For several years, I was afraid to use hair gel. Then one day, I used it. It was a Tuesday--practice for Friday night when I would light it up on my own. See, I'd been beating around the bush, calling it toy names. "Hair gel-o, harrrrrrrr jells, hairy mary." Didn't make sense. All to deflect my discomfort with what happened years earlier. Why wouldn't I want to slop up the do like Dean? Ride in a Harley and scurry across the country with nary a care to my name? Now with the grease gooped in my mane, I was the main event, ready to stride down the boulevard and kick ass.
All this trepidation started when I when I was thirteen. My brother Roddy was a high school senior and a bit of a ladies' man. By bit of a ladies' man, I mean this was the type of guy that didn't have posters of supermodels or supercars on his wall because he didn't even remember what his own room looked like. I loved Roddy, wanted to be Roddy. He could swindle my parents into giving him their car, cash, and even bake him a cake to go for a road trip to an inner city crack den. Not that he did crack. No, Roddy smoked people.
"Cal, you done with the bathroom yet? I have to haul out for this girl. You wouldn't believe the mouth on her."
I jumped, then barricaded the door with two washcloths. Like that would stop him. I had just smeared his hair gel in my scalp. "Almost out, Roddy."
"Alright, bro. Look, I'll time you. We'll make it fun. If you get out in time, I won't pound you into burger. You like games, right?"
"Yeah, love games, Roddy."I frantically tried to wash it out under the faucet. I banged my head, felt like I dented my brain. But it wouldn't come out. It was like the Venom symbiote bonded to me and wouldn't disjoint from my head without some heavy coercion.
"Cal, I'm going to tell mom I found you in there with porno mags if you don't hurry your ass up. I'm not gonna be late because my dumbass younger brother took too long in the can tweezing his nips--"
"Roddy, Roddy, just come in, okay." I unclicked the lock.
He opened the door. I was leaning over the sink, still trying to wash. Roddy started laughing like the time he saw my parents tell me there was no Santa. Bad memories.
I punched him right in the gut. His head jerked down and bonked into mine and my head bounced off the bottom of the sink. We both limply lifted our heads.
"Cal, you dumb nutella-loving--whoa, you alright?"
I knew it wasn't good if he stopped mid beratement to check my well-being. I had a huge gash above my right eye. "Holy no."
"Shit, mom and dad are gonna freak."
"Yeah, they're gonna freak." I had to think fast. "Look, just take me to the hospital. You have dad's insurance card, right?"
"Good. So let's go."
"Maybe we should just bite the bullet here."
"No. Because you know about dad and hairgel."
"He never told you? I thought that's why you always hid it inside your guitar case. Look, when he was a kid, his parents caught him using gel and they thought he was some depraved devil worshipper ready to sacrifice a virgin to the altar or something. Crazy religious shit."
Roddy looked at me like I'd just claimed I found a subterranean route to China. "Why would he tell that to you and not to me?"
"Because he told it to me a few months back when Mom, me, and him were visiting cousin Andy in North Carolina and you faked sick on the trip so you could make out with that Jennifer girl in the hammock for three days straight."
"So I'm fucked and you're fucked is what you're saying."
"Fucked. He'll crucify us. But I have to take care of this gash, plus I'm sure they know how to get hair gel out at the hospital."
"I know how to get the gel out, but look, take some of it from your hair and plug your cut with it. Let's go right now." Roddy started lacing up my Nikes for me.
The gel in the gash burned and made my head feel bulbous and sour, like a ruptured quiche. Mom and dad were outside on the patio, soaking up the last ounces of summer twilight and their mojitos. We snuck out and fired up their Volkswagen Cabrio. I tapped a "hurry the hell up" rhythm on the passenger side armrest.
"Hey, I need to make a stop at the pharmacy on the way to the hospital."
"You serious, Roddy?"
"We have time if I hurry. Not like you're actually dying. Man up, bitch."
He was going to do what he wanted to do. It was okay, I guess. "Hey, at least drop the convertible."
"Yeah, yeah, as we go." Roddy pulled out of the driveway and headed down the long road out to the main street. We lived inside a richly forested suburban development, secluded.
He started to fiddle with the convertible top controls, but they were stuck.
Roddy drove fast, but that night he drove faster. Faster and faster. He wanted to handle the car like Speed Racer, but he was more like Fred Flintstone.
"Slow down, man." At the bend right before Lagrange Ave, my brother didn't slow down. Until he saw the deer parked in the middle the road. He swerved and the car flipped. Rolled and rolled and rolled into the front yard of someone with garden gnomes and pink flamingoes. One flamingo got lodged in the radiator grille. We both blacked out.
At the hospital, my brother and I were in beds adjacent and our parents stood there talking to the doctor. I heard her say, "you're very lucky. Your two boys only narrowly survived the crash. The hair gel they were wearing formed a protective helmet and mitigated some of the skidding when the vehicle slid on its top. Very lucky indeed to have their brains still inside their heads."
Dad was furious. Mostly because he couldn't even tell the story to his parents since they might bully him to sending us both to parochial school.
Even though hair gel saved our lives, it also catalyzed the whole damned debacle.