Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved by the author.
At the Gordon Biersch on the Embarcadero, San Francisco, our waitress took Shaun’s drink order without writing it down. “Okay, Blonde Rock for you. I’m going to need to see your I.D. though.”
She hadn’t carded either me or Schaefer. On the org chart, we were Shaun’s juniors, but in the bar, he was the one who didn’t look old enough to drink alcohol. Back home, he was a Director stomping up and down the corridors of power, still on a meteoric rise to the upper echelons of a Fortune 50 company. None of it carried any weight with our waitress, however. In another setting, she might have pinched his cheeks.
Schaefer pawed his own full, grey beard. “That wouldn’t happen to you if you just grew one of these.” He’d been clean-shaven when he’d arrived at the hotel just two days before.
Shaun pulled his wallet from a hip pocket. “But I am growing one of those. Maybe you can’t see it in here on account of the light being so dim. But I got about three weeks on this.”
I leaned in close. He picked up the little electric candle on the table, held it close to his cheek. I squinted, said, “More light might help.”
Schaefer said, “You’d still need a magnifying glass.”
“Oh it’s there,” Shaun huffed. He appealed to the waitress. “Wanna feel my stubble?”
I saw her recoil a bit while examining his license. “Rather not, thank you.”
When she handed the license back to him he said to her, “I had a beard once.” He pawed at his own hairless cheeks. She flashed a pert smile, wrote the order onto her tab, turned, and left.
“I remember hearing about that,” said Mike. “But I might have forgotten some of the details.”
Shaun accepted the invitation by opening with the Marine-equivalent of Once Upon a Time:
“So I’m hung over.”
This was going to be good, I could tell. All the best stories start this way.
Schaefer, ever considerate, said to me,“I know most of this, but I’ll keep quiet. I won’t spoil it for you.” He folded his hands on the table.
Shaun began. “Somebody’s snoring. Loud. I figure it’s whatever’s laying on me and smells like ass. She’s heavy. I’m trapped, not thinking clearly, and have no energy for the getaway.
“I’m pretty sure it’s the morning after the reunion, I’m 28. So I’m experienced with hangovers. I know what they feel like, and I feel like all that, so that’s good. But on top of that my whole body is killing me, especially my back, like somebody’d been beating me with a bat all the while I’d been passed out.
“And my face feels weird. Really tight, like all my pores are closed up.”
“That’s a bad hangover.”
“Yes sir. I put my hands up to it – whiskers! Yeah! I have never grown a beard, even after trying a few times, going for like a couple months without shaving – that’s why Jezebel called me, ‘Babyface.’ But this feels pretty full. And I’m thinking, I was clean-shaven at the reunion, how did I grow this thick, full, manly beard overnight?”
“So wait,” I say. “You can’t grow a beard, but you shave anyway?”
“About once a month or so. I let it go until my boss complains I look homeless.” He smoothed his alleged stubble.
He went on with the story. “Now I don’t want to wake the girl, but I’m excited about this beard. I can’t help checking it out, but I keep my eyes closed and move my hands as little as possible. Pretty soon I notice she stopped snoring.”
“Yeah. But it gets worse, ‘cause then I hear licking. I don’t feel anything, but she’s definitely licking something. I don’t move cause I don’t want her to know I’m awake.”
“Smart. Play dead. Sometimes works for grizzly bears and alcohol-induced errors in judgment.”
“Yes sir. I figure I’ll wait her out, let her leave first. Then I realize I don’t know where I am. I could be at her place, which means it’s up to me to leave first.”
“Correct, the gentleman leaves first under those circumstances.”
“Right. I get my eyes open, just this wide ‘cause you know how the light hurts. I want to know where I am. I need to know what time it is. I’d like confirmation of what day it is. But there’s no clock. Instead there’s a snake like, this close, and hissing right into my face. So I scream.”
“Naturally,” I say. Schaefer nods, the benefits of screaming having been established in our earlier conversation.
