Duct Tape and Brothers

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SP/RP:

She swipes my credit card, which is my own credit card and something Joe says I should be proud of, but not just because I have my name on it because you can put your name on many things and it doesn’t make it yours. No. The name on the credit card is something I should be proud of, says Joe, because of what it represents and it represents something I should be proud of, so I am. She swipes my credit card and I tap my fingers on the counter like I am playing a piano as the television on the far wall erupts with laughter. An older gentleman with scarcely any hair covering his mole spotted scalp has his chin smushed into rolls on his chest and asks what happened. Larry turns off the buzzer and explains because Larry is good at explaining things that are hard to understand. The older man chuckles, but I don’t think he is judging Larry. There’s an iPad sprinkled with bits of white hair sitting on the older gentleman’s lap. He’s chuckling again when he asks Larry how to see further down the screen. Larry leans over his shoulder to help him. I look up at the mirror overhead but the lights are strong in here and I can’t see what he is looking at, but I imagine it must have pictures because you can’t read when you are getting a haircut and I know that, so it must be just pictures that are funny.

“We’ll see you in two weeks, dear,” says Rose handing me back my card. Conversations with Rose can be difficult because she holds words at the end of her sentences for a very long time, which makes me think I should think about those words more than other words. I often find myself trying to decipher meaning behind such words. Like here, it is hard to find it, but I work hard to find it. My mother taught me to be persistent and I have tried to follow that advice. “I’ve put you in for the 26th,” she adds, sliding over my receipt.

It is time. I stop searching for meaning and refocus on the mission.

“You know what?” I say as if I just happened to remember. “Work’s been kind of hectic lately. So I’ll just have to call to schedule an appointment is all.”

The buzzer silences and Larry looks up at me. “What’s that Nathan? Is everything alright?”

My fingers slip around the edge of my card as I put it into my wallet. I take my time not wanting to look up directly at him. But I can feel his eyes on me and the muscles on my neck begin to squeeze. It isn’t right to lie. My mother taught me that, but there are times when you are allowed to, which is something Joe and Sal taught me, and something Sal did a lot for Joe and me when we were growing up.

“Nothing. I was just telling Rose that I may have to call in to schedule cause… well…cause my schedule has been kind of hectic.” I even try to laugh the way Joe does when he sometimes says something that’s not funny, but not serious.

I wait, my eyes resting on the floor for nine seconds, which I don’t usually do because you are supposed to look people in the eye when you speak to them, but I am nervous so I don’t want to. But I force my eyes up slowly and rest them between Larry’s eyebrows where he has spots of hair growing in. I stall because I am finding it difficult to know what to say. I think I should abort my mission, which is something soldiers are allowed to do when they know it will not work out. I also think Larry can tell what I am thinking and if that is true then there is nothing left to do but back out because otherwise it could lead to an ambush.

I’ve pictured it before. Sometimes soldiers have to do things that are bad–like lying is bad–because they need to do something that is good –like accomplishing their mission is good. Also, imaginations are not real and so they are “a good place to practice thoughts before they become actions.”

So like a soldier, I’d come in at 17:22 on Saturday. Look in the window and see only Larry sweeping the day’s colorful foliage of hair off the floor while whistling his haircutting tune: “My mother used to sing this to me when I was a baby,” he recently told me. “I have sung it all my life.”

I open the door quietly with my sleeve. Larry looks up at the chimes over the threshold, which lightly clink together as I duck quietly behind the register. He shrugs and continues to sing. I pull out the duct tape, count to three. And then it’s time. I run up behind him, grab his pudgy arms, and throw him into the barber chair and I work fast and I have no missteps and I wrap his legs, his arms, his protruding stomach to the chair with four revolutions.

“Nathan!” he screams in alarm when he recognizes me, which is easy for him to do because I look different than most people, and I am not wearing a mask because I am a soldier, and so I am only wearing my mixing bowl helmet, which does not conceal my face the way a knight’s helmet hides a knight’s face, which is where saluting comes from. When a knight sees another knight on horseback or on foot, he raises his helmet so that the knight knows he is a friend and that way he will not attack his friend. I do not salute Larry, even though he is my friend, because I am not not going to attack him. “What are you doing?” he yells.

I ignore him, spin the chair around, lower it with my heel, then dip his head back into the sink. I wrench open the lid, dispose of the combs, force his mouth open, and drain the barbicide down his throat. I duct tape his mouth shut so he can’t spit it out. I destroy the surveillance system and need to get rid of the body. I grab the striped barber cape…

Sirens fill the air. I can hear them going haywire and gathering strength as they approach me, which is not the first time that I have heard sirens coming closer to me.

“How do they know already?” I think. But it’s too late. The police are in, guns drawn, and I’m on the cover of magazines like the ones they have in the waiting area and the ones that Larry sometimes explains to me when I have difficulty deciphering meaning. And I am on this magazine, not because people think I am beautiful, which most people do not think I am beautiful, unless it is Sal or Joe who do think I am beautiful, and not because I have many friends and people want to be like me; I am on the magazine because people are fearful of me and want to know what I look like so they can avoid me, which is why I didn’t have friends, that is, until Joe signed me up for Facebook, because people judge me and don’t want to be my friend when they meet me. So I think maybe it isn’t that bad if I am on the magazine because people already judge me, but then I think that it is that bad because I have 98 friends on Facebook, including Larry, and I don’t want to scare them when they find out what I did to Larry. I live in a small town and, though not everyone knows each other, everyone knows Larry.

“There’s no need,” Larry says, flipping the buzzers back on. “You can schedule directly on our website. If your having trouble finding a time slot, text me, and we’ll straighten it out.”

“Thank you very much, Larry. That should be good,” I nod hoping he’s not able to read my thoughts.

I need to find a new barber and that would be the most wrong way to do it because sometime you can kill if it will lead to good, like bloodletting can lead to good, but I don’t think killing Larry will lead to good and so that is not the way I will do it.

“See you in two weeks,” he waves the shaver over his head as my mental alarm clock, which is not a real clock, but a fake one that keeps track of your life and the time you spend doing things, begins to tick at me.

Individual Reserves:

Duct tape is very good for connecting things. It is strong. Very strong because of the adhesive backing, and, depending on who you ask, it has been made the same way for 85 years.

People have been using versions of duct tape for longer, of course. The Brooklyn Bridge’s cables were built using duct tape and boots and shoes used to incorporate duct tape too. But those didn’t have the adhesive part yet. Real duct tape is 85 years old. It was not called duct tape until World War II when Revolite and Johnson and Johnson started using the cotton tape, coated, on one side with waterproof plastic and, the other, a layer of rubber-based gray adhesive, to seal soldier’s ammunition cases and prevent water from seeping in. Those soldiers are the ones that nicknamed the tape: “Duck Tape.”

I wish I could be a soldier sometimes. I used to watch the mini-series Band of Brothers and it taught me that soldiers during wartime become like family. Even before wartime they become brothers. The first episode takes place in Toccoa GA in 1942 –which is the same year that duct tape was issued to soldiers. And that was a good thing, too, because the soldiers in Easy Company, who were volunteers for the paratroopers, were always running in full gear during training. Rain or shine they’d run up the mountain and scream, “Currahee” and then sprint down through the river valleys and crawl under barbed wire and squish their arms and legs through mud and rocks. And if you do all that then you are going to need duct tape to cover the ammunition so it doesn’t get ruined. The episode doesn’t talk about duct tape, but the soldiers of Easy are lucky because Lt. Sobel was a harsh leader and a stickler for rules and order, which I can see is a good thing but it is also a bad thing, and in this case it would have been a bad thing because the soldiers didn’t like Lt. Sobel even though he trained them very well. The soldiers liked Lt. Winters who was a junior officer, who earned the respect of the fellow soldiers, and it was Lt. Winters who made the brothers strong and connected.

Respect:
Noun: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Verb: Admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Respect is not easy to understand because it’s only a feeling and the truth is that Lt. Sobel was not respected, but Easy Company was trained well because of him. Lt. Winters is nothing like Lt. Sobel; he was respected and they became even stronger and more connected when, at the end of the episode, he becomes the leader of Easy Company.

Analogies are helpful when trying to understand things like feelings. Sal taught me that, and I am making this one up myself, so I hope it works. But Lt. Sobel was a man like my father. He was strict and wanted things done just so and sometimes he would punish us for not doing things right. Lt. Sobel would take away leave passes and my father would ground us in our room. We all listened to him because that’s what you had to do. But Sal was the one who Joe and I respected because he was the one who made the punishments fun. We would play games in our room and we would sit by the window and catch rain in a tin and we would drink from it when we were thirsty and when mother would cry that we should be able to come out and my father would yell and my mother would stop crying, Sal would sing a funny song and put on a play.

Joe and I respected Sal because Sal was like wrapping duct tape on ammunition so that we wouldn’t get in any more trouble. Actually, Sal was duct tape, because he made us connected and strong and that’s not easy to do, because if it were, Lt. Sobel and my father would have been able to do it too. It isn’t easy to create strong connections. Some people can make connections, but they aren’t strong. And some people can be strongly tied to the same family–like Joe and Sal and my father–but not be connected. That is why in episode four when the replacements come to Easy Company in 1944 Holland, StSgt William Guarnere or “wild Bill” as he’s called, didn’t like the new guys or even some of the old guys who were injured and never fought in the war, but still got a pin for what Easy Company had accomplished. I felt bad for the man who wild Bill had snatched the pin away from because I would have been upset if when Ray Tomlinson hit the game winning three pointer for the state championship game in high school, I didn’t get a trophy that everyone else on the team got, even though I knew I never played in a real game. If I had been able to be in the army or in the episode I would have duct taped the pin to the man’s shirt so it would never have come off when wild Bill snatched at it.

