHonEntering his new persona, he decided that his name would be Rip Gangrene (but anybody who addressed him had better fuckin’ call him Mister Rip Gangrene). He was bad, baaad to the bone. From his duffel bag, Honeycutt retrieved a tattered t-shirt that he’d purchased at a garage sale and worn as part of a Halloween costume years ago — it depicted a demon’s skull with an extruding eyeball in one socket and a serpent’s head in the other (a souvenir from Rob Zombie’s world tour 1999). Pulling it over his head, he mugged a fierce expression for the mirror. In this character, the bloated weight that he’d gained recently from his vodka diet suited him well; he was a man with bulk to throw around. But that wasn’t enough. He borrowed the chain for Michelle’s bike lock and wound it around his neck, its ends dangling in front of his chest. In a drawer under the sink Honeycutt found a Gallic cross earring (that must’ve belonged to her arrogant loser ex-boyfriend), and although his piercing had nearly healed, he managed at length to push it through his left earlobe. Rip Gangrene felt ready to rock n’ roll. On his way out the door, he helped himself to a five dollar bill from Michelle’s purse.

***

Now after midnight, few people walked alone. Gangrene stomped down High Street, passing under the arches, feeling like an outlaw looking for a rumble. He had taken one of Michelle’s skinny cigarettes, which he clenched in the corner of his mouth but didn’t light. He mumbled aloud to himself (“damn straight,” “sheee-it,” “fuckin’-A”) while walking, in a manner that seemed authentic to his character. Leaning against the streetlight at 5th and High, he glowered at drivers passing by, most of whom accelerated, or even ran the red light, in order to get safely past him. “What’s wrong with you, pussies!,” he could have screamed at their backdrafts, and they’d have just kept going because he was not somebody to be messed with. Even the young men leaving the Surly Girl Tavern took a wide berth around him.

After half an hour or so, though, as the street populations retreated into deeper shadows, Gangrene began looking for another stage upon which to play his role. The stark buzzing light of the Zippy Mart attracted him.

Outside the store, the cross-eyed man was leaning against a garbage can and smoking a cigarette. Gesturing for a light, Gangrene inserted what was left of the masticated stub of Michelle’s cigarette between his front lips and, bowing forward into the cross-eyed man’s lighter, ignited it. He sucked the cigarette mightily and inhaled several lung-wrenching drags… holding the last one in his chest as he went into the shop. He exhaled just inside the door.

Mindy coughed and wheezed, thrashing aside the cloud of smoke. She looked miffed, but still entirely cute, for though her lips were pursed, the sour expression on her face had caused her dimples to stand out like rosy points on a clown’s grin. Rubbing her eyes, she regained her equanimity and greeted her customer with a “Hello, sir. Thanks for stopping by this evening.”

“Urgh.”

Gangrene assumed that she did not recognize him, or at least pretended not to. Who is this irksomely vivacious young woman, he wondered, and what might be done to disabuse her of her irrepressible pluckiness? Remembering his role, Gangrene belched — a perfect “yak;” Mindy heard it but never flinched. He went to purchase some beer, which seemed like something would have motivated Gangrene to go there in the first place. The cooler was stocked with various brands representing assorted lifestyle choices, from imports and microbrews, to cheap pilsners, to tasteless light beers, to corrosive, gut-rock, fortified malt liquors… the latter of which was what Gangrene decided he would buy, since he knew that it was potent and popular with his ilk. He took down a 40 ounce bottle of Olde English malt liquor, which was the color of furniture polish, and slammed it onto the counter in front of Mindy. “Urrrr,” he said to her.

Mindy turned the bottle to the scanner, smiling bounteously. “Will that do it for ya’, sir?” she asked.

“Nyyyah,” he slurred.

A wisp of hair tossed over her face; she blew it away, puffing her cheeks. “You have a wonderful night, sir,” Mindy clucked, bagging Mr. Gangrene’s bomb-shaped bottle of beer.

“Mmmhmmm…” Gangrene intoned. Who was she, after all, to wish him a “wonderful” night? She presumed that the night had much more positive potential that he was willing to concede. Mindy gave him a thumbs-up, in case he wasn’t clear that their transaction was complete. Stepping outside, Gangrene plugged one nostril and blew a bugger out the other to re-assert his badness.

“Hey, dude, that’s fuckin’ gross,” he heard a raucous voice accuse.

