Male bonding at times borders on the idiotic. If a bonding session occurs over pitchers of beer and sporting events then things have at least a 50% chance of getting ridiculous. If you add one or two other key ingredients then there’s also a possibility that someone will go home with a mohawk.
image from Adam McMahon
I hadn’t seen Ike in a few weeks. He would often go on what he termed sabbatical, which was hysterical coming from a guy who hadn’t worked in years. His absences were generally spawned by some article he read, some festival he heard of or some fantastic story of depraved adventure someone shared with him. I have been sucked into multiple forays into the absurd, most recently for Goat Fest in Tennessee to see a fainting goat and listen to ‘real’ country music. While away he might meet some people and set up residence for a few weeks. The kid was a nomad.
So, upon the return of the prodigal son, the group made plans to get together and watch game 7 of the Houston Rockets versus the LA Lakers playoff series. I didn’t have a dog in this fight as I never adopted the basketball team of my adopted home. As for the Rockets, unless you were from Houston or China, you were probably indifferent to them, with the exception being our friend Cliff.
Cliff was a tightly wound guy from Wyoming who was funny in the way he complained about everything. Cliff had a very dry sense of humor and a well refined sense of irony. He might wear the facade of the grouse but underneath he was extremely sincere and a good soul. He had a mop of unruly black hair on top of his head hanging over wild blue eyes. Best of all, if you were ever in a jam, Cliff was the guy you called. He was a rock.
Eddie, Ike, Cliff and a few of our other friends had met up earlier in the day at a local sports bar and were well lubed by the time I joined them. They justified going to a bar at 3pm by the need to secure a table close to the television. Sports bars do fill up early for Laker games but the only reason those boys went to a bar in the middle of the day was so they could drink.
Our group was a hodgepodge of misfits except for Clifford. He was the exemplary nine to five kind of guy. Cliff’s legal name was Cliff but I enjoyed calling him Clifford. He wasn’t too keen on it at first and once threatened to punch me in the face if I called him that again, but apparently me and my pet name grew on him. None of us really understood why he rooted for the Rockets. He had no discernible connection to the team or the city and when we inquired about it he told us to ‘mind your own fucking business.’ But for a guy who was not from Houston, he lived and died with that team.
One other thing that was puzzling about Clifford was his choice in women. Clifford was a decent looking guy but a little rough around the edges. The women he chose were often rougher and his girlfriend, Sarah, was simply unpleasant. She wasn’t fun to be around and her angry exterior lacked the amusing charm of Clifford’s. The fact that she was continually left out of our plans probably exacerbated the situation but none of us outside of Clifford enjoyed being around her. In fact, I’m not completely convinced he enjoyed her company.
The rest of our crew were Laker fans. Eddie was a native Angeleno and showed up in a Kobe Bryant jersey. Ike was the kind of guy who rooted for whichever team everyone else was rooting for and since we were in an LA bar, he was cheering on the purple and gold. He had even worn a purple Lakers t-shirt for the game. Ike received a few scathing remarks about his hopping on the bandwagon from Clifford, who was already edgy about the game. He continued to heckle Ike until halftime when the tension and shit-talking hit a crescendo and Ike threw down the gauntlet.
“Ok Cliff, if I am just a bandwagon guy then how about this – whoever loses tonight has to shave their head.”
Clifford didn’t hesitate for a moment before snarling back ‘You’re on.”
Many pitchers of beer were ordered over four quarters and we ate anything that could be fried. The Lakers also pulled away from the Rockets and Ike started telling Clifford how easy life was going to be without hair. The Lakers ended up shellacking the Rockets and over the final five minutes of the game, Clifford sank further and further into his beer mug, drowning his disappointment.
At the final buzzer, the bar erupted into cheers except for Clifford who stood up and said he was going home. I grabbed him by the arm just as he was about to walk off.
“Clifford, stick around and have a few drinks with us. You shouldn’t leave just because the Rockets lost.”
Ike stood up and gave Clifford an unwelcome hug and asked him to sit back down. Clifford did sit but was not appearing to enjoy our company in the least. After a few minutes he stood back up.
“I’m going to walk home and shave my head.”
This elicited a few howls of laughter from our table. Ike mercifully let him know he didn’t have to go through with it but Clifford was serious about the head shaving.
“Gentlemen, a bet is a bet. I’m as good as my word so I am going to go home and shave my head.”
Ike began to plead with Clifford, “Brother, be cool. You don’t have to do it. I wasn’t going to shave my head if we lost.”
This made Clifford indignant.
“If we lost? If WE lost? You’re not even a Laker fan! Besides, just because you’re not good enough to see a bet through doesn’t mean I am the same way.”
What was intended as an insult only made Ike break into laughter, which only pissed Clifford off more. There was a second in which I thought Clifford might be contemplating taking a swing at Ike, all of us had considered it at one point, but he collected himself and seemed to calm somewhat. I decided to jump in and add some levity to the situation.
“Clifford, if you’re going to the trouble of shaving your head, I think you should first give yourself a mohawk. You could sport that look for a few days and then shave the rest later. I mean, lots of guys have shaved heads but not too many can rock the hawk.”
Ike’s eyes began to sparkle like the Vegas strip. This idea clearly excited him and he jumped behind it full force.
“Oh yeah Cliff! If you’re really going to do it, then give it some style!”
I saw a grin stretch across Clifford’s face as the thought marinated below his black shaggy hair for a few moments.
“I’m gonna do it! I will go give myself a mohawk and then meet you boys back here.”