I only watched until episode 9 because that’s when Joe came over and said I couldn’t watch anymore. I said I wouldn’t, but when Joe left, I took out the mixing bowl, which is my helmet and which I painted green on top of it because it was already brown and a little black and looks like army camouflage when I put green on top of it, and then I sat down on my chair and camouflaged into the chair and I watched even though Joe says I must not watch, but I should have listened to Joe and I never watched another episode after that. In that episode, Easy Company finds a concentration camp, which, from what I can tell, was a scary place with barbed wire and little food and where people dress the same and are judged. Jews went there and so did people who were different like me. In the episode, Lt. Winters meets a Jew and a person who looks like me, and the two look like they could use a meal. I cried and was scared and I hid under the blankets and drank all the chocolate milk I could just in case I ever had to go to the concentration camp and wouldn’t have enough food to eat. Joe came over the next week and I think he knew I watched because when I asked him if we were Jewish he gave me the look he gives me when he knows I am being dishonest. But it might be possible that I am Jewish because I don’t look like Joe or Sal, but also I might not be Jewish because Sal doesn’t look like Joe either and we are all brothers, though of course, none of use are really brothers because we have different mothers and fathers. Joe looks like “wild Bill” but he is not like wild Bill because Joe is tame which is the opposite of wild. Sal is tall and strong and fit and has muscles that are big, which is why he is our leader. I do not look like my brothers, but that is okay because we are not actually brothers and I don’t think we are actually Jewish.

So I only watched until episode 9, even though I know there are 10 episodes that go until the end of the war in 1945. After the war, duct tape wasn’t just for soldiers anymore. The housing industry started to use duct tape in order to connect heating and air conditioning ducts. Eventually, the color was also changed from Army colors to silver to match the ductwork. People got confused and instead of calling it “duck tape,” like the soldiers did, they called it “duct tape.” Then in the 1970s, Manco, Inc. placed rolls of duct tape in this thing called shrink-wrap, which makes it much easier for retailers to stack the sticky rolls. So that is how duct tape became the most versatile tool in the household.

I would have liked to have been a soldier, but when I tried to volunteer they said I wasn’t able to be a paratrooper, but they said I could work in an office, which I thought I would do until Joe helped me find a job closer to home. I decided the next best thing would be to work at a duct tape manufacturing plant and Joe found a spot for me in the accounting department, which was also good because I like numbers because numbers are like following orders and that makes me feel good Even though it should be called duck tape, I call it duct tape because that is what people call it today and it isn’t right to be different.

When I told Larry that work has been hectic I wasn’t lying, which I try not to do because my mother taught me that’s bad, unless it is in the way Sal and Joe taught me which isn’t bad. But of course it is hard to know how to lie that way and only Sal is good at that.

There’re only two of us in the department: Sandra, the boss’s wife, and myself. About a month ago my boss made a big sale to a local hardware store, but never documented it. The warehouse was supposed to have shipped out the order a week later, but neither Sandra nor myself had processed the order. The boss said that it was my fault, but I am not sure how that is, but it must be because the boss said so and he is the commander in chief at work, and since he did not give an illegal order that got him court-martialed and demoted, he is my commander in chief and he knows best.

In the end, my mistake caused a huge mess and backed up all our orders, which meant Sandra and I had to stay late every day for a week to fix it. Only Sandra is the boss’s wife so she never stayed late, which meant I had to stay late every day for two weeks. But I did that because Joe says I am to do what the boss asks and not ask questions or complain and so I fixed the problem at 13:13 on Thursday afternoon. It made me feel good to solve a problem alone and my boss noticed too.

My boss is seven minutes into his Thursday mayo and egg salad sandwich when he comes over to my desk to check up on my progress. Normally, I like work because I am not judged at work. People treat me like a normal worker and I am very good at my job because I know a lot about duct tape and I am good with numbers. But sometimes it is not always good.

My boss leans over my shoulder and tells me he’s proud that I fixed my mistake so well. His breath smells like coffee and egg salad and I can feel it nesting in my hair, which makes me anxious.

He then sticks his fingers in my hair like I do when I lather my hair only he has traces of mayo and it massages into my scalp. “Great job, Nathan. Couldn’t have done it without you.” He kisses Sandra and walks away.

That was this morning. Thirteen days since the operation began. Only I was in need of an emergency haircut, because I didn’t want traces of egg salad in my hair and Larry washes my hair when he cuts it and so I went early.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to leave Larry. I do not want to leave Larry, but I need to, and there is a difference between want and need. Larry is a good barber and I like the way he cuts my hair every two weeks, but sometimes you need to start fresh so that you can get to where you need to be, and I want to experience what the soldiers of Easy Company experienced with their brothers once again with my brothers. And in order to accomplish my mission, I know I will need to leave Larry and all my friends behind. So this is the sixth time in 3 years I have tried to start fresh. Technically, it is the seventh. But, since I needed an emergency haircut, I am going to just call it Six B because that is a more accurate description.

Operation Six B: To the Victors Belong The Spoils.

I was raised in a small town. Population: 9,200. My high school was 1.2 miles from my house. College, which I attended and something Joe says is amazing and something I should be proud of like having a credit card, was was 4.7 miles away. Work is even closer to home than both high school and college, though many people come to work from far away, and, until I was seven, I got my haircuts in my backyard by a woman named Patty. So I have never gone too far away from home, which is why my mission, I think, will be difficult, but I will cross that bridge when I get there, which I hope is not a real bridge because I am scared of bridges.

So every two weeks, when my father was at work, Patty would come with her bag of supplies and my mother would lay out a plastic tablecloth on the back porch. One by one, my brothers and I would sit in a folding chair as Patty shaved our heads in identical fashion: a two all around. My mother would sit outside and talk to Patty about anything except my father. The weather, her day, how stressed she was, how crowded the lap-lane pool at the local swim club was, the bakery cutting back its store hours, the woman down the block with a white American Eskimo and no husband and no suitors to be heard of.

Patty would push our heads down to our chests, press the shaver hard to our head, and she’d listen to mother’s words. I don’t know what she thought of my mother. She enjoyed the banter I think but as I child I wanted her to like my mother.

“She walks that dog up and down the block four or five times a day,” my mother said one summer evening as Patty squished my ears down to clean up the sides. “Well, of course I know what it’s all about it. She’s looking for company. She pretends she fine without a husband, but whom does she think she is fooling? And I know she wants to see me outside so she can stop and talk. But I don’t have time for that. I have a family. I have kids and a husband. And sometimes I think my husband is as much another kid as a partner,” that was my mother’s favorite line because she said it all the time and she would laugh to herself every time she said it. “And she judges my family and she judges me as a mother.”

“Absolutely,” agreed Patty.

I didn’t want anyone to judge me and didn’t want anyone to judge my mother and so I was worried that maybe Patty judges my mother like the woman down the block with the white American Eskimo and no husband or suitor to be heard of or Jason or Lexi or Brian or Tim –especially Tim –or Belle, who all judged me in school and who I didn’t want to judge my mother or my family.

“Which is why it is such a good thing we have you, Patty. I would never have the time to take the boys at night to get their haircuts. Could you imagine?” Laughed my mother. But Patty was not laughing. I felt her pause abruptly at the top of my head as though she had mistakenly balded me because such things happen and it happened to Joe one time when Patty was cutting his hair and I didn’t want her to bald me because I have two raised deformities on my scalp that could bleed if buzzed and, if seen, would make me look even uglier. But then Patty continued buzzing along and I knew she did not bald me.

“Here you go. We’ll see you in two weeks, dear,” mother said when Patty showed me my hair with a mirror.

“Sue, I need to speak with you about that,” she said, putting the money in her purse.

“Is everything okay?”

“You know how fond I am of your family,” she started.

Fond:
Adjective: Having an affection or liking for.

The word sat with me for a long time and I was happy she said it because it meant she did not judge me or my family or my mother because she liked my mother, which is what I had always thought until my mother said that the woman down the block with the white American Eskimo and no husband and no suitor to be heard of judged her and her family, which would include me, I think, even though she is not my real mother.

“I don’t know how to say this,” Patty continues, “but I don’t think I’m going to be able to come around here anymore. You’re my last client in town and I can’t afford to drive the hour it takes for just one client.”

It was unequivocally true because we were the last family to use her and I knew that because Joe yelled at my mother that he did not want to get a haircut so often and that most people, Joe said, had started going to the new “cutting edge” hair salon in town: Park Avenue, which had an arcade in the waiting area. “Cutting edge” is Park Avenue’s slogan and it is meant to mean two things at once Joe says. Many thing have double meanings and sometimes it can be difficult to know which meaning people mean. But the “cutting edge” slogan I understood immediately, because “cutting edge,” Joe says, means cool new toys I can play with, while the barber cuts the edges of your hair.

Joes said Park Avenue had televisions, the newest boom box, a free phone and an arcade area with Pac Man. There were three barbershops and Patty in town before the New York style hair salon moved to town, bringing with it its “hi-tech” toys. It purchased it’s building from the local orthodontist, Dr. Jenkins, and the two shared the waiting area and the coolest toy that I am allowed to play with: a Pac Man machine. When I was in middle school my mother would schedule my haircut and orthodontist appointments at the same time, each every two weeks. I became so good at Pac Man I set the high score by eighth grade. I smile with evenish teeth when I think of that because it makes me proud and Dr. Jenkins says even teeth will make me look handsome and when I smile I should be proud.

But before that we had always used Patty. Every two weeks, Patty would be called to give us our haircuts and to listen to my mother’s words. Patty would have to quit us before my mother would leave her. And that is exactly what happened. Park Avenue had come to town and Patty and the barbershops went out.

My mother stayed in bed for weeks when Patty left. For the first time in our lives, my brother’s and I didn’t get a haircut on schedule so that our hair drooped slightly over our ears.

I’m in the kitchen when the woman down the block with a white American Eskimo and no husband and no suitors to be heard of comes to the door and rings it. There is no one home but me and my mom and she is lucky my father is not home because he would be upset to see her. I open the door and the dog jumps up on me and I like the dog even though I am not allowed to play with it, but because no one is home I rub its ears and pat its hind part.

“Hello, you must be Nathan,” says the woman.

