Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Holy Grail of Crystal Gayle: Chapter One


"Twyla Shane, this is not what I asked for!"

I try not to smoke too much while I’m doin’ hair. But every week I go through three cigarettes just workin’ on Lidia. For cryin’ out loud, her hair’s so big it’s gainin’ on her massive ego. How in hell am I supposed to make it “poofier?”

“Well honey, I’m tryin,” I exhale in a cloud of smoke. Of course it’s not what she asked for. She asked to look like Krystle Carrington, but she ain’t never gonna look like Linda Evans. Even with all the Aqua Net in the world. But every woman deserves to look beautiful on the outside, no matter how ugly her insides.

“I should’ve gotten it done by somebody with at least half a brain. I don’t know why I keep coming back here.”

’Cause I’m the only one in all of Oklahoma that’ll put up with your S-H-I-T. That’s why. The last beauty operator dragged her out of the chair, half frosted, and threw her in the street, cape, cap and all.

“I think it looks nice.” Tanya offers. “Glamorous. And anyways, if you get it too big you’re just gonna smash it on the roof of your car drivin’ home.”

God bless Tanya for tryin’. God bless Tanya for lots of things. I wouldn’t even have a chair if it weren’t for her. I’d still just be scrubbin’ scalps. I’m not fully licensed. So I never cut, just fluff.

“Oh, like you know the first thing about glamor.” Lidia swipes, then contains herself. “You don’t think it makes me look fat in the face?”

Lidia what makes you look fat in the face, is all of that fat in your face.

I grab my cigarette from the ashtray and jam it back between my lips before anything hateful comes outta my mouth. I gotta plug it all up somehow before it slips out. ’Cause who knows what Lidia’s hateful self is goin’ through that none of us knows about. Who truly knows what any of us is goin’ through. Truthfully.

“No Lidia. You look the way you’re supposed to look… done. Now cover your face and let’s give you one last blast.” Before she can protest, I just start sprayin’. That always shuts her up.

“Oh, look at you, don’t you look like…somethin’.” Towanda with her perfect timin’ swings through the door all sunshine and bullcrap.

“Alright Miss Lidia, my carriage awaits, as does Tanya over there to ring you up.”

“Thank you Twyla Shane. I hope I wasn’t too much fuss.” She slides me a dingy quarter. My tip.

“Oh, thank you Lidia.”

Lidia takes one last look in the mirror.

“Well I guess it’s not the worst thing in the world.” She mumbles as she smears Tangerine Sunset gloss over her ever-movin’ lips. “Lucky for you I’m pretty enough to pull this off.”

She snaps the cap back on and kisses my mirror.

“See you next week.”

Please Lord, let all of her hair fall out before then. Don’t get me wrong. I love doin’ hair. It drives me. But nothin’ drives me…all of the way up the wall quite like Lidia.

I slip the quarter into my pocket and hightail it towards the back to grab my purse. It may be just a quarter, but Lord knows I can use every cent. One of these days, I’m gonna have enough to finish beauty school, get a car of my own, and drive to work at a real salon that’s not just a fixed up corner of somebody’s basement.

Lordy my purse feels heavy today. That’s a lot of weight for an empty wallet, a Kotex, two sticks of Juicy Fruit, a dyin’ lighter and a half crushed pack of Slims.

I watch from behind the stitched up sheet that separates the front of the shop from the back. All it really does is separate the tiled part from the concrete floor around the sump-pump, but it gives us a place to stash all of our supplies and purses and what not. It also keeps the customers from seein’ the expiration dates on all the boxes of hair dye.

Towanda gets at it sweepin’ up hair even though she don’t even work here. But she’s like that. Always workin’ and scrubbin’ at somethin’. That cute little camper she lives in across from us at the KOA is neat as a pin. But no matter how much Pine-sol and Mop & Glo she spreads, it’s got this kinda rotten smell on account of her bathroom bein’ out of order. It won’t drain right. She should really take it somewhere to get a look, but if she could afford that, she wouldn’t be livin’ at a KOA would she?

Lidia is finally gone! Praise the Lord and pass the dustpan. Towanda sweeps the last of the fringe into neat little haystacks.

“I don’t know why you put up with her Twyla Shane.”

“Me neither. It’s not like I force you to do her hair,” Tanya says addin’ up receipts, her fingers flyin’ over the 10 key.

“‘Cause I wouldn’t wish her on anybody else.”

“Not that anybody would have her.” Tanya taps to the rhythm of her words.

