The Barber’s Son

His father was a barber.

Joey Bowman, his father was a barber and actually owned a barbershop in Placerville, California. Placerville used to be called “Old Hangtown”, to mark the times when they used to hang people for various minor crimes back in the time that gold was discovered at Sutter’s Fort and the real settling of Northern California began.

We had a history, Joey and I. We had gone to school together off and on from 3rd grade to 8th. His family would have the occasional contact with mine because of some altercation or other at school and while things were always smoothed over and nothing too lasting ever came from our encounters, there was a constant sense of tension between me and Joey. It was clear we were never going to be friends, not a chance in hell of that.

So, it was a simple matter for me when my cousin Maria began getting picked on by Joey in 8th grade. It started with name calling and him being a general asshole to her whenever he had the chance. At first it was thought that maybe Joey just had a crush on her, and it was his sad way of making it known to her (assuming of course that he still thought he was in the 3rd grade). But then things escalated and Joey began bumping into her as they passed each other, and not friendly bumps mind you, but violent ones that not only hurt her but scared Maria. And then his name calling and pestering got more offensive and cruel.

Joey would wait for her after school, simply to taunt her as she walked the quarter mile of road that they had to share on the way home. He would call her names, insult her family and comment on the color of her skin. Joey seemed to like the fact that Maria was Mexican, and that he was a white boy, like this difference made him better and gave him the right to treat her as if she was less than he was. And then there came the insults to her gender, how she couldn’t stop him because she was just a girl and helpless, unable to defend against him. More often than not Maria rushed home as fast as she could, so that she could hide in her room and pretend to ignore the fact that Joey Bowman even existed.

It was one of those days that I walked over to my aunt’s house to visit my little cousin, Maria. It was one of those days that as I knocked on her door, I could hear her crying stop and her sniffle as she said for me to hold on a minute. Her request for me to hold on went ignored as I opened the door and saw her wiping the tears away from her face.

I sat next to her on the bed and gave her a hug as I asked what had happened to make her cry. She said “nothing” of course, pretended like it was something for me to not worry about but I knew there was something going on and we both knew I was going to get the answer out of her one way or another. So, I persisted and started asking specific questions about her day until she finally stopped me and told me what happened that day after school with Joey.

I had already knew about Joey’s attentions toward my cousin and had told her that I would leave things alone until she needed me. Maria wasn’t the type to accept unsolicited help, too proud for that; male cousins, brothers and a Mexican mentality had made her more than capable of handling her own problems most of the time. But this time was different, this time the problem was systemic and Joey had worked his way under Maria’s skin. She could suffer through the situation but she could not bring herself to change it. That was my job, it was my turn to step in and set things straight with my long time adversary.

So it was, a few days later, as lunch was soon coming to an end and Maria was with her usual group of friends at one end of the football field that the students all hung out on during our daily social period. Joey was standing on the top of the embankment that marked one side of the field, he stood near the 8th grade bathrooms, calling out to Maria.

“Hey Maria, did you have beans and rice for lunch today? Have you found a soap that takes away the smell of tortillas yet? Do you ever worry about being deported?”

I was down the hall from Joey, his back turned to me. I knew the routine and it was no secret where Maria and her friends usually hung out. Joey would wander down that way as lunch wore on, trying to find a way to occupy his attention and cure his boredom, he would spot Maria and call out to her. After making sure he had her attention the taunting would begin. It would start out like it did today, but as she ignored him it would start getting more abusive. I knew I had to step in before he got to far into his own head.

“Hey! Joey, come here for a second.”

I knew the way the sunlight came down the hallway that he wouldn’t be able to clearly make me out, but I knew he would recognize my voice. Even back then people remembered my voice before they remembered me.

“Shawn? What’s up?”

“Come here Joey, we need to talk.”

Now, the thing is, while Joey and I had never gotten along and had had problems for years, we had never gotten physically violent with each other, so he had no reason to fear me. We usually yelled at each other, made threats and attracted enough attention for some authority figure to come over and stop us from actually having to hit each other. So, Joey walked toward me without seeming to have much to worry about.

“Lunch is almost over, what do you want?”

The tone of his voice firmed my resolve and while I already had a pretty good idea of what I was going to do to him, I knew now that I wanted to hurt him today. I wanted to let him know that Maria was off limits and that the dynamic between him and I had been changed in such a dramatic way that he had better cross the street if he saw me coming.

He stepped close enough for me to reach out and touch him before I had a chance to voice a response. I took that opportunity to communicate physically rather than vocally. I reached my hand out and felt it wrap around Joey’s throat before I knew exactly what I was doing. With my hand around his throat I turned his body, in mid-step, toward the brick wall of the 7th grade science room and made sure that he knew his head was not nearly as hard as the brick behind him.

After hearing the sound of his head making contact with the wall, I stepped into Joey and felt my knee make contact with his testicles. I felt the weight of his body resting on my hand still around his throat as I pulled my knee away and I held him there, knowing that I had to keep him standing or I would start kicking him where he collapsed on the concrete.

“You need to stop Joey, my cousin isn’t the object of your abuse anymore and if I hear or see you talking to her or near her I am going to fucking kill you. Do you understand, you little bitch? Leave Maria alone, leave her friends alone and stay the fuck away.”

I slammed his head into the wall to emphasize my points, the smack of his head against the wall echoed in the hallway. By this time Maria and her friends were standing at the opposite end, they were watching as Joey tried to get loose so that he could slide to the ground. Seeing them watching, I shoved my knee one more time between Joey’s legs and felt soft flesh give way to hard bone. I let go of his throat as I pulled my knee away and let him collapse in a ball, moaning as the bell rang and people started making their way to classes.

Nothing more happened to Maria, not for the rest of that year or the four next years they went to school together. He kept his distance and avoided her. The school never knew what happened and his family never contacted mine. The message sent was clear.

I saw Joey years later, I recognized him. He was a funny looking kid and became a funny looking adult. I knew who he was the moment I saw him standing at the bar. My wife and I were up in Placerville visiting my family and stopped in at “Liar’s Bench” for a drink when I saw him. I walked up to him and standing next to him I order two drinks. We looked at each other and nodded. There was no glimpse of recognition in his eyes and he made no gestures to indicate that I was anything more than a stranger to him.

“Hey Joey, another beer?” The bartender asked as he changed the channel on the television.

“Yeah, I think I could do with another.” He said as he smiled and leaned back on his stool.

“One of those days?” I asked him, wondering if he would respond.

“Another day, another dollar.” Was his response, coupled with a smile.

We had been enemies for 5 years, I had left such an impression on him that he avoided a girl he had gone to school with his entire life on threat of being killed. We had spent more time face to face in our childhood years than most kids spend with their parents during that same time. And yet I stood next to him at a bar, spoke to him, and he had no idea who I was.

I am forgettable, I am the guy you see at the grocery store that you cannot recall when you get home. I am the guy that holds the door open for you at the library that you never again think about. I am the person that you live next door to but can never remember having seen. I am faceless, I am nameless and while my voice may stir something in your mind, I am the guy that can beat your head into a wall back in Jr. High but eludes memory the next time you see me.

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