We didn’t know what to think when Grandpa came home last night with a mohawk. Though it’s hardly a mohawk, considering Grandpa’s male-pattern baldness, he obviously believes that it is and behaves accordingly. Under Mom’s advice I pretended not to notice for the first few days, but that only frustrated Grandpa. He’s taken to nurturing it at the breakfast table. Finally Mother found the courage to ask him where he’s been for the last month. He said he doesn’t know, and I believe him.
Tension kept things quiet for a while, until neon patches starting appearing in Grandpa’s mohawk. He claims it’s a natural part of the aging process, but no one believes him. He started moussing his hair at the table, and doing other things to upset the household as well.
I am almost certain that Grandpa is using my towel. The thought troubles me, but it’s an awkward thing to bring up with one’s grandfather, so I’ve taken to hiding my towel in the closet.
Since Grandpa got home there has been a woman that drives by the house at night sometimes. I would say that her visits were secret, but the aggressive yellow of her Pontiac makes it easy to see even in the dim of evening. Last night Grandpa shimmied down the lattice outside his window to go speak to this woman. I saw them parked in her car for nearly an hour. Mother caught him trying to climb back up the lattice when she was turning off the sprinklers and angry words were exchanged. I heard Grandpa tell Mother that he was sick of living in a house of fascists.
Things have been chilly in the house lately. Grandpa has been taking his meals in his room and slamming a lot of doors. He turns his music up loud whenever he hears someone coming down the hall. He bought a chalkboard for the outside of his door and has been leaving sarcastic messages on it. Today I asked Mother, “Mom, what do you think is wrong with Grandpa?”
“Well,” she responded thoughtfully, “I think he is having a hard time adjusting to living in a new town, going to a new school. You know kids can be very cruel.”
“Mom, Grandpa is 72, he doesn’t go to school.”
“Yes he does, I enrolled him this week. I think he needs the structure and the discipline.”
“Can he do that? Go back to school, I mean?”
“I made special arrangements with the new principal. By the way, he is going to be sharing your room with you awhile until he finds his own place.”
What do you mean? Grandpa has his own room.”
“Not your grandfather, Silly, your new principal.”
“You told my principal that he could share my room with me?”
“It was the least I could do after he let Grandpa skip to the eleventh grade.”
“The eleventh grade? But that’s my grade!”
“Well why do you think I wanted him to skip? Now you two can have your classes together and eat lunch together…”
When I came to I was lying on my bed, with Grandpa hovering over me, working his gums on a sandwich.
“Is it cool if I borrow your jacket?” he asked between bites, his jaws palpitating nauseatingly.
“What? What are you saying?”
“What I’m saying is that I have a hot date and I want to borrow your blazer.”
Grandpa was already wearing the blazer in question.
“A date? With who, that lady in the Pontiac?”
“I said a hot date, with Lindsay Carlyle.” Grandpa grinned as devilishly as is possible with a mouth full of chicken-salad.
“Lindsay Carlyle? But you know that I’m in love with her, I tell you all the time! Besides, it’s a school night.”
“No shit, I’m gonna sneak out when the old lady goes to bed.”
“I can’t believe that you’re going out with Lindsay Carlyle, Grandpa, she’s sixteen years old!”
“You might as well get used to it, Sonny, she’s with Grandpa now. Oh shit! There she is!” Grandpa crowed as he spotted Lindsay’s car out the window. “If Mom comes in, just cover for me.”
“No fucking way, Grandpa.” But he was already halfway out the window.
I watched him scuttle across the yard towards the street where Lindsay’s car was idling, the fading September daylight painting the back of my blazer with autumnal hues as it climbed in.
“Look, I didn’t want to make a big deal of this, but we’re in love and that’s that,” Lindsay is telling me over the phone. “I mean, I’m sorry, I know I promised to go to homecoming with you, but I just think I’ll have a much better time with Grandpa. Christie is on the homecoming committee and she thinks that Grandpa and I have a real chance at getting crowned.”
“Lindsay, the only crowns in Grandpa’s life are the ones on all of his remaining teeth. The man is seventy-two years old!”