Turning, Honeycutt gulped to find himself facing a couple of leather clad motorcycle riders who were sitting in the Zippy Mart parking lot astride their chopper machines, engines revving. One of them, the speaker, wore gloves with knuckle studs. Seeking to avoid them and thus not watching where he was going, Honeycutt tripped over the curb and bumped into the cross-eyed man, who was returning from his cigarette. “Watch where you’re going there, Cowboy,” he cautioned him. The bikers chortled, while Honeycutt, conscious that his gait was not that of a genuine biker, made haste down High Street, staying under the streetlights. His discomfiture was further heightened when a red and blue pinstriped Columbus PD patrol cruiser pulled adjacent to him and matched his pace as he sauntered toward the intersection at 5th and High. Honeycutt could feel the blood swell within his newly denuded cheeks, and he realized that he was blushing in a most non-motorcycle gang member-like manner. He waited for the light at the corner to change (even though there was no traffic coming in either direction). The cop car accelerated past him, off to some more urgent destination, and by the time that Honeycutt felt bold enough to look backwards, he saw two cops and the two bikers chatting in the Zippy Mart parking lot, admiring each others’ equipment.

Honeycutt suddenly realized that he was carrying the beer bottle like a baby, in the cradle of his arm. He caught a passing glimpse at his reflection in a storefront window, and his instinct was to accelerate, to leave it behind. His beard felt like it was starting to crawl down his throat.

***

Outside Michelle’s apartment, Honeycutt pressed his ear to the door, listening to see if the coast was clear before he entered. He was relieved that her bedroom door was still closed, but, noticing that water was running in the toilet tank, Honeycutt surmised that Michelle must have gotten up to go to the bathroom, then failed to jiggle the handle to make it stop after flushing. Honeycutt wondered what she’d thought when she’d seen the scissors, the razors, and the hairy mess in the sink. It seemed as important to her to avoid him as it was for him not to be seen by her.

Honeycutt turned on the exhaust fan in the bathroom and stood beneath it, feeling it lift the malaise from his spirit. It was now evident to him that he did not churn with enough vitriol to embody the character of Rip Gangrene, for he was not by nature comported for head-banging, hard-riding, raping and pillaging. He removed his ruffian accessories, the chain and Zombie shirt, and washed his face until his pores were revived. Feeling conscious of the vulnerability of his throat, Honeycutt placed his palm flat beneath his mouth, covering the lower part of his beard. A sensation tingled in the tips of his mustache. Lathering the shaving cream onto his chin and under his neck, Honeycutt scissor-ed and shaved through the brush growing in the clefts of his chin, the rolls of his neck, and the tuft of hair beneath his lower lip. Using Michelle’s mascara pencil, he drew an arc from the pit of each nostril down to his jawbone, then shaved away everything that remained of his facial hair on the cheeks outside of those lines. Trimming the long tips of the remaining mustache, he was left with a face that sported a perfectly symmetrical Fu Manchu. Ah so, he thought.

Honeycutt knew that Michelle had dumped all of her lazy-ass, no-good ex-boyfriend’s unclaimed clothes into boxes in the laundry closet, and he assumed that among them there must be a martial arts uniform, since that manner of activity was the bum’s special hobby. In the pile, he found white tae kwon do ribbed polyester pants and a loose V-neck tunic, and although wearing them he stretched the elastic waistband to capacity, they fit Honeycutt’s physique serviceably well so long as he didn’t bend over too abruptly. He tied a black cord around his waist and a bright band across his forehead, and he brushed his hair into a pony tail that he held in place with beads. Slipping into a pair of soft soled shoes, adorned with his Fu Manchu mustache and an Asian warrior monk’s garb, Honeycutt imagined that he looked like an assassin holy man of Kukkiwon philosophy, a serene killing machine. He was the deadly but enlightened Master Foo. He needed to be seen.

In all of his nights on the streets, never had Honeycutt encountered a wayfaring tae kwon do expert in martial regalia on the near north side of Columbus on a Tuesday night, now well after one a.m. If he had, he might’ve taken it as a spiritual revelation, and it seemed reasonable that anybody else might, too. So, before venturing out the door, he rubbed his eyes until they watered, fancying that their dampness evinced a look of wisdom, an expression of purpose. Walking with his hands folded in front of him — palms against palms, fingers pointing upward — Master Foo trod lightly on his feet, so as to disturb no sentient creature. He felt the loose folds of his tunic ripple as he walked, making it feel like he was flowing. When a carload full of boisterous young women pulled up next to him and called out, “Hey Kung Fu dude, show us your moves!,” Master Foo merely touched his hand to his forehead and closed his eyes, as if their catcall had inspired him to achieve yet another transcendental insight.

