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The Grease by Gilbert Milton Snodgrass
Eddy had that kind of hair that made people jealous. It was thick, wavy, and he never seemed to have to do anything to it. He woke up in the morning, ran his fingers through his hair, and just went about the day. His messy bedhead always looked intentional but it was nothing more than good genes and the luck of the draw, and that was the way Eddy liked it. He viewed his hair as the perfect extension of his personality: carefree, wild, and completely untamed. And despite the fact that he put very little effort into things, Eddy always came out on top. He had coasted his way through high school, charmed his way through college, and now he had half-assed his way to a position as an art director for one of the west coast’s premiere surfboard companies. The work was easy, and it left him plenty of time every day for surfing. Eddy had it made.
One day on his way back from the beach, Eddy caught a passing glimpse of himself in a shop window. He could see that his mane was getting unruly, even for himself. All that saltwater was good for volume but damn could it do a number on split ends. Even a guy like Eddy knew you had to do some upkeep. As he continued on his way home, he noticed a barbershop he hadn’t seen before: Berger and Sons. From the striped pole out front to the subway tile lining the walls, this place looked like one of the classic shops you’d see if you googled "1950s barbershop." Eddy had seen a few of these retro throwback barbershops open in different spots over the city but they had always seemed a little too traditional for a guy like him. Regardless, Eddy had a meeting the next week with a client and figured it couldn’t hurt to have a little touch up on his flowing locks. Plus, if he did it now, it wouldn’t look like he had gotten all dolled up for the meeting. Looking like he didn’t care was alllllll part of Eddy’s allure.
A bell tinkled as he entered the shop and Eddy immediately noticed the smell. A sweet but nearly antiseptic odor hit his nose, reminding him of his grandfather right after he had shaved. Yep, this place was definitely old school. The barber waved him over and patted the seat, inviting Eddy to sit down.
"Welcome to Berger and Sons," he said. "Let me guess, you want a headshave?" Before Eddy could even react, the barber had burst out laughing. "Just a little light barber humor!"
"Very light," Eddy deadpanned. "I’m not looking for anything too crazy. Just wanna get these split ends cleaned up."
"Ah, an easy enough task," said the barber as he threw the cape over Eddy’s body and began spritzing his hair with a mist.
"So is it just you?" asked Eddy, looking around at the otherwise empty barbershop. "I thought the sign said Berger and Sons."
"Well, I’m Nestor Berger," he explained. "So that part’s accurate. Don’t actually have any sons but I figured the name would convey the sort of traditional barbershop experience I try to offer. You see, in these modern times, there’s a lot of people who don’t really appreciate the…" The barber’s voice started to trail off. The scent from the mist he had sprayed in Eddy’s hair was so powerful--so sweet and intoxicating--that Eddy had started to zone out. He felt warm, he felt comfortable, and he felt relaxed. The shop drifted away from him and suddenly he felt someone tapping him on his shoulder.
"Sir? Sir!" said the barber until Eddy snapped back. "What do you think?" Eddy’s eyes came back in focus and he saw his reflection in the mirror and gasped. The barber had ruined his hair. Where his flowing bedhead had been was now a heavily slicked, extremely greasy, and overly combed hairstyle the likes of which one would see on someone from the 1950s.
"I just asked for the split ends cleaned up!" Eddy bellowed.
"And that’s really all I did!" smiled the barber. "Ok, I may have taken a little bit off here and there but there’s still length." The barber showed Eddy the back of the hairstyle in a handheld mirror where the sides and top had been slicked back into a greasy tail. "I just figured I would give you a more dapper appearance. This is a homemade hair grease you know. You can only get it here."
"Well I didn’t ask for it," Eddy said as he threw off the cape and stood up to leave. "No wonder your shop is so empty! Maybe try listening to your customers!"
"A barber has to do what he knows is right for each customer," the barber grinned. "Trust me, you’ll be back!"
"The f*** I will," Eddy said as he stormed out the shop.
He was furious! He stopped to gawk at himself in a parked car’s side view mirror. This nerdy retro haircut was the opposite of everything Eddy was about! It was rigid, traditional, and just plain uncool. He felt his phone buzz in his pocket. It was his buddies asking him out for a night of drinks. "Sure," he texted back. "Just let me go home and wash my hair real quick."
Eddy had never washed his hair that intensely in his life. He shampooed it twice, conditioned it thrice! He even blow dried it. He put a little salt spray in it and when he felt it looked the right level of mussed, he got dressed and headed out to meet his buddies.
Lee, Kirk and Drew were at the bar doing shots when Eddy walked in. He waved at them and they gave him an odd glance and ignored him, before Lee did a double take and started cackling. "Eddy! Over here!" Eddy jogged over to join his pals.
"We saved a shot for you," Drew said, laughing. "So uh, what’s going on here? Trying out a new look?"