“I get done screaming, I get myself composed, I see it isn’t a real snake at all – well it is a real snake, but it isn’t alive, is what I mean. It’s stuffed. Posed like it’s going to strike. I start to piece things together: She caught a snake, stuffed it, set it on the nightstand, collected me from the gutter and – I haven’t mentioned this yet – stripped me down to my skivvies … “
“ … and put me in the bed where I’d see this snake first thing in the morning.”
“She seems desperate.”
“Yes sir. And there’s a picture next to the snake. There’s a couple kids in it, maybe ten years old. One’s a redhead, and he’s got a snake in his hands. The other’s blonde and kinda freaking out. And I look real close, and I realize, the redhead’s my buddy Buck. And the blonde freaking out is me.”
“Now, the thing that was on me is a dog, as it turns out.”
“Shew!” I say. “That must’ve been a relief!”
“Yeah it was. Black and tan coonhound. I scared it off the bed with all my screaming and flailing around. He, not she. Intact, too.”
“Ah! I was just wondering about that. Thanks for clarifying.”
“The point being, it’s a dog, not a dawg, so I figure I dodged a bullet there. But the dog’s moaning, and whining, and pawing at the door to get out, with his tail between his legs. Long as I’m looking at the tail, I see his ass, and it’s bald in a patch about 3 inches square. Somebody shaved him. Recently.”
“What goes wrong with a dog’s ass that you got to shave it to fix it?”
“Excellent question! I don’t know.” He leaned toward Schaefer. “Maybe Mr. Schaefer knows.”
But Schaefer kept to his word. He shrugged.
Shaun continued. “The dog tries to sit once, but he doesn’t get quite down all the way when he yelps and gets right back up again. He about falls over trying to lick his butt while he’s standing, so he gives up on that. Then he starts pawing hard at the door. I’m thinking, poor dog. Wonder what happened to him that he had to have his butt shaved.
“So I got nothing figured out at this point, especially not how Buck grew up into a serial killer and whether I had anything to do with it and how he plans to kill me, why didn’t he just do it last night, and what’s up with the dog?”
“So many questions!”
“Yeah. Then while I’m looking at the dog’s butt trying to figure all this out, the door opens. Something flashes right into my eyes. I’m blind, laying there, hung over, but I go onto my back, roll into a ball, put my fists up – kind of a reflex – and I hear, ‘Well looky here, Babyface is awake and all growed up!’
“’Fuckin’ Buck,’ I say. He says, ‘At your service, Old Man’.
“I ask him where I am, he says, ‘Casa de Buck! Checkout time’s at eleven. If you didn’t see chocolates on your pillow, it must be because the dog got ‘em.’
“The dog’s name is Buck, by the way, but I’m not going to refer to him by name. It’ll just confuse things.”
“He named his dog after himself?”
“Yes sir.” He saw me formulating a follow-up question, but said before I got it out, “Don’t.”
So I didn’t.
“I ask him if I was in a fight, because, hangover aside, I feel like I’d been hit quite a few times. Enough to lose the feeling in my face. He says yes. ‘But you should see the other guys.’ I figure by this he means I fucked ‘em up good, but he says, ’Nah, I mean you really should see them: Impressive bunch, good-looking, nice clothes. They all got money now. Lish got a manicure for the reunion. So they turned out all right. Not a scratch on ‘em. You puked some on Birkeland’s shoe. That was your one defensive maneuver. They teach you that in the Marines, by the way? It’s not effective. You should tell ‘em to stop teaching that. How much of this do you remember, anyway?’”
“I say, ‘nothing.’ He says ‘Good!’ and ‘Stay off the Internet for a while.’ Then he asks me if I want breakfast.”
“I picture a plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast with marmalade, a glass of tomato juice – and start to heave. Put a fist to my mouth, start looking all around the room for a receptacle. He says, ‘I got a trash can right there. Definitely do not barf on the duvet. The dog hates it when my friends barf on his duvet.’
But I’m just dry heaving over the can, so he says, ‘I put some orange juice there next to the snake if you’d like something to hurl. I’d say I’ll get you hair of the dog, but it looks like you already got some.’ I have no idea what he means by that, and I don’t get a chance to ask, ‘cause he just goes in with, ‘Now that we got past all the preliminaries: Good to see you again, Old Man! What’d you do to deserve this?’”
