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  CARDINAL POINTS: THE CURRENT ISSUE
Jeff Friedman
PORKPIE HAT

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Adjourning the Meeting

Jeff Friedman

At our meeting Risotto flew into a rage about our incompetence. He was the senior member of the department. We nodded our agreement, but this didn't seem enough for him. He towered over us. "We never accomplish anything," he shouted.

"That's never been a problem before," Dr. Lizard, our specialist on the Sixties, stated. I closed my eyes for a moment. I knew this wouldn't sit well with Risotto. In an instant, Risotto burst into flame, spontaneous combustion. I had read about this, but never seen anything like it. He flared yellow with blue tips like the flame on a gas stove.

Dr. Dockson, our white specialist on Black American Literature, rose at once, "Should we help him?" he asked, but the fire appeared under control and then this child's voice spoke in gibberish or tongues. Dr. Major emptied his water bottle on Risotto, and Risotto returned to his normal belligerent self, picking up where he left off; he didn't even seem to notice his hair was wet.

I raised my hand and got the nod to speak. "I vote we adjourn the meeting." Dr. Lizard seconded my motion, but Risotto shot back, "Not until we make a decision." Then Tatiana, our specialist in unorthodox literatures, asked if we could take a short break.

When we returned, Risotto held a cup of coffee in his hand. Our meeting was now in the fourth hour, and I didn't actually know what we were trying to decide, since we had voted to move forward on the new program several years back when it was still the new program. Risotto didn't appear angry as he stood in front of us talking informally about his new research, but when I mentioned that we might set a time limit on the meeting, he burst into flame again.

Dr. Chin inquired as to whether we might consider this a "conflagration." Lizard thought it was, but Dockson insisted that it was more like a bonfire. "I've seen some pretty big bonfires," I added. We were ignoring Risotto whose flames were now shooting sparks off into the room. A few sparks hit my arm, but didn't catch. This time, Dr. Meyers, our specialist in Food Policy and Local, Organic Literatures, emptied her BPA-free water bottle on Risotto, and now his shirt was totally soaked. He started to rant again, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

When I looked at the clock, another hour had passed. Tatiana sank down in her desk. Lizard had fallen asleep. Risotto demanded that the new curriculum committee present their new curriculum. Dr. Samsung spoke up. "I'm afraid we haven't reached consensus yet."

And once again Risotto shot into a blaze, licking the tiles off the ceiling. "I'd call that a conflagration," I said. It was a little chilly in the room so I got up and rubbed my hands together near Risotto. None of the other faculty members had any water left in their water bottles so they just chatted among themselves. The little voice again blurted out a barrage of words. Lizard said that Risotto was speaking ancient Hebrew or Aramaic. I agreed even though I had never heard either. "Whose presence is Risotto channeling?" Dr. Chin asked. Tatiana suggested that it was Yahweh. All of us looked at the conflagration in awe. Dr. Samsung and Dr. Dockson pushed the desk into it; Yahweh's voice rose in pitch, squeaking and squealing. Within moments the desk was consumed. Tatiana said that someone should take notes even if we couldn't understand what Yahweh was saying, but soon the smoke got too thick, and everyone crawled out of the room.


Bald


In the mirror, Sam Gibson touched the few filaments of hair on his head and again noted the odd bumpiness of his skull, not at all aesthetically pleasing. His hair might grow back, but it wasn't a sure thing. He slipped on his hand knit Persian stocking cap and felt much better about the way he looked.

Outside, it was hot and the wool cap itched, but he kept it on. On the corner, he saw Norma Freilich opening up her swap shop, bald as a penny. What had happened to her waves of thick hair? He caught up with her. "What happened to your hair?" he asked. "Nothing," she said, "It's been this way for a while." She had a beautiful face and beautifully shaped skull. "Isn't it a little hot to be wearing that," she pointed at his head. Sam nodded.

Next, he went to visit Stan, his only friend left from high school, a large bulky man, who managed the Stop and Pop. And Stan was bald. "I shaved my head for the summer basketball season," he said. "It's much cooler. You should try it." He popped a beer and downed it in one gulp.

Then Sam went to visit Shoshana, who had the thickest darkest hair of anyone in town and who told fortunes by staring into a bowl of Greek olive oil. Shoshana was wearing a gypsy scarf around her head. When she untied the scarf, Sam was shocked to see that she was also bald. "It's good for business," she said. With her fingers glistening with olive oil, she predicted his hair would one day grow back.

In the next two hours, Sam paid visits to a number of his friends. Jerry G was bald and so were Bonita, Liza, James, McDaff, and Morty and even Leticia, an anorexic who until recently had waist-length hair. Was the universe playing some kind of trick on him? Had some major organization created a baldness day or week? Finally, he knocked on Fez's door. Fez was wearing the same hand knit Persian cap he wore. Now he thought Fez was mocking him. "Where did you get that hat?" "The same place you did, The Iraqi Shop." Sam removed Fez's cap, and Fez removed his, twin bald heads, except Fez's filaments were more like curly threads.