I was only seven and so I didn’t yet look people in the eyes or rather between the eyebrows and so I answer her yes while playing with her dog, who is cute and friendly.

“Well, I just wanted to stop by and see how your mother is feeling. I have not seen her around town in many days and I though maybe she had fallen ill and could use a friend.”

Friend:
Noun: A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.

Verb: Add (someone) to a list of contacts associated with a social networking Website.

Thinking about it now, I think she must have meant the first definition because for one things the second definition didn’t exist back then and even if it did my mother hated technology and I doubt she would have friended anyone the way Joe taught me to do and which I didn’t really want to do but did because Joe said I was to do it. She did have a gray contact book with people and phone numbers and addresses, but the people in that were called “contacts.” So it must be that she meant the first definition because they did in fact know each other.

“Can I come in?” the woman says and I say yes because I want the dog to come inside and stay with me because I think he likes me, but she is a stranger so I tell her to sit in the den and “I will get my mother.” The dog comes with me up the stairs and I knock on my mother and father’s room. She doesn’t answer, but I know that she is awake and just not coming down so I go inside. The curtains are shut and it is black and smelly like mayo and egg salad and I look at the dog because I am worried he will think something badly of my mother like the way his commander in chief judges my mother, but he is wagging his white tail and smiling with his tongue, and I know now that dogs don’t judge, but then I thought maybe they do because Tim calls me a dumb dog and I know that I can judge people because I judge Tim and this dog seemed to be smart because he knew exactly where my mother was in the house even though he had never been allowed inside before and so maybe the dog was judging me. But I know now of course that dogs don’t judge people.

I turn the lights on and my mother covers her eyes with her blanket. I ask her if she is feeling ill and she says that she is just tired. Then the white American Eskimo barks and my mother picks her head up in fear. She asks me where I got a dog from and I tell her the woman down the block with a white American Eskimo and no husband and no suitors to be heard of is downstairs in the den.

“What?”

“She said that you could use a friend maybe and that she thought you were ill.”

“And you let her in the house?”

“I let the dog in and she is in the den.” My mother is mad and I don’t like it when people are upset with me and so I bow my head because I don’t want to see her eyes. She sees I am scared and she says not to worry and that makes me smile. The dog is still smiling and sniffing around my father’s shoes under his dresser.

“Go downstairs, Nathan, and tell her that I am perfectly fine. Tell her I am not ill and there is nothing she needs to concern herself with in this house. And tell her that in the future it is polite to call ahead of time. Go down there and tell her that.”

And so I go down stairs with the dog and tell her exactly what I am supposed to and the woman says, “Of course, where were my manners. But it is indeed good to her that she is doing well.”

I walk her to the door and say goodbye to the dog, who doesn’t look like he wants to leave me, but before I can close the door the woman says to me, “If you want, you are more than welcomed to come to my house and play with Charles.” I ask her who Charles is and she laughs, but I don’t think she was judging me, and says that is the dog’s name. “Charles would love the companionship.”

Then she comes closer to me, which scares me, but I don’t move away, and she says, “Is everything okay here, Nathan? Are you and your brother’s safe?” And I don’t know what she means and I look at her with my head tilt to the side to tell her as much and she says, “Well if you need a safe place to go, you and your brothers should come down to the house, play with Charles,” and that she was there. Which, of course, I knew she was there because that is where she lives.

The unannounced visit seemed to cheer my mother up because after that she got out of bed and was good as new. The next day she took my brothers and me to Park Avenue. I remember being in complete awe of the salon. It was huge and it was a child’s dream. And still, sometimes, if I have time, I will play Pac Man because I like Pac Man and I am good at it.

My mother didn’t care for the place though. It was too loud and there was no one to speak with because the other mothers were either busy chasing their children around the arcade waiting area or partaking in the fun themselves. My mother, of course, refused to play and we were therefore only permitted to play Pac Man because it was closest to her seat. But while she may not have liked the new place, she had little choice because Park Avenue had successfully put its competitors out of business.

So to the victors belong the spoils. And that is how Larry became my barber.

Day 1: Recon

I will not make the same mistake twice. I begin interviewing men at work for their choice of barbers immediately during my lunch break. Most of the employees do not live in my town so I’m confident I will get at least a few viable options. Still Michael, our lead salesman, uses Larry and I must be careful to avoid his detection. My two older brothers both go to Larry as well and for the next two weeks I won’t speak to them either, which will be difficult because both Joe and Sal visit my home weekly. They come to check up on me, but pretend that they made too much food and I need to give it away before it goes bad. I am okay with it because I cannot cook myself–unless it is chocolate milk—and I like Joe’s wife’s pomegranate chicken.

One time Joe came over with said chicken and I say, “Oh you don’t say,” because I think that sounds grown up. “Well I always could use some extra food. Tell your wife I say thank you very much.”

“Will do. So how’s everything going?”

“Great. I am good at my job. My boss told me so yesterday during my review. Said he was happy you recommended me,” I say this, but I don’t look at Joe in the eyes because when you are saying something praiseworthy about yourself then it is okay to divert your gaze and I don’t like looking at people’s eyes anyway because I think they are judging me and so I don’t mind looking at the base of one of the kitchen chair legs.

“That’s great, Nathan.” I blush red and he puts his hand on my shoulder.

“I’m proud of you,” he says. “You’re something else.” Something else. Something else. I don’t know exactly what he means by it and so I ask him. And he says it’s a complement and then I look him in between his brows, which are clean.

“Do you remember Patty?” I ask.

“The woman who used to cut our hair?”

“Yes.”

“Yes. I remember her. Why?”

“Do you think they were friends? Patty and my mother.”

“I don’t know.”

“Patty said she was fond of the family.”

“When?”

“The last time she cut my hair. She said she was fond of the family and then she said she couldn’t continue to travel to cut the family’s hair anymore.”

Joe does not speak for a few moments and I think I must have said something bad because Joe is quiet, but then he says, “I think she was friends with Sue.” Joe calls my mother Sue because he says that she isn’t his real mother, which is true. She is not my mother or his mother or Sal’s mother. But Sue told me to call her “mother” so I do. But Joe doesn’t. Sal did and didn’t, but Joe never did. He calls her Sue and he doesn’t speak about my father. And Sal especially did not speak about my father.

“I sometimes think they were friends too.”

“Have you made friends at work?”

“No,” I say.

Joe squints his eyes so that his brow hunches forward, and says I should go for drinks with people from work. I tell him I drive to work and he says I can get a drink and drive home later that night because that is an unwritten rule to “don’t drink and drive.” I tell him no thank you because I like to come home and watch the history channel with my mixing bowl helmet on.

“You should get a Facebook account.”

“Why?”

“Because you can make friends and stay in touch with people from high school and college.”

“I don’t have friends from high school. Larry once told me to get an email account, which I did, but I didn’t have anyone to address.”
“Facebook is different than email. You don’t need to address someone in particular. And you can make friends with it, which you can’t on email.”

“Are you on Facebook?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Is your wife?”

“Yes.”

“Is Sal?”

“Yes. And then Sal and you and me can be friends.”

“But we are already brothers.”

“But we can be friends.” And that made me sad, because I liked being brothers because that is what the soldiers in Easy Company were and I look to the floor and not at Joe because I want to do what he wants me to do, but I am saddened by it.

“I have many friends on Facebook and so does Sal and then you will have friends.”

“And I will be a friend like your friends?”

“Very good, Nathan. That is exactly right. Come, I’ll show!”

Joe and I go upstairs to my computer room and he sets up an account for me and then he sends a friend request to himself and his wife and my nephew Jonathon, who is a much younger than me, but smart, and then Sal. His wife accepts almost immediately.

“Who else do you want to friend?”

“I don’t know.”

“There has to be someone?”

“I don’t know.”

“How about Larry. You like him don’t you?”

“Yes. But I am not his friend.”

“You’ll become friends. That’s the whole point. You make friends and they become joys in life. Let’s friend him.”

And he did and Larry accepted so we were friends. I can’t think of other people to friend, but it is okay says Joe because Facebook lets me look at people I may know to get ideas. It says Michael and Michael and I have a mutual friend in Larry and so it makes sense to friend him and Joe does. Michael accepts the next day and that’s how Michael also became my friend, though, before that we weren’t friends.

But it says we’re friends. But then again I must have done it wrong because Joe says friends are one of the joys in life that I need to experience. But I have 98 friends on Facebook now, and I don’t get any joy from any of them, and only Joe and Sal talk to me on Facebook. At least, I think I don’t get joy from them because joy is one of those things that is hard to put into words and very difficult to find the meaning of. And truthfully, I think now that maybe Joe and Sal are upset with me because I said something to Larry about my father because I thought Larry and I were friends the same way that Joe and Sal and me are friends on Facebook, and so now Sal and Joe don’t want to call me their brother in the same way that Joe doesn’t like to call my father father. I suspect that is why Joe and Sal have demoted me to a friend.

Or maybe they are not mad at me and maybe this is just what friendship is: friendship just makes brothers and barbers the same, like when Lt. Winters got promoted and he became the same as Lt. Sobel, but the Lt. Winters got promoted again and he became higher in the chain of command than Lt. Sobel. I hope it is the latter, but I suspect it is not, and therefore I need to continue with my mission to rid myself of Larry and undo the friendships I made so that all that will be left is Sal and Joe and then I will be able to promote myself back to brother, because my only friends will also be my brothers. And then maybe from there I can start again trying to make friends only I will be careful so that I don’t demote myself again.

I sat in my house watching the history channel with my mixing bowl helmet on when I decided to take on this mission, because soldiers are asked if they will do a mission sometimes, which they say yes to. I was very proud of myself for agreeing to the mission and I made myself chocolate milk because I knew I had done a good job, even without Sal telling me so.

The secret to understanding hard things, says Sal, is thinking slowly, which is not what my father used to say. My father used to say I needed to be punished for thinking slowly. I don’t mean to think slowly and I don’t think I think slowly, but I know I must think slowly because my father said I think slowly. And when someone tells you something many times then that is truth, which is something my father taught me. But Sal is the commander in chief now and he says, “Think slowly, Nathan,” which is good and that helped me accept the mission that I am on now.