“’Well, you musta done something.’
“God, my back is killing me. How many times did they kick me?”
“Nobody kicked you. That’s the effect of the sofa bed on your tired, old body. You’ve been passed out and all bent into a V shape for about 6 hours now. Thing is a piece of shit. I let the dog sleep on it, as you can see.”
“Wait,” I said. “Was it … ?”
“My old sofa bed? Another excellent question. I asked Buck the same thing. ‘Yes sir,’ he says. ‘A brother asks you to help him out, this is what you do for him. Never poked Jezebel in it, if that’s what you’re wondering.’ I wasn’t, by the way.”
I spoke for both Schaefer and myself when I said, “Neither were we.”
Shaun went on. “I don’t know why, but he says, ‘I have jerked off on it a few times. Before I got the dog. Don’t tell him – he doesn’t know.’
“I start to heave again. Everything hurts so bad but I want to get out of that sofa bed. I can’t get out of it in the usual way for all the pain and disorientation. So I try just rolling out onto the simulated Persian rug. He goes, ‘That’s not gonna help. It’s worse down there.’
“I’m like, ‘Fuck!’ Somehow I pull myself back but am picturing Buck jerking off into my sofa bed. I don’t want to, you understand … “
“I do understand, yes.”
“ … but when somebody says that, you just can’t help but … Anyway, I’m thinking of crying when he says, ’You really oughtta stay put. That sofa bed is the safest place in the house if you got a problem touching another man’s ejaculate. Hold on!’ He looks up, counts to like, five. Then he says, ‘I thought the kitchen might be better but nope, sofa bed’s best. Breakfast?’
“I got my face in the bucket, convulsing so hard I think my colon’s going to come out. I hear him say, ‘Really, you should have some orange juice. Give you something to hurl. It’ll be easier on you. And me. I can’t stand to see you suffer this way.’
“Between heaves, I yell out, ‘Who was it?’
“He says, ‘Birkeland, Lish, Schaefer. Old Schaefer. I happened to walk up on them at the start. Tried to stop ‘em – I said, Gentlemen, please, show some decency and compassion! – but you know how they get.’”
Schaefer broke his silence with a chuckle, so I asked him, “Did he really say that?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Awful chivalrous of him.”
“I don’t care what Shaun says about him, he’s all right.”
Shaun kept going. “He told me it was Birkeland that brought the razor. Of course when he says ‘razor’ I lift the covers, open up my underwear to check my unit. He says, ‘Yeah, I know, huh? I see three servicemen walking up on a passed-out Jarhead and I’m thinking, well of course they’re gonna shave his balls. Practically goes without saying. But clearly, that didn’t happen in this case.’ And he’s right: Little Shaun’s got a full head of hair. I’m relieved. I lower my waistband.
“He says, ‘Schaefer brought the Barbasol – that’s a brand of shaving cream, Babyface. It’s got emollients and stuff in it. Soothes the skin.’ I tell him I know what shaving cream is – I’ve seen the commercials.
“He says, ‘So you see, Old Man, they served but they aren’t savages. Now I probably woulda joined in with them except earlier in the evening we’d made amends over Jezebel.”
“I’m sure you did your best. Why do you keep calling me ‘Old Man’?”
“’Cause of your beard. All that grey in it makes you look old.’
“Now it’s been a bad morning: I’m hung over, I’d lost a fight so bad the night before I lost the feeling in my face, I’m in a sofa bed covered in dog hair and God only knows how much accumulated Buck splooge, I can’t figure out what the hell he’s talking about. But my beard feels good. It’s very calming. I palm it. A whisker comes off. I hold it out to Buck. ‘It’s not grey, it’s blonde.’”
“He leans back away from my hand a bit, like I’m passing him a shit sandwich. He says, ‘That one is, sure. But believe me, there’s a lot of grey in there.’”
“I tell him that it’s just not possible. He says, ‘I beg to differ, Old Man. It’s not only possible, it is happening, right now, all over your face. You poor kid. Go through puberty and young adulthood, can’t grow a beard. Finally, 28 years old, you grow one in just six hours, and it comes out looking like that.’
