I am still allowed in to the cave complex every Wednesday for haircuts, first Osama and then in descending hierarchical order all other men, who also get crewcuts, it’s like being the barber for a high school football team with major weaponry…”
by brian doyle
Only two men in this sweet bruised world know that Osama bin Laden, son of Alia Ghanem and Muhammad bin Laden, has under his turban a sprightly crewcut modeled on Van Johnson in the 1954 movie The Last Time I Saw Paris, which, as only a few other men know, is his favorite movie, or used to be before he had to give up electronics for various excellent reasons. I have also heard him say, more than once, as I cut his hair, that The Caine Mutiny with Van Johnson is his favorite movie, so I think we may conclude safely that his favorite movie is one in which Van Johnson is a featured player, although it may be that Osama, all due respect to the Vanster, has a thing for crewcuts rather than cinema.
Also I am here to tell you that Osama has a bald spot the size of a baby’s fist on the back of his head, shaped exactly like Iceland, complete with the Vestfjarda Peninsula to the west. He does not like to speak of this and indeed we have only spoken of it once, when I said to him, sir, you have a bald spot back here shaped like Iceland, and he said I do not, and I said, yes sir, you do, it is the size of my fist and even has the little peninsula to the west, you know, like Iceland does, and he said I do not have a bald spot, and I said, yes sir, well sir, actually yes you do, sir, it’s a big honking thing, too, and I remember learning the names of the towns in Iceland for extra credit when I was in school, many years ago, Borgarfjardharsysla and Eyjafjardharsysla and Hafnarfjordhur and Isafjordhur and of course Snaefellsnessysla-og-Hnappadalssysla, is that a cool name or what, who could forget such a name, and the fact is that your bald spot is really amazingly like Iceland complete with the Vestfjarda Peninsula to the west, so maybe we should be discussing a hair weave? Sir?
Well, after that I was forbidden to speak at all in any manner whatsoever in his presence, although I am still allowed in to the cave complex every Wednesday for haircuts, first Osama and then in descending hierarchical order all other men, who also get crewcuts, it’s like being the barber for a high school football team with major weaponry.
The other men speak to me animatedly when Himself is out of earshot getting made up for his endless film productions, and it is a great surprise to me how many of them think that Van Johnson was never more than a decent supporting player, no matter what Osama thinks, and, as they say quietly, the fact is that liking the way a guy wears his hair because you are paranoid about your hair does not make the guy the greatest actor who ever lived, no matter how vehemently you hold the opinion or think yourself a visionary in cultural or religious or geopolitical matters, because the greatest actor who ever lived is inarguably Cary Grant, although one of the men holds out adamantly for Gregory Peck, which sends the rest of them into hysterics.
One time I was doing a hurried series of crewcuts for the men, there was some film production emergency they had to attend to, something about Osama’s new combat jacket not being properly pre-rumpled for the video, and they got into the whole Gregory Peck argument, which led to a sight I will never forget as long as I live, which was seven men with crewcuts in a cave imitating that stiff wooden walk of Gregory Peck’s, you know, like in Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn, when he looks like he is auditioning to play Frankenstein or something, so anyway we were all giggling when Osama himself appeared suddenly, and for a moment we thought it was curtains for sure, whereas the Leader, all due respect, doesn’t have a single humor neuron in his body, but it turned out he thought we were trying to emulate him, and it tells you something about Osama that he thought that seven men walking like robots and sniggering like bandits were doing their level best to be as cool as he thinks he is.
Since that time I have endeavored to persuade the men that having me shave bald spots in the shape of Iceland onto their crania, complete with the Vestfjarda Peninsula to the west, would be really funny, but they have so far declined, although I have pointed out that their turbans would of course cover the spots, and it would be a collective private joke in the same vein as the occasional Gregory Peck walk they do when Osama is outside scouting suitable sets for his endless videos, but they have so far declined, although I am a man filled with hope, like old Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, when he insists that there is justice in this world against all evidence, which I believe is true, because even though I am only a barber, I know that the men who sit quietly under my clippers will someday pay for the crimes they have committed, and their leader, if they can pry him away from the video camera, will pay for the pain he has caused; and when that time comes, whether in this world or the next, I will pack my barbering tools in their supple leather case, and emerge from these caves blinking in the light, and go rent every Van Johnson movie ever made, and laugh out loud every time old Van reaches up to confirm the arrogant blade of his hair, or mugs for the camera, or tries desperately to be the hero, although he knows and we know that he is only a flickering ephemera, a creature of the dark, a thing that squirms and quails and dies when pierced by the brilliant snarl of the sun.
(art: troy dockins )
Brian Doyle is a muddled male mule who has committed eight books rather like a series of venial sins: five collections of essays, nonfiction misadventures about hearts and wine, and a collection of “proems” that the great American poet Pattiann Rogers says darkly will ruin the word poetry for ever and ever. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2007)
Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall. He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved. Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017.
More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.