"Well I washed my hair," Eddy said, "but I wouldn’t say it’s a new…" He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar. Eddy’s hair was back in the heavily greased, retro sidepart he had when he stormed out of the barbershop. It looked just as fresh as when he snapped out of his weird daze and saw it for the first time. He touched it in horror and as he pulled his hand away from his hair, his fingers came back with a thick sheen of greasy, oily product that overwhelmed him with that same scent he remembered from the barber shop. His eyes went blank for a moment before he snapped back to reality.
"It’s.. nice," Kirk said with a wry smile as he handed his buddy the shot of whiskey. "Just very different." Eddy took the shot and paused. What was going on? He had washed his hair… hadn’t he? He did have to admit though: the haircut did look sort of nifty. Nifty? Where did that word even pop into his head?
He laughed and threw back his head, downing the shot. It burned terribly, like he had never tasted alcohol before and he began coughing and sputtering as the shot came back up and sprayed on his friends. They erupted in laughter at him.
"Maybe you should get a glass of milk instead," Lee said. Eddy protested--although it did sound kind of nice. But no, he was a grown man. He could drink a beer! But even that didn’t seem very nice.
"You know what guys? I’m not feeling super nifty." There was that damn word again. "I think I’m going to go home and get some rest."
"Come on, man! It’s still early!" Kirk shouted.
"No no," said Drew. "Let the man get his rest. Hope you feel niftier tomorrow." Eddy blushed. His face felt on fire. His friends were mocking him! He stormed out the door as he could hear his friends burst into laughter.
"Gosh darnit!" Eddy blurted as he marched down the street. He had intended to use stronger language but it just didn’t come out that way. How strange. When he got home, he decided to put on some football to calm his nerves but stopped on a channel showing old episodes of Leave It To Beaver. He couldn’t help himself. He had to watch.
By 10pm, he was already fast asleep.
Eddy’s alarm went off at 6 in the morning. He shot to attention and was shocked when he saw the time. He hadn’t been up at 6 in the morning in years, and yet, his phone had it listed as an alarm that went off every day.
He went to go brush his teeth and was shocked to see his hair still stuck in that crisp, greasy and exceptionally conservative side part. He hopped in the shower and scrubbed and shampooed and when he finally got out, his hair was a sopping, stringy mess. Thank goodness. The grease was finally out, and, just to be safe, Eddy decided to let it air dry. After all, he had plans to go surfing with the boys later, provided they weren’t going to be too mean to him after last night.
Eddy actually felt intimidated by that, which was ridiculous. He had always been the leader and now he felt concerned about what the other guys would think! It was just one rough night; they would forget it soon enough. After all, Eddy was the best surfer among them and he would re-assert himself at the top of the food chain. He gave himself a smile in the mirror as a familiar scent began to wash over him: the same scent from the barber shop.
Suddenly, Eddy’s phone rang and he found himself dazed in a strange location. He didn’t quite know where he was. He answered the phone.
"Bro where the f*** are you?" he heard Kirk say, the sound of waves crashing coming through the phone. "You were supposed to be here an hour ago!"
Where the f*** was he? Eddy looked around and realized he was in some sort of convention hall. Tables and tables stretched in all directions, each of them covered in protective lucite boxes containing… stamps!? He saw the banner: West Coast Filatelist Convention.
"I’m at a filately convention," he said.
"A what, bro?"
"Stamps," Eddy said. "It’s a stamp collector. It’s a convention for stamp collectors." The sound of unmistakable laughter arose from the other side of the phone.
"He’s at a stamp collecting convention!" he heard Kirk say to the others whose laughter quickly echoed from the receiver. "Well, uh, I hate to interrupt that exciting occurrence but you gonna join us at the beach?"
"Of course," said Eddy. "I just wanted to stop in here and uh…. Look I’ll be there soon, ok!?" He quickly hung up in shame. He started heading for the door when he caught his reflection in a piece of lucite and gasped.
The hair had come back. Greasier than before. He touched it and his hand came away with a thick coating of sticky wet hair product. His hair was practically dripping. Then, Eddy caught the rest of his reflection. He was dressed in a pair of grey dress slacks and a white button down shirt. Tucked. In.
Something was wrong. Eddy would never wear this. He looked like a little dork! He had to get home, but first, he was going to stop at that barber shop and get some answers! He headed for the door but then he caught a glimpse of some fascinating stamps.
"Oooh those are actually pretty neato!" he said aloud. He couldn’t believe he was saying that… or thinking it. But he when he got close to the table, he was dazzled by how cool the stamps were. A vintage series commemorating Star Trek! They were so awesome! He couldn’t help himself. He pulled out his wallet and hesitated.
What was he doing? This wasn’t him. But these stamps were really neato completo. What the heck? Life is short. He plunked down his credit card and bought a few, as well as a book to store them in.
