I have a few tricks here where I am able to get a small share of beauty and escape from the steady diet of gristle and bitter wine gleefully given me by my “superiors”. I have to do it in secret, for the military man has an uncanny sense of detection concerning the arts. Not that he appreciates it; he is far beyond that in his masculinity. But if anyone in a quarter mile is reading a book over 200 pages and without pictures, or a movie being watched that was not based on Hasbro action figures or a Sunday comic strip, be sure that he will find it out. His quiver will be full of stinging barbs, and he will gleefully employ them. Even knowing the name of a play or musical is certain proof of a man’s limp-wristedness. If you put cream or sugar in your coffee you are gay. If you eat a corndog or pick up a banana to put in your corn flakes at the chow hall, you might as well be the drum major (ette?) at the West Hollywood Pride Parade, resplendent in leather chaps, a bullwhip, a pink tutu, and General McAuliffe in Arlington spinning in his grave.
On my laptop I have a video of two modern ballet dancers. Watch how they circle each other, how they move with stunning grace and fluidity, whose limbs entwine and separate, all to a mournful cello movement. This is routine for them, to surround themselves with art and beauty and even make a living from it.
I have a Korean cellist playing Haydn’s concerto finale and some Paganini variations. Her eyes dance with the conductor, urging him to keep up. She is beauty incarnate. The tempo in the “variations” decreases and she plays with such concentration and passion. Her lips gulp air in short swallows, as if forcing herself this duty.
I have Chaplin’s “City Lights”. It’s a movie not made by committee, but the vision of one man. He composed the music, he ran his own studio, and he made all the decisions. I defy you to watch that final scenewhen the formerly blind flower girl recognizes him, and not be struck down by it.
When the vintage is especially bitter and my teeth stained with the dregs, I have a secret weapon. When I hear the mushbrains wax barbaric about what they would do to that attractive girl that just walked by. Or when I feel nauseated after using the latrines, seeing the hate-filled, racist, sexually violent, illiterate scratchings on the stalls that could be mistaken for a 1937 Mississippi Klan outhouse, I go to Lai.
My hair grows slow, and I always tell her not to cut it too short, so I can come back sooner. I get off late, and I always find her still working. There’s never anyone there, so she takes her time. She’s probably 50 and from the Philippines, and like all Army barbers, she has hands of silk. She steadies your head by keeping her hand on your neck. Her clippers hum hypnotically and move in small strokes over your ears and across your nape. She eventually changes to her scissors and uses small snips and takes off a pinch of hair at a time. She uses such care and employs no rush in her trade, and you are thankful. For one year, this is the only affection you are entitled to.
When Lai finishes with her clippers and scissors, she plucks a new razor blade from the box. She puts warm shaving cream on your neck, and with small gentle movements, trims your sideburns, shaves a perfect arc over your ear, and tidies up the nape of your neck.
She finishes with a short neck massage with her warm soft hands, your too short ration of female tenderness for the half-month, and lastly, frantically musses up your hair with a laugh.
To hell with Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch, I've got Lai.