In any case, the people I have friended are friends now, which is also why it will be hard for me to avoid Sal and Joe and Larry and Michael. But I will try and so I tell the second man at work to meet me behind the adhesive application rollers where the warmth makes me feel safe.

“Nathan! Hey how’s it going?” yells Terry.

“Shhh!” I hiss, waving him toward me.

“What’s wrong? Why are we meeting here? Are you okay?”

“I need to speak with you.”

“I know. Jason sent me down. What’s wrong with my paycheck?”

“Nothing. I made a mistake again. But it’s all fixed up.” That was not the truth and that was bad, but I had to do it because I wanted to do good and accomplish my mission and so I think Sal would have been proud of me.

Terry looks relieved and says, “So why are we meeting?”

“Your hair.”

“My hair,” he says, feeling his head.

“Your hair is nicely groomed, thick, and it grows in well on the sides,” I say straining my head to get a look at the back. There is a white hair, but that is not the barber’s mistake. “You get a haircut every three and half weeks, is that correct?”

“Yeaaah,” he says, his brow hunching.

“Where do you get it done?”

“My haircuts?”

“Yes.”

“I go to Chubies,” he says, then seeing I want more intel he adds, “He’s in Englewood. On Main Street.”

Chubies? I didn’t like the name, but I write it down on my clipboard. Terry tries to see what I’ve written and I pull it away because it’s classified.

“Would you say that Chubies is a reliable place?”

“Yeah. I’ve been going there for years. What is all this about?”

“The boss is thinking of compensating employer’s haircuts,” I say, which again is not true, but okay because I am doing good.

“Oh! Well you have to include Chubies. It’s the best,” he says and he is talking fast. “He’s really friendly. Sweet guy. He was at my father’s second wedding.”

I mark up my clipboard with his words.

“Once a week he sends out a newsletter via email. It’s really funny. I should have some in my in-box. I can print it out for you later, you know, if you want to look at it,” he says.

“No thank you,” I say because that is what you say when you don’t want something that someone offers you. “So he has your email address?”

“Yep.”

“Is he on Facebook?”

“Everyone is on Facebook.”

“Are you friends?”

“Yep.”

“Did he friend you or you him?”

“Um…I don’t remember.” Terry’s face is beginning to flush and he loosens his tie.

“Do you think we can maybe move down by the respooling area? These rollers are like two hundred degrees.”

“260 degrees and no because I feel safe here in the warmth. Who friended who?”

“I think he friended me. We are friends. He was at my father’s second wedding. He’s a great guy. He tweets the funniest things…” but I don’t listen to the rest because I have many interviews to conduct and much intel to recover and if allot anymore time to Terry I won’t be able to fit enough people in.

“Thank you Terry. When you go up can you ask Dave to come down? I need to speak with him about his paycheck.”

Terry leaves and I cross Chubie off my list because I don’t like the name.

“Is E.Co Hair on Facebook?” I ask Sylvio. We stand near packaging because Sylvio was sweating by the rollers, wiping his forehead with the back of his hands then sticking them into his long black hair, which makes his black hair greasy and disgusting to look at and so I say I move to the cool packaging area and he follows, which makes me feel like a soldier and tells me that I am good at interviewing even though this is very difficult work.

“I think so, but we aren’t friends.”

“Do they have your email on file?”

“I don’t think so?” I nod because my boss nodded a lot during my interview and mark down his words.

“Thank you Sylvio. You’ve been most helpful,” which is something my boss likes to say.

“You know it would probably be easier to just Google barbers and pick a handful to reimburse from,” says Sylvio.

“No thank you,” I say because that is what you say when you don’t want to do something someone says to do and I can say no thank you to Sylvio because he is not my commander in chief.

Day 5: Attack assessment

I have narrowed it down to three salons that I think could be a potential fit. I mark it off on a map with pins and string, the way telephone companies used to do in order to calculate the price of a long distance call. I do this in on my bedroom floor, with the shades shut, and the lights off. I look down on them with a flashlight sipping on chocolate milk through a crazy straw that I got out of my Honeycombs box when I was a kid.

It is 04:19. All three haircutters will be open at 06:30, which is good because that means they open at the same time and I like order. I will travel on the bus west 8.7 miles to Vinny’s Haircut and Shave, from which point I will travel exactly 10 miles northeast to Hair Date Salon, then I take a bus 15.9 miles southeast to E.Co Hair, before returning home to watch the history channel with my mixing bowl helmet on.

During the bus ride to Eddie’s, I think about what I am going to say. I’ve never interviewed a barber before and until recently I had never interviewed anyone before and so I am a little nervous. At Larry’s I don’t even tell him the haircut I want. He simply does it. I have two spots on my head that require extra attention when a shaver is involved.

1. A deformity. Raised a centimeter. Squarely in the middle back of the head.
2. Place right index finger on raised deformity one. Stretch thumb as far apart as possible, about 6.2 inches, and wrap around left side of head. There: deformity two. Also raised.

“I am looking for a barber,” I say extended the last word to show meaning. Vinny and I are sitting in his office. He pours me a cup of espresso, no milk, and offers me a biscuit. I take two and thank him.

“Well you have come to the right place,” he says. He has a mustache and I suspect his hair is permed. “My clients have come to me for years. You ask them and each one will tell you the same.”

“I have and they do,” I agree and I am happy he understood what I meant by extending the word barber. I like Vinny and that is what Zack from the warehouse said would happen when I met Vinny, which means Zack was correct.
“Come let me show you around the place.” I put down my espresso and follow him to the floor and I am not nervous or scared because Vinny makes me comfortable.

There are six chairs on the floor. One is occupied as we walk in: a teenager telling the woman cutting his hair that he is planning on asking out a girl from his geometry class, which I think is good because I like numbers and geometry is math and math is numbers. The woman smiles encouragement at him through the mirror and the boy the teenager looks at me and I feel judged, but Vinny tells me to follow him and I do.

“It’s your hair and you must feel comfortable with the person who is sculpting it. Not everyone is cut out to be a barber. It is a delicate position, you see. You’re a confidant, a pillar of the community. Mothers entrust you with their children’s hair. Men come when they are old, their hairline receding, in desperate need of your help. You must make them feel young again. It is all part of the revitalization process. We are doctors of hair. Doctors of image.” The teenager laughs, but I don’t laugh because I am not sure he is kidding because barbers used to be doctors and if he is not kidding then it would be rude to laugh. I suspect, though, he might be kidding because actually trichologists are doctors of hair, which barbers were never, and so in the end I decide I can chuckle like Sal would chuckle when something is not funny, but not serious.

I like the place and I imagine myself sitting where the boy sits and Vinny cutting my hair, but then Vinny speaks and that changes everything and it makes me think he didn’t really understand what I meant by barber because I must have tried to add meaning the wrong way. “My clients are friends. They are the best and I care about them deeply. I know their families. I know how their work is going. And they know about me. Give me your email address and I will send you some photos of the hair I have sculpted.”

I don’t say anything to Vinny, which was rude and wrong, but I was frustrated and so I just walk out without saying another word. I hear the woman ask what happened but I don’t hear Vinny’s response. I hope he is not judging me for not giving him my email address. But I was scared that if sent me an email that would mean he friended me, even though Joe says email is not for making friends, but I wasn’t sure if maybe Vinny uses it to make friends and I didn’t want to accept his friend request because I was already leaving Larry so that I could promote myself back to brotherhood.

This reminds me of the time when I was 17 years old and I am sitting in Larry’s chair and he says, “So let me ask you something, Nathan. Ray Tomlinson was in here the other day and he tells me he has an email address,” he says, emphasizing the ‘E’ but I couldn’t find meaning there, even though I was persistent like my mother said I am to be, which was frustrating. “You and Ray are good buddies,” he pauses to see if my bangs are even. I didn’t think Ray and I were buddies, but maybe Ray thought we were and I think to make a mental note, which is not a real note, but a pad in your mind that you can leave a message, only it is like an answering machine because you speak to your mental pad and you don’t draw markings like I did when I was interviewing people at work for the first time in my life, and say to the mental pad, remember to ask Ray if we are buddies, but I never do because I lost the pad until the day I went to see Vinny. “It would be nice if we were buddies,” I say to the pad I will lose. “Because Ray was on the varsity basketball team and I would like to shoot hoops with him sometime. I once heard Ray say that he shoots 250 shots a day, which means that Ray took 364,000 shots in high school, but I think now about only one shot and that was the state championship game, when Ray made the gaming winning three pointer. I was on the team then, but not on the team because the coach said I could be on the team, but that I couldn’t play in the games, but I got a trophy, which is in my room next to my mixing bowl helmet.

“Maybe you should ask him to help you set up an email address.”

“Why?”

“Well then you could write to your friends without having to stamp and envelope and without having to send it with the mailman. I have hotmail and I could show you, but maybe Ray would show you.”

“Okay, but I don’t really send mail to people.”

“If you had an email address maybe you would have people and friends to email,” he says, to which I don’t respond because he is already holding up a mirror to the back of my head to see if I like it, which I do, and that means the haircut is over.

Day 5 B: Target Stress Point

There is a sale at Shoprite. I pass a sign and decide that my efficiencies have created ample time for me to spare before my next appointment and so I alter my plans and head in.

Fruits and Vegetables are in aisle one. I begin there. The sign over the avocados says 7 for 7. A woman is with her daughter and she tells the girl to pick 7 because there is a sale. I introduce myself and explain that in fact she does not need to buy 7. If the sale reads “must buy” 7 for 7 then you do indeed need to purchase all seven to receive the $1-each value. However, here it does not read that way. Each avocado is $1. Two will be sufficient for me and I take just two to provide a visual with my explanation, which is how Sal taught me to think better.

“But why do they say 7 for 7 at all then?” asks the daughter.

“Good questions. These avocados are already soft. And in a couple of days they will be too soft to sell. They want you to take the storage problem off their hands,” I say, which is something Joe taught me.

