AKA "The Fire"
[This was originally posted at my site, but got eaten by the Typepad Gods sometime in the middle of the night.]
So, it's 1988. I'm newishly out-of-school, newly escaped from Ziff, slinging $12 classified ads at the local alt-weekly. Although I have the entire week off between Christmas and New Year's, I decide to stay in Bland-Diego instead of going home for the holidays. Besides, you gotta sling a whole lotta of $12 classifieds to be able to afford to both put enough gas in your orange '67 "Cuomo 88" personalized license-plated VW Squareback to make the trip up the 99 and get an $80 spiral perm at Ralph's Hair Place in Hillcrest. I don't have enough dough for both. Naturally, I opt for the perm ... which also means that I'll have the extra coin I won't have to invest in presents for family, to invest in a Christmas Fete for my friends.
It's Christmas Eve and I'm sitting in "the chair" at Ralph's. For five hours. Unless you've had 2.5-3 feet of hair wound around hundreds of 3-foot long curling tubes, you have no concept of the twin anguishes of pain and tedium I'm experiencing. The Patchouli/clove-cigarette-soaked-Siouxsie-clone who's doing my "do" tries to make the situation more palatable by choosing the shop's tunes. Hmmmm. And I'm thinking, How many times can one hear How Soon Is Now? without committing mass murder with a pair of pink razor shears?
It's Christmas Day and my hair is cool. [Okay ...cool for '88.] Well worth the sacrifice. My roommate, Fernando, leaves the house early because he's going to spend the morning with his momma and his boyfriend. Also, cool. Because now I won't have to listen to the original Broadway cast of Into the Woods for the next several hours. So, I get to prepping the Christmas Fete for my friends. We're having turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce ...you know, all the accoutrements. And I've got most of the day to myself to get the job done.
So, I'm peeling, chopping, buttering, sautéing, and stuffing. I preheat the oven --an old Wedgwood. 20 minutes go by and I reckon the oven is preheated enough that I can shove the bird in. I open the oven door and notice it's cold. The pilot light must have gone out and now I need to re-light it and wait another 20 minutes for the preheating procedure. As you do, I grab the box of matches we keep on top of the stove for such circumstances, strike the match and ....
I'm standing in my kitchen. In shock. I smell something strange. It smells like a really hot blow-dryer in here. I look down at my bare forearms and notice they're red. My face feels tingly. But really, I'm more obsessed with this strange smell. Okay, the smell is getting worse. Then, in a flash, I realize my hair is on fire. I run into the bathroom, jump in the shower --clothes and all-- and blast myself with cold water. Ah, that's better.
Okay. I'm thinking, What just happened? I think I'm in shock. I think the oven just exploded. I think I'm burned. And maybe, pretty badly.
I'm sitting on my bed, dripping wet, and thinking, I've got to go to the hospital. What should I wear? I linger there, thinking about what I should wear to the hospital, for 10-15 minutes. It finally dons on me that it's more important for me to get to the hospital ASAP than for me to sit around thinking about what I'm going to wear.
How will I get to the hospital?
Then, the pain. Un-fucking-imaginable pain. I start to cry. And now it hurts worse. Because salty tears and open wounds on your face don't mix. Okay, I've got to get to the hospital right fucking now.
I run back into the bathroom to grab a wet towel to hold over my face while I drive myself three blocks to the hospital. And for the first time, I notice myself in the mirror. My eyebrows are gone. My eyelashes are gone. All but four or so of my new curly locks are gone. And all four of the surviving locks are on the left side of my head. My face, chest and arms are lobster-red and starting to blister. Fucking hell.
I run out the front door of my Park Blvd. apartment in dripping wet clothes and a wet towel wrapped around my face, leaving the door wide-open, and head down the street to find the Cuomo-mobile. Where the fuck did I leave that car? I find the car, get to the hospital and am immediately seen by the third rate med student who has to work the emergency room on Christmas Day.
[If you've never been to the emergency room on Christmas Day, count your blessings. The waiting room provides enough fertile material for an entire post all on its own.]
The med student is freaking. Why is he freaking? He gets a full-fledged doctor to examine me. Stat! Full-fledged doctor examines my eyes and throat first, which perplexes me because my eyes and throat don't hurt. Full-fledged doctor wants to give me a tetanus shot. I start to cry. Which hurts like hell. Because tears and open wounds on your face don't mix. But, I suck it up and get the shot. Because I'm afraid of getting some deadly face disease from the dregs of humanity waiting in the emergency waiting room.
The full-fledged doctor also gives me drugs. Boy, these drugs are working fast. He gives me instructions to go with a bottle of extra drugs he gives me. But I'm not listening. Because I'm drugged. And exhausted. And sleepy.
Full-fledged doctor tells me I have to wait in the waiting room until somebody can pick me up. But there's nobody to pick me up. It's Christmas Day. So, I wait around just long enough for full-fledged doctor to forget about me and I head out the door to drive myself the three blocks home.
I manage to get home without further injury, even though I'm drugged, probably because it's Christmas Day and no one else is on the road. Except for the dregs of humanity on their way to the emergency room.
Now I'm home. I drop on the couch, front door still wide-open, and remain there, passed out, until my Christmas Day Fete friends show up for their Fete. They walk through the still wide-open front door, bypass my passed-out carcass on the couch, to find a raw turkey on the floor of the kitchen. They notice the smell of burnt hair. They finally notice my carcass on the couch. They shake me. When I finally open my eyes, the shock I notice on their faces makes me cry. Which hurts like hell. Because salty tears and open wounds on your face don't mix.
We quickly decide to ditch the Christmas Day Fete. And my friend Joe-Jerry says, "Why don't we go to the movies?" Which I'm up for. Because it's dark in the movie theater and no one will see me. In deference to my malady, they ask me to pick the flick. But I don't give a shit at this point.
So we head out the door to the local calendar theatre to see Salaam Bombay! It's a very sad movie about poor orphans, prostitutes and other dregs of humanity living in India. Which sucks. Because salty tears and open wounds on your face don't mix.