Unlike his earlier journey as Gangrene, this time Honeycutt had a clear and immediate destination. Master Foo entered the Zippy Mart. Inside, he crossed his hands on opposite shoulders, and standing in the double doors of the entrance, slowly opened his arms in a sweeping embrace. Raising his chin, he allowed his head to drift to the left, as if following the flight of an inspiration. Upon catching glimpse of Mindy, he fluttered his eyelashes and bowed silently to her.

Mindy, who was rearranging hot dogs on the rollers beneath heat lamps, nearly dropped her tongs upon registering this vision. Staring, she half expected that she was involved in some kind of prank. Master Foo opened his palms in front of him and stretched his fingers, as if catching invisible energy waves.

“Gooood evening there, mister sir” she trilled. This guy had to be pulling some kind of joke, she figured, or maybe he was acting upon a dare; either way, she was willing to go along with the joke, up to a point.

Mmmm,” he hummed over a furrowed brow.

Aware of how intently Mindy was watching him, Master Foo walked the aisles in a trance and examined items as if he were seeing them for the first time in his life; he held a two pack of toilet paper up to the light to read its instructions; he bobbed his head while following the rotations of a frozen drink machine; and he and studied intently his own reflection in the fish-eye mirror in the corner above the cooler. The thin stream of air from the ceiling vent rustled his clothes, which he was fairly sure stank — a sign of Master Foo’s indifference to material things. From the produce section of the cooler, where there was a small selection of fruit (bananas, apples) and vegetables (potatoes, heads of lettuce, green peppers, and white cooking onions), Master Foo lifted a single large onion and sniffed it. Ah, the mysteries of an onion, Master Foo mused: its layers so thin and transparent; it tastes sweet but brings tears to the eyes; it can be peeled to suggest unfolding mysteries; and yet pure potential is in its core. Squeezing the onion, he was pleased that it fit his palm so perfectly. When he took the onion to the counter to purchase it, he presented it to Mindy with both hands, as if he wanted her to understand that he was showing her something important.

Mindy sucked the inside corners of her mouth. ‘What’re they waiting for?,’ she wondered, imagining that at any moment a celebrity and a camera crew would knock down a wall and announce that she’d just been punked! When that didn’t happen, she queried, cautiously: “Just the onion, sir?”

“Oomm.”

“Well…” she hesitated, giving the surreptitious tricksters one more chance to reveal themselves, then blurted: “Have a wonderful night. Hey, Hare Krishna, and all of that stuff.”

Master Foo winced at that remark. He considered saying something cryptic to demonstrate his unaffected tranquility despite what he viewed to be the girl’s impertinence, but he got distracted by the flush of a toilet and the swish of a door opening, when the cross-eyed man came out of the restroom. He was whistling “Happy Trails,” a song which Honeycutt had not thought about for many years, although it reminded him of another song, one which his and Michelle’s father used to sing when driving them home from his every-other-weekend visitations. The old man would prolong their time together by taking one of his detours along life’s scenic route (as he was wont to do), and make them sing along to “I Can See Clearly Now:”

It’s Gonna Be a Bright…” he’d call out, cuing them.

“Bright!” They’d call out in response.

“Bright!,” he’d reaffirm.

Then they’d all exclaim: “Bright Sunshiny Day!”

The cross-eyed man lurched and did a double take when he saw Master Foo, so hard that for a moment his eyes uncrossed. The monk gestured a Varada mudra to him, and left the store, backing out.

Master Foo watched over his shoulder as Mindy wiggled her finger to call the cross-eyed man forward to say something to him. In the night air, Honeycutt felt a compulsion to sneeze, which he turned to conceal so that neither of them could see, should they still be watching him. Sneezing did not seem like something that Master Foo would do.

***

When he was out of sight, Honeycutt untied the band around his head and let out the drawstring on his pants. His spiritual harmony passed like a gastric bubble. It was at approximately this hour that the night was most restless, when whoever was still out was wandering, lost, or had nowhere to go; everybody else was in hiding. At least, Honeycutt reassured himself, he still had someplace, sort of, to go. From the sidewalk below his sister’s apartment, he noticed that the lamp was on in her bedroom. For a couple of minutes, he wondered what he was going to do. But the light went out, the apartment stayed dark, and Honeycutt decided that it was safe to return. He opened the door a crack, ascertaining that the path to the bathroom was clear, and went directly there, past Michelle’s closed bedroom door.

