Andi Watson
Editor's Note: Cut My Hair is the first novel from frequent Mercury music contributor, and current editor of Oni Press, Jamie S. Rich. Set in 1990, Cut My Hair focuses on the early adult life of Mason, a 19-year-old California native who is looking for his niche in life via the Los Angeles punk rock scene. What follows is an excerpt from Rich's book, available now from Crazyfish/MJ-12.


Chapter 12:

LIKE AN OUTLAW (FOR YOU)

I returned to Jeane's that morning with a box of donuts and a carton of chocolate milk. She was still asleep. We had left the beach near four, and she got home after me, having dropped me off at my apartment. I didn't sleep well. I was too excited--and I was afraid that if I went to sleep, when I woke up, it would all be gone. Or, perhaps, that I wouldn't wake up at all.

Jeane came to the door with a pink bathrobe on. Sleep was still in her eyes. I traced the black rings under them with my finger. They were soft. "They are beautiful," I told her.

We sat around and ate the donuts and listened to some old Duran Duran twelve-inch singles. I was afraid of making a mess, so I held my hand under my mouth when I took a bite, catching the crumbs in my palm. I asked Jeane where I could throw them away, gesturing with my open hand out in front of me. She closed my fingers over the donut residue and kissed my knuckles, and taking hold of my wrist, led me to the trash basket herself. When I had thrown the crumbs away, I held her close to me for a long while.

I told her I wanted to stay all day, but I couldn't. Jack and I had tickets to see Social Distortion that night. I had to leave early to get ready.

"What get ready?" she laughed. "You mean like pick-out-your-outfit and do-your-hair get ready? Who's going to be there that you want to impress?"

"I have to look my best. After all, it is Social Distortion."

"Oh, yes, after all..." she said. "Why not let me help you stay pretty? Let me do your hair."

She took me back and sat me down on a small, green stool in front of the vanity mirror. After wetting my hair, she began to brush it out, careful of the snags, trying to take it through without hurting me too badly. I tried not to make any noise or faces because if it did hurt I didn't want her to know. I didn't want her to feel bad.

After she brushed my hair, she squirted Aussie Sprunch Spray on it. It smelled fruity. She leaned in close and began to brush it around some more, moving my hair to where she wanted it. Her touch was soft, and soon I began to totally relax. My eyes drooped, and I wanted to go to sleep right there, my head resting in the care of her hands. Her robe fell open a little, revealing a freckle on the curve of her pale breast. I tried not to look, but my eyes kept drifting back for another illegal glimpse. Every once in a while, Jeane would look down to see how I was doing, and I tried my best to look innocent.

"Have you ever thought of doing my hair professionally?" I asked, trying to cover my sins.

"Nah, the customer is too cranky and unmanageable," she said. "Besides, hair has never really been my bag."

"What would you like to do? I mean, beyond working at the shop, if you could do whatever you wanted?"

"I don't know. Well, if I could do whatever I wanted, I'd travel all the time and see what I could see. But in the practical career sense, I never really decided. I've thought about owning a costume shop. I could make my own costumes and go around to thrift stores and garage sales and find cool stuff. I think that would be fun."

"Really? That's cool. I wish I knew what I was doing...where I was going...I haven't really looked much beyond the comics store."

Jeane pulled my bangs up, and I could feel her curling them back with her brush. She held them there, sprayed more Aussie on them, and turned on the blow dryer. When she had dried the bangs, she sprayed me again, this time all around my head, making sure one last time that the hair would stay fixed in place.

"Can I look now?"

"No...sit still."

She took the eyeliner pencil off the sink and crouched in front of me. She wet the tip of it with her tongue.

"Close your eyes," she said.

I closed them. I could feel her lean in, hear her breathing through her nose. It was gentle against my cheek. The pencil touched my right eyelid lightly and rolled across the bottom of it. Then she did the same for the other.

"Now, open your eyes," she said, "and look up."

The ceiling had a white glaze. I tried to focus on it, but as soon as I sensed the pencil coming near, I began to freak out. "Oh, God, I don't know," I said.

"What are you scared of? Don't you trust me? You think I'd poke your eye out?"

"No...but the pencil might."

"But would I? That's the question."

"No."

"Then look up. Think of something nice. Don't think about anything. It will all be over in a second."

I tried to relax, to do as she instructed. I thought of her, imagined her face painted into the ceiling above me. She finished the job in a few smooth strokes.

"All done," she said. "Now, look at me."

She held my chin in her hand and looked into my face. Licking her lips, she turned my head to the right and then to the left, examining her work. She squeezed my cheeks. "You're so cute," she said.