Sam returned to his condo and took off his cap. In the mirror, he touched his head, searching for his few hairs, but they were gone. Then, without his cap, he went out again, but now everyone had a full head of hair.


Porkpie Hat


On a sunny Saturday on Main Street, my porkpie hat fell off and rolled away from me. "Stop," I commanded, but the hat ignored me. I ran after it, but it was too fast, rolling past the bank and the curtain place, picking up dust, pieces of donut, dog treats, rust, dropped quarters, oil, newspapers, discarded wings, and old tires.

I wanted my hat back; after all I had owned it for ten years and it was the kind of hat many of my jazz heroes wore during the 50s. As I hustled downhill after it, hoping it would come to a stop where the road splits, I heard a loud crash, the crunching of metal, horns blasting, car doors slamming. Near the Dunkin' Donuts, there was a ten-car pile up, men and women shouting at each other, raising their fists, swearing at my hat.

I saw my hat headed over 12-A and chased after it, the warm wind blowing dust in my face, clouds gathering over the mall in the distance. "Stop that hat," I shouted, but no one wanted to block the path of a runaway hat. The hat ricocheted off a white pine, knocking dead branches down over the power lines, the shops blacking out, air conditioners no longer humming.

As 12-A rose to a steep slope, the hat paused as if balancing for a moment on the tip of a feather, and then started downhill, again gathering speed. "Four," I shouted. "Heads Up," I shouted. It rammed a Humvee and took off toward the mall area." My hat was guilty of hit and run, and there had been plenty of witnesses. "Better stop that thing before it's too late," a waitress shouted.

When I ran down the hill, I passed a sub shop in ruins, red sauce all over the street, pedestrians bloodied. A man dabbed at his shirt next to a fire hydrant, and a yellow Lab limped toward the dumpster behind KFC. Now five squad cars and a helicopter were in pursuit of my hat, which made a sharp turn into the Walmart Parking lot and escaped into the store. The police surrounded the place, but suddenly everyone was wearing a porkpie hat, and not even I could tell which one was mine.


Puddle


One evening my sister Alicia complained of dizziness as she stood in front of the television, blocking my father's view. She closed her eyes, holding something inside, and swayed a bit as if listening to a folksong, as if pining for love. My father jumped to his feet, gesturing for her to move out of the way. She sniffled and snorted.

Colorful liquids began oozing out of every one of her pores. "What's wrong with her?" I asked.

"She's turned into a puddle! Mop her up," my father demanded.

"She's not a liquid," she's our daughter," my mother answered, staring into the puddle on which my sister's thick dark hair floated. I kneeled over Alicia, touching her lightly with my fingers. "She's very oily." I wiped my hand on my t-shirt, staining it.

My father turned the channel, adjusting the aerial until the fuzz disappeared, and the picture straightened out on the screen. He turned the volume knob up because he was a little hard of hearing.

For the moment, my sister held her shape as a three-foot puddle, thick enough to remain on the surface of the wood floor, but if she started to spread, she could cause some real damage.

"Do something about that mess before we get another rent hike."

My mother called her brother, Seth, a doctor who lived in the apartment directly above us. Seth came down right away, carrying his black bag. He was tall and dark like mother. Seth placed his stethoscope gently on Alicia, moving it around. "Take some deep breaths," he said. The puddle inhaled and exhaled.

He couldn't find anything wrong with her, but told us he'd call in a prescription.

"She's sick from the greasy burger she ate at lunch," I diagnosed. As he messed up my hair with his hand, he said that I just might be right, "No more burgers for a while, only boiled chicken and rice."

Now that Seth was going to call in a prescription, my mother felt much better. Seth said we should try to get her into bed. "Let's pick her up by her hair," he suggested. My mother shook her head. "She'll scream." Seth offered to give her a sedative, but my mother didn't want her to get hooked on drugs.

"Phooey," my father exclaimed.

Though Alicia often wouldn't say a word all night, my mother thought she could coax her into telling us what to do. "Honey, if you don't tell us what's wrong, how are we going to help?" Alicia wouldn't talk; instead she looked back at us without expression, reflecting our own faces in her face.

Finally, my mother decided we should just let her sleep on the floor. She turned off the television and chased us out of the living room. In my bedroom, I could hear my father and mother arguing about what to do with Alicia. "There's a place for girls like her: Aspen, Colorado."

"Shush" my mother countered, "keep your voice down." That was the last thing I heard before falling asleep.

In the morning when I awoke, all traces of my sister were gone, except a tear-shaped stain marring the shiny surface of the floorboards.


© Copyright  Jeff Friedman
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