I added that to the list of things I didn’t hear very often and congratulated him on his wise decision. He left the bar like a royal knight being sent out on a quest. The group did a round of shots in his honor and then each of us gave him words of encouragement and a pat on the back. As he left I had no idea whether he would do it but I was happy he seemed to be less depressed.
A few minutes after he left, Clifford’s girlfriend Sarah came striding in looking for him. She gave the group a terse hello and scanned the bar for Clifford.
“Where did Cliff go?”
I didn’t want to tell her that he might be at home giving himself a mohawk. Some of her rage had spilled out onto me in the past in a guilt by association way and I was hoping to avoid it this time. I tried to play laconically cool with the entire exchange, hoping her interrogation would end quickly.
“He left right after the game.”
Clifford wasn’t the type to be the first to go home and everyone of us knew this, including Sarah. She eyed me very suspiciously.
“If he left, why isn’t he answering his phone?”
I was envisioning Clifford standing in front of the mirror with clippers, shaving stripes of baldness into his black hair while letting her call go to voicemail, but thought it best that Sarah discover something like that for herself.
“Maybe he went to bed.”
Ike set his beer down and gave Sarah his doe-eyed look, “Maybe he is in the bathroom.”
A small chuckle began to ripple through our group. Eddie then chimed in.
“Maybe he’s washing his hair.”
Ike had to stifle a laugh.
Sarah clearly wasn’t amused and stood there slightly bug-eyed, looking at us incredulously. She did not like us. I could see her anger building. She continued to scrutinize me, perhaps wanting to see if I would squirm under her glare but I played it cool.
She clearly wasn’t satisfied but she turned and left. She didn’t say goodbye but quite frankly I was surprised we got a hello.
Ike dropped his head onto the table and let out a big exhale, “How is he still with that woman?”
A moment later my phone buzzed and there was a text message from Clifford saying he was on his way back. Clifford lived just a couple of blocks from the sports bar. How he managed to get back to the bar without crossing paths with Sarah was a mystery but right after I received his text message, in walked the man with a new mohawk! His scalp was a sickly shade of white, with a few nicks from the razor, but overall he had done a good job. The mohawk looked pretty cool but you couldn’t really say it worked for Clifford. Nevertheless, the guy was in good spirits, especially when Ike bought a round of drinks for the table. I think it’s probably good luck to buy a beer for a man with a mohawk.
We were in the middle of much merriment when Sarah came storming back in. I literally thought I saw steam coming from her nostrils right before she started yelling. She was doing the kind of yelling you might do if you were somewhere your neighbors couldn’t hear you but definitely not the kind you would do in a bar.
“Cliff! Where the hell have you been and what in god’s name did you do to yourself?”
Clifford’s smile disappeared.
“Really?!? Hi baby? That’s all you have to say for yourself?”
“I have a mohawk.”
I think we had all intended to remain as quiet as the dead once we saw Sarah, but Clifford’s pointing out the obvious was enough to crack each and every one of us up. I had tears welling in my eyes when I noticed Sarah’s beady stare honing in on me.
“I suppose you put him up to this didn’t you?”
I knew when this whole thing started I wasn’t getting out of it unscathed. I professed my innocence.
“Do you actually think I told Clifford to give himself a mohawk?”
Sarah winced a little at my pet name for Cliff and my retort might have worked had not Ike decided to throw me under the bus.
“Actually, that’s exactly what you did.”
Everyone at the table except for me was in stitches. I turned to Ike in disbelief. Did he really just rat me out like that? In my head I was already planning revenge on that blond moron but I had to deal with Sarah first. I was contemplating how I would handle this when Clifford stepped back in.
“Sarah, this was my call. I am a grown man and if I want a mohawk I can give myself one.”
All of this was true but still unconvincing. Sarah sensed his weakness and went in for the kill.
“So let me get this straight. You didn’t answer my call, you’re drunk and you have a mohawk?”
I looked at Clifford and had to admit that Sarah was right. Clifford was drunk. There was also no denying he had a mohawk. As for whether he didn’t answer her call, I assumed she was right on that one as well. If there was going to be a winner in this conflict, it didn’t look like it was going to be Clifford unless he had a surprise move no one could anticipate.
Clifford registered her complaints before he replied, “That sounds about right.”
Sarah was fuming. “Cliff, go home right now. We can talk about this there.”
Clifford raised his head and looked at Sarah. Now the entire bar was waiting for him to say something.
“Sarah, I’m going to stay out with my friends.” And with that he took his seat, with his back to her.
I thought Sarah was going to split in half right there in the middle of the bar. Then her rage swung back to me.
“Jackson, I hope you’re proud of yourself. You have officially broken up the happy couple.”
Without looking back at her, Clifford piped up, “We weren’t ever that happy.”
This may very well have been the first time Sarah wasn’t able to bulldoze Clifford into doing whatever it was she wanted him to do and it didn’t sit well with her. She grabbed a beer mug off the bar and threw it at our table. Luckily no one was hit but the glass shattered when it hit the floor and beer spilled out across the bar. There were a few gasps and one guy in the back of the bar even booed. The bouncer quickly ran over to Sarah and told her she needed to leave. She turned to him and slapped his face and then stomped out of the bar. As she was leaving, the other bar patrons began clapping and cheering. It reminded me of when the Munchkins started celebrating after the house dropped on the witch in The Wizard of Oz, except instead of Munchkins we had drunk people and no one was killed.
Clifford turned serious for a moment there in the midst of the frivolity.
“Did I just make a big mistake?”
“With the haircut or the girl?”
Clifford laughed, “Both, I guess.”
“That would be a no on both counts brother.”
Then the bar toasted to Clifford’s freedom and his new do.
And that’s the story of how Clifford got his mohawk.