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David A. Schwinghammer

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It's Not Easy Being Green
By David A. Schwinghammer
Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2008
Last edited: Thursday, January 10, 2008
This short story is rated "PG" by the Author.
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Recent stories by David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Little Crow
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter One
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           >> View all 71
Green Hair doesn't seem to be doing the trick for Hank Trutwin.

Itís Not Easy Being Green


An old man chewing an unlit cigar was waiting in one of the red vinyl lounge chairs to get his hair cut. He shifted the cigar from one side of his plum-colored mouth to the other as he perused the Kenosha Journal, then peered past the paper to check the progress of Hank Trutwinís Mohawk haircut. He made a sour face, as if heíd just realized the cigar he was chewing tasted like rat turds, which it must have if Hank was any judge. The old man pulled his fedora down over his eyes to block out what he was seeing in the barber chair, grumbling something unintelligible to himself.

"Whatís that you say, Vic?" Willie, the barber, said, smiling mischievously.

"Said my old man wouldíve beat me black and blue if Iíd come home lookiní like that."

"Stick around, Vic. We ainít half finished yet. Wants a dye job, too." Willie flexed his bicep and the hula dancer on his forearm did a little wiggle, something that had made Hank laugh when heíd been six or so.

"Gonna dye it blond like that Madonna girl I suppose," the old man said.

"Green," the barber said, "like Kermit the Frog." He winked at the old codger when he thought Hank wasnít paying attention.

"Whatís got into you, boy?" the codger said.

Just then a peal of thunder jolted the small building and seconds later the lights dimmed. Rain began to bead against the window facing Main Street.

"Somethiní different," Hank said, not wanting to get into a soliloquy about how he was tired of being called a geek.

"Thought you was one of the good ones," Willie said. "Your dad says you were on the A honor roll last semester."

"I was," Hank said. "Thatís just it." Hank had not only been on the A honor roll last semester; heíd had all Aís on his report card ever since first grade.

"Tired of being called the teacherís pet," Willie said, pushing Hankís head down in the sink. "I can understand that. Nobody likes a pinhead."

He didnít know the half of it. The other kids called Hank "T.P." for short. Fourteen years old and heíd never had a date. Even his best friend Belinda wouldnít go out with him, and theyíd been best buddies since kindergarten. Said she had her reputation to protect among the Freaks.

The old man struck a wooden match on the soul of his slipper and lit the soggy cigar, the smell of burning rope sucking the air out of Hankís lungs. It had to be at least eighty degrees; and yet the old duffer was wearing a tweed sports coat over a flannel shirt, buttoned at the throat, and pleated woolen pants. Slippers instead of shoes. And he thought Hank was weird!

When the dye job was done, Willie slapped stinging, pungent witch hazel on Hankís bald spot and handed him the mirror. "Howís that?" Willie said.

Even green hair couldnít change the doe eyes and thick lashes, or toughen the full lips and rosy cheeks that made Hank look even younger than his fourteen years. The haircut was a dismal failure, but he wasnít about to admit it with the old duffer sitting there in the vinyl red chair, acting like heíd never watched a Chicago Bulls basketball game. Dennis Rodman didnít stop at green. He had his hair colored all the colors in the rainbow, plus some. Green was all Hank could afford.

"Thatíll be thirty bucks," the barber said.

Hank felt as though heíd just been punched in the stomach. He didnít have enough money. Willie had said the dye job would be ten dollars, and haircuts were usually nine. He must have charged extra for the Mohawk.

"All Iíve got is twenty," Hank said.

Willie squinted at Hank, his receding red hair kinking up in the humid weather. "Mohawks donít come cheap, son. You can work it off, sweep up after the customers."

"But Iíve got to go to school," Hank said.

Willie chuckled, clapped Hank on the back, then lowered the chair with a clunk. "Just giving you the razzberries, Hank. If you wanna get your hair dyed green, youíre gonna have to learn how to take it. Your dad can pay me when he comes in next week. The man is as regular as a morning dump."

The old duffer slapped his knee and the cigar popped out of his mouth and rolled over under the chair where it was soiled with hair the barber hadnít had time to sweep up yet. The old duffer looked shocked. Served him right. The whole family was a laughing stock it seemed. Henry handed over the twenty and scuffed through the clippings out into the street, the chimes jingling as he shut the door.

Standing under the awning next to the candy-cane barber pole waiting for the rain to let up, Hank cogitated over his newest problem. He was pretty sure his old man would never pay the extra ten dollars for the Mohawk and the dye job and that was all the money Hank had from his grandmotherís birthday present. "Do something foolish with the money," sheíd scrawled inside the card. Well, he guessed heíd done that all right.