The girl looks at her mother. “Take two,” she says.

Aisle 4 is cereal and coffee. The coffee is not on sale, but I am running low so I purchase three pounds of Starbucks Sumatra, not pre-ground. I have a grinder at home and pre-ground looses the essence, Joe once said. I buy two boxes of Honeycombs, the Shoprite version because it tastes the same as the brand name and that is how you manage money, Joe once said.

I spend sometime in Aisle 10 because I am not sure if I should pick up dairy products. It’s 48 degrees currently outside and I decide I don’t want to risk leaving milk, cheese, and yogurt out of the fridge while I travel on the bus to Hair Date Salon.

I am about to leave when I overhear the store manager telling a woman that there is a sale on cleaning supplies.

I whip my cart around on its hind wheels and head straight to Aisle 7. I am approaching a large display of mops, when I suddenly hear a voice I recognize from behind.

“Excuse me, mam, but I am looking for my son. He has red sproutty-looking hair, freckles, and is about this high.”

“I’m so sorry, dear,” she says holding the ‘dear’ for a very long time, which makes me think there might be meaning in the word, but I don’t think there is unless maybe the woman is a deer and when I look around she is a woman and she is talking to Rose from Park Avenue and Rose says, “That must be so traumatic. I haven’t seen him but I’ll help you look for the little man. Where did you last see him?”

I don’t know what to do because she can’t see me here because she will ruin the mission and she’ll ask me why I’m here and she’ll tell Larry she saw me and she’ll ask me to schedule and appointment and I am not prepared to lie and so I just act. I push my cart forward. An avocado rolls out of the bag and hits the floor, which I should pick up because that is wrong to leave an avocado, which is food, on the floor, but I decide not to pick it up because it will ruin the mission, which is bad, and so instead I duck into the large display of mops. My hands are jittery, but I am completely concealed from view like a soldier in camouflage and I think that I should have been wearing my mixing bowl helmet and that next time I will be sure to have it with me at all times.

Rose and the worried mother hurry off in search of the missing boy. I cannot see them but I hear Rose’s voice trail off. I wait an extra 10 seconds just to be certain she is indeed gone before daring to exit. Only something is attached to my leg like a trap in a jungle and I think that I have been ambushed and I try to wrench it free only it won’t budge. I am sacred because when I look back there are two bright brown eyes staring at me.

“You can’t leave now. They’ll see you,” whispers a little voice.

It’s the little boy. He tilts his head to the side and arches his eyebrows. I can’t tell if he is scared or confused to find me here. My fingers stop twitching because he is just a little boy and little boys don’t hurt adults and I am an adult and a soldier and so now I must defend the innocent boy. I smile at him and his freckled face stretches wide. He is a cute kid and he reminds me of the white American Eskimo with his smile because I can see his tongue and it is red. His hair is bright orange, messy as could be, and flops down over his face. He wipes it out of his eyes.

“Hello, what’s your name?”

“You can just call me Moppy, everyone does on account of my hair and all,” he says pulling a strand down to eye level.

“I see,” I say because I think that makes me sound adult like and I am an adult and a soldier. “Well you know your mother is searching for you?”

“Serves her right,” he says simply and folds his arms.

“Is your mother your enemy?” Joe says mother are supposed to be ally’s but Sue was the enemy because my father was the enemy and she was his ally and since my father is an enemy and my mother an ally of an enemy she was the enemy. This was weird because I thought she was my ally, but I thought stupider then.

“Enemy? I’m just not leaving until she says I don’t have to go back.”

“Back where?”

“To the barber.”

“I see, Moppy,” I say because I am intrigued by the little boy’s defiance, which is a quality all soldiers must have when facing an enemy. “And why don’t you want to go to the barber. You do look like you could use a haircut.” His hair was not like mine. Mine was a regulation haircut. His would need to be cut if he wanted to be in the army.

“I know I could use a haircut captain obvious. But I don’t want to go to the place she wants me to go to.”

And that made me proud because he called me his captain, which makes me his leader and protector. “And what place is that, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Hair Date Salon,” he says in complete disgust. And now I was really intrigued.

“You don’t say,” I say like an adult and I am happy that I found this boy who will give me information on Hair Date Salon. “What’s wrong with Hair Date Salon? Do they give bad haircuts?”

“Well, no,” he admits. “But the barber there is nosy. He’s always asking me things.
‘How’s school? How’s my mom doing?’ My mom and dad split, you see, and he’s always asking about how were holding up.”

“You don’t like school?”

“What? No. I like school but he doesn’t need to know anything about me. It’s none of his business.”

“But how will you be friends if he doesn’t talk to you?”

“I don’t want him to be my friend,” he says and then Moppy’s eyes hit the floor. “I think my mom and him are dating.”

“What makes you think they are dating?”

“Because they went on a date the other night.”

That was good of him to know because it showed he had uncovered valuable intel about the enemy. “I think you are allowed to be friends with family,” I say. “I am a friend with Joe and Sal. But maybe that is different because my mother is not my mother. I was adopted and my brother Joe and Sal were also adopted so they are not my real brothers, but I call my mother mother and my brothers brothers. Soldiers call other soldiers brothers even though they are not brothers either.”

Moppy just looks at me with an open mouth just like the white American Eskimo used to and he says nothing so we both sit there for sometime in silence. Then he starts to utter something when suddenly his mom’s voice is back and so is Rose’s and he stops.

“He doesn’t want a haircut,” she says. “We go through this every single time. He’s scared I think of the blades and the noise.”

Moppy rolls his eyes at me and I cover my mouth to prevent myself from laughing, which would be entirely unsoldier like.

“Well you know, not all barbers are equal,” says Rose, holding the word ‘equal’ for a long time.
Equal.
Equal. I hold the word in my head.

Equal:
1) Verb: Be the same as in number or amount. As is in 7 avocados/$7 = 2 avocados/$2.

2) Adjective: being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value: As in Honeycombs, the Shoprite version, because it tastes the same as the brand name.

3) Noun: A person or thing considered to be the same as another in status or quality. As in the Larry and my brothers and my nephew and Michael are all my friends on Facebook.

I think about what Moppy had said about his mom and his barber dating. “I have 98 friends on Facebook,” I whisper. “But none of them ask me anything and we don’t talk. No one ever asks me about my family unless Joe or Sal talks to me and then we do talk about family. I really only talk to Joe or Sal. Then again, maybe Sal and Joe are just my friends now because they wanted me to call them friends and not brothers. That is why I am on mission to promote myself back to brother so that I can make friends without demoting myself. You see?”

Moppy doesn’t say anything and so I just continue to talk in a hush tone.

“Does Hair Date have your email address?”

“Huh?”

“Are you friends on Facebook?”

“No,” he finally says.

“Good.” I say. “That’s Good.”

“What do you mean?” asks Moppy’s mother, her voice now within inches of us.

“Well,” says Rose, “it just so happens that I work at a hair salon, Fifth Avenue, and well the barber there is great with kids. There’s even an arcade area in the waiting room that can help relax his nerves. Your boy will love it.”

Moppy’s eyes widen and I think he is fearful like an enemy is about to attack, but then he smiles and I think he is happy, and I think that maybe the enemy is now his ally, even though Rose is still my enemy, which is okay because Moppy and me can be allies even if he does not have all the same enemies as me.

“That sounds wonderful. Moppy will certainly love that. If only we could find him.”

Moppy begins to step forward and he turns to me and says, “I hope they have a pinball machine.”

“They do,” I say because they do. “Do you want to go?”

“Yes,” and he starts to march forward again.

But I hold on to his leg. Moppy looks at me and I put my finger up to my lips to silence him.

“I’m sorry,” says Rose. “Did you say Moppy?”

“That’s my son’s nickname.”

“Do you want to get a haircut?” I ask him again, just to make sure that the enemy is really an ally now because sometimes enemies trick you like the Germans did in World War II to Russia.

“Yes.”

“Good, because if you want to be in the army you need to get a regulation cut.” And then it was time. I whisper in his ear, “I have the top score in Pac Man.” Moppy looks at me and I pick him up slightly by the base of his legs so that his red hair breaches the top of the mops.

“Ouch!!”

“I found him,” squeals Rose. “I found Moppy!”

“Let go of my hair!”

But Rose doesn’t let go. “His hair does look and feel like a mop,”

“I’m not a mop! I’m a boy! And I don’t want to clean anybody’s kitchen floor,” he pleads, but I am happy because we accomplished a mission together even though he was not in the army yet because he did not have a regulation haircut.

Day 10: Feint

After I escape from Shoprite without Rose seeing me and asking me to schedule a haircut which would have forced me to lie a lie I was not prepared to make, I decide that it would be best if I wait to visit E.Co Hair after work on Monday. Only there was another problem at work because one of the rollers in the coating machine was oiled too much and it squirted oil out for a while, then steamed up and shut down completely. That delayed one of the biggest shipments we make all year. The boss trusts me with things like this and he wanted me to stay late at work to determine how much we would have to give back to our clients if we failed to meet the shipment. Of course, we wouldn’t give back anything because the boss does not like to give back money. At a Christmas party one time the boss promised to give us all bonuses on a great year of work, which means he was going to give us more money than he had promised us at the beginning of the year, but then Jacky told me that that was a lie because the boss was drunk. “The boss does not like to give back money,” said Jacky.

“Great work, Nathan. Couldn’t have done it without you,” says my boss on Thursday afternoon. He tries to stick his mayo-laced fingers into my hair, but I duck quickly, reaching for a role of duct tape in the bottom drawer. The boss ignores me, kisses Sandra, and I stick the duct tape in my bag so that it would look like I really did need to bend down for duct tape. Sandra looks at me and I think she is judging me.

Though he didn’t come in physical contact with me and my hair, I can still feel his breath nested in my hair and so I stop at home to shower quickly before traveling to E.Co Hair.