"And you're beautiful," I said.

"Shut up." She kissed my forehead.

I stood up and looked at myself in the mirror. She had combed all my hair back, creating one slick wave, except for the bangs, which stood straight out from my head, forming into a point an inch or so away. My eyes were outlined in black, and I blinked them, thinking that possibly they couldn't really be that way. "I don't recognize myself," I said.

"Do you like it?" Jeane asked.

I touched the tip of my bangs to see if they'd go anywhere. They didn't, and I cracked up. "So cool," I said. "I wish I could do stuff like this."

She put her arms around me and rested her chin on my shoulder. "Then what would you need me for?"

"To cook me breakfast and wash my clothes."

"Oh, yeah?" She squeezed me hard and giggled, and we looked at our reflection in the mirror for long moments. Jeane sighed, and I felt her breath against my neck as she buried her face into my shoulder. "Mason...you're not going to hurt me, are you?"

This surprised me. "I'm not planning on it," I said.

"I move too fast sometimes," she said. "Usually. I move too fast and I get scared." Her eyes were closed, and she was nuzzling her nose into my shirt. "I fall in love too easily."

"You, me, and Frank Sinatra."

"I'm serious."

I leaned my head down, rested my cheek on her hair, soft and clean-smelling. "So am I," I said. "I'm the last person you should be scared of."

We stood together for a long time. I put my hands on hers and held them tight to my chest. I wanted that exact second to expand, like a sponge taking in water. I opened her arms, turned around, and kissed her. Our lips parted, but our noses and foreheads remained together. "I have to go," I said.

"I know," she whispered, and then she smiled. "Kick a few heads down in the pit for me, okay?"

We kissed again and said good-bye.

I left and caught the bus on Wilshire, taking it up to Hollywood. Walking down Melrose, I saw Laine across the street by Retail Slut. She was hanging out with another girl, who had a face like a guppy--all puffy eyes and big, burgundy-painted lips. Laine was looking through a LA Weekly and twisting strands of her hair as if she were making a braid. She saw me and waved me over. I suddenly felt like a boy with the flu--empty and full of chills. I had hoped to pass without having to face up to her, but I was caught.

I stuck my hands in my pockets and guiltily crossed the street. A Volkswagen cut by me close, honking its horn, spitting exhaust on me as it went on. Someone shouted, "Nice hair, faggot!" I gave them the finger.

Laine was smiling. She swung her purple and blue shoulder bag around and hit me in the arm. "What's up, Mason?" she asked. "Where ya been?"

"Nowhere, really," I said.

"Lookit your hair. Wow! What's going on?"

"Going to Social D. tonight."

"Yeah? We're going to Rocky Horror," she said, indicating her guppy friend, who flashed me a polite wave. "Too bad you're not sticking around. You could come along."

A black bra strap was peeking out from under her shirt, and she reached up to fix it. Under her knuckles, R-O-B was written in bloody scabs, a letter on each finger. They were thin and looked as if they had been carved with a safety pin. I wondered who Rob was. It seemed obvious to me that it would never have been my name, I would have never inspired such an intense effort, and I couldn't think of anything to say to her.

"Well, I need to go," I said. "Jack's waiting for me."

"Okay. I'm glad I saw you. It's been a while. I've missed having you around. Call me some time, whydoncha?"

"I will," I lied, turning away.

I was saddened--sickened with myself--saying good-bye to her like that. I was angry that not too long ago I couldn't say enough to her, and today I couldn't say anything. Angry that not too long ago, all my thoughts were obsessed with how much I loved her, and now, until I had seen her standing there, I had completely forgotten that she had existed. I felt flaky. Fickle.

Looking back over my shoulder, I saw her laughing with the guppy girl. I decided my love for her hadn't disappeared. It had only lost its urgency. Or maybe its relevance. Then again, it probably wasn't really love at all.

I kept walking.

I just wanted to get home.

Jack was asleep on the couch listening to The Birthday Party when I got in. His mouth was open, and he was snoring. I snuck over to him and slowly sat down on his stomach. He lifted me up and down with his breathing and coughed a little bit. I stuck my finger in his nose. He snorted and shook his head and then slapped himself, waking himself up.

Jack rubbed the gunk out of the corner of his eyes. "You little shit," he said.

"Grumpy Gus," I retorted.

He chuckled. "Some night I'll put my paste in your nose, then we'll see." He dropped his hands, letting them hang between his legs, and looked at me in that murky afterhaze naps create. Then, suddenly, he perked up. "Hey, check out the 'do, Magoo! What happened?"

"Jeane."

