Good Hair Days
by Harrison Kim
“If you eat this hair,” Cassie told Rick, “it’ll cure your droopy mouth.”
“How?” One side of Rick’s face had fallen over the last few days, his own personal earthquake. “This could be a stroke.”
Cassie smiled and held up a patch of salt-and-pepper coloured fibre. “This is Elliot Burns’ hair. You know. The movie star.”
“I know you worked sweeping up at the Rodeo Hair Salon yesterday,” Rick said, watching Cassie’s hand wave back and forth. “Eating celebrity hair is not a cure for facial paralysis.”
“It’s movie-star DNA,” Cassie said. “The hair will freshen you up in his genetic direction. He won’t miss it. They gave him a perfect cut.”
Cassie used Facebook to follow the mystic beliefs of Santeria Voodoo, a mixture of Catholicism and Yoruban African beliefs. She read that consuming the hair of another person could lead to a transfer of qualities and a healing of deficits in the one who eats it. She had never tried it before, but now that she swept and cleaned salons, she had unforeseen collection opportunities. “One clump a day,” she advised, squatting on her sleeping bag and holding out the packet to her significant other.
Rick gently grabbed the hair and stuck it in his pocket. “I’ll chew this later,” he said. “I’ve got to get going to the day labour office.”
He stood up and leaned against their communal tree. Cassie and Rick lived under a small cedar grove. They’d been evicted from their rooming house a month before on account of renovations for condos. There was nothing else affordable besides the street.
Rick sat in one of their two plastic chairs and munched some dry Cheerios.
“I would highly advise you take your droopy mouth medication,” Cassie said. She anticipated sweeping the salon again, wondering whose hair she would collect this time.
“Okay, okay,” Rick responded. He lifted the fibre clump from his pocket and popped it down his throat with water and more Cheerios. He would do almost anything to please Cassie. They had been together two years now, since university, when they both graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in Medieval Studies. The problem was, there weren’t many jobs in that area.
Rick sat still for a moment, swallowing. The hair stuck in his throat a bit but, luckily, it was mostly the consistency of shavings, thin and fine, and went down with a little effort.
* * *
Rick received day labour work that very morning. Over a hundred people signed the wait list, yet his was the third name called. He loaded cowhides into trucks down at a meat plant. Facial paralysis couldn’t stop him; he needed the money.
The cowboy-hatted supervisor kept yelling unintelligibly at Rick. “Yeah, I know you’re the boss,” said Rick, shoving another heavy hide onto another pile. “And you’re even better-looking than me.”
Right then, Rick felt some more changes in his face. He looked in the truck mirror. His profile looked the same but, after work, the cowboy gave him twenty dollars extra.
“Just because of that joke,” he said. “And you work hard. You know, you’re actually quite a handsome fellow.”
“Don’t know about that,” said Rick.
He’d felt his mouth sag all day. His right eye watered tears all down his paralyzed cheek.
When he returned to the cedar grove camp, Cassie held out some more hair for him. “This is from Jim Bob Johnson, the star of The Colorado Five,” she announced. “He received a crew-cut today.” She smiled. “You are much better put together already.” She traced her thin pale fingers down Rick’s jawline.
“Well, the boss did give me an extra twenty,” said Rick. And he swallowed the hair, this time with a yogurt and banana.
He loped down to the lottery booth and spent some of his day wages on instant win tickets. When he checked the numbers, he’d won $800.
“This hair idea of yours might be doing some good!” he told Cassie. “Or else our fortunes have turned.”
“Yes, it’s because of magically positive trending,” Cassie smiled. “I should’ve taken a Voodoo course in university.”
Rick peered in a nearby car mirror. He appeared exactly the same, his mouth slack to one side. He noticed a whisker patch he hadn’t been able to shave off that morning because of the limitations of that same car mirror.
“I ate some hair myself, today,” said Cassie. “But I didn’t win anything.”
She does look better though, Rick thought. Her ears were more rounded, and other curves looked rested. They’d been moving around so much lately because of being homeless that there hadn’t been time to relax.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “maybe bring back a whole meal of the fuzzy stuff.”
“I will,” said Cassie, “Right now, let’s check in to the Lambada Hotel. I feel like a little luxury and indoor plumbing.”
They got a room on the fifth floor for two hundred of Rick’s eight.
“Wow, an actual bed!” Cassie lay back.
“I’ll go out and pick up some refreshments,” said Rick.
He headed downstairs. On the way, a young woman stopped him.
