Johnny America


Hair Gel Kid


The lit­tle boy, who had just turned eight, re­fused to leave the house un­til his moth­er had slicked back his hair with co­pi­ous amounts of hair gel. With his slicked-back hair, the lit­tle boy re­sem­bled a chub­by-faced, lit­tle boy ver­sion of leg­endary Lak­ers coach Pat Ri­ley or per­haps Riley’s less-than-leg­endary epigone Steve Lavin. I want­ed to know why the lit­tle boy act­ed the way he did, so I per­formed a can­vass of his school and neighborhood.

“He likes to read,” his third grade teacher told me. “He sits qui­et­ly in the back of the class and reads his books. The oth­er stu­dents have nev­er said any­thing to him about his hair. In fact, they al­most nev­er say any­thing to him at all.”

“Him? Oh, I don’t know,” said one of his class­mates, a lit­tle girl. “He blush­es a lot, and he likes bologna sand­wich­es. He shared half of his sand­wich with me last week. I didn’t like it. I don’t like bologna.”

His gym teacher shrugged. “He wears this neon yel­low cap with an un­bent brim when he’s do­ing cal­is­then­ics. Nor­mal­ly I don’t let stu­dents wear hats, but he’s so crazy about his hair that it’s not worth the trou­ble of mak­ing him take it off.”

“Last year, he kept lick­ing his lips. Just licked them and licked them un­til a big red ring formed around his mouth. A few of his peers made fun of the ring, the boy cried, and soon af­ter that he stopped do­ing it,” his guid­ance coun­selor said. “I’m not so sure about this hair gel is­sue. It doesn’t seem to be af­fect­ing his per­for­mance in the class­room, though.”

“He had gobs of gel in his hair when he re­ceived First Com­mu­nion,” his parish priest said. “Usu­al­ly I don’t think about these events af­ter they’re over, or I try not to any­way, but the odor of that gel was some­thing else. His mom must buy the cheap­est stuff in the drugstore.”

His old­er broth­er was dis­com­fit­ed by my ques­tion. “I just don’t un­der­stand him. He’s in his room all the time, and I guess I’m okay with that. My friends would give me so much shit if they saw me with him. I feel bad for say­ing this, but man.”

“He likes com­ic books and video games,” an­oth­er lit­tle boy from the neigh­bor­hood said. “I had fun when I was at his house, but I don’t re­al­ly like comics and video games, so I don’t come over that much. He nev­er plays outside.”

“They’re al­ways yelling in that house,” that lit­tle boy’s moth­er whis­pered to me af­ter her son had wan­dered away. “I’ve been tempt­ed to call the po­lice, but I don’t know what ef­fect that would have on those poor kids in there. It’s aw­ful, just awful.”

The boy’s fa­ther ad­dressed me in an un­friend­ly tone of voice. “I gave him some Bryl­creem so that he could train his hair. Hair won’t stand up un­less you train it, and he’s at the age where it need­ed to be trained. My wife is the one who sub­sti­tut­ed the styling gel. Now it’s ter­ri­ble how that kid acts, how he makes go­ing any­where such a has­sle. He’s do­ing it for at­ten­tion, and she in­dulges him.”

“I know it looks ridicu­lous,” his moth­er said. “When he gets fix­at­ed on these things, there’s no point in stop­ping him. Any­way, it’s not some­thing to make a big deal out of.”

The lit­tle boy’s bed­room had peach car­pet­ing and wall­pa­per with or­ange stars on it. It con­tained a twin bed, a book­case, a tele­vi­sion set, and a video game con­sole. The lit­tle boy sat on the edge of the bed, his feet dan­gling over the side. His hair was slicked back.

When I asked him about his fu­ture, he replied that his mom­my and dad­dy hoped that he would be­come a doctor.

Filed under Fiction on December 24th, 2010

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