"You’re gonna need to fill that up, sonny!" smiled the vendor. Eddy couldn’t help himself. He desperately wanted to leave and meet up with his buddies but he couldn’t help himself from examining other tables, buying more vintage stamps, and striking up conversations with other filatelists. Before he knew it, the convention was closing and it was time to go. His phone had dozens of missed calls and texts from the boys wondering where he was. Something very strange was going on indeed.
As he headed back to his apartment with his new stamp book full of old stamps, he spotted a vintage store with a display in the window. The mannequin was dressed in a way that should have made Eddy recoil. It was dressed in a short sleeved white button down with a thin black bowtie. The black flat front slacks came up to its belly button and were cinched with a thin brown belt. On its feet, vintage white crew socks hung in furls as they went into the shiny black penny loafers. This was the outfit of an unmistakable nerd, a relic of a bygone era representing a sort of clean cut, goody two shoes attitude that had always revolted Eddy. But for a brief moment, he saw his reflection where the mannequin’s head was, his face and slicked up hair on the outfit. It almost seemed right, but he shook his head and snapped out of it.
In a panic, Eddy headed back to his hip apartment and slammed the door. He turned on the TV and tried to relax but couldn’t. Eventually, he flipped to an old episode of Leave It To Beaver and found himself mesmerized. Everyone was so polite and clean cut and old-fashioned. By 9pm, he was asleep.
Before Eddy knew it, it was already 6pm Sunday evening. He had no idea where the time had gone but when he looked around his apartment, he began to get dizzy. Everything looked… different. That’s when memories came flooding back.
He saw himself at 6am, waking up nice and early, and calling a company to come take his furniture away. Then a flash and he was at the antique store flashing his credit card around and buying all kinds of retro furniture. Another flash and he was at the vintage store loading up a cart with dorky looking clothes. And another flash and he was back at the apartment, showing movers where to place all his many purchases.
Another flash and he was back in the present, standing in his apartment which he no longer recognized. The entire thing looked like it was a set from Leave It To Beaver. His flat screen TV had been replaced with an old woodpaneled TV from the 50s with an antenna on it. His workout equipment replaced with a chess table and two chairs. His slick leather couch was gone and in its place was a floral patterned retro sofa. Everything about his apartment looked old fashioned and drab. All of his records had been replaced as an LP of Bert Kaempfaert’s greatest hits played over the hifi. He ran to his room and gasped. His waterbed had been replaced with a single twin mattress, the bland gray sheets tucked and folded with military precision. Then, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and nearly fainted.
He was wearing a pair of shiny red Converses with white socks and cuffed, deep blue, highwaisted straight legged jeans. His shirt, an orange and green plaid number, was tucked into and fastened in place with a cheap brown belt. In the pocket of the shirt, a pristine white pocket protector sat overloaded with pens and pencils and tools. A dorky white undershirt poked out from under the button down. On top of all that, he had a bright red cardigan with white piping and a big letter B like he was in school or something. He was dressed like he was president of the chess club 1955! And of course, on top of his head, sat an exceedingly greasy slicked haircut that was now nearly jet black. He touched it in horror as his fingers came away thick with the grease.
The grease! This had all started with the grease and that barber shop and that awful barber! He would have answers to what was going on. He could help Eddy undo whatever was happening. Eddy would go and find him and get this all sorted out. But not dressed like this! He tore through his closet and found most of his clothes had been replaced. That would be a pain to fix. But in the top, in a corner he must have missed earlier, he found some sweatpants and an old tank top. He didn’t look as cool as he had hoped, but it was better than the Leave It To Beaver nerd look he had been sporting earlier.
Eddy ran out onto the street and started hurrying to the barber shop. As he waited at an intersection, he saw himself in a window and gasped. Somehow, he was back in that outfit! The cardigan, the dorky shirt, the highwaisted jeans! Something strange was going on. The grease was changing him, affecting his perception. He had to get to the bottom of this.
A few more blocks and he found himself across the street from Berger and Sons Barbershop. The lights were on so Eddy knew he could get some answers. But the light wouldn’t change. Eddy waited and waited but it didn’t change. There was no traffic. He could just jaywalk across the street. But try as he might, he couldn’t get himself to do it. A little voice in his head kept telling him that it was against the rules. Since when had that mattered? Eddy never followed any rules! But he simply HAD to all of a sudden. His rebellious nature was defeated and he could not cross the street without the light changing.
It didn’t. Something was stopping it from happening and Eddy couldn’t cross. Defeated, he returned home, fiddled with his TV antenna, and fell asleep watching more Leave It To Beaver.
