The Alchemy Ball

In which Citizen Jim arrives in need of a ride and some reassurance from Chicken Sheets, who can offer neither at this time.

The last thing I wanted to be doing at 11:00 on a wet, dreary Saturday morning was scrambling to find a ride to work.

It all started on Wednesday when the front end of my car was shimmying and shaking so much that it felt like the wheels were going to fly off in opposite directions and leave me stranded on the four-lane highway with a detached steering wheel in my hands.

What I thought was going to be a simple front-end alignment turned into an automotive nightmare from which I still had not awakened four days later. The mechanic had assured me my car would be ready on Friday morning. Then he swore it would be ready by Friday evening.

Despite these promises, I started my weekend without transportation. Unfortunately, none of my friends had anticipated this emergency of mine, and they had not planned ahead for it.

Suffice to say I was never happier to hear violent pounding on my front door followed by a man’s voice yelling, “Hurry the hell up and answer this goddamn door before it starts raining again!”

Surely Citizen Jim would give me a ride to work! Since I loved him more than anyone! I was so lucky to call him my best friend in the world!

I rushed to the door and flung it open.

“It’s lucky for you this wig didn’t get ruined!” said Citizen Jim, pointing at his head with one hand and shoving me aside with the other.

I followed him into the bathroom, where he stood before the mirror cursing a blue streak and fussing with what looked like a very old, not-gently-used hair-piece.

“I need you to do me a huge favor,” I said.

“That’s a nice hello to someone paying you a friendly surprise visit,” said Citizen Jim.

“Hello,” I said, trying not to sigh or roll my eyes or bounce from foot to foot with impatience. I didn’t want to get him all wound up right before I asked him for a favor.

Unfortunately, I could tell that train had already pulled out of the station.

As he left the bathroom and turned the corner to head toward my kitchen, he said, “And don’t you dare say anything about how my friendly surprise visits are never friendly even though they’re surprising but rarely in a good way,” he said, “or I’ll give you such a fat lip you’ll need a car with two driver’s seats!”

I saw that as a perfect segue way. “Hey, can you give me a ride to work?”

“Why do you need a ride? Where’s your damned car?”

“It’s been in the shop for the last few days,” I said. “It’s taking longer than they thought it would.”

“I’m surprised that piece of shit still cranks,” he said. “You need to get another car.”

I sighed. “You’re right, but I guess I can’t stand the thought of having a car payment and more expensive insurance—”

“I didn’t say you needed to buy a car,” he said, “you just need to get another one. Hell, you could look up some videos on YouTube and figure out how to hotwire any damned car parked outside the dress shops downtown at noon during the week.”

“I’ll keep that in mind if I feel like I want to spend a few years taking it easy in prison,” I said.

“And anyway, I was gonna ask you if you’d give me a ride,” he said.

“Why do you need a ride? How’d you get here?” I asked.

“If you ask me one more stupid question, I’m gonna riddle you this!” he said, making a fist and waving it under my nose.

I really, really hated the way he framed this threat because I was dying to know why he was wearing a toupee. I thought it was worth being punched just to ask the question I really wanted the answer to.

“Did the rest of your hair finally fall out?” I asked.

Instead of slugging me, he shrugged. “Well, see, the thing is, I made a bet with some guy, and whoever lost the bet had to shave his head,” he said.

“I take it you lost?” I said, reaching out to touch his head. He smacked my hand and bared his teeth at me.

“No, I won the bet! But the other guy was so mad about having to shave his head that he ambushed me outside the diner where my wife and I eat breakfast every Saturday morning! He had to chase me a couple blocks but he finally caught me and took to my scalp with a double-edged safety razor right there on the sidewalk!”

“Wow,” I said.

“I know! Who carries around a double-edged safety razor in broad daylight?”

“Actually, when I said ‘Wow’ I meant, ‘Wow! That’s a pretty elaborate lie he’s made up to avoid telling me the truth.'”

Citizen Jim grabbed a handful of fake hair and scowled at me. “I’d rip this thing off and throw it at you, but it’s glued on pretty good,” he said, wincing as he tried to lift it.

“So you did lie?”

“No!” he said.

“Are you still lying?” I asked.

Citizen Jim made slits of his eyes and said, “Oh, I see! It’s okay for the President to lie every time he opens his mouth, but I can’t tell two little white lies about why my wife made wear this stupid piece of raccoon hide on my head?”

I tried not to let it out, but my laughter refused to stay in. “Your wife? Why would your wife—”

“To get me back!” he said.

I pulled myself together and tried to straighten my face. “What happened, Precious Lamb?” I asked.

“Well, I’m always the last to know everything! So of course my wife didn’t bother to tell me about the annual Alchemy Ball until it was too late,” he said. “So. There! Are you satisfied, now?”

No. No, I wasn’t. “You still haven’t told me the truth,” I said.

“Oh, fine! Fine!” he said, and began pacing the length of my kitchen as he admitted to me myriad dissatisfactions with his appearance and all his insecurities about his masculinity and his fears that one day his wife would wake up and decide she didn’t want to be married to an old man anymore.

“I won’t pretend to think you could possibly understand what I’m talking about. I mean, you let yourself pork up and then just waved goodbye to your sex drive when it flew out the window,” he said. “I guess so you could go looking for hot flash pills.”

“Let’s concentrate on you and that thing you have taped to your head,” I said.

“I told you it’s glued on, not taped!” he shouted, taking another handful of his hair-piece and making a face as he tugged at it. “Anyway, I thought maybe I should do what I see a lot of guys doing once they lose most of their hair. So I shaved my head.”

I said nothing.

“It may seem like shaving a head isn’t much different than shaving a face, but I found out the hard way it isn’t as easy as it looks! I came out of the bathroom with my noggin cut in a thousand places, blood streaming down my face and onto my neck, little hairs stuck in my mouth, nose, ears, and eyes! It was horrible.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, shaking my head.

“Yeah. Since that ball was one of those fancy dress-up things, my wife said she would be too embarrassed to take me with my head all nicked up and scabby,” he said. “And. So. You know the rest.”

I did not. “No, I don’t know the rest. I’m assuming you decided to get a toupee to cover your disfigurements?”

“No, my wife decided I needed the toupee. And to get me back for looking like a creepshow before her big event she said she had to pick it out,” he said. “That’s why we ended up going to a taxidermy shop to get me a wig instead of going online and ordering something nice from Hairbro.”

“Geez, I guess she really was pissed off,” I said.

He stomped his foot. “Don’t act so shocked to find out a human female can be just as mean and spiteful as a female cat! As if you women weren’t the ones who invented that shit,” he said.

“So how did it end up? With the ball and everything?”

“No clue,” said Citizen Jim. “After all that, she still wouldn’t take me. In fact, she said she wasn’t going to be seen with me until I grew back my natural hair.”

“Well, do you want to share an Uber?” I asked. “I have to get to work somehow and I can’t afford to pay for a ride on my own.”

He pulled a five-dollar bill out of his jeans pocket and showed it to me. “This is all the money I have in the world and I need to go buy some Goo Gone. If I don’t get this stupid hair-piece off my head, my hair won’t grow back and I’ll never get to show off my trophy wife again,” he said as he opened the door to leave.

“Yeah, you’ve got a tough life,” I said, grabbing my umbrella and walking outside with Citizen Jim.

“I guess we’ll hafta hitchhike!” he said. “No thanks to you!” Yes. I am the worst.