There was no doubt why she didn’t look up when I smiled. She was sure I was thinking, “Not interested, Gimp.”
FIVE WEEKS have passed since my last haircut; I am very due. At the appointed hour, I arrive at the salon just in time to hear a familiar voice call, “Next!”
A new stylist is motioning me. No, wait—could this Reba McEntyre look-alike be my regular stylist, Leanne? Leanne is a looker with the strong jaw and chiseled cheekbones of a West Virginian, say, or a statue. Ever since I’ve been coming here—some 1,286 gray hairs ago—she has been a blonde with a Farrah Fawcett wave. I can’t comment on her trim figure, for I’m a married man, and hence don’t notice such things.
But today, Leanne’s tresses beg to be noticed. They are red to the root, completely and utterly, like the perfect red heifer prized as the perfect offering. Red, yet uncannily real, like the impossibly natural-looking mane on the model who stares at you haughtily from a box of L’Oreal as you sniff, “No one can look so ‘right,’ so red.”
And her wave? Gone with the blonde, transmuted into perfectly permed curls.
“What’s your husband think?” I ask as she shampoos.
“Greg was walking by the shop, saw me in my chair, and figured I was a customer. When he realized it was me, his eyes bugged. He preferred the old look. You?”
I pause, weighing my words. “Old style, new color.”
I always enjoy my 25 minutes with Leanne. We each have two kids and enjoy chatting about school, kids, movies, and marriage.
And hair. “Gimme the Bruce Willis look,” I instruct as Leanne snaps a bib around my stubbled neck.
“Old Bruce or new?”
“Old.” Indignant, I flash my driver’s license to remind her I still have a hairline.
I look forward to each haircut. More babes will give me a smile over the next four days than will give me the time of day over the following four weeks. It shouldn’t matter, and I shouldn’t be looking, but it does, and I do.
Leanne finishes her handiwork. I rise from my seat, a new Bruce in flirting trim. “I’m fresh out of cash,” I say sheepishly. “Mind if I jaunt down to the ATM?”
“No problem,” Leanne smiles.
The ATM is fifty yards away. I withdraw a wad of twenties, then head back, a spring in my step.
In front of the shop, a sedan pulls into a handicapped space. I think nothing of it. Nor do I take note when the driver—a woman in her late forties—walks to the passenger side to help her grown daughter disembark.
But notetaking begins in earnest when the daughter steps out. She is a slender beauty—25? 29?—with deep, brown eyes, lips as wide as Texas, a smile to melt snow, and silky brunette tresses down to her waist. “Lauren,” I mutter. In my day, girls so arranged were named Lauren.
Instinctively my gait slows so Lauren and I can rendezvous at the entrance, where I will gallantly hold the door.
As Lauren steps out, Mom helps her get a footing.
She limps. With each left step, her hip arcs skyward. She’s a—what do you call it these days? Is it still “cripple”?
At least now I’ll have an excuse when I hold the door. “Thank you,” says Mom. “Thennk—you,” slurs Lauren.
Oh—she’s also deaf. Or a stroke victim. Something like that. Perhaps she was in a tragic accident.
So sad, I think; such a pretty girl. Shame to waste her looks on one so…disabled.
Yet if I were the Creator, that’s precisely how I’d divvy up brains, beauty, health, and wealth: Not a soul would get more than three—no more John Kennedy Jr.’s—or fewer than two. If you’re born deaf, blind, lame, or slow, at least you’ll live flush and look like a movie star…like Lauren.
I pay the cashier, then turn to leave. Surely Lauren can use an affirmation. She’s seated by the exit. I’ll smile as I pass; she’ll smile back. OK, I want to be affirmed, too.
“’Bye,” I smile.
I pass within a foot of her. She doesn’t even look up.
So much for affirmative action.
Now, I wouldn’t blame you if you sneered, “Maybe she wasn’t interested, ‘Bruce’.” I could live with that, but that’s not it. This lovely, kindly woman has been conditioned to think, “I’m a ‘gimp’; no ‘normal’ man could want me.”
You know what I’m talking about. You saw it played out in Forest Gump, when only one child—pure-hearted Jenny—would sit beside leg-braced Forest on the schoolbus. If you watch Seventh Heaven, you saw it when Lucy was ostracized for dating Mike, a mature, gifted, caring boy who happened to have spent a month in an institution.
Each time I see a man walking full-pace, but with one leg shorter than the other, I think, “Many women will decide, ‘Yuk—he limps; I can do better’.” So can he.
One woman’s unnatural selection was televised on The Dating Game. “Bachelor Number One,” purred the tanned blonde, “We’re on a desert island, and I’m hungry. What dish will you make me?”
“Can you repeat the question?” replied Number One. “I had to adjust my hearing aid.”
“Hearing aid?” she frowned. “Oh!”
Understand: There was nothing unordinary about the bimbo’s disdain; just her bald inability to conceal it.
I once knew a man in his early thirties who obviously had “something” wrong with him; exactly what, only his family knew. Freddie was one of those misfits who stare a few degrees to the side when they speak to you.
But even misfits, I figured, need love. “Why don’t I ever see you at the singles’ events?” I asked him.
“My parents,” he said, gazing slightly to my left, “told me I’m not to marry.” How thoughtful.
As the salon door shuts behind me, I wonder how many Forests, Freddies, Laurens, and Mikes, who unlike us cannot hide their defects, remain social lepers, denied the chance, the hope, of sipping the bittersweet waters of romantic love.
Want to know who’s truly defective? Look in the mirror. It is you, it is I, we who dismiss the lame, the troubled, the deaf, as though in all the human genotype we are its perfect specimens duty-bound to carry on the race. Of course we select out the “unfit” from the marriage pool; we are performing our Darwinian duty. Or so we assure ourselves.
Well, let me assure the singles, and all who will one day rejoin their ranks. Some day, someone you desire will lift the veil from your less-than-perfect health, or peer into the dark corners of your medical history, and decide, “Next!”
Leaving your lonely heart opposite Lauren's, on the cutting-room floor.
© 2001 Paul Franklin Stregevsky