I am allowed to drive to work, which means I don’t need to take the bus to work because work is not very far from my house. I am allowed to drive because that is something Sal says I should be very proud of and I am. Sal taught me how to drive when I was 16 years old on my father’s new electric car when my father went to work. My father said I was never to be allowed to drive because driving is too difficult for someone like me. That made me feel bad about myself and I knew he was judging me and Sal and Joe both knew it too and so Sal made Joe take my mother for a walk, which was weird because Joe and my mother never took walks and I wanted to go also, but Sal said I had to stay and since I respected Sal I needed to stay. I stayed and Sal took me to the garage.

“Get in,” he says.

I open the back door to the car, but Sal laughs not because he is judging me, but because sometimes people laugh when something is not funny and not serious. Sal tells me to go into the driver’s seat.

“My father says I am not allowed, Sal.”

“Fuck him,” says Sal. “Get in the driver’s seat.”

And because I respect Sal I do what he says to do. Sal get’s in my mother’s seat and he pulls out a key and sticks it in and the engine revs like a humvee and roars and I am scared, but Sal says not to be. He then moves my seat forward because it is too far away for my legs and hands to reach. He hits the clicker and the garage opens up and then he tells me to take the stick and slide it down to the D button and press the gas lightly and only with my right foot.

“What do I with my left foot?”

“The left foot stands down,” says Sal and I nod at that order and then we are driving. I am driving and Sal is giving out the orders.

I turn right and left and drive straight, which is not easy to do and Sal grabs the wheel a lot, and we circle a block or two. And at first I am scared so I hit the break every three feet, but then I am not scared and I let it go. I am good at driving, says Sal. Then Sal says let’s go on the highway. And so he tells me where to go and we go.

The highway is a scary place because the cars and trucks are speeding at speeds between 60mph and 85mph and one time I saw a car going 98mph, which is against the law unless there is an emergency, in which case you can go over 100mph.

“Now merge into that lane, Nathan. Quickly so we don’t get hit,” he smiles.

I nod and I follow his orders and I am good at merging he says because I do not get hit and we are on the highway. And we are driving 59mph because I am scared of going above 60mph. Sal says that the speed limit is 55 and we can go 5mph faster.

“Why?”

“That’s the unwritten rule.”

“Why not just write it down?”

“An analogy might help. You know when you are talking to people and you say something and they get quiet very suddenly. That means that they are upset by what you just said and they don’t have to tell you they are upset, you just have an understanding. That is the same idea here. The law says don’t got too fast and they say that too fast is anything over 55mph, but what they really mean is anything over 60mph is too fast and that is the understanding between you and the law.”

“So the law is being quiet about the real law because it is upset at us?”

Sal laughs at that, but I know he’s not judging me.

We make it back to the house and I park the car in the garage and then me and Sal sneak in the house and turn on the television and wait for Joe and my mother to get home from the walk.

Joe and my mother come home and Sal asks, “How was the walk?”

My mother says it would have been good if the woman down the block with a white American Eskimo and no husband and no suitors to be heard of didn’t try to talk to her. Then she goes upstairs to take a shower.

“How was it, Nathan?” asks Joe.

“I merged onto the highway and I drive 59mph because there is an unwritten law that says I am allowed to go 5mph faster than the speed limit.”

Joe looks at Sal and they smile at me and I feel proud because I did it and they are proud of me.

When I reach my house, there is already another car in the driveway. I don’t recognize it at first and I slow down to 15mph to get a better look. Joe is standing by the hood of the car and he is reading a newspaper and not looking up.

I don’t know what to do because even though I want to say hi to Joe and see if he brought me anymore pomegranate chicken I can’t because then Larry might find out. And also I said I was not going to speak to Sal or Joe during the mission and I plan to keep that as an unwritten rule. So I drive off and park on the adjacent street. I sit there for 28 minutes and think and try to solve the mystery at hand in my imagination because that it the place to test ideas before they become actions.

Why are they at my house? I conclude that it must be because I haven’t scheduled an appointment and so Larry called Joe who says, “I haven’t heard from Nathan in over a week.” A week is a cause for concern in Joe’s book and so he calls Sal and Sal says he hasn’t seen me either. A week is a year and I picture the alarm on their faces. They decide that if I haven’t spoken to either of them in the next couple of days then Joe would make a personal visit. But why didn’t Sal come? Because Sal is away on business? No. Sal doesn’t travel anymore. Sal will come later. Sal will come straight from the office.

I am only four days away from getting a haircut at a new place and starting fresh and completing the first part of my mission so I couldn’t stop now or I’d have to start all over again and that is the last thing I wanted to do. So I’d pack a few things from the house. My medicine, some food, water, and the mixing bowl which is my helmet. That’s all I’d need because I am planning on coming back.

But I would have to get in first. I’d take my bag and leave my car behind, then cross the street. I would cut through the woman’s yard behind my house, hop the fence, and sneak in through the backdoor with the key Joe hid for me under a rock in case I ever got locked out and was cold and didn’t want to sleep alone outside. Then, quietly I’d collect my things and leave the same way.

I’m in my bedroom careful to stay below the windows so that my brother Joe can’t see me. My windows are not strong windows like the one’s my father put in Sal’s room when he found out that he took my mother’s car for a ride without asking permission. That was not completely true of course, because I was also in that car, but Joe told me that it was okay to lie in this case because it was for our good. My father knew someone had taken the car because for one thing we never put the seat back to where we found it and for another the gas was lower. Sal said it was him and he got a belt and was locked in the room with new windows for a week. Joe snuck him bread through the crack under the door and Sal would make funny noises and make us laugh as payment. I held his finger sometimes too because I didn’t want him to be lonely inside there and I felt like I should have told my father the truth. But when Sal touched my finger I knew that this was an unwritten rule that I was supposed to keep silent about.

I pack my stuff quick enough and I’m ready to go when I hear another voice outside and it’s Sal who did come to check on me too.

“I came as soon as I could,” says Sal.

“He isn’t back from work,” says Joe.

“He’s probably fine,” says Sal. “He’s independent and he’s smart. He’s probably fine.”

“Should we go in and check?” says Joe.

“Let’s wait a little. I don’t want him to think we think he can’t live on his own,” says Joe.

That made me feel bad because I didn’t want to make my brothers scared, but I needed to complete my mission and I needed to start over and for that I needed not to talk to any of them until I at least found a new barber. I wait in my room for two and half minutes and then decide that I should leave before they come in and I will have to lie to them.

So I go out the back door with all the stuff, like my helmet, which I will wear, but not right now because it falls off a lot, food, and medicine. I want to make room in my bag for more food, but I have the duct tape I took from work in there and I think a soldier should keep that just in case and so I decide that I have enough food for the amount of days I am going to be hiding, which is until the end of the mission.

I go back the car and put my stuff in it and then I decide that I should leave the car behind because if Sal and Joe are looking for me the car will be too easy to track. I have seen that done a lot on television and I am proud of myself for thinking of that. So I leave the car, and take my stuff and my helmet, so when they search for me they won’t find me here because I won’t be here. I’ll be there.

Day 13: Identification friend or foe

I am glad that Joe left me a key under a rock in my backyard because being alone outside and sleeping in the dark can be scary and it was scary the two nights that I hid from Joe and Sal and Larry, even though I was camouflaged with my helmet on.

I hid in the park on the first night and I was scared, but during the day children come to the park and dogs come sometimes also and they make noise that is not scary and so I was hoping I’d meet a puppy and I wouldn’t be scared anymore. When I was younger I used to take the white American Eskimo whose name was Charles to the park when my mother was out and my father was at work and I was allowed to do as I pleased. I liked taking the white American Eskimo whose name was Charles to the part to play because he was a companion of mine. That is what the woman had told me would happen if I continued to play with the dog. Joe one time said that she just wanted me to play with her dog so she didn’t have to do it and that made me mad and I didn’t speak to Joe for a day and that was very hard to do because Joe wouldn’t leave me alone until I forgave him. Now I haven’t spoken to Joe or Sal in 13 days.

I only stayed the first night in the park alone. During the middle of the night as I sat bundled up on the swings going through my belongings in my bag I took out some food to eat and played with the duct tape. I missed going to work, but I think the boss would understand that I needed to accomplish my mission because when I started work I told him that if the army would accept me then I would have to quit and join them. And the army didn’t accept me, but I was still a soldier until I accomplished my mission and so I would have to miss work.

There was a rip in the plastic seat and I took some duct tape and patched up the hole, which made me feel proud of myself. Then I swung back and forth with the duct tape in my lap and I thought about the mission. I had only done one other mission before and that one was easier because Joe and Sal did most of the work and all I had to do was follow the unwritten rules and I was good at following orders. But when you work on a solo mission then you both give the orders and carry them out and I wish someone would help give the orders for this mission because I was lost.

Lost:
Adjective:
1) Unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts
2) Unable to be found

I knew I could be found by Sal or Joe or Larry if they came to the park and I knew I was in the park swinging on the swings, but I was lost still because I didn’t know what direction I should take next, but I am good at finding my next steps, which is why I am good at Pac Man, because I am able to get stuck and get unstuck and stuck and unstuck. I like Pac Man and being lost in a park is like playing a game of Pac Man and that is an analogy and I am proud that I can make analogies too.

Sometimes when you are lost it is good to think about how others would behave and so I think about how Joe and Sal accomplished the last mission we did as a unit:

My father came late one night from work. Joe and Sal and I were in the kitchen and we didn’t hear the front door open and we had lost track of time because we were playing with the white American Eskimo whose name was Charles. My mother was home, but she was in bed upstairs, because she had become sad again though I didn’t know why this time.

Charles was the first to know my father was home because he began to bark and whimper and his tail stood still like the hand on a broken clock. And it felt like the clock broke because time stood still when my father entered the kitchen with his eyes opened like an owl’s eyes stay open to catch rats. I think he thought we must have been rats because he had a look on his face, but he spoke slow and with little tone in his voice, which made it very hard for me to know what he was feeling.

“Whose dog is that?”

Joe spoke for us and said it was the woman who lives down the block.