If Hank could be more like his hero Jack Kerouac, Belinda just might have her eyes opened to the stud he really was. Heíd been reading On the Road by Kerouac, and unlike the jocks, who all wanted to be like Mike, Hank wanted to act like Jack. The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved . . . the ones who never yawn . . . but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars was how Kerouac had put it. Hankíd racked his brain for a way to become such a person, but he hadnít been able to think of anything other than the haircut to show his true self.

When the rain let up some, Hank stepped out from beneath the awning. He was about to cross the street when he was blinded with the yellow glare of headlights on bright, and a massive Oldsmobile bumped up against the curb, barely missing him, splashing him with mud and water. The Oldsmobile stopped at a light, and a jumbo-sized dude in a purple and yellow Hawaiian shirt shifted over on the passenger side and rolled down his window spitting vitriol. "Fuckiní faggot. Get off the goddamned street," he bawled, then stomped on the accelerator, burning rubber when the light changed to green.

Must be that road rage Hank had been hearing so much about. Hank took out his blue felt pen and jotted down the manís license number in his notebook, as he had innumerable times during his days on the safety patrol when some fool had ignored the flags.

Back at school, Hank sat in the office waiting to turn in his permission slip. Bennie Cade, a senior wrestler, plopped down next to him, draping his beefy arm around Hankís shoulder. "You look like personified green snot, shrimp. Youíre gonna need protection. Gimme all your money and Iíll keep the other jocks away from you."

"Thatís extortion, Bennie," Hank said. "I canít pay you."

"The nameís Mr. Cade to you, shrimp."

There was a knock on the counter. Mrs. Bonner, the secretary. "Leave that boy alone, you big lummox," she said. "If I see you bothering him again, Iíll squeeze your head like a zit."

Bennie flinched like Bluto up against Popeye gobbling a can spinach. "Youíve got me wrong, Mrs. Bonner. Just counseling the boy is all."

Mrs. Bonner snorted. "If thatís true , Iím the Queen of Sheba."

Bennie snuck Hank a wait-till-next-time look and got up to leave.

Hank went to the counter, handed over his permission slip. "Nice haircut," Mrs. Bonner said, giving her gum a good workout. "I canít get my boys to do anything with their hair," she said. "When they were babies I set it in curls and everything. They were the cutest things, looked like little cherubs. Everybody thought they were girls. These days they go for those awful buzz cuts."

Back in class, Mr. Abbott, Hankís bearded social studies teacher scratched his chin, peeked at Hank out of the corner of his eye when Hank gave him his late pass. These days you could show up in class naked and the teachers would never let on they noticed. Hank figured it had something to do with the self-esteem mandate his homeroom teacher was always yapping about.

"Love your hair," Belinda said as Hank took his seat toward the rear. Lately, he hadnít been paying much attention in class, and the back of the room was where the kids sat who never did their homework. These days Belinda sported nose rings in both nostrils and black, witch-like hair streaked with fire-engine red. And he was pretty sure she was doing drugs. Hank had been trying to score some marijuana for the last week, but no one would take him up on it. "What are you, a narc?" was the usual response. Maybe now theyíd take him seriously.

Hank put his head down and tried to go to sleep as two other boys were doing, but he couldnít do it. Never took naps during the day, and despite himself, he became absorbed in Mr. Abbottís lecture. It was about Guatemala.

Mr. Abbott had assumed his lecture mode, sitting on a stool, dreamily staring out the window, seemingly talking to himself. "Guatemala is a beautiful country, third largest republic in Central America," he said. "There are volcanic mountains and lakes and jungles. Pristine little villages in those mountains with villagers descended from the Mayans. You can find evidence of Mayan civilization in Petíen, the jungle area. And the animals! Youíve never seen such animals. Besides domesticated animals, one might find deer, monkeys, and peccaries, which resemble pigs. Also jaguars, which are important in Mayan mythology, tapirs, and pumas. The official language is Spanish, but twenty different Indian dialects are spoken. Despite the beauty, malnutrition is a national problem. The rural population lives in mud huts."

Belinda yawned, blurted: "Whatís this got to do with us, Mr. A.?"

Mr. Abbott sputtered, turned an unhealthy shade of yellowish-orange, couldnít seem to rouse himself from his lecture stupor.

Before he really knew what he was saying, Hank followed up on Belindaís comment. "Yeah, how are we gonna use this when we get out of school?"

At that point the bell rang, and like a herd of suicidal lemmings, the thirty or so teenagers pushed and shoved their way out the narrow door, tramping several unfortunates in the process.

"Iíd like to see you for a moment if I may, Hank," Mr. Abbott said, as Hank, whose manners hadnít deserted him, waited for the crowd to thin.