"Pretty snazzy. I guess since you have your own personal groomer now, I don't have to wait around while you primp and priss in the mirror."

"I'm all set to go if you are."

"Then let's..."

Steve's car waited for us out by the curb. We had opted to borrow it rather than try to take the bus all the way down to Irvine. I had to clear some cigarette butts and condom wrappers off of the passenger seat, and it smelled like someone had recently puked in it. We decided it might be best if we kept the windows down. We cranked up The Germs on the stereo and shouted at each other over it and the wind. I told Jack about my date, and he told me about ska night at NoWay with Gene Larkin's A Bum and Sure Am, Sure Am. Jack had gotten really drunk and gone around the street sticking rocks in people's tailpipes so that he could watch them shoot out when they took off. We laughed so hard we almost crashed into the freeway divider, but we didn't mind.

When we got to UCI, the parking lot was pretty empty. There were some cars and a few people walking around carrying books and backpacks and things like that, not at all what you'd expect for a Social D. concert. We figured that they were students getting some weekend studying done in the library or something. Most of the audience probably wouldn't show up till it got dark, and a large part of that would be KROQ poseurs who wouldn't really know what was up and who'd get thrashed in the pit. A powder blue van with a Frazetta female barbarian painted on the side sat in the center of the lot. Whoever was inside was listening to Dr. Know, and it was turned up so loud that the vehicle was rocking from the sheer throb of the speakers. A rollerblader weaved in and out of the cars and disappeared into the buildings.

We went to the nearest sidewalk and figured we'd walk around until we found the theatre, and I hoped with all my might that we'd be the first ones there. It was worth the couple of hours wait to be first in line, to have dibs on front and center. I wanted to be right under Mike Ness' microphone stand. I wanted to see every glob of spit and every drop of sweat.

A blue El Camino rolled into the lot, playing some old country music. As it passed, I looked in the window. A tough-looking guy with slick hair and black sunglasses was in the passenger seat. He looked at me. I nodded to him. He nodded back. They drove out of sight.

"Holy shit, Mason," Jack said. "That was fuckin' Mike Ness."

It stuck me like a jab in the eye. He was right. It was Mike Ness!

"Oh, my God!" I exclaimed, grabbing Jack's sleeve. "I just nodded to Mike Ness. And he nodded back! Can you believe it?"

"Might as well go home now," Jack kidded. "Ain't no point seein' the show. Your head's gonna be kissing the clouds, and you're not even gonna notice anybody else is there."

"Mike Ness! I can't believe it!"

Just then, there was a burst of music. The van doors had been flung open. About ten beer cans spilled out, clanking hollowly against the pavement. A skinhead came tumbling out after them, followed by a second skinhead. The second guy was shirtless and had a dripping red gash across his chest. He had on black jeans and knee-high, goosestepping boots, which he used to kick the first skinhead in the stomach, the arms, the head. The first one was trying to roll away, but the boots kept finding him. Each kick that hit, however, met only silence. The skinhead on the ground refused to cry or scream. He didn't even grunt.

Likewise, his attacker kicked on, cold and silent, unrelenting.

Then the first skinhead passed out, just lay there, lifeless and still. The one with the boots kept kicking him to make sure he was really out before dragging him by his shirt toward a concrete parking block. The shirt ripped halfway there, and the guy fell face first. His nose hit the cement and made a loud pop and squirted blood several feet, like a package of taco sauce under a bicycle tire. His friend picked him back up, grasping him under the armpits. He dragged him over to the block, the sleeping man's shoes scraping two lines over the asphalt.

The skinhead opened his unconscious friend's mouth and rested his top jaw on the block so that his teeth bit into it. He stepped back. He was going to curb him.

My stomach shrank into a raisin. The entire parking lot was frozen in mute horror. The students stood stock still in packs, staring in disbelief. Nothing seemed to move, not even the leaves on the trees.

The conscious skinhead lifted his boot up high and brought it down on the unconscious head of the other. Teeth splintered, creating an ivory snowstorm, and more blood gushed from his face.

But worst of all was the sound his head made. Like a water balloon breaking.

I turned away. Jack put his hands on my shoulders and gently pushed me along. "Let's go," he whispered. We had seen enough fights to know it's best to get away before you become a part of it.

Behind us, a few more water balloons were let free.

Jamie S Rich will be reading selections from Cut My Hair at Powell1s on Burnside 730 pm Monday 814 as well as presenting slides of illustrations by Andi Watson creator of the comic book Geisha and Chynna Clugston Maor Blue Monday Cover artist and the creator of Madman and The Atomics Mike Allred will also be on hand to sign