Behind the bathroom door, Honeycutt tugged on the tips of his Fu Manchu, and with a heave of resignation, snipped off the right side of the mustache with the scissors. He began trimming just that half, a patch from the bridge of his nose to the corner of his mouth. On the left side of his face he still wore a Fu Manchu; on the right, he sported a spiffy, post-modern, white collar, protestant, suburban husband’s mustache (the kind that his father had always threatened to grow, but never did). Honeycutt’s bicameral reflection was like half shots of a before and after picture. It was tempting to leave it like that: half Master Foo, half model citizen.

Honeycutt pondered how his decision to shave had become so surprisingly multi-dimensional, with each new look another life lesson. At length, he trimmed away the rest of the Fu Manchu, grooming his new mustache with Michelle’s tweezers, plucking away stray hairs, until it kept its shape. He then scoured his face with Michelle’s defoliating scrub to buff away the crustiest of his blemishes. Returning to Michelle’s asshole of an ex-boyfriend’s pile of laundry, Honeycutt found a powder blue polo shirt with a small embroidered penguin above the heart, a pair of khaki, casual fit Dockers pants, and some tan suede loafers. Stuffing his hair under an Ohio State University baseball cap and adjusting the rim so that it paralleled the furrows on his forehead, Honeycutt’s new look was complete. He gave his mirrored alter ego a bright smile (yellowish teeth notwithstanding) and a wink, the kind of gestures that he imagined somebody who looked like this would have in his social repertoire.

William “Bill” Brady… that’s what he decided his name ought to be, imagining that name on a mailbox in front of one of the Victorian homes in the Village.

There could only be one plausible reason why a guy like Bill Brady would be out and about at such an ungodly hour on a Tuesday night, and that was he had to be doing some kind of service for somebody else. In this case, Honeycutt imagined that Bill had been dispatched from bed by his pregnant wife, Jill, whose sudden craving for dill pickle spears was “urgent.” Thus, Bill walked in a hurried, but responsible pace, a straight line, counting the arches over High Street, directly to the Zippy Mart.

When Bill Brady entered the convenience store, he exhaled with satisfaction and cleared his throat to attract the attention of the sweet-looking young woman behind the counter. He offered her a friendly wave.

Mindy, who had been cleaning the between cash register keys with a Q-tip, felt a shiver radiate down her spine in the presence of… who, exactly, was he? Now, her suspicion that she was being hoaxed was complicated by a deeper unease — perhaps this dude was just simply crazy. Still, she’d dealt with crazy people before, and most of them were, actually, quite pleasant.

“Hello there sir,” she greeted, dangling her voice in a way meant to encourage a response.

“Uh huh.”

Mindy wasn’t sure if he was agreeing with something that she hadn’t said, or asking him a question. For the first time, her smile slipped, just a tad.

The closest thing that the Zippy Mart had to dill pickles was sweet pickle hot dog relish, which Bill Brady decided would have to do (and he even pursued the logic of that decision so far as to imagine Jill eating it from the jar with a spoon). Behind the counter, Mindy and the cross-eyed man huddled in a corner, speaking in conspiratorial whispers. Murmuring, Mindy held her hand in front of her in attempt to shield her pointed finger, which was aimed at Bill Brady. The cross-eyed man nodded and shrugged simultaneously, and then he stepped forward to meet Bill Brady, who was waiting to purchase his pickle relish.

With a drawl of sarcasm in his voice, the cross-eyed man sighed: “What can I do for you, Cowboy?”

Bill Brady set the jar of hot dog relish onto a mat on the cash register counter, and offered two one dollar bills in recompense.

At first, the cross-eyed man acted like he didn’t want to take the money. “That’s, uh, an interesting thing to buy, hot dog relish — anytime, but especially at 2:13 am,” he remarked. That he felt at liberty to comment on his purchase at all, let alone with implicit condescension, made Bill Brady bristle. Furthermore, he was irked that Mindy had apparently requested that the cross-eyed conduct the transaction, because he felt that he’d been nothing less than a perfect gentleman when dealing with her, in each of his incarnations. But Bill was not the kind of person to return an insult. He thrust the two dollars into the cross-eyed man’s hands until he took it. At the completion of the transaction, Bill snatched the plastic bag by its handles and retreated dutifully out the door.