Mr. Abbott scowled down at him, scratched his chin. "Iíve been meaning to talk to you about your last test, Hank. Youíre one of the smartest students Iíve ever had and suddenly youíre not applying yourself. And that comment about Guatemala . . . I mean, you know better than that. Come with me. I want to show you something."

"Sorry, Mr. A. Woman problems. You know how it is."

Mr. Abbott raised one eyebrow, stuffed his papers and books into a battered mahogany briefcase, and Hank followed him to his office--no more than a closet, the furniture a desk, two hardbacked chairs and a telephone. The walls were painted battleship gray and there was a jungle print on the wall above the desk.

"I think I know whatís bothering you, Hank," Mr. Abbott said, pointing to one of the hardbacked chairs.

Hank sat on the edge, nibbling on what was left of his fingernails.

"Itís hard to be a straight arrow," Mr. Abbott said. "I should know, I was class valedictorian. I wouldnít have been, however, if Brother Harold hadnít taken a paddle to me. He practically killed me when I smarted off to him one day."

"Thereís something to be said for corporal punishment I guess," Hank said.

Mr. Abbott chuckled, then lit his pipe with his flame-thrower of a lighter. He sat on the edge of his desk, rubbing his eyes. Bluish-black bags were beginning to form under them. The man obviously needed sleep.

"Belindaís question was really a very important one, Hank. Iím sorry we ran out of time. What does Guatemala have to do with you do you suppose, Hank?"

"Iím sorry, I canít think of anything, Mr. Abbott."

"I spent a year in Guatemala after I graduated college, working for the Peace Corps. If youíd been there with me, youíd know what Guatemala has to do with you."

"What did you do there, Mr. Abbott?"

"At first we built latrines, but then the villagers began to pester us about stoves. You see, the women cook over open fires. And, you know, thatís not good in a mud hut. Because of carbon monocide. Emphysema is a leading cause of death among women."

Mr. Abbott reached in a drawer, tossed a colorful pamphlet in Hankís lap. It was a brochure for something called Global Volunteer Resources.

Mr. Abbott drew on his pipe and exhaled. The smoke had kind of a rum smell to it. He pointed the pipe stem at Hank. "I think you might be interested in that. Itís a summer program where you work on the cooperative farms in the rain forest."

Hank flipped through the small pamphlet, not really paying any attention to what he was looking at. "I donít know what gave you the idea . . . Whatís it like in Guatemala anyway?"

"Idyllic. No phones. No transportation, outside of mules and horses. Everybodyís poor. Most were proud to own a portable radio. I donít know why I left. When I finally did, the whole town came out to say goodbye. We built those stoves for less than $50 a piece. What do you pay for a shirt these days, Hank?"

"Something like that."

"And you donít appreciate it either, do you? We took pictures of the villagers before we left. They got dressed in their best clothes, combed their hair. The people said theyíd pray for us every day of their lives. Iíve never felt so exhilerated."

"Kind of like when you dish out food at the Salvation Army, huh? My mom made me do that a few years ago."

"Multiply that feeling by a hundred," Mr. Abbott said, knocking the pipe out in an ashtray.

"I heard they had guerilla fighters down there in Guatemala," Hank said.

"You heard right, but donít go looking for an excuse not to do this, Hank, cause youíll find one if you do. Those guerillas are poor, just like the people youíll be helping. They just want social justice is all."

"Whyíd you come back, Mr. A.?"

"No guts, I guess. And there was a girl I was going with at the time who wasnít too happy with the year I wasted, as she put it. She wasnít about to put up with any extension."

"Youíre single, right?"

"Yeah, by the time I got back, sheíd found her medical student."

"Ever see her again?"

"Oh, sure, during reunions. She hasnít changed a bit."

"You were hoping sheíd put on weight, right?"

"Youíre psychic, boy. Whatís that book youíve got there?"

"Jack Kerouac. On the Road. Heard of it?"

"Heard of it? I practically wrote it. Neil Cassidy. Mexican jungles. What do you think turned me on to Guatemala in the first place?"

"Jeez, Iíd forgotten that part."

"You gotta go out there and experience life if you expect a girl like Belinda to notice you, Hank. Like Kerouac says, ĎThe only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing.í"

"Wow! What a coincidence. Thatís my favorite quote in the whole world. You know what, Mr. A.? I think I might be interested in this Global Volunteer Resources. Green hair certainly isnít doing much for me. How long does it take for hair dye to wear off?"

"Looks permanent to me. You know you look like one of those little troll dolls, donít you?"

"That bad, huh?"

When Hank was gone, Mr. Abbott yawned, stretched, looked at his watch. Ten minutes till his next class. Some kind of bullshit about that girl who threw him over for a medical student. It took an accomplished liar to salvage them these days.

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