“Well she may be a delusional dingbat, but nobody should have to go through life with bad hair,” I sigh, dumpin’ the whisps into the waste bin.

“Amen! But you’re preachin’ to the choir.”

“Well, somebody oughta give that Lidia some religion. I know I’d like to put the fear of God into her.” Towanda has a sweetness, but I think it’s there to cover that little dab of venom lyin’ underneath.

Tanya stops her tappin’.

“Towanda, Sweetheart, you’re about as threatenin’ as a Hallmark card. When you tell people off, they leave thinkin’ you’ve done them a favor.”

“Well, so long as everybody gets what they deserve and we’re all good with it in the end.”

She told Delbert off and we never have to look at his nasty little bigamist face again. Who knows? Maybe he’s stepped up to full on polygamy by now. Not for religious reasons, just sleazy ones. None of us have seen him and none of us cares to either. He got the freedom to move on and add to his harem of unsuspectin’ wives and Towanda got the camper.

Towanda has a way of gettin’ what she wants. Don’t get me wrong, Towanda is a giver. She will go out of her way to help everybody and anybody. But once she’s reached her limit, she becomes a receiver and a keeper too.

“Oh girl, we gotta go.” Towanda says washin’ her hands in the shampoo basin. “Dallas starts in an hour and I wanna pick up some of that broasted chicken on the way home.”

“I thought you were doin’ Slimfast.” And potato chips.

“I am. The chicken’s for you. My treat. I know how much you like it. I’ll even make a plate for your daddy.”

And there’s that sweetness. It’s Friday and we both know my daddy’s paycheck is washed halfway down his throat by now. And even though he’s on his way to wobbly and wasted, he’ll still demand his dinner. Oh, it might wind up on the wall or in my face, but he’ll still be expectin’ it. Fried chicken’s his favorite. Friday’s are always better when there’s fried chicken.

“Thank you Sweetie, but I’m at least gettin’ the cheese puffs. I gotta put that quarter Lidia gave me towards somethin’ worth while and they got the crushed no name ones in the back, four for a dollar.”

“Whatever you need Twyla Shane. But ya know I don’t expect ya to. You’re gettin’ the chicken regardless.” Towanda picks up her purse followin’ me toward the door, then stops suddenly, snagged by a glossy cover.

“Ooh, Tanya, can I have this old People Magazine? It’s really speakin’ to me.” Things are always “speakin’” to Towanda on behalf of the Lord. Mostly magazines and catalogues. Especially ones with Marie Osmond on the cover. But none of ’em ever spoke to her about marryin’ with Delbert, while he was still married to somebody else, even though Towanda had her suspicions. Convenient how that happened.

“You’re the only one that’s picked it up in weeks. Have at it.” Tanya and I both know Towanda’s gonna take it home and hack it to bits with scissors decodin’ whatever wondrous word from the way beyond lies within. And it is always a wondrous word filled with opportunity. Like how God wanted her to apply at the Walmart.

She saw this add for Nair, you know the one where they wear the short shorts? Well, they were also wearin’ those new black and neon sunglasses and it made her remember how she saw they sell’em out at the Walmart. She just knew God was tryin’ to tell her to get a job there. And she did, as a cart wrangler. But two days ago, she got promoted to fine jewelry and now she has a more glamorous life, all ’cause Redbookwas speakin’ to her. See, it’ really more screwy than sinister. People are always talkin’ about havin’ a personal relationship with Jesus. Well, all that “speakin’” is just to her and pretty personal, so there you go.

“Bye ladies. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

If I could even come close to the things Tanya does, I wouldn’t be rushin’ out of here to listen to Dallas. I don’t have a television and Towanda’s vertical hold is broken so we could only hear who shot J.R. It only gets one channel anyways cause Delbert busted off the tunin’ nob one night bangin’ on it tryin’ to get the verticle hold to hold. Every once in a while we catch a glimpse of Larry Hagman’s big hat rollin’ by, but that’s about it.

If I could do the things Tanya does. I’d set my Betamax and record Dallas like she does. I’d make popcorn in an air popper and sit on my very own sectional sleeper sofa in my own livin’ room drinkin’ RC Cola instead of Shopper’s Value. Can you imagine? I was upstairs in her house once and she has one of those glass dinette sets, just like on The Price is Right. And her whole livin’ room is all remodeled in this fancy southwesterny peach and teal. And it smelled like new carpet.

If I could do the things Tanya does I would pick Towanda up after she got off work instead of snaggin’ a ride from her boss Junior Junior in his rusty, green ’69 Impala.