“Er, have a wonderful night,” Mindy entreated, while the cross-eyed man chuckled snidely.

***

The weight of the night was now at its most dense, the mist having become a net that pulled backwards on Honeycutt’s shoulders as he half-swam forward. A passing taxi driver misinterpreted his arm gestures as an attempt to flag him down, and when he pulled up next to the curb, Honeycutt, not reckoning what was going on, just kept walking straight ahead. “Hey, fella, d’ya need a ride or not?,” the driver rolled down the window and hollered. Honeycutt stopped, looked around, pointed quizzically at himself, and when the driver affirmed “yeah, you,” he shoo-ed him away. It was better to walk. He needed the pace and structure that walking afforded in order to think through his next action. Down to just a mustache, he was running out of options. Now, almost too late for second thoughts, he wasn’t quite so sure that he was ready to resume being naked-faced.

Back inside the sanctuary of the Jacksonian, Honeycutt turned his sister’s apartment key so slowly that he could hear the deadbolt slide in its track then click into place. Not waking Michelle now seemed more critical than ever, since one way or the other, he was close to being finished. The door to her room was still shut, but now ajar. Honeycutt surmised that she must be spying on his activities during his absences. The digital clock on the microwave oven turned from 2:59 to 3:00 am. This hour was the most desolate of any night, when darkness was like a drugged fantasy and staying alert required conscious effort against the common sense of sleepiness. It was a heady hour when a person might understandably have difficulty distinguishing between dreams, wishes, and reality. All along, Honeycutt had allowed to himself that it might take the whole night to complete his shave. So far he’d paced himself, but he now realized that he’d also been deceiving himself that he might, actually, keep one of the looks that he’d tried on for size. Now he felt compelled to finish his last transformation by dawn, and time was running out.

The soft hair under his nose tickled. Sifting his fingers into the left side of the mustache, he pulled on his lip so hard that he felt the tension all the way in his gums. He left just enough room beneath his fingers to insert the scissors, which he snapped shut in a swift jerk, and then did the same with the right side. The mirror now reflected Honeycutt’s familiar, doughy face — except for stubble under his nose. He sneezed, and the stubble glistened. Glistened! Suddenly inspired, Honeycutt shaved away the uneven parts of the mustache, down to just above the lips, and using Michelle’s nosehair trimmers, he leveled the bristle down to a fine line of pencil thinness. Petroleum jelly gave the flecks a glow.

Honeycutt was not done. This particular look required a total identity makeover. He shaved his eyebrows down to wisps. In front of the mirror, he tried several fashions with his hair: parting it in the middle, all to one side, braiding it, and rolling it into a bun… but nothing that he did with the limp mess of his hair suitably complemented the pencil thin mustache that was the centerpiece of this new alter ego. Exhaling with resignation, Honeycutt grabbed a whole fistful of hair, stretched it away from his scalp, and began cutting furiously with the scissors. Handful after handful, he sliced away the dirty, nappy mane, until the bare rotunda of his head emerged. He lathered the remaining stands of grizzle with Comfoam, then commenced shaving, one pass at a time over his skull. It took a brand new razor to finish the job, but when he was done, Honeycutt had a nude head. He massaged his scalp; it felt like the surface of a balloon, except for the throbbing veins above his temples. His dome was pink and felt ticklish, but reflected a halo if he leaned toward a light source.

Honeycutt was still not done, though, for this new look, the most challenging of all, required special adornments and habiliments. Fumbling with the applicator, he managed to paint some black mascara over his eyelashes; he puttied the creases in the corners of his eyes with bluish eye shadow, tracing a fine point of eye liner over the brows. He put on the orange and yellow floral print short sleeve shirt that Michelle’s jerkoff-momma’s-boy-ex-boyfriend had worn on their vacation to Disneyland. What pants to wear presented a dilemma, for he needed something with a gay flair, but the ex-boyfriend had nothing except creased slacks and exercise clothing. Instead, Honeycutt managed to squirm into a pair to Michelle’s cotton/ synthetic Capri sweat pants, of magenta color. He tried but was unable to find some of her sandals that he could wear, so he settled for the ex-boyfriend’s pair of penny loafers, worn over ankle hose. Now, he reckoned, he was prepared to face the world in the character of somebody whose name he conceived to be Dabney Ritz.

