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Matt Ponticello

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Member Since: Apr, 2012

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How to Beg for Cigarettes: Chapter 16 Styling with Ahab
By Matt Ponticello
Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Rated "R" by the Author.

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One business owner's hilarious, "Laugh-a-mile-a-minute" romp through the inner city filled with real and surreal characters, within a city, a business, and employees to match.

Chapter 16




My wife dabbled in cosmetology. She trimmed the kid’s hair, her parent’s hair, her sister’s hair, her cousin’s hair, my mom’s in the nursing home, and when out-of-state relatives visited, she cut their hair too. She trimmed everyone’s hair, but mine, so I go to Crewcut Cora’s Cutting Cove during work hours.

Cora’s salon has five stations; each staffed with a skilled, licensed hair technician. Cora always dreamed of operating an elite, high-end salon.

To become a hair stylist at Cora’s, the beautician’s resume must include the names of at least two celebrities who’ve had their hair done by the applicant. Cora then contacts the celebrity and/or the Agent to verify each resume. Once approved, the stylist joins the elite group called the Crew.

Each station has a high-tech, fully automatic, black leather chair. I’ve never seen anything like it; the chairs look like something out of a rocket ship: they recline all the way back and “dock” with the shampoo sink. Not only is the customer’s body relaxed in the chair, but also, the cushioned neck support vibrates and massages their head. Among other features, the salon has contemporary furniture and cabinetry with lots of chrome and sharp angles and black lacquer.

 Cora doesn’t keep the usual stack of hair styling magazines on her tables. Instead, she has books, many books; classic books, fiction and nonfictional, because Cora loves to read in her spare time, now that she is alone.

Throughout the salon, the floors are a polished black and white checkered ceramic. The teal and yellow walls are unconventional, but then again, so is Cora. Massive pictures and blown up photographs with a motorcycle theme emphasize the black and chrome décor. The most impressive is a life-size picture of her late husband Leon sitting on one of the first Harley Davidson’s ever produced. The motorcycle looks like a red bicycle with a tiny motor, labeled #6.

The Crew uses the finest of tools and hair products selected and supplied by Cora. Each station has mirrors going full circle to allow clients to see the fine cuts of their hair from beginning to end. Cora accommodates the wealthy, but also provides for the “blue hairs” and “jerry-curls” with five hairdryers surrounding a glass cocktail table. This is where the old ladies sit, gossip, and drink coffee while their hair scorches after the permanents. Cora praises her skilled crew and rewards them but never passes up a buck from her regulars.

Although Cora owns and operates this upscale salon, she operates from her own station, located in the furthest, most obscure corner of the salon, away from public view, and off the path of the contemporary flooring. A set of heavy black drapes separates her station from the rest of the salon.

Cora was out sick the first day I came in for a haircut. While waiting my turn, the Crew allowed me to walk the premises instead of sitting there reading trade magazines, while they stayed with their customers. I hesitated when I came to the black drapes, but curiosity seized me as I put out my hand and spread them open. I felt for the switch in the dark room. The light revealed a black high room, dark walls with no windows. The splintered wood floors creaked under my feet. The station was not privy to the lavish equipment, cabinetry, and mirrors as in the other stations. The room was bare except for a wooden table and the infamous “Shackle Chair” bolted to the floorboards. The shackle chair is a plain, wooden armchair with iron loops on the ends of the arms, suggesting its uncomfortable use as a haircutting chair. Though not as threatening as the electric chair, the loops secured convicts who had their heads shaved clean before moving on to the state prison. Cora’s personal photographs hung crooked on the water-stained walls; some were pictures of her children and grandchildren, but the majority was of a young Cora and her husband on many of their cross-country motorcycle excursions. The most disturbing picture hung eye-level in front of the shackle chair. It was Cora’s last look at her childhood sweetheart in his coffin, surrounded by mourners and their motorcycles. The room struck a chill. It even smelt forbidding with a mixture of burnt hair and witch hazel.

I switched off the light and left. As I did so, one of the beauticians confronted me. “Are you waiting for Cora?” She asked.

“No,” I answered, “I need a regular haircut, feathered back, no part.” I looked back toward the station. “It’s neat;” I lied, “Cora’s not here.”

“Yes, I know,” the woman answered, “She is out sick today. Come,” She escorted me to her station, “I will cut your hair.”


# # #


Years ago, on her 50th birthday, Cora lost her leg from the knee down in a horrific motorcycle accident that took the life of her husband. She refused to wear one of those mass-produced prosthetic legs. Instead, she opted to use part of an unfinished Indian statue her late husband carved from an oak tree. Using the talents she gained while observing her late husband’s work, Cora chopped off the lower leg of the statue and whittled it smooth, making the wooden leg anatomically correct with five toes and the ankle.

Ten years later, on her 60th birthday, Cora developed throat cancer and emphysema. Unfazed, she signed herself out of the hospital. She carried a ten-pound oxygen tank with tubes running into her nostrils, and she also had to press a  throat microphone against her neck to talk. Unable to drive because of the worn-out straps and buckles on her stump, she walked and hitchhiked back to the salon.

