Stories Everywhere

I was working with a kid this week, helping him with his homework.  He had to write a short story.  Within five minutes he had it done, a story about a cat and dog at Christmas.  As he spun the tale, all I could think was that I needed to get over myself and start doing some creative writing of my own.

I went home and started this, something I’ve been thinking about for months.  It’s fiction.

Mr. Shay

            I drove past Carl Shay today.  He was walking on the other side of the street and didn’t notice that I was watching him.  His barbershop clipper cut was way too short, and that made me sad.  Shorn like a soldier on the first day of boot camp, Mr. Shay had all of the stubble with none of that warrior pride.  I used to call him the silver fox, but today he just looked old.  I bet he didn’t pay more than five dollars for that buzz.  A walking tragedy, that’s what it was, a real shame. 

Mr. Shay use to pay me sixty bucks for my haircuts.  He was my most regular customer for over ten years.  He’d come in every three weeks, like clockwork.  His wife got him to start seeing me.  She was real regular too, but not as frequent as he was.  I’d see her about ever six week.  She’d use her French and tell me she wanted to look, “soignée.”  She told me it meant elegant.  Catherine Deneuve she was not, but pretty nonetheless, petite, blonde, and quick to smile.  Actually, she wasn’t a natural blonde; I gave her heavy highlights to hide gray roots.  She’d bounce in before her tennis lessons wearing one of those cute white skirt/shorts that they wear.  Spotless and layered with gold and diamond jewelry, I got the feeling she wasn’t all that serious of an athlete.  For a society lady, she was nice, kind of picky, but not too bad.  Mr. Shay was fussy at first, but after a while he stopped examining his haircuts with such close scrutiny and just sat there reading his Wall Street Journal.

It’s been over two years since I last saw Mr. Shay and Jenny, his wife.  They practically skipped out of town in the dead of night.  Customers who knew they were my clients would ask if I’d seen them or what had happened, and I’d repeat the story they gave me.  They told me that they were going to visit their daughter in Florida, an attorney in Boca Raton, but I knew that wasn’t the whole of it.  They owed me hundreds of dollars worth of unpaid hair services, and if they were that in debt to me, there must have been a string of folks holding their past due accounts.  They weren’t just “visiting” their daughter; I suspect they were well on their way to being homeless.  Riches to rags, it was a longtime falling, but, year after year, they just kept going down.

Jenny’s checks were the first to start bouncing.  When I called her to report the initial incident, she chuckled her way through an explanation that included the fact that Carl handled all of their money.  As if delivering the punch line of a funny joke, she said that the only thing she knew about their checking account was how to write checks, but she wasn’t joking.  That was the beginning of her saying that he’d take care of it, and then he’d say she was supposed to handle it.

They were still coming in regular as you please, as if there was no problem with their cash flow, but almost every other check they wrote to me came back marked “Non-sufficient funds.”  At first they acted outraged by the bank’s ineptitude; it was all a misunderstanding with the bank.  Then they started paying for their services with credit cards, but when those maxed-out, they went back to writing checks.  With much chagrin, they’d ask me to hold them until they were sure to clear.  I played along with their song and dance, tag-team routine for, I’d say, five years.  They were good customers; I always got paid…eventually.

Over the years, the financial strain on Mr. Shay was far more apparent on him then it was on his wife.  I worried that he would drop dead of a heart attack under the pressure.  She refused to give up her art studio or her gym membership.  He had to keep getting his regular haircuts because he had to uphold a certain pretense of success in order to stay in the high-stakes business dealings that he was involved with.  I never knew exactly what he did, but he’d occasionally fly to Brazil, South Korea, and South Africa for meetings.  It sounded like he negotiated big, moneymaking deals, but again and again he wasn’t getting paid.  His accounts were stringing him along, so he had to string me along.  Mr. Shay really should have been retired, but he couldn’t quit because so many lucrative transactions were still on the table.  We all thought that surely, soon, these business partners would finally pay up, and we’d all get a payday, me in the hundreds, Mr. Shay in the millions.

That day never came.  I kept tolerating late payments and expecting his ship to come in.  Meanwhile I began to notice that the stiff collars of his Brooks Brothers shirts were becoming frayed.  His cashmere pullovers where threadbare at the elbows.  His pressed khaki pants flapped in the wind as he walked, and his bony knees revealed themselves only when he’d sat cross-legged.  His normally thick head of hair was thinning.  The laugh lines at his temples were crosshatched by even deeper wrinkles caused by endless worry and fatigue.  I heard about the couple selling their house and becoming renters.  I heard about selling one of their two cars.  I remember the day Jenny announced with a combination of amusement and shame that she had discover “the dark side,” thrift stores.  The last couple of holiday seasons, they were serving food at the local community center.  It was so much nicer to serve than to be served.

Shortly before I stopped seeing Mr. And Mrs. Shay, he gravely asked a favor of me.  He asked if he could borrow a couple hundred dollars because he absolutely had to fly to Los Angeles to collect on a minor account.  He promised that he would return the loan as soon as he got back because, this time, he was sure to be paid.  He was sick to have to ask, and in fact, tears were in his eyes.  I couldn’t imagine how tapped-out that gentleman had to be if he was asking his hairdresser for money.  Handing him the loan, I became truly frightened for the first time.  When he didn’t contact me by the end of that week, I wondered what was going on.  I questioned whether any of his business dealings were real.  I thought about Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman and David Mamet’s film Glengarry Glen Ross, both depicting men who lost sight of reality while in pursuit of financial and professional gains.  I wasn’t dealing with a casino gambler, but I may have loaned money to a man who was hooked on business gambits that never paid off.  I couldn’t loan him any more money.  I didn’t mind fronting him for hairdressing services, but handing over cash was never going to happen again.  His dreams had drained their bank account, I couldn’t let them drain my own.

And then they left town.  They said it was only going to be for a month.  It wasn’t a month, two months, or six months.  It was two years.

For a brief moment this morning when I laid eyes on my debtor, I optimistically thought that he’d come back to make things right.  Watching him for the few seconds as traffic moved, I could see he was in no shape to pay off his debts.  I could have pulled over and talked to him, but I didn’t.  I knew him to stride across a room; what I saw was a man shuffling, his barber clipped head bowed, his eyes cast to the ground.  It was a tragedy, a crying shame.

I hope his ship comes in.      

So that was satisfying to get written.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Earlier in the week I was hiking with my husband.  We stopped for a moment and discover something we otherwise never would have seen.  Isn’t it fantastic that somebody took the effort to make another person smile.  This is so silly.  I love it.

Have a great week, and I’ll post again next Friday.


4 Responses to “Stories Everywhere”

  1. Tami Casias says:

    Great job Terry. It’s nice to get something off your mind, isn’t it? I can’t wait to have my sequel to Crystal Bound off my plate (so I can finish book three!)
    Looking forward to your next piece.
    You can still find me at

  2. Dick Jordan says:

    Nifty little story, Terry.

    I normally don’t write fiction, but here’s a link to part 3 of 3 (with links to the first two parts) of a story that I wrote for a class taught by Patricia Volonakis Davis: “Road Food”

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