“You are so imaginatively dressed!” she said. “I just had to compliment you on that casual look”
Rick looked down at his T shirt and shorts. “I’m wearing my usual garb,” he wanted to say. But then he thought, Other people seem to think me handsome. He smiled. “Thanks, ma’am.”
When he returned to the room, carrying a bottle of wine and a rose, he found Cassie searching her cell phone for more Santeria recipes. “I didn’t tell you earlier,” she said, “but I also collected some of stunt driver Larry Liong’s locks.”
She pulled out a black packet of fibre from her purse. “When I look in this expensive hotel mirror,” she said, “I have a pimple on my nose.”
“I can’t see it,” Rick replied.
They laughed, drank the wine and chewed the hairy fibre.
“Will you love me, no matter what?” said Cassie, as she and Rick lay in their bed, awake way past midnight.
“I surely will,” Rick replied.
Yet Rick remembered the look the pretty girl on the stairs gave him. That doesn’t matter, he told himself. It was Cassie who made me eat the hair.
When the couple left their room the next morning and had breakfast at the hotel cafe, the wait staff hovered round with coffee and scones.
“We’d like to give you more,” the waitress said.
“Thanks.” Cassie smiled.
“Are you guys movie stars?” asked a busboy.
“No, but we’d like to be!” laughed Rick.
“There’s some auditions going on across the street,” the busboy said. “I’m going there myself later today.” He grinned. “You should try out. Your faces are perfect for the parts.”
“Let’s do it, Rick,” said Cassie. “We’re on a roll.”
The movie was about a middle-class couple with Phd’s who lose their home and have to live on the street. It was a comedy.
“I’ll be perfect for the role,” said Cassie. “Rick and I had a home and lost it, too.”
“You look great,” said the director, Martin Holenchuk, who possessed a big bald spot on top of his head and a white gap-toothed smile. “Maybe try to look more dishevelled.”
“It’s hard to do when you’ve been living in a swanky hotel,” Rick said. “Put ’er here, Martin.” He shook the director’s hand.
“You have great confidence,” the director said, then he put the top of his phone to his lips. “It might be difficult for you to project the sense of failure the hero feels when he loses his job.”
“Hey, I lost my job at the book warehouse,” Rick said. “And the other one at the meat plant. I didn’t go to work today.”
“You don’t look like the kind of guy who works at a meat plant,” said Martin.
“That’s very intuitive,” Cassie said. “Rick has a degree in Medieval Studies.”
Rick demonstrated his poor person act for Martin by heading for the sidewalk and rolling out of his sleeping bag without being kicked by a pedestrian or hit by a car. Carrie showed how she could walk between the freeway dividers with a sign reading, “Please, need food,” and collect a few quarters. She was surprised to receive a fair amount of money during the real-life rehearsal.
“A woman as pretty as you shouldn’t be out on the streets,” said one mother with two kids, handing Carrie a twenty.
Director Martin laughed. “You guys are truly convincing.” He hired them both on the spot for Degentrification, part 2, his series featuring the amusing lives of downwardly mobile millennials in modern San Francisco. Rick was surprised to see Elliot Burns on the set.
“I”m sponsoring this show,” said Burns. “Along with actor Jim Bob Johnson. I’m hoping it’ll win some awards.”
“Your hair looks great,” Cassie admired. “We ate the last of it this morning.”
Rick put his finger over her lips. “Sssssh.”
“Do you think it’s really the Santeria Voodoo causing all this good fortune?” Rick asked Cassie that night. “Martin just cut us a cheque for twelve thousand. It’s hard to believe it’s only because of our positive attitudes.”
“I don’t know,” Cassie said. “We are being noticed. I saw you looking at that young girl today. I didn’t like it.”
“It was her looking at me,” he said, although he remembered at one point he couldn’t avert his eyes. “I saw Elliot Burns gawking your way,” Rick pointed out. “And he wasn’t looking like you were his sister.”
“I’ve always had a crush on Elliot,” Cassie said. “He wanted my phone number.”
“You asked me the other day if I’d love you forever,” said Rick, “and I said yes.”
“Well,” said Cassie, “I think people can have affection for more than one person at a time. As long as they don’t step over any lines.”
They both slept restlessly that night, now that there seemed to be a lot of wriggle room in their lives.
Over the next few days, after work on the movie set, they bought a used Toyota and drove around searching for places to stay. They passed tents put up on sidewalks and tarps at the sides of freeway exits, until they found a small basement suite in a better area of town for two thousand dollars a month.
“It’s the best I’ve seen,” Cassie said, after checking the internet listings. “For the price we paid.”