"Eddy, can I have a word with you in my office?" he heard his boss saying. Eddy blinked and found himself in the conference room of his office, his coworkers staring at him with a smattering of cheeky smirks and barely restrained laughter. He recognized the clients he had a meeting with on Monday but… was it already Monday? He looked down and groaned. He saw it: the outfit from the mannequin. The dorky bowtie, the short white sleeved shirt, the flat fronted highwaisted pants, the slouchy white socks, and of course the super shiny penny loafers. He turned around and saw his presentation: just a big white posterboard that said "Surfboarding: It’s Neato Completo." All the work he had done for months was gone and this was what he showed up to the meeting with? All his passion for surfboarding and this was the best he had? But when he thought about it, he could barely even remember himself surfing. All he could think about was how much he wanted to get home, look at his stamp collection, and maybe read up on some chess maneuvers. What was happening to him?
Needless to say, Eddy’s meeting with his boss was short. They offered him a month of severance and told him to pack up his stuff and leave. They couldn’t have a square like him working at a surfboarding company. He looked at all the beach memorabilia at his desk and just threw it in the trashcan. It didn’t seem like his anymore anyways.
As he walked back home, he could feel everyone staring at him, giggling at his outfit, looking at his big greasy haircut. He felt dejected and embarrassed and could barely see where he was going. He just looked at the ground and shuffled his penny loafers. When he finally looked up, he saw where he was and he wasn’t surprised. Berger and Sons Barbershop.
The bell tinkled as he entered the shop. Mr. Berger looked up and smiled.
"I knew you’d be back. How are you feeling about the haircut?"
Eddy sighed. "I hate it. Well I hated it, but I can’t make it go away and every day I just feel like it suits me more and more. I don’t know what’s happening!"
"That’s the power of a good grease," said Mr. Berger. "Once you go slick, you just have to stick!"
"Gee whiz," said Eddy. "I guess so. I just feel so different now."
"Would you like me to wash it out? You can go back to the way you were. Or…"
"Or?" asked Eddy.
"Or I can apply one more coating and make it permanent. One more coating of pomade and you’ll be a good retro nerdy boy forever. The choice is yours."
Eddy sighed a breath of relief. The nightmare was finally over. He was ready to make his choice. And then the strong smell overwhelmed him.
"I’d like to stay this way forever!" Inside, Eddy was screaming. That wasn’t what he wanted at all but the grease was making him say it. The grease was making him sit in the chair. The grease was taking his will to fight. The grease made him sit politely and smile as Mr. Berger took a huge scoop of hair product and began working it into Eddy’s jet black hair. When he was finally done, Mr. Berger spun Eddy around and said, "What do you think?"
Eddy looked at himself in the mirror… and couldn’t see anything. It was a blur.
"Oh of course," said Mr. Berger. "You’ll be needing these now." He pulled out a pair of clunky black rimmed glasses with thick lenses and placed them on Eddy’s nose before fastening them in place with a tight elastic strap. The world came into focus and Eddy saw himself in the mirror.
The hair was even neater, even more retro, and even greasier looking than before. The thick black glasses just complimented the hair perfectly. When Eddy reached up to touch his hair, it felt nearly plastic. It didn’t budge at all. This truly was the haircut he was stuck with.
"Gee whiz, it looks neato completo Sir!" he said with a goofy grin plastered on his face.
"You don’t have to call me Sir," Mr. Berger smiled. He handed Eddy his wallet back and opened it to the ID holder. Eddy’s license had been replaced with a new one. The picture showed Eddy in his thick glasses and greased up hair and where his name should be it read "Edward Berger."
"Berger and Sons Barber," Mr. Berger smiled. "I just knew you had potential."
"Golly thanks for the swell haircut, Dad!" Eddy--or was it Edward--said with a grin.
"Say, son, I know you got fired from your job and I was thinking… isn’t it time you joined the family business?"
From that day forward, Edward Berger spent every day in the barbershop learning the craft. His nights were spent in his dorky apartment studying chess maneuvers, listening to lounge music, and watching Leave It To Beaver. He wore a tie and pocket protector every day to the barber shop and even on most weekends. Whenever he was on the street, people would point and laugh at him but Edward Berger never felt ashamed. He knew it was better to be a clean cut retro goody two shoes than the hip rebel he had used to be. Besides, nobody had a spiffier haircut than he did.
Finally, the day came when Mr. Berger thought Edward was ready to ply his trade on clients of his own.
"I sent out a few invitations for free haircuts to get you some people to try your greasing skills on."
The bell jingled and three men walked into the shop. Edward pushed up his thick glasses and ran a hand over his thick plasticene haircut. The men seemed almost familiar but he couldn’t remember why. They signed in and Edward picked up the sign in sheet.
"Well hello and greetings fellas and welcome to Berger and Sons Barbers. So nice to meet you…" He glanced down at the sign in sheet. "Lee, Drew, and Kirk. Now which one of you is up first?"
The three men laughed at this absolute retro nerdy joke before them. Little did they know, they’d be just like him soon enough.