Here, you want a silly haircut? You’d better be able to stand tall with the 15-year-old kids who just got let out of P.S. whatever and who can’t WAIT to hurl insults at you. There’s not valet parking here, my blonde-tipped friend with your sequined-patch-covered jeans.
Erica remarks, "My green-mohawked-ass-self could have told you this when I was 13." True. You had also better be prepared to stand up for yourself to the utmost. I had many a silly haircut in many an angular arrangement and many a funny color. Fall asleep on the subway and some kid on the platform is going to punch the window you’re leaned against so you jolt awake and he busts out laughing. That’s when you point out that his boyfriend seems impressed.
Other circumstances are less predictable. Mom, stop reading.
This one time I was around 16 and trying to catch what was then the D train back to Flatbush at Atlantic Avenue, drunk, high, exhausted, orange liberty spikes falling back down to earth, probably around one or two in the morning. If you think that platform is unreliable at that hour for what’s now the Q train (I do not recognize the Q’s legitimacy), I assure you, in 1996 it was worse. So I’m keeping my hard-stare on my face, waiting for the train, wishing I was asleep.
An elderly Spanish lady comes up to me. Chu… chu… chu hair — she starts pantomiming liberty spikes by pulling her clasped thumb and forefinger up from her scalp in crazy directions — chu hairrrr… And I’m like, yeah yeah, my hair. I don’t want to say anything nasty because she’s an old lady, but I also don’t feel like having this conversation at this hour. But then God plays dice with the universe. Chu hair… es beautiful, she says.
Aw, thank you, ma’am. That’s sweet of you to say. She continues. Des hombres with the… with the — now she pantomimes hair flowing down her shoulders — with the, the long… no es macho. I kind of agree, though I’m in no position to cast aspersions on another man’s masculinity. It’s quite possible that evening/morning I was wearing my favorite pair of bright patchworked-checkered pajama pants, which I festooned with homemade Crass and Conflict patches and considered a poor man’s bondage pant. Did I mention they were my mother’s pajamas? So I just nodded.
Maricones, she insisted, her nose wrinkled like something smelled sour. In case you don’t know, "Maricone" means "Faggot." She continued: Maricones… like Dominicans.
Another thing New York teaches you is to stay out of the Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic feud whenever possible. As it happens, a good friend of mine — who, chances are, I would have been drinking with that evening — is half-Dominican, so I opted not to say anything. Meanwhile, a train arrived across the platform, heading toward Manhattan, and my new Puerto Rican patron saint smiled at me and indicated she was about to say good night. I smiled back and she tottered toward it, saying, finally, Puerto Rico…