Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Alopecia part two/three


Crossing Brooklyn using public transportation is terrible, so I called a taxi. In Brooklyn, cab drivers give you a flat rate instead of just turning on the meter which means that you really have to know how much you are willing to pay before you climb in. When my cab arrived I hopped right in and told the driver I was headed to Bushwick. He told me it would cost twenty two dollars and, after a bit of haggling, I told him twenty two dollars would be fine. Smiling at his victory, he pulled the car away from the curb.


I looked out the window at the dark streets sliding past, thinking about the magic of New York, the seductive and dangerous idea of the place. "At Seventeen" was playing softly in the background. It's interesting how few people know who Janis Ian is. I didn't until my wife worked with her. She was born in New York I think.


"Where are you from?", the driver asked, sensing my fascination with the city. He was very warm and kept glancing up at the rearview mirror to look me in the eye. "I'm from Boston right now", I told him, "But I came to visit some friends in New York  for the weekend because my wife and I are moving to LA."
"Oh that's great", he said, "I love LA. You know, I was just there for a conference!"
"Are there taxi driver conferences?" I thought. It sounded interesting. "Oh yeah? What kind of conference was it?", I asked.
"It was an alopecia conference." 
Alopecia sounded so familiar. Was it a taxi company? A chocolate? It sounded like a chocolate. A chocolate from switzerland filled with hazelnut cream. 


"I think I like those", I said.
"Oh", he said, "It's when you lose all your body hair." He laughed and began slowing down and easing toward the shoulder of the highway we had just turned onto. "I mean everything. Arm hair, chest hair, eyebrows, everything." 


He clicked on the overhead light and shoved a bare arm back through the opening in the plexiglass barrier. "Here see?" He said, eyes on the road but still slowing. He began groping around for me in the back seat. "Feel this! Not a single hair on it! Bald as a baby!"
I grabbed his forearm, tentatively cradling it in my hands, starring wide eyed at the lack of hair. It was completely smooth.
"Oh wow", I said. I began to stroke his arm absently with one hand.


The car crunched to a halt and he shut it off.
He turned around in his seat and forced his upper body up through the gap in the partition, joining his arm. It was a very small opening.
"Yeah, see? no eyebrows either!" He said, cheerfully trying to gesture at his face in the close confines. "At these conferences we all get together and give each other support. We're like one big family, we help each other get through the trauma of hairlessness. I mean, it's not so bad for a dude, but if you are a chick and one day lose all your hair? It can be traumatic. So we do what we can for one another." He winked at me still holding his arm. "That mainly involves going to bars, getting drunk, and telling stories."


His face was very close to mine.
I pictured a hotel full of bald people.
Traffic flew by us on the left.
"Wow", I said.  I don't think either of us blinked for a few minutes. We just gazed absently into each others eyes in silence. Him, shoulders hunched, squeezed halfway through the partition, and me, breathing loudly through my mouth, holding his arm in my hands.
"Yeah", he said profoundly, and sighed hot air into my face. 


More traffic flew past.
Then he gently pulled his arm back and wriggled his upper body through the partition. He started the car and accelerated slowly back onto the highway.
"I got alopecia when I was 28", he said.
"Holy shit!" I said, "I'm 28!"
"Yeah? It can happen just like that!" He snapped his fingers.
He dropped me off and I didn't expect to see him again.

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