“I know, but high school guys are so immature,” she explains in a tender voice, “Grandpa knows what he wants from life. He wants to travel; he’s even going to start a band. He sang me one of his songs, it’s about two young lovers who wish they were older so they could be together forever, just like Grandpa and me.”
“Christ, Lindsay, that’s a Beach Boys song, and forever could be any day now.”
“Look, will you knock off this whole jealousy thing? It’s a major turnoff. Grandpa doesn’t mind if I talk to other guys, he hardly even seems to notice.”
“That’s because he’s heavily medicated, and for the record I think it’s sick that you call him Grandpa.”
“You just have no sense of romance, you never did. Grandpa knows how to treat a girl like a lady. He’s letting me wear his letterman’s jacket.”
“He got that jacket at the Goodwill when he ran away from home two years ago!”
“Look, I’m sorry, I have to go, I promised Grandpa I would write him a ten page letter.”
“That’s repulsive, Lindsay, I mean it.”
As Lindsay hung up the phone I started to get the impression that I was losing her.
I walked home from school faster than usual today to avoid the sight of Lindsay and Grandpa holding hands. I came into my room to find some mysterious boxes and a horrible miasma of cologne and brushfire.
Suddenly a man materialized from my closet. I recognized him as the new principal. He was of medium height and slight build, but managed to give the impression of taking up a great deal of physical space. He was tanned to a grotesque, earthen hue, and wore an occultish medallion around his neck. His chest, which was mostly bare owing to the deep cut of his v-neck sweater, was even darker than his hands and face and exhibited a distinct sheen, reflecting light from his medallion.
“So you must be Chris!” he leapt at me. What the man lacked in aesthetic charm, he compensated with forthrightness. “I, as you must undoubtedly be aware, am Principal Mr. Weaselby. It looks like I’m going to be sharing your room with you for a while, so I’d like to lay out some ground rules. First, I go to bed at 7 o’clock sharp, and I don’t like to be disturbed once I’ve disrobed. I prefer to sleep with the door locked on account of my nudity, so if you want to sleep in here you had better be in bed by five of the hour. Secondly, the medication I take for my digestion tends to make me a bit gastronomically turbulent, especially at bedtime, so be prepared for that. Lastly, I read aloud from my own poetry from the hours of seven to nine; and I will not, will not! tolerate any silliness regarding my poetry. No sniggering, smirking, chuckling, upchuckling or moosehollering of any kind. And if we are going to share a room you had better like to listen, because I expect constant positive feedback.” Mr. Weaselby’s voice was strange, all over the place, like a slide-whistle being played by a retard. I had to appreciate his ability to vary his tone by several octaves within a single sentence.
“Well, Sir, it has been a pleasure making your acquaintance, but I have some horses to shoe and re-shoe, so if you don’t mind.” Mr. Weaselby’s face slackened with confusion before the light of recognition illuminated his rheumy eyes, causing me to reconsider the virtues of military service.
“Horses, humph! Humor will get you nowhere but the big house, Son. The sooner you learn that the better. I once knew a fellow, a real cut-up like you. Do you know where he is now?” the tone of his voice was like an asthmatic shepherd bemoaning the death of a sheep.
“No Sir, I can’t say that I do.”
“Hmph, of course you don’t. He’s dead, Son. Stabbed to death in a prison shower. Is that the kind of future you envision for yourself? Because if it is, just keep right on up with the joking and the horse-play.” Weaselby appeared to ruminate on what he had said before looking expectantly at me.
I wasn’t actually sure whether or not there was an implied question in his speech. To play on the safe side I ventured, “Yes Sir.”
“Yes Sir?” he stammered incredulously.
“I mean, yes Sir.”
“Well Boy? To be stabbed in the shower or not to be stabbed in the shower? That, my young friend, is the question you need to be asking yourself.”
“I would prefer no shower stabbing, Sir.”
“Well, good. Now let’s cut the nonsense and get down to business.”
“Didn’t your mother tell you? In exchange for letting me share your room I’m going to be tutoring you privately from now on. Classes let out at 3:15, so I’ll expect you here by 3:30 sharp for your lessons, Monday through Saturday. And Grandpa will be joining us; it seems that he’s been falling behind in class, acting defiantly to the substitute; perpetrating pure, unadulterated chicanery, to tell you straight.” Mr. Weaselby gazed whistfully at the ceiling fan as he spoke. “I’ll teach that boy a thing or two about growing up if it’s the last thing I do.”