But he didn’t say she had no husband and no suitors to be heard of and so I thought maybe Joe thought it was another person’s, so I said to my father, “The white American Eskimo’s name is Charles and he belongs to the woman down the block with no husband and no suitors to be heard of.”

My father looked at me and blinked many times very quickly.

“Shut up before I punish you too.”

I didn’t know why I was going to be punished, but that was an order, and I stopped talking. Sal though was not ordered to shut up and he spoke for the first time.

“Don’t talk to him that way.” But I didn’t know which way he was talking about.

My father stepped closer to Sal, put down his bag, and said, “Take the retard upstairs, go to your room, and wait for me there.”

Now that was an order and Sal didn’t move, but my father was focused on Charles again and he suddenly asked, “Did that woman come here?”

I had been told to shut up and so I did. But my father wanted me to answer and so he looked at me and I said, “Yes. She came to my mother a long time ago and said I can play with Charles and that he is my companion and that if Joe and Sal and me needed somewhere to go and be safe we could go to her house and be safe.”

I must have said the wrong thing because Joe told me to stop talking and my father ignored him and asked me, “Where is your mother?”

I told him she was sad and that she was upstairs and he told me to take the dog back to his home. That was an order and so I was going to do it, when Sal grabbed my arms and shook me.

“Look at me, Nathan. Look at me in the eyes.”

I did as Sal said to and I looked at him, not in between his eyebrows, but in the pupils, which were dilating so that the black invaded the whites of his eyes. There was a battle happening in there and the black was winning and it scared me, but a soldier stands his ground and so I did just that. But I was scared and the dog could smell it, which dogs can do because they smell more than humans can smell, and I knew he was smelling something I couldn’t smell because he barked at Sal and snarled at him.

Sal ignored him and said, “You take Charles home and you stay there. You stay there with Charles and Joe and I will come get you when it’s time to come home. Okay. Stay. Don’t come home. Stay. Don’t come home until Joe and I come for you.”

“Okay, Sal,” and I saluted him because that is what soldiers do. He did not salute me though because sometimes officers don’t need to solute those below them. And even though this was before I was demoted to friend, I was still below him in the chain of command, which isn’t a real chain, which I know now because I once went on a mission to find it and Joe told me that it wasn’t a physical chain that I could hold and that didn’t really make sense to me then, but now I understand not everything is like duct tape.

Sal told Joe to come with him and then repeated, “Until Joe and I come for you.”

I ordered Charles to come with me, which I could do because dogs are lower on the chain of command, and he did and we left and we walked down the block and it was cold, but Charles was happy to be out of the house and I knew that he was because he was wagging his white tail at me. That made me happy to see that he was happy.

When I got to the house, Charles ran through the dog flap and I didn’t even have to knock on the door or talk to the woman with no husband or suitor to be heard of which was good because I don’t want her to judge me the way she judges my family and my mother and which is also good because it meant I would be able to complete my mission earlier and faster than Sal had instructed me. And so I decided to head back to the house alone.

Up hill is harder than going down hill and so it took me longer to get home than it did to get to Charles’ home. I walked in the front door and I said, “Sal!” Just like that.

But no one came to the door so I continued up the stairs because I could hear voices coming from my mother and father’s room.

“Sal! I did it already,” I said again because I was proud that I had done it on my own and knew Sal would be too.

I opened the door to the bedroom and I came in and Sal and Joe and my mother and my father were all in there. My father was sitting at his desk chair with duck tape over his mouth and blood coming out his ear and his throat slit opened and his eyes staring at the floor and his head tilted to the side and his feet and legs tied with duct tape to the armrest and to the legs of the chair. And the duct tape was very strong and so it held him up even though he looked like he wanted to fall to the floor where my mother was. Joe was standing next to my mother with his finger on her neck like a medic in Normandy, but he wasn’t looking at her. He was looking at Sal, who had a knife in hand and it was bloodied and he was standing near my father.

I thought Sal was going to say what a great job I did on my mission because he always told me that I did a great job, but this time he said nothing. He looked at Joe and then said, “You aren’t to tell anyone about this. Okay Nathan?”

I didn’t say anything and so Sal spoke again, “You aren’t to tell anyone about this.”

“Were they KIA? Was it is friendly fire?” I asked.

“No!” yelled Joe. “No! We were protecting Sue. We were protecting Sue from him,” and he pointed to my father with a shaky finger that looked like a branch swaying in the wind.

“But my father is dead and my mother is dead.”

“No. She is still breathing,” said Joe who turned to look at her for the first time since I came in the room after completing my mission.

I looked at Sal and he knew what I was thinking because sometimes Sal just knows things.

“Sometimes you have to do something bad to do something good. He was a bad man and now life will be good.”

“You can’t say anything to people,” said Joe. “You can’t tell people this.”

“But you already know. So I can tell you?”

Joe looked at Sal and said, “Only we can know…It’s classified.”

I nodded that understood the unwritten rule. Then I saluted him and he saluted me back, which made me feel proud.

“Go get a sheet,” ordered Sal. And I followed his orders because I respected Sal and Joe respected Sal. Sal was like Lt. Winters and my father was Lt. Sobel and I didn’t know that then but I know that now. Sal was duct tape and Sal and Joe and me were wrapped together so tight that night and I could feel Sal’s heart beating on my own as he hugged me and I could hear the clock that stopped earlier in the kitchen, begin to tick again in my head.

If I pump my legs harder and faster I can still see myself climbing back up the steps from linen closet and handing Sal a cloth and then wrapping my father in it and I can hear the sirens coming up the block later that night when Sal and Joe and me are hugging and hiding in the room with the strong windows and the policeman comes and asks me what happened and I say nothing because Sal ordered me not to talk until we got a lawyer, which made me scared because I didn’t want to be court-martialed, which is what Lt. Sobel threatens to do to Lt. Winters when Lt. Sobel knows that Lt. Winters is respected.

I stop swinging when the sun comes up and scrape my feet on the dirt and get off and put the duct tape in my bag and I give myself an order.

“Nathan you must get to E.Co Hair by D-day. Now move out.” And that was an order so I followed it and began walking the 7.2 miles from the park to E.CO Hair because I wanted life to be better like Sal said it would be then.

Day 14: H-Hour

It takes me a long time to navigate my way through the side street because I refuse to take the main rode on account that I might be seen by someone who knows someone who knows someone else who might know another person who knows a person like Michael or Sal or Joe who knows Larry. One time when I was waiting to get a hair cut at Park Avenue, I read a magazine that talked about how shrunk the world had become, but that was not true because the earth circumference was still 24,901 miles or 40,075 km. I told Larry the magazine was mistaken, but he told me that it meant that people had become so interconnected that it felt like it was smaller even though physically it was not smaller, which did and did not make sense to me. Larry also told me that the article had said that, for example, we were all just six people away from knowing any other person in the world by way of introduction, which meant that I had to keep a low profile while on my way to E.Co Hair, which made me feel that my mission was a black ops mission–classified–and that made me happy.

But I was also lonely because I was avoiding people for an entire day and also it was very tiring because it was not the most direct route to E.Co Hair, which means it was inefficient and therefore a frustrating day. I tried to remain positive by reminding myself that I was nearing the conclusion of my mission and if successful it would be the longest mission I have ever accomplished on my own and that would make me feel happy.

So in order to pass the time I let my mind drift to where ever it wanted and it landed on the time when Sal and Joe both came to my house to check up on me and bring me dinners and hang out with me and later take me to the doctor was my check ups.

“So how’s the bachelor pad treating you?” says Sal, who likes to sometime sass me. He puts some groceries in my cupboard and throws away the plastic bags because I don’t like them in my house.

“It is a good home because the price is inexpensive and it is in a good location and I can walk to the park whenever I want and ride the swings when I am bored or alone or scared or don’t know what to do next.”

“Have you had any friends come over so you don’t feel alone?” says Joe from the sink. He’s washing some left over dishes. I can wash my own dishes and I do, but I forgot those dishes.

“No. I have 98 friends on Facebook, but only you and Sal come over.”

“Why don’t you invite people?”

“I don’t because I don’t talk to them the way I talk to you or Joe or Larry. Most of them are friends but they are strangers and you aren’t to have strangers in the house even if they are friend strangers.”

“Larry?” asks Sal and he looks at Joe.

“We friended him when we first made a Facebook for Nathan. Isn’t that right, Nathan?”

“Yep and I talk to Larry, but I don’t invite Larry to the house. I talk to him the way my mother spoke to Patty. And he listens and it is nice to have someone listen to you and that is why I think my mother spoke to Patty about things. Joe says that he thinks they were friends,” I add because I want my mother to have had a friend.

“What kind of things do you and Larry talk about?” asks Joe as he puts my pomegranate chicken in the fridge.

“I talk to him about work, about magazines, about hair styles, about swinging in the park, about duct tape, about my mother, about my father, about my driving, about my father dying and about my mother dying three years ago and how she was sad when she died because she was always sad, and I talk about the woman down the block with the white American Eskimo and no husband and no suitors to be heard of and how she used to live here but she moved away like Patty did when my father died,” I say all this very fast because I am trying to remember every conversation Larry and I have had, but, of course, that is difficult to do.

Joe and Sal look at each other. Joe is by the fridge and Sal is by the cupboard and they look at each other and then Sal looks at me and says, “You talk about your father? You talk about your father with Larry the barber?”

“Yes because Larry is my friend.”

Then Joe says, “What did you tell Larry exactly?”

And so I tell Joe exactly what I told Larry. About how I was playing with the American Eskimo in the kitchen with Joe and Sal and how my father came home and how he wanted me to take the dog home and how Sal told me to do that, but stay there and how I didn’t stay there, but finished my mission early and then I came home and how I found Sal and Joe and my mother and my father upstairs in my mother and father’s room. How my father was dead and had duct tape all over and how my mother was alive and how she was sad for a lot longer after that night and how she died sad and alone and in a nursing home because Joe and Sal did not believe she was their mother and they said she was not a good mother to me, but I call her my mother because that is what she told me to call her.