Mr. Bintana, the thin-eyebrowed landlord, looked them over carefully. “Can you pay the rent?”
Rick sat forward, nodding agreeably.
“You seem like good, clean people,” Bintana said. “I have fifty others on my waiting list but I think I’ll welcome you folks in first.”
“Would you like our references?” Cassie asked. She had one from Martin the director and one from Rodeo Hair salon.
“Well, okay, but I’m going with intuition,” said Bintana. “By the way, you have immaculate taste in shoes.”
“Thanks. I got them at the thrift store,” Rick told him. “A very lucky find.”
“So many miracles,” Cassie said. “Imagine, a landlord with fifty people on his list choosing us from a hunch.”
“The Santeria stuff must be quite powerful,” Rick agreed. He didn’t tell Cassie that Marsha, the pretty young girl at the hotel, had chatted for forty-five minutes with him at the cafe that morning.
“You know,” said Cassie, “maybe I’ll head up to the University and see if they need any sessional lecturers in Medieval Studies.”
“You need at least a Ph.D. for that,” Rick said. “And it helps to be a personal friend of the dean.” He paused. “Yet things seem to be going so well.”
They both looked at each other. “Time to eat more hair,” Cassie laughed.
“Maybe we don’t need that anymore,” Rick replied. “I haven’t consumed any in a week.”
“It does taste awful,” Cassie said. “Let’s go cold turkey and see what happens.”
Rick didn’t tell Cassie, but he hadn’t felt right about the Voodoo all along. We’re just puppets of this charm, he thought to himself. His mouth still looked droopy to him. “I want to see if we can do this on our own,” he mused. Then he told Cassie, “Maybe we can do something good with the rest of the clumps.”
The two of them walked down Pacheo Boulevard, giving out samples of movie-star tresses to all the panhandlers and street people. “What the heck is this?” asked Piper Smitty, a casual acquaintance from when Cassie and Rick lived under the cedar bush.
“It’s a good luck human hair candy,” Cassie said. “Way better for you than fentanyl.”
“Yeah,” said Rick. “this stuff gets you really high. I mean, high up in society.”
“And you’re just giving it away?” Piper looked at the hair, focused on its texture, held it very close to her good left eye.
“It didn’t cost me anything,” said Cassie. “This candy once belonged to the actress Jodie Trasher.”
“Wow,” said Piper, “I guess it’s worth a shot.” She put it in her mouth. “It doesn’t taste sweet, though.”
“We want you to be happy,” said Rick. “This stuff will make you happy.”
“Okay.” Piper nodded. “Can you also give me ten dollars?”
Rick met Marsha in the cafe. She said, “You know, I’ve never met a guy so well versed in Medieval Studies.” She was a Political Science major herself. Rick was an average student, but whatever he said seemed to impress Marsha.
“You have a very mellifluous voice,” she said. “Your tone when you speak is very convincing.”
Rick wondered what had changed. Was it simply that the hair bought out his true nature? But to his own mirror eyes, he still looked like a droop-mouthed, paralyzed loser.
“How do you see yourself, Marsha?” he asked.
“Well,” she said, “I think my hips are kind of fat.”
She passed a young woman sitting in a doorway.
“Do you have any spare change?” the woman asked. Rick saw the door-sitter was Piper. He wondered why the hair candy hadn’t worked.
“I don’t give to beggars,” said Marsha. Then she told Rick, “These people are often the authors of their own misfortune.”
Rick decided Marsha would remain a platonic friend. Cassie always told him her own hips were curvy, “like a mermaid’s.” Rick liked that. He gave Piper another ten dollars.
“The Voodoo doesn’t work on everyone,” Rick told Cassie. “Those folks we issued the magic locks to are still on the street.”
“Maybe it worked on us because we believed it,” said Cassie.
“That lottery win was very strange.” Rick shook his head. He looked in the huge hotel room mirror. “Are we all just puppets of chance? Hey, my face isn’t quite as droopy.”
“You’re seeing yourself better,” Cassie smiled.
Then she frowned. “You know who called today? Elliot Burns.”
“Did you tell him about the Voodoo?”
“Well, yes. We went out for a coffee a few times. He seemed nice at first, but he had some significant flaws compared to you.”
“Well, he thinks he’s perfect,” she said. “He thinks its all about the hair.”
Rick laughed. Cassie regarded him from behind her phone. “I like the way you look in the mirror,” she said.
“What matters,” agreed Rick, “is how we appear in the mirror,”
The two of them held hands and skipped downstairs to find out if the waitresses would still treat them like movie stars.
Copyright © 2020 by Harrison Kim