Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Death of a hairdresser...and someone else

My mom always says that the favorite part of the paper is the Obituaries page, because she can always see people she knows there.

OK, at age 75 this is actually a reasonable statement. But she has said this all my life, since she was younger than me, since before she met thousands of people as a bank teller.

Me, my favorite part of the paper is the Comics section. Thing is, I'm never quite sure where the funny pages are in my paper, which is a tabloid-style (single-fold) paper. I know they are beyond the middle, usually, after the Editorial/Opinion pages and before the Sports pages, mostly. Most days I just flip to somewhere in the second half of the paper and move forward and back as necessary until I find the funnies.

Today I was moving through the paper this way and landed in the Obituaries. There was a smiling face that looked somehow familiar. Good-looking photo, I thought. You should always have a good current photo of yourself handy for the Obituary pages, or for showing on television if you are murdered or disappear. Robert Curley had a good photo of himself in a tux, smiling broadly, which was shown repeatedly during the investigation into his death - that is, into his murder by thallium poisoning, a slow, horrible way to die, by his wife Joanne. The photo was probably from their wedding. Most people just have photos of themselves wearing beer hats and LEGION OF DOOM t-shirts.

I looked at the name attached to the photo and it rang a bell. Leo? Not too many people in this area go by that name...and have a work history that includes being a hairdresser.

Leo. The guy who used to cut my hair at the Bon-Ton, after the girl who cut my hair there left. Snide, funny Leo. At least, I assumed he was snide - his Bell's Palsy caused him to talk out of one side of his mouth, in a very nasal tone. But, no - he was also snide. And funny.

After the Bon-Ton shut down its hair salon I found someone else to cut my hair. By then my hair was less complex - the mega-mullet was gone; no longer did I have long, wavy, curling tresses reaching halfway down my back, close-cropped hair on the sides, and normal-length hair on top, a combination which caused Leo to quip upon first meeting me, some twelve or so years ago, "You have several hairstyles going on here." After I cut that off in early 1998 a barber would do, could be trusted to deal with my far more conventional haircut.

I didn't see Leo again until a few years ago. He was working as a cashier at the Target in Wilkes-Barre. He recognized me, and I recognized him, despite my prosopagnosia. (Bell's Palsy is a godsend in that respect, something like having a huge facial scar or pink spiked hair.) I asked him if he was out of the hairdressing game, and he told me how cut-rate places operating out of the front of Wal-Mart and the like had killed business for salons, and how their low wages had meant that he and many other experienced professionals couldn't afford to work there. He also couldn't afford to leave the area and get work elsewhere: even if he sold all of his possessions, he would barely have enough to pay for the first few months of an apartment in Philadelphia. So he was stuck, and took the best job he could get - as a cashier at Target.

I saw him there a few more times. I haven't seen him in the last year or two. I always wondered what had happened to him. And now he's dead. I may go to the wake tomorrow.


Leo wasn't the only death I learned about today. But the other one is...difficult to talk about without telling you things about myself I really don't want to divulge. This other person was someone whose existence I just found out about yesterday, during one of my frenetic bursts of online activity. She was young, beautiful, shockingly tough. She had a tattoo on her arm, in script. A quote from Oscar Wilde, from "The Young King":

We have chains, though no eye beholds
them; and are slaves, though
men call us free.

It took some of my usual Batman-level detective work to squeeze out this much information, and a name - probably not a real name, quite possibly a name taken from a recently-deceased author of historical sagas and historical romances.

This morning I decided to do a little more detective work, and discovered that she was dead.

Had been dead, it turns out, for some time - six months or so as of sometime in February. An overdose. Possibly a suicide, I don't know. Overdoses usually are.

I don't know what the future held for her. Possibly misery, or at best obscurity. Several pathways had been closed off to her, to be sure. And maybe her doom had already been sealed. I don't know.

Some of the information I found today suggested she had come from Pennsylvania. Where in Pennsylvania, I wonder?

Regardless. She's dead now, a death little noted online, and perhaps little noted in the bricks-and-mortar world as well.

UPDATE, 4/15/09: Now I know who she is. I know where she lived - not far from me, actually. I know when and where she died. I know she was loved, by family and friends. I know her death touched a lot of people.


As I drove my mom through our Tuesday ritual of grocery shopping and appointments, I frantically punched buttons on the radio, switching from station to station listening to half-second clips of songs and commercials and DJ banter. She probably thought I was just looking for music that wasn't complete crap. In reality I was looking for a specific song, a song that something in my soul wanted to hear. It's actually a song I heard on the radio last week for the first time in years. Statistically speaking, it would seem unreasonable to expect to hear the song again. Then again, given the nature of playlists and programming, it might not be an unrealistic hope. But as much as I tried to will the song into existence, it never came on.

It has nothing to do with anything, other than my usual defensive reaction whenever I feel Death's touch anywhere near me. Even for people I barely knew. Or never knew.

Maybe. Whatever. This is the song.

Blink-182, "I Miss You":


...tom... said...


An excellent song . . .with death looming nearby or not.

'obinal': 'makes your pregnancy pleasant and fulfilling...'

Michelle D said...

My grandmother reads the Obits all the time too. But her theory is, if she doesn't see her name in there then she must still be alive.

Maybe she had a dream about reading her name in the Obits once before? I have no idea.