“Nathan!” asks Sal. “You told Larry private family things and you promised not to tell those things to anyone.”

Sal’s voice has changed and I think he is mad at me and so I lower my eyes, but I can feel Joe and Sal’s eyes on me and the muscles on my neck squeeze and I start to cry, but a soldier stands his ground and accepts his punishment.

“You said I should make friends,” I say.

“Yes. Friends. But you don’t tell friends that stuff,” says Joe.

“I tell you and Sal this stuff because you said I could because you already know and you are my friends and so sometimes you can tell friends and sometimes you can’t tell friends. How do you know which friends are which friends?”

Sal tells me to look at him and so I follow his orders and look in between his eyes and his face is screwed up and that means he is confused and I don’t want him to judge me so I stop speaking because I sometimes say stupid things because my brain is not a good brain and it doesn’t work right. Sal and Joe try to talk to me and they say they aren’t angry, but I suspect that they are angry with me and so I stop talking.

I come out of one of the side streets and my feet are hurting me and I am tired and my beard is itchy and I decide I will have E.Co Hair cut that as well as my hair when I get there. And I do get there without running it anyone I know or don’t know yet, and that is good because I am so close and don’t want to make any mistakes. It is good I get to E.Co Hair when I do because I am almost out of food and I am hungry and tired and in need of a haircut.

There is no one, but an old barber with white hair and glasses sitting and reading a newspaper. At first I think he is a getting a haircut because he is sitting in the barber chair, but he says he is the barber of E.Co Hair. The barber is old and he moves very slowly when I walk in. E.Co Hair is a small shop with only one chair and very little space to move. Outside is a red and white barber’s pole that goes in a circle and I like it and I like the place. There is a large mirror inside the store that makes the place look bigger than it is and I see myself in the mirror and know I need a haircut and a beard cut because I look unsoldier like in my attire and with my hair the way it is.

But first thing is first. I ask the old barber if he has email and he says no.

“Facebook?”

“What is that?”

“I’ll get a haircut please. I get a two buzz and I have two deformities,” and I show him each one and tell him to please be very careful because they will bleed if buzzed. And he says he will be and we begin. He is a skilled barber, I suspect, because the haircut looks right, but he is very slow and so I am there for a long time and my eyes wonder out the window and to the floor and to the ceiling. Eventually, the barber asks me questions, which at first I don’t answer because I don’t think Sal and Joe want me to, but then I answer because the haircut is taking a very long time and I can’t sit that long with someone and not speak because is rude to do.

We talk for very long time because the barber is old and moves very slowly. He sprits my hair every few minutes then uses a comb to push it to one side or the other. He uses scissors and that is not what I asked him to do, but I don’t mind, in fact, I like how it looks with scissors and so I say nothing, but continue to answer questions. I tell him the story of how I came to his barbershop and how I left Larry and how Sal and Joe are mad at me for telling Larry things, but I am very very careful not to tell Larry about my father because I know Joe and Sal will only get more angry. Then the barber says something very smart and wise, and something that I did not think of but should have most certainly thought of.

He says, “But Joe told you to use the Facebook to make friends before he knew that you had told Larry things you were not supposed to share.”

“Yes,” I respond even though he is not asking a question.

“Well, then it seems to me that Sal and Joe didn’t tell you to become friends with them and other people on the Facebook because they were upset at you and wanted to demote you from brother to friend. It seems to me that they just wanted you to make friends because Joe is right: friends are a gift and a joy of life that you should experience.”

The barber is wise and he makes me smile and I can see my evenish teeth in the mirror and he laughs at that, but I don’t think he is judging me. I am very happy to learn that Joe and Sal are not upset with me and they just want me to be with friends. And I am very happy that I have accomplished my mission all by myself and I tell the barber this and he says he is glad to help.

And then we start to talk about other stuff, but I am not listening because I am just so happy that Joe and Sal are not demoting me to friend and I think about how I haven’t had a chance to just sit and think because I have been moving around so much that if I did maybe I would have been wise like the barber. Instead I was moving around and moving around like the red and white barber’s pole outside E.Co hair.

And that made me think instead about barber poles. Barber’s poles, the red and white ones that is, were once a sign of bloodletting, which is when you cut yourself and let the bad blood drip out of the body so that new good blood can come into the body. In a way, that is what I think Sal had done to my father, he let the bad drip away so the good can come in and replace it.

I ask the old barber if he knew that, not the part about my father, just about the bloodletting and he didn’t which made me feel wise because I think he is wise and if he didn’t know something that I know then I think that makes me wise too. So I continue and I tell him that the barber used to wrap the bloody bandages around the pole so people would know that the barber they were going to see did bloodletting, which was a good thing for the body back then.

“You see,” I say because that is what I say when I want to sound adult. “Barbers didn’t just cut hair, they were doctors. Some were surgeons and some did tooth extractions like a dentist. The pole symbolizes that they were doctors and a symbol is a noun and it means:
1) A thing that represents or stands for something else, esp. a material object representing something abstract.
2) Or it could mean a mark or character used as a conventional representation of an object, function, or process.”

“The pole means the first symbol and it symbols that tooth extraction or bloodletting takes place there because the top of the pole would be a metal wash basin that can hold leeches which suck your blood, which is a good thing and not the way that vampires suck your blood which is a bad thing, and the bottom metal basin would hold blood.”

“I didn’t know that, Nathan. Thank you for telling me such an interesting fact. I guess I could have told my father that I was a doctor after all, hahahah.”

I didn’t understand why he was laughing or why he would tell his father that he was doctor when he wasn’t a doctor and that made me think I must have explained it wrong to him, because today barbers are not like doctors. And they aren’t trichologists like the barber Vinny thinks. Today, we have barbers, dentist, surgeons and we don’t do bloodletting, which I know because I have asked my doctor during checkups. Today, he says, things are more specialized, which is true.

The barber holds the mirror up to the back of my head, which means it is the end of my haircut and time for me to go and pay. Only he won’t take my money and I tell him that I need to give him money because otherwise it is stealing and he says the first haircut is free at his shop and that was okay then and I say, “Thank you. I’ll be back in two weeks for another haircut because I get a haircut every two weeks.”

I take my bag and walk outside and the chimes clink and I look at the barber’s pole. At the top of the barber’s pole is a crack where the washbasin would have been when barbers used to do bloodletting and tooth extractions because they were doctors, haircutters, dentists, and surgeons. Now we have many different jobs because, like my doctor says, things are more specialized, but barbers can still be friends because friends are not like jobs, and friends are certainly not like my job at the duct tape manufacturing plant where I am an accountant. Friends are less particular. Everyone can be a friend. A barber and doctor and brother and co-worker, can all be friends on Facebook. But not everyone can be a soldier and a brother.

And now I am upset again because even if the wise barber is correct, which I suspect he is because he is wise, and Sal and Joe are not angry with me and they just want me to make friends, that would still mean that they are my friends equal to any other friend I make, which means I shouldn’t make friends even though Joe and Sal say I should. And so now I think I didn’t solve the problem at all and now I suspect I will never be able to make Sal and Joe and me brothers again because even if I switch barbers and make Larry not a friend, I can’t switch my brothers Joe and Sal, and so Joe and Sal will still only be friends, which would make me a friend of theirs like any other friend of theirs on Facebook, which means I am still demoted, which makes me hope that I am just missing the meaning behind the word friend because Joe and Sal and the old barber say friends make life joyful and better, but my 98 friends on Facebook don’t make life joyful or better, but brothers make life better like the time Sal did bloodletting on my father. Maybe my dictionary is wrong. Maybe I need a new dictionary, one that knows more about the meaning behind friends.

Duct tape must not be like friends, because duct tape has been the same for 85 years and people can call it duct tape or duck tape, but if you look it up in the dictionary you find the same meaning behind each. Friends must not be like duct tape because people call many things friends. Joe agrees that Patty was my mother’s friend and that Larry is my friend and that Joe and Sal are my friends, but I can’t tell my friend Larry things I tell my friends Joe and Sal even though both are friends. And I suspect I don’t even want friends; I want Joe and Sal and my band of brothers, who are soldiers, who are duct tape, and who cannot be replaced no matter what you call it: duct tape or duct tape it doesn’t matter because I understand. I understand duct tape and brothers.

I take my bag off my shoulder and I pull out the duct tape I took from work and unroll some and stick it on top of the crack in the barber’s pole, because duct tape has an adhesive backing that makes it strong and helps connect things and it has a waterproof outer layer which will protect it from the changing seasons. Duct tape is the most versatile tool in the household and it can be used to solve many different problems and I am hoping it will help me solve the problem of friends.

I feel like I am lost again, like that time I was lost in the park and I didn’t know what to do and so I think about things I am good at knowing like duct tape. I don’t understand friends, but I’ll be persistent because that is what my mother taught me to be and I will continue to soldier on and complete my mission of becoming brothers again because brothers are like duct tape and I understand duct tape. I understand duct tape. I understand. I understand duct tape. I understand duct tape.

I understand duct tape!

When you are lost it is best to start back at the beginning before you were lost, so that is what I will do. I will call it Operation 7 and I will start with duct tape and brothers and I will run up the mountain wearing my mixing bowl helmet and I will scream “Currahee!”

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One thought on “Duct Tape and Brothers

  1. Great Job Alex! I love how you were able to capture the voice of someone who is autistic. Right from the start of the story it was clear who the character was. I think your use of the term “friend” on Facebook was extremely interesting and the way someone like Nathan could interpret this new idea of a “friend”.

    In terms of the duct tape, I felt it was a great way to show some autistic behavior and mindset. I actually recently read an article from the NY times that discusses the autism advantage in the workplace. After finding out his son had autism, Thorkil Sonne started the company Specialisterne that places autistic adults into workplaces, doing jobs that they actually perform better at than the average adult. Here is the link if anyone would like to take a look: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/magazine/the-autism-advantage.html?_r=0 It is really interesting and really moving so I encourage everyone to read it.

    Overall, great job with this story!! Keep up the great work!

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