Friday, April 11, 2014

Brylcreem, A Little Dab Will Do Ya

Got into a sparkling new cab this morning. The seats, dashboard and windows shined. Riding my finger along the metal detail on the passenger door, I thought, the only time my brother Rory and I were ever this clean was for one lone hour at a photography studio on Third Avenue in spring 1960.

I repel wool. I can’t even look at someone wearing it without itching. That morning, Mom made us put on wool pants and red wool vests. Having a shirt under the vest was useless. In my mind, the wool was right on my skin just like the pants. Mom scrubbed our necks and washed our ears and put Brylcreem in our hair. I hate oil on me.
On the way over, Rory was in the stroller and I was about a half block behind them trying to walk in such a way that my legs centered in the pants so there was no wool making contact with my skin. To do so, every step was calculated. Since we were late for the appointment, Mom left Rory unattended a few times to come back and drag me. When she did, Rory climbed out of the stroller and ran back towards us. Part of the trip was uphill between Second and Third Avenue and when Rory left the stroller the brake slipped. Mom had to leave us alone to run after the stroller rolling down the hill towards 2nd Avenue, off the sidewalk and into the street. Reminded me of a Western movie I had recently seen on TV’s Channel 5.

When we got there 25 minutes late, Otto the photographer was livid. His baldhead was loaded with sweat and he was breathing heavy like Mr. Fields, the landlord in the “Abbott and Costello” TV show. This didn’t stop Rory and me from having a fight over who’d ride one of those horses with four springs that you go up and down on and also get a little bit of side to side action. Mom took me off the horse in a headlock. When he saw this happen to me Rory immediately cheered up. Otto and Mom quickly combed our hair and moved us into the position.
Mom said, “Smile nice, not stupid, or I’ll kill you.” Rory, always photogenic, nailed his pose. Somehow, I didn’t screw it up. After Otto snapped the picture, I saw Mom smile and look at us like the last hour never happened.

My column this week in  Ask A New Yorker

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