“It seems more likely to me that it could be the last thing he ever does.” It slipped out before I stop myself.
Mr. Weaselby looked at me sadly. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Son. I can almost see the knife protruding from your arched back as you soap your legs.”
“Fortunately, Sir, I never soap my legs.”
Weaselby looked like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
“So it’s 3:30 everyday for tutoring, you and Grandpa. Then shortly after dinner it’s the Weaselby double-feature: two straight hours of me reciting from my original compositions, while relaxed at a slight incline; you, of course, will have to sit up straight. I daresay, young man, that you have an exciting month ahead of you. I certainly hope you’ll be able to keep up.”
I tried to think of happy thoughts, but my future was looking horrible, and I’m seriously accurate when it comes to predicting bad things happening to me.
Within days my unholy prophecy came to fruition: I’m now convinced that Mr. Weaselby is also using my towel. I’m not experienced in these types of situations and don’t really know how to deal with it, other than by pretending it’s not happening and by hiding an extra towel on a nail in the crawlspace.
Grandpa and Lindsey have run away together. Mom found Grandpa’s diary and read that they were planning to go to Egypt or something. The police are looking into it. In the meantime I’ve taken over Grandpa’s room. It’s cramped and smells like Old Spice and sandwiches, but at least nobody’s reading any poetry in there. I originally tried to convince Weaselby to take the room, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He says that the acoustics in my room are far more complimentary to his unique timbre.
They found Grandpa and Lindsay after three days, camping at the airport. Grandpa was trying to take them to an artists’ colony in Cairo, but when he found out it was in Cairo, Georgia Grandpa threw a fit and wouldn’t go anywhere. They wandered around the airport for a few days, living on corndogs and Hot Tamales. Airport Security only figured them out when Grandpa tried to turn himself in for an arson that hadn’t occurred. They were taken into custody without incident, except for when Grandpa tried to bonk two policeman’s heads together. Ultimately the attack was taken as a joke and Grandpa became very popular around the station.
After about a half-hour of questioning they let Grandpa go and charged Lindsey with kidnapping. Mr. Weaselby told me during his last poetry reading that he expected as much from Lindsay on account of the way she had reacted when he offered to read a sonnet he had composed for her.
“It was a shameful display, young man, simply shameful! All of the giggling, the chuckling, and don’t forget the smirking…sweet lord the smirking…” Mr. Weaselby held his face in his hands for a few minutes, trembling slightly. “Let that be a lesson to you, young man,” he stammered, pulling his robe closed tightly over his chest and storming into the bathroom.
Mom grounded Grandpa for a month: no friends, no TV, no videogames, no girls. He lay in bed sobbing for three weeks; I could hear him every night through the wall. Finally he demanded his diary back, stomping into the kitchen at breakfast, his eyes red and full of vinegar.
With Grandpa back I have to pay especially close attention to my towel. Mom caught me using paper-towels and yelled at me, said I was being wasteful. I told her it was easy for her to say, Grandpa and Mr. Weaselby weren’t using her towel. The next day she bought me a new one and I could feel two pairs of geriatric eyes cutting into me as I carried it up the stairs. Old men apparently turn into savages when it comes to a fresh towel.
I guess they’re gonna let Lindsay off with a year of probation. I could smell Grandpa’s aftershave all over the house and he left wearing a new pair of walking shoes, and carrying two sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. Legally Lindsay isn’t allowed to go within fifty yards of Grandpa but the Judge granted leniency since they’re classmates. Despite my continual and unreserved disgust, not to mention my broken heart, I was almost happy for Grandpa…or at least relieved. Nothing can be worse than having to listen to Grandpa cry on the balcony and watch Say Anything every night.
Mr. Weaselby left a few days ago. He got a studio with Lindsey’s older sister, Amy. Amy’s a thespian and a senior. Weaselby was forced to resign as principal but quickly found work as a prison security guard. He spends many long hours lecturing inmates on the inevitable horrors of joking and horseplay, and reading select passages from his new self-published book of poetry, Walking in My Moccasins.