“I tell him I’ve always been a late bloomer, according to my Mom. I scratch, ask him what’s wrong with my beard. It feels impressive enough. I want him to bring me a mirror. My finger comes away with another whisker under the nail. It’s brown. I hold that out to him, too. He leans away, says, ‘Probably ought to wait til you can stomach the sight.’
“I scratch again. Get another whisker. It’s black. The dog howls from somewhere in the house. Buck yells at it to hush up.”
“’That’s been three whiskers, Buck, and while it is peculiar they’ve all been different colors, I’m not seeing any grey.’ He tells me to give it one more go with a scratch. I do. A whisker comes off. I look at it. I’ll be damned if it isn’t grey.
“He says, ‘See what I’m saying? That whisker’s grey like Schaefer. And there’s a lot more just like that one.’
“He watches me stare at the whisker for like, one full minute. Then he says, ‘Look, Old Man, I feel bad about the snake in high school. So I’m gonna help you out here. Let’s review: Birkeland, blonde. Lish, brown. And Schaefer – old Schaefer is grey.’
“Right. What’s that got to do with my beard?
“He takes my shoulders. ’Shaun, brother, listen carefully to my inflection when I say: They didn’t shave your balls.”
“Yeah, so whose balls did they … MOTHERFUCKER!
“I don’t know how I did it, I don’t know where I found the energy but I fuckin’ jumped up on that sofabed. The piece of shit – it really is a piece of shit, I deserve a face full of pubes just for giving it to him, let alone for stealing Jezebel, who by the way is a lovely and dignified woman now, a mother of three children that have all graduated kindergarten with honors – anyway, the piece of shit just collapsed. So I fall, roll all over Buck’s crusty sofa bed, claw at my face like I got the DT’s, rip hunks of pube-infused spirit gum off my face. While I’m screaming, clawing, and rolling all around, there’s all this flashing going on and Buck’s just fucking laughing like he’s deranged.”
“Wait,” I say. “Blonde, brown, grey. Where’d the black come from?”
Our waitress arrived. Shaun accepting his pint of Blonde Rock, took a gulp. He pointed to wordlessly to Schaefer, who explained.
“The black would have been Money if the assault hadn’t happened after his bedtime. So to get the black we had to shave the dog’s behind.”
Our waitress asked, “So we good here?”
Shaun was looking pretty morose. I said to him, “Maybe in future tellings you could just leave out the black hair.”
He gulped, set down the Blonde Rock. “Oh. That’s a good idea.”
Our waitress left us.
Schaefer took a gulp of his Hefeweizen, set down the pint. He wiped the foam from his mustache. To Shaun, he said, “Keep going.”
Shaun sighed. “I get all the gum off. I’m laying there on the rug, in my underwear. Head’s pounding. Everything’s spinning. I hear a woman’s voice. ‘Buck, what is going on in here?’
“I don’t even bother to cover myself. Then I hear the woman say, from inside the room, ‘Babyface!’”
“Wait – she called you, ‘Babyface?”
“Are you shitting me?”
“I shit you not, sir. It’s Jezebel. And she’s radiant. Stunning. Beautiful. Pregnant. She lets me feel the baby moving around, says it’s a boy. She says his name’s gonna be, Shaun.”
I don’t know quite what to make of this, so I look to Schaefer for help. Naming your son after your husband’s best boyhood friend that you cheated on him with? So I just say, “Aw?”
Schaefer shrugged again.
“Exactly. Still, I’m pretty honored, and I tell them both so.
“Then she says, ‘How about I whip up some breakfast?’
“Of course I say I’m not hungry.”
“And even if you were, I can understand why you’d rather not eat anything from that kitchen.”
“Yes sir, and thank you for understanding. And Buck did, too. He says maybe they should eat without me, leave me be to recover. She says, fine, but hurry up and get feel better enough to catch up. Buck says I can stay as long as I need to, long as I don’t throw up on the duvet. So they leave. I’m alone, my head’s throbbing, my back’s shrieking. I got pubes on my hands still, but I’m kinda resigned to them now. I just stare at ‘em: Blonde, brown, black, grey.