Dabney put all of his recent Zippy Mart purchases into an Avon tote bag and went for the door.

Michael?!? Is that you?,” Michelle cried from her bedroom. “What’re you doing?” But Dabney Ritz and Michael Honeycutt were already gone.

***

Bereft of human sounds — of traffic and feet and voices — the streets of North High between 3:00 and 4:00 am on that Tuesday night amplified stray noises: a cat hissed; trees creaked; street lights popped; and Dabney Ritz hummed “I Can See Clearly Now” out loud. Passing the cops’ car alongside the curb, beneath the first arch in the corridor, Dabney Ritz began skipping and swinging the tote bag by his side, actually hoping that he’d attract their attention. ‘I wonder what they’ll think of me,’ he pondered, deciding that if they stopped him to ask him what he was doing, he would say ‘just strolling.’ They allowed him to pass, though, without incident, so Dabney set his sights on the Zippy Mart.

On his way in, he bumped into the cross-eyed man who was on his way out to have another smoke. “Excuse… ,” the cross-eyed man started, then confronted by Dabney’s crooked, debonair smile, he finished, “Watch where you’re goin’, Cowboy.” He stood by a parked car a moment, watching Dabney enter the store, then shook his head and muttered aloud “freak.”

Mindy was cleaning the fume hood over the toaster oven when Dabney Ritz entered the store. Hearing the doorbell, she automatically greeted, “Welcome to Zippy Mart.” Dabney stopped in front of the counter, presenting himself by saluting and grinning solicitously. She wheezed. He tapped the glass in front of the hot dogs on their rollers and pointed. “Umm,” he indicated.

“Huh? I’m sorry.” She shrugged. “What can I do to help you?”

He tapped again, this time opening his mouth the approximate shape and width of a hot dog.

“Do you want a hot dog?”

Dabney nodded triumphantly. While Mindy clutched a set of tongs and groped for what she recalled was the hot dog that had been under the heat lamps the longest, Dabney leaned forward on his elbows to watch. Nose to the glass, he waited until Mindy had clamped the hot dog, then cleared his throat to attract her attention, wagged his finger to nix that choice, and instead pointed at another hot dog. “That one?,” Mindy queried, her voice beginning to break. She repeatedly failed to pick up the slippery hot dog using the thongs. Dabney kept his lips sealed but lifted the corners of his mouth. Part of him empathized with Mindy, but her discomfiture reinforced the strength that he felt in this character. Aha, he thought, there are limits to what cuteness can tolerate.

When she reached into the steamer to retrieve a warm bun, the cloud of moisture that rose across Mindy’s face made her cheeks sag and her eyes droop. She inserted the hot dog into a bun, wrapping them in tissue, and instead of handing the food to Dabney, left it on the counter for him to pick up himself. He paid with his last dollar, unnerving her further by nodding at her and licking his lips when he handed her the bill. Mindy pushed his change forward. Dabney scooped it up. Even though the transaction was now complete, he lingered, wondering if she was going to wish him a wonderful night… while Mindy immediately turned her back and returned to cleaning the fume hood. When it became clear to Dabney that Mindy had nothing more to say to him, he put his hot dog into the tote bag, humming his new theme song, and pranced out the door.

But he didn’t go far. Michael Honeycutt sat down on the limestone sofa, removed his purchases from the tote bag, and he put onion pieces and pickle relish on his hot dog and ate it while drinking his beer.

“What a wonderful night,” he said to himself.

copyright Gregg Sapp. Originally published in the Zodiac Review, spring 2012

--

--

--

Gregg Sapp, a native Ohioan, is an award winning author of the “Holidazed” satires, each of which is set in Ohio and centered around a different holiday.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

The Moon is My True Love: Installment II

Virgil Didn’t Show Up to Work Today

The Superhero At The Back Of The Bus

The Locks of Her Hair

Tome of The Sixth Sun — Hex Cycle II

A fateful Saturday

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
sappgregg

sappgregg

Gregg Sapp, a native Ohioan, is an award winning author of the “Holidazed” satires, each of which is set in Ohio and centered around a different holiday.

More from Medium

Fake News: Moon Landing Fake!

EMA: Administering Several doses of Vaccines in the short term is not sustainable — iWebWire

Sexual assault, sexual repression, unequal treatment, what do women experience throughout their…

A Letter to you, the reader