RONK! Bomp! Bomp! Bomp! I swing open the passenger door and slide across the cracked vinyl of the bench to the middle. All three of us sit in the front ’cause the floorboard on one side of the backseat is rusted out so bad you can see the ground rollin’ by underneath it. Junior Junior says he don’t want nobody to get hurt, so he makes me sit on the hump seat, smashed up against him. I’m okay with it for now, so long as he remembers it ain’t that kind of hump seat and this is all of the smashin’ up against we’ll be doing’.

“Twyla Shane, you’re lookin’ lovely as ever.”

“Thank you.” And that’s all the thanks he’s gonna receive.

You see, my keepin’ my distance ain’t about him bein’ nice or mannered or even sweet. Which he is. It’s about him bein’ only 19. It’s about him bein’ a mama’s boy. And it’s about his mama bein’ Lidia. I don’t worry so much that she wouldn’t like it, which she wouldn’t. I worry that I wouldn’t like it. I already have Lidia in my life once a week and that is more than enough. I don’t need her every holiday, weddin’, funeral, and tractor pull the rest of my life. And I have never been to a tractor pull. I wouldn’t be caught dead at a tractor pull. Only trashy people go to stuff like that and call their kids Junior Junior for cryin’ out loud. Even I know there’s a senior, there’s a junior, and then there’s a “the third.” But I guess it would be kind of weird callin’ him The Third, but no weirder than callin’ him Junior Junior.

Towanda climbs in and slams the door three times to make it stick.

I put the lap belt across my middle ’cause I refuse to leave this world in Junior Junior’s rusty Impala.

Vrr-rrr-rrr! Vrr-rrr-rrr!

“Junior Junior, you could have left the car runnin’,” Towanda scolds.

Vrrrrr –rrrr-room! Vrrrrooom! Vroom!

He starts the car and there it is, the smell of maple syrup. His defrost is stuck permanently on and that first puff of defrost in old cars always smells like maple syrup to me. It’s a warm smell. A happy smell. It reminds me of mamma heatin’ up the car in the winter. It reminds me of watchin’ my big brother jumpin’ through chilled exhaust clouds, playin’ air guitar to make me laugh. It doesn’t get super cold in Oklahoma, just enough for the rain to freeze up. Just enough for the roads to freeze over. Just enough to change everything.

“I’ll leave the car runnin’, when you start payin’ for gas.”

“You know, bless your heart, you’re right. I didn’t even think. How rude of me.” Towanda pulls a twenty outta her purse and passes it long arm style across my chest to Junior Junior! What the hell? Where on earth did Towanda get an extra twenty bucks?

“You been truckin’ my hiney back and forth to work all these weeks and I never thought to offer. I’m so sorry Junior Junior.”

His face reddens slightly with shock and embarrassment and probably dismay. ‘Cause if she starts payin’ for gas, he won’t have nothin’ left to guilt us about every single day. Or to hang over my head waitn’ for a payoff.

“Oh, it’s no problem. Really Towanda,” he says tuckin’ the twenty into his shirt pocket. It’s not a problem, but it’s not worth givin’ the twenty back neither.

“My pleasure Junior Junior. Hey would you mind stopin’ over here at the Shoptown? I’ll only be a minute. I’ll even pick ya up a six pack of Pabpts. 19 is not all that young. You could still drink all legal if they hadn’ta raised the age just a couple years back. And anyways, Jesus drank wine in the Bible,” Towanda offers, storin’ up favors for someday.

Junior Junior pulls into the Shoptown parkin’ lot. He even pulls right up to the door. He’s no fool. Findin’ somebody to buy beer for ya is normally a pain in the butt.

Towanda climbs outta the car and holds the door for me.

“Leave the car runnin’ this time, would ya?”

“Sure thing Towanda.”

Towanda rises, gives me a wink, then bends back down into the car, stickin’ out her hand. “I need cash for the beer.”

Junior Junior, reluctantly, reaches in his pocket, pulls out the 20 and hands it back to Towanda.

“But I want my chan…”

Towanda slams the car door.

“Junior Junior ain’t gettin’ no beer is he?”

Towanda stuffs the 20 in her pocket.

“What is that child gonna do? Tell his mama? That boy is terrified of her.”

She links her elbow with mine as we head towards the door.

“I am savin’ that boy a world of hurt and teachin’ him a lesson. Drinkin’ is not the Lord’s way.” And that is Towanda’s way. The one that always has her doin’ someone a favor and comin’ out ahead.