I am smoking. I take a drag and blow the smoke out my mouth. I am not a smoker, but I am smoking because I was assured that at this particular bar smoking would enhance my chances of meeting a young woman—linking up, they call it—and getting laid. That is the mission: getting laid.
“Go to a brothel already,” my mother says. “Enough with the smoking. It will kill you.”
“A few cigarettes,” I say. But it’s been six weeks and nothing. One woman asked me for a cigarette about a week ago and seemed grateful when I gave her one, but that was it. We talked for a few minutes and then she left to go get laid with someone else.
“Don’t wear sweaters,” Bernie says. Bernie is a friend from high school. “Sweaters shout out, ‘Small Dick,’ and you’re through.”
So here I am, sweaterless in the bar, smoking like crazy, and a woman comes up to me.
“I notice you’re not wearing a sweater,” she says, touching the placket on my pink, button down, oxford cloth shirt. “Nice.”
I figure it must be working. “Cigarette?” I ask, holding up the pack of L&M. It was as if I held up a cross and she was a vampire. The woman recoils.
“L&M. Haven’t seen those in years. What kind of a guy smokes L&M?”
She doesn’t wait for an answer and turns to a wizened old man with a humped back who is dragging his left foot as he shuffles by, coughing and spitting into a rag. “Wanna get laid?” she asks him.
It is time to reassess. I go to my apartment, small but tidy, and look in the mirror hanging on the back of the closet door. Schlub is a Yiddish word usually preceded in a sentence by “Don’t be a…” But trying to provide an objective appraisal, as I look at myself, it is this word that comes to mind.
“Schlub.” This word is spoken aloud by a short, balding man wearing a vest and baggy pants, sitting at my kitchen table. He has a measuring tape hanging from his neck and a pin cushion attached to his wrist.
“Who are you? How did you get in here?” I am wary. I pick up a shoe from the closet and brandish it, trying to look as menacing as possible.
“Relax,” the man says. “Herschel Benovitz. The tailor. Your mother sent me.”
I put down the shoe. “What do you want?”
“Your mother wants I should do a makeover.”
“I wish my mother would let me live my life.”
“Wishing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Shall we begin?” He takes my measurements. “I’ll be back in a week. In the mean time, go see this barber.” He hands me a business card: ‘Colin Briskin, Tonsor. Hairdresser to the Stars.’
“Tell him Herschel sent you. He’ll know what to do.”
“Are you a married man, Mr. Benovitz?”
“Not a chance, boychick. I prefer playing the field. You may have noticed me at the bar.”
“You’re at the bar?”
“Tuesdays and Thursdays. At my age any more and I’m a dead man.”
“You’re telling me you pick up women at the bar?”
“Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Figuring what can I lose, I walk over to the barbershop. It’s a six block walk and on the way I bump into my friend Bernie. I tell him I’m going to Briskin’s barbershop.
“Briskin’s? You’ll never get in. Reservations only. A waiting list as long as your arm. How’d you hear about it?”
I tell him about the visit from Herschel Benovitz.
“Never heard of him. Sounds like a scam.”
The barbershop looks like a doctor’s office. Dark paneling, plush seats. Soft music. A woman at the registration desk tells me there is a three-month wait. Did I want to come back in January. I tell her Herschel Benovitz sent me. She pulls out a typewritten sheet from under the desk, runs her finger down a list and says, “Have a seat. Tonsor Briskin will be right with you.” Fifteen minutes later, an incredibly beautiful woman in yellow hot pants and a halter top approaches me and in a whisper says, “Mr. Chernawsky, right this way.” She leads me to a small, well appointed room with a desk and a barber’s chair. A computer monitor is on the desk. “Have a seat,” she says taking my elbow and leading me to the barber’s chair. “The tonsor will be with you momentarily.”
Briskin, dressed all in white, bursts in, grabs the young woman around the waist, draws her close and kisses her on the mouth. “That will be all, Miss Levitz.”
To me he says, “Nice, huh?”
Before I can answer, Briskin says, “So, I have read your chart and talked briefly with Herschel. I’ll just have a few photos taken and we will proceed. I understand that your efforts in getting laid have proved fruitless.” He looks at my hair and takes a clump of it in his hand. “I can see why.” He presses a button on his desk and a man with a large camera enters. “Four x, Lucca,” he says, and the photographer clicks off four photos in quick succession. Briskin grabs the man around the waist, draws him close and kisses him on the mouth. “That will be all, Lucca.” Within seconds the images appear on the computer screen. “Hmmm,” says Briskin. He grabs an electric shaver and before I know what’s happening he shaves my head bald. He hands me a mirror.
“Whoa,” I yell. “What the hell did you just do?” The whiteness of my shaved head is startling. My skull is not quite symmetrical and while my hair hid the asymmetry, my instant baldness emphasizes it.
“Mr. Chernawsky, ever since Michael Jordon became a super star, virility has been exemplified by the shaved head.” He pronounced “shaved” in two syllables. “Shave ed.”
“But Michael Jordan is a six foot six black athlete, the world’s best basketball player. I’m a five foot seven Jewish white guy in the retail trade.”
“Nonetheless,” says Briskin. “Hand this to the receptionist on your way out. It’s been a distinct pleasure meeting you. And I do hope you will let us know as soon as you score. We like to celebrate our successes.”
The bill comes to two hundred and twelve dollars. The receptionist recommends a tanning cream for my head. Another sixteen dollars. She gives me a paper hat to wear home. “Oh, and your first pack of Marlboro is on us.” What the hell. I rub the tanning cream on my head and occupy myself indoors until Herschel Benovitz delivers my new wardrobe.
“But the sleeves are too short and so are the pants,” I say.
“Of course,” Benovitz says. “The idea is to make you look taller, and by the way, I like the shaved head. That Briskin is a genius.” I try on the three suits, navy, gray and navy, the two sport jackets, navy and blue plaid, the five pair of slacks, monogrammed dress shirts, the monogrammed sports shirts, the Italian slip-ons and the camel overcoat. “Perfect,” says Benovitz. “Your mother will be very happy. Do you have a briefcase?”
He laughs when I show him my brown canvas case from Land’s End. “Sweetheart,” he says into his phone. “Bring up the black leather Tumi.” Within minutes a beautiful young woman wearing yellow hot pants and a halter top arrives with the briefcase.
“Isn’t that the woman from Briskin’s?” I ask.
“Of course not,” says Benovitz. Then he puts his arm around her waist, draws her close and kisses her on the mouth. “That will be all, Miss Levitz.”
“I could swear it’s the same woman. Even the name is the same.”
“Twins,” Benovitz says. “Now I must go. The rest is up to you. Your mother has taken care of the bill.” I am at the bar. My shaved and tanned head is gleaming. I am dressed in a dark blue sport jacket and tan slacks. The pale blue sport shirt is open at the neck. My Salvatore Ferragamo slip-ons are highly polished. I am holding a vodka martini and a Marlboro cigarette in my left hand, as a shapely blonde enters the bar. I have the distinct feeling that anything is possible.