“How’s that, nef?” asked Clyde.
He had just stepped from the bathroom where he had been sliding a comb through his hair for close to an hour. It was a ritual of sorts since he had seen pictures of Elvis. It took a while to prepare his hair after a bath. A touch of baby oil to take the wildness out of the towel dried mop. A comb through it gave it that first approach to over the ears into a duck tail after which the true magic of a pompadour came to fruition as it swept back along the ears with the top slipping into a curl over the forehead and an upsweep into a duck’s tail at the back. That magic was provided by a heavy dosing of Butch Hair Wax which held the curl, sides and tail on permanent hold.
I studied it for a while.
“Maybe it needs to be longer,” I said looking at the sides. “Aren’t you supposed to have sideburns? Elvis has sideburns.”
His lip curled up, his voice dropped, “Why they’ll grow in, nef. Just gimme a little time.” His imitation of Elvis’ hick talk and accent were dead on as he ended up swiveling his pelvis to an imaginary rock beat.
Out came his comb from his back pocket and through the greasy locks plastering them to his temples. A small beading of Butch Hair Wax lined the comb at the base of the teeth. He slid it between his thumb and for finger then streaked it down the outer seam of his dungarees.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked wrinkling my face.
Clyde pretended to ram his finger up his nose while saying, “See that policeman up the corner?”
I looked without thinking then turned back. His hand went from his nose to the seam on his pants again.
“You see him, the one with the stripe all the way down his pants?” At which time he pushed that finger downward removing the rest of the hair wax.
“Clyde Lynn Parnelle! What are you doing?”
It was my grandmother who had walked in catching this moment of childhood humor. Clyde dropped the Elvis stance turning to see his mother glaring at him.
“Um, I was showing Rickey how my new pants have that pink thread running down the side along the seam.”
He glanced at me with a determined look wanting me to go along.
“Oh, yeah. It’s new. Pink and black. It’s cool,” I said, trying to help him out of the situation, bobbing my head up and down.
“Yeah, pink on black. I bought it with my own money from my paper route. “
He’d been delivering papers for a couple of months. Each day they would arrive in the afternoon and he’d get me to help roll them, rubber-band them and pack them in the bag furnished by The News and Courier. Then he’d throw that tightly packed canvas bag onto a makeshift T-board on the handlebars of his bike and pedal around the neighborhood throwing papers in yards. His first payday had been fairly good. With each paycheck he had put aside some to buy his new pink and black ensemble. Doubly proud, he was.
“It looked like something much different from where I was standing,” said my grandmother.
“It wasn’t what it looked like if you thought I was wiping my nose on my pants,” he said it before thinking about it. He cringed after saying it.
“Alright, I better never catch you doing that. That is a nasty habit no child of mine will do.”
“Yes ma’am,” said Clyde. He gave a quick sigh of relief.
“What have you done to your hair?” asked my grandmother after a brief study of his new pompadour.
“It’s how I want to wear it. I’ve been letting it grow. What do you think, mama?” he asked.
“You look like that hoodlum, what’s his name? Presley something…” Her scowl showed her disapproval. “That singer they won’t show from the waist down on the Ed Sullivan Show.”
“Oh, mama. He sings good. I like how he combs it. Thought maybe I could get the look and become a singer, too.”
He broke out in song sounding like Elvis, “Love me tender Love me true…”
“That is a nice song,” said grandmother. “I guess that’s how the new generation has to show their difference from us old folks. You do have a good voice, son. Maybe you could.”
Clyde had an amazing voice, at least after puberty’s cracking vocal funny business finally faded away. He sang all the time now.
“The girls, they like it,” he sang mimicking Bobby Bare singing All American Boy. Then he would smile with the Elvis lip curl. To be truthful I could hear the girls swooning in the imaginary background and by his smile so could he.
Grandmother smiled at her son and turned back to the kitchen.
“You boys stay out of trouble, now,” she said turning on the oven.
There was a thump on the front porch.
“Papers are here!” I yelled running to the front door.
“Bring ‘em in, nef. I’ll get the rubbers,” he snickered.
The bundle was tied together. I held the string in both hands leaning over nearly backwards hauling them into the living room floor.
Clyde opened his folding knife and sliced through the string. He dropped the bag of rubber bands between us and opened the canvas bag to receive the rolled papers.
He folded, rolled and banded three papers to each of mine.
“Come on slowpoke. I gotta get going. It’s gonna be Friday night soon and I gotta get dressed to go out.”
“I’m going as fast as I can.”
“Here,” he said holding the canvas bag bulging with papers. “Put it in here.”
There was a tight spot he was holding open for the last paper as I slipped the band around it. There was no more room when we finally got it jammed in.
He hefted the bag onto his shoulder and hauled it out the back door. His bike was propped up against the garage with the T-board fitted in the handlebars. He settled the heavy bag on the board which creaked under the weight.
“See you when I get back, nef.” He shouted as he peddled off.
He returned in a couple of hours as the sun was near setting.
“How’s my hair?” he asked slipping the comb into his pocket and his finger down the seam.
“Just like it did the first time you asked,” I said. One had to marvel at the holding power of Butch Hair Wax.
“Good. I’m gonna wash up, then get out my new pants and shirt. I’m gonna be the hit of the party.” His smile foretold that he would be. He was always confident about his effect on the ladies.
Twenty minutes later he walked out into the living room sliding the comb through an extra coating of hair wax. The bead he piled on his finger while drawing thumb and forefinger over that well-trod path on his comb. His finger went automatically into position to wipe it off on the seam of his pants when he realized that could not happen now.
He stood in the double doorway between the dining room and the living room. I would have sworn there was a spotlight on him. His stance was not unlike Elvis as the eye was transfixed on his attire. A black shirt with pink stitching along the edges of his left hand pocket echoed by the stitching on the border of his collar which was standing up at the back of his neck. His pants, also, were the same midnight black with the outer seam of each leg stitched in heavy pink thread. It was the style and he was on top of it.
The singular moment was broken as he looked around for something to wipe the sticky mess off his fingers.
“Hand me that Kleenex box, nef,” he said pointing his waxy finger to the side table.
I took it over to him. He yanked one out and another popped up in its place, always a mystery to me, and wiped his hand free of the hair wax.
“Well, nef? How do I look?” His lip curled around his Elvis voice.
“Pink and black!” I said.
“Yeah, pink and black, baby. I’m in style. I’m gonna knock ‘em dead. I’m gone, cat,” he said. I watched his black outfit fade into the night as he went off to win the hearts of the girls. It was something he would be good at for a very long time after that night.