On a busy Saturday afternoon, while the Crew worked their customers, Cora kicked open the front door. With the sun glaring at her back, she was a silhouette at first. Workers and customers gasped in unison when Cora thumped into the salon. They watched as their deteriorating boss pressed the throat microphone to her neck and the electro-larynx gurgled in a scratchy, robotic voice: “Somebody give me a cigarette.”

Over the years, Cora grew use to poor health. She expected and accepted new ailments that never let up. She developed everything from arthritis to diabetes and more, but continued to smoke, drink, and have bonfire parties all night with her aging biker friends.

One of the parties got so out of hand, Cora’s friends gave her a hot foot and burned the feet off her wooden leg, leaving her with a tapered stump.

The following morning, during a hangover, Cora suffered a stroke. She tried calling 911 but couldn’t hold the phone in one hand and the throat microphone in the other. Her face twisted as if someone grabbed her by the ear and pulled her face upward and diagonal.


# # #


As a walk-in, I signed in, sat and waited my turn. Haircuts, coffee, and cigarettes are part of my morning routine, and I know the shop is safe and in good hands with Moncho and the five Amigos while I’m not there.

I watched as the beautician pulled the apron off the blue-hair and escorted her to the dryer. The old lady seemed discombobulated as though the toxicity of the chemicals smeared onto her scalp had seeped into her brain through what flesh she had left. She grappled with the beautician all the way to the chair. The beautician didn’t fight back. She smiled kindly, and gently spun the old woman in circles as if she were spinning a child for a rousing game of pin the tail on the donkey. The woman got dizzy and plopped down under the dryer. The beautician hooked her up, and then stepped outside for a well-deserved smoke.

I picked up a collectable book Cora kept on the coffee table: [1]Moby Dick. I scanned through the middle pages, reading the antiquated, though addictive, style of Melville’s writing. It was smooth, informative, and descriptive. I turned the page, lifted my eyes over the book, and looked at Cora. She hobbled around, making two thumping sounds; one from her peg leg and the other from the heavy oxygen tank she lifted and plopped down every other step. She lit a cigarette, took a long drag, and removed the tubes from her nostrils. She blew steam and vapor out of her nose, and then reinserted the tubes. She sensed me watching, and turned sharply. Her staring eyes searched mine, and her twisted, distorted face, gray and sagging, seemed to cave in. It seemed to me, as I looked at her, that her entire malformed head had a dead texture of skin, and her eyes were no eyes, but just sockets. She put the microphone to her neck and pointed at me. “You,” she snarled, and pointed to a stylist chair, “Sit over there.”

As I closed the book, I saw the name that widened my eyes in anxiety; the name that emptied my lungs in a distending, harsh whisper as though it were my last breath: “A-haaaaab!”


“Her whole high, broad form seems made of iron and shapes in an unalterable mould. Threading its way out from among her gray straggly hair, and continuing down one side of her tawny scorched face and neck, until it disappeared in her clothing, you see a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish, protruding from below her thrift shop dress. It resembles that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight lofty trunk of a great tree touched by lightning.”


Ordinarily, Cora avoided walking the salon floor when the girls stayed busy cutting hair, lest the reverberating crack and din of that bony step disturbs them, and lest the clunking of her oxygen tank tubed into her nasal cavities break their concentration. As the Crewmember cut my hair, Cora set pacing from one end of the salon to the other. I complained, suggesting she muffle the sound of bone against wood with a wad of alcohol-soaked cotton balls. I then suggested the use of a hand truck to carry her oxygen tank instead of picking it up and dropping it every other step.

Cora told me to “Return to my salon chair where the apron shrouds me. Sit still or we will seat you in the shackle chair!”

I replied, “I will not be talked to in such a manner.”

Cora unleashed the full fury of her tongue, “Then be called a body shop man, a smelly man covered in grease and body filler, and be gone, and I will clear the salon of you and your kind.” When she advanced toward me with menace in her eyes, I pressed back in the salon chair.

I kept my head forward, but my eyes followed Cora as she took her place behind me. When she leaned over me, I sniffed the medication escaping from her nasal tubes. She pressed her lips behind my ear. She put the throat microphone to her to her neck, and the electric voice twanged, “How do you want your hair cut?”

My entire body went numb and weak, chilled in a cold sweat. I slumped, unable to move. My arms stayed heavy and tingled with goosebumps. I struggled to put my face in my hands so as not to see her heavy breathing on my neck.

“Feathered back with no part,” I cried, “But do what you will! Do-what-you-will!”

[1] Moby-Dick is a work of genius in world literature. The story tells the adventures of a sailor Ishmael and his voyage on the whaling ship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab seeks one specific whale, Moby Dick, a fierce, mysterious white sperm whale. In a previous Moby-Dick, also known as The Whale is a novel first published in 1851 by author Herman Melville’s encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off his leg. Ahab wants revenge.



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