.

 

Shaving the Eyebrows

A version of this piece was originally broadcast by NPR on the 12 May 2003 edition of NPR's All Things Considered. It can be heard on their web site via RealAudio or Windows Media Player (the link is about halfway down the page).

I was paging through my trigonometry book when my roommate Mike said, “hey, watch this!” I turned to see him put a razor to his face and shave off the middle of his left eyebrow. Then, he shaved off the middle of his right.

“How's it look?” he asked. At that moment, Mr. Brown, the housefather, walked in. Mike masked his forehead with his hand.

“You got a fever, son?”

“No sir,” said Mike.

“Pull your hand down.” He breathed sharply. “Boy, you shaved your eyebrows.”

“Yes sir.”

Mr. Brown stood still for a long moment. “When you're finished homework come see me in the office.”

.  .  .  .  .  

At the Milt, our lives were chocolate and discipline. Demerits were handed out for improper hat wearing or forgetting a belt, for cursing God or the houseparent. Lord protect the child whose baseboards weren't dusted every morning, whose carpet wasn't vacuumed in a triangular pattern. We spent hours each day dusting, wiping, washing, and hosing down the driveway.

The most baroque set of rules was around hair. Mr. Brown measured our bangs to the 16th of an inch, trims could be only so tight, and sideburns had to stop at the middle of the ear. So the more skilled amateur barbers bartered with us, in whispers over dinner, for black market haircuts. Homework cheats for a fade, a buck or two for a quick trim.

Then, late at night after we were supposed to be asleep, you'd creep down to the basement to find a midnight barbershop in operation. The cut itself was done quickly, leaning over the sink, with paper towels wrapped around the clippers to muzzle the buzzing. When it was over, the evidence had to be swept, wrapped, and shoved deep into the trash can. The unauthorized haircuts needed to be obvious to peers, subtly exceeding the boundaries of what was allowed, but invisible to elders. If caught, you took your discipline and never revealed the name of your barber.

As Milton Hershey's social orphans, our clothes, housing, food, and education were paid for by America's sweet tooth. We were charity cases, always aware that open rebellion would mean getting kicked out and sent back into God knows what kind of mess. So we were only subterranean rebels, secret sinners who met our need for excitement and activity with whispers and codes.

Thus we expected the worst for Mike with his half-eyebrows, his open declaration of rebellion. When he came back from school the next day, bristle already growing on the bald spots above his eyes, I was sweeping the hallway. “What's the damage?”

“No damage,” he said. “I went in to homelife. Mr. Nally just kind of looked at me for a while and tried not to laugh. Then they got out that foot-tall rule book, the monster. But they couldn't find anything on eyebrows. So they had to let me go.”

So for him there would be no dishes, no 30 days grounded, no extra mowing, waxing, painting, raking, or scrubbing. Victory! (Of a kind. Of course his eyebrows were still bald.) But it was inspiring, that night, to go to bed thinking that, while the rest of us tried to sneak past the rules under darkness, a short fat kid with his eyebrows cleft in twain could walk right through the system, in plain daylight.


[Top]

Ftrain.com

PEEK

Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.

FACEBOOK

There is a Facebook group.

TWITTER

You will regret following me on Twitter here.

EMAIL

Enter your email address:

A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.

POKE


Syndicate: RSS1.0, RSS2.0
Links: RSS1.0, RSS2.0

Contact

© 1974-2011 Paul Ford

Recent

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

The Moral Superiority of the Streetcar. (1) Long-form journalism fixes everything. (2) The moral superiority of the streetcar. (3) I like big bus and I cannot lie. (May 4)

More...
Tables of Contents