When I saw the fresh raw pig’s foot on my doorstep that morning, I was pissed.
I had asked for a head.
Who the fuck was going to be shocked by a foot? They sell them as a delicacy for Christ’s sake.
Sighing, I pick up the paper plate that it’s sitting on and carry it down to the car along with my school cutting kit.
I usually left my kit at school but the night before, I had given my friend a haircut in exchange for dinner. Rosemary chicken thighs and baked potato.
This morning I wished I had saved a bit of it to take home with me. As usual, I fell upon it like a hungry dog, barely tasting Gina‘s culinary efforts.
I open the door to my 1979 Datsun 210 and toss the kit on the seat next to me and balance the paper plate on top of the blue square case.
I belt myself in and turn the key but the engine does not turn over. Instead I am treated to a crank, a click and then silence.
I don’t bother to investigate the problem.
I won’t be throwing open the hood of my car to peer at that mess as if I will suddenly comprehend the combustible engine.
I bypass the investigation because I can deduce the problem.
I understand one principal better than any other.
To produce energy, you must provide fuel.
I was out of gas.
I am less than five blocks from my hairdressing school so I roll the pig foot in the paper plate and pack it into my hairdressing kit, nestling it between my trimmer and my electric clippers.
Out of gas I thought as I marched along to school.
In more ways than one, I muse.
Once again I had no breakfast only the memories of Gina’s sublime dinner.
My stomach gave a gurgle. I looked down to compare the growl to the noise the engine made when it refused to turn over.
The sounds were not that different.
The worst part is that Miss Michelle had thrown my lunch away. The lunch I so carefully budgeted each day. Sometimes putting the Tupperware back into the fridge, while I was still hungry.
Just so that there would be food to eat tomorrow.
I brought the big pasta tuna salad in on Tuesday.
Tuesday and Wednesday I ate that salad, But Thursday at lunch time when my blood sugar dropped so deep, and not one of the cheap roller sets had tipped me more than a quarter, (I had fifty cents so far). I opened the fridge.
It was stark and empty except a brown bag that had the name Michelle written on it.
I spun around in a panic and saw Miss Michelle’s evil face, triumphant in her announcement that she had tossed all the old leftovers.
I was polite when I tried to explain my lunch strategy and that she had thrown out a weeks worth of nutrition that I had no ability to replace.
Most nights after school, I drive my Datsun to the other side of town and park the car and put my seat back to catch a forty minute nap before a night of restocking deodorants and toothpaste at the Super Stop N Shop.
At 8:30 I will be granted a fifteen-minute break, where for a dollar twenty, I will get a small coffee, and a buttered hard roll.
Some nights I do not have that dollar twenty.
But Michelle only shrugs and reiterates that she had to clean, as she lights a cigarette and climbs the stairs to the office.
I pick my step up a little. It wasn’t all bad. The other students shared what they had. They were sympathetic to my plight. Even though most of them still lived at home with their parents or had a husband with a paycheck.
I got along well with most of the girls. They all came from a sheltered existence.
I laugh a little as I remember the first time I ate Chinese food with chopsticks at school. For me, eating Chinese with chopsticks, paces me a little, so that I get a chance to breathe in between gulps. But the entire class of forty, (even the instructors) left the salon floor to come into the classroom and witness this feat.
After a few minutes of scrutiny and remarks like “Look at how cute!” I finally ask, “Have none of you have ever seen anyone use chopsticks before?”
“Only on TV’” says one girl.
Another voice pipes up, “Never saw anyone white eat that way.”
I round the corner and pull the glass door decal-ed with vinyl pink scissors .
I step into a warm dry room of folding chairs.
Two long rows of chairs were already filled with elderly women, all sporting hair in different stages of greasy decay. The cleanest head would have been washed last week, but Mrs. Wilder in the back hadn’t been to the school in two months and was wearing a stocking cap.
I shudder at the prospect of smelling the hot water hitting dirty hair with my empty stomach.
I approach Miss Carol, confiding to her that I have missed my breakfast and would like to be an early luncher today. I do this because I know Michelle is the last of the instructors to take lunch.
I don’t want to miss her face when she opens the fridge.
Miss Carol nods and I know that I will be eating Wonton soup, (ninety cents for a small one) in just a few hours.
But there is a price for this favor and Miss Carol hands me a slip that reads W/RS/CO Mrs. Wilder.
I stroll over to get Mrs. Wilder who needs assistance. Even with her walker, she is too unsteady.
But it isn’t her dirty hair that makes me hate doing Mrs. Wilder. After two steps she announces “I have to go to the bathroom.”
This is not a mere matter of pointing to a clean water closet with a sweeping gesture and a smile. No, this was more of a “hands-on” deal, requiring the student to pull the old lady’s pants down, lower Wilder down onto the pot, and lift her back up.
And wipe her dirty ass.
Mrs. Wilder lived with her smelly daughter who did not take care of her mother very well. Soon the state would step in and remove her. But that day had not come yet and with my surgery less than six months old, I dare not try to lift her unassisted.
I look around frantically, but the other students have disappeared into the back, dodging the inevitable demand for help.
Poor Miss Judy never sees me coming, but she understands the school’s liability, so she comes with me.
“But I’m not wiping her ass,” Miss Judy mutters as I step up just in time to catch the old lady falling backward.
The scene in the bathroom was too traumatizing to recount. All that I can say is the several open sores on Wilder’s legs, have made Miss Judy call the authorities at last.
When my shampoo set ordeal is over, Miss Carol asks me to read a chapter to the assembled class that was not qualified for the salon floor yet. This way the three instructors can hide in the office smoking while the rest of us “get our hours” fulfilling the 1500 hour state requirement to earn our license.
Finally, eleven o’clock rolls around and I am told to punch out for 30 minutes. Just in case, I lock my case with the foot in it, in my cubby before I leave.
Then I count the change in my pocket to make sure I have ninety plus the six cents to cover the tax.
The Chinese take-out has a new addition to it. An eat-in Buffet with every sweet, salty greasy thing these cooks know how to produce.
I have to pass by it, to order my take-out.
The restaurant staff is just beginning to carry out freshly cooked dishes to fill the long and empty steam table.
I stop and watch them place tray after steaming tray of fried wontons, Sweet and sour Chicken, Beef and broccoli and pork fried rice.
The fragrance swirls around me like pheromones.
I stand a little longer than I should and take one more longing look.
The Buffet is six dollars.
Someday. I promise myself.
When I return to school I carry my lunch and suitcase with the foot inside to the back.
I like the Wontons this place serves, the hot liquid calms my stomach and the wontons feel nourishing.
I crush the entire packet of fried noodles to the soup even though I like to eat them plain.
In the broth, they feel like more food.
The school salon is slow now, so I set up my manikin head in the classroom and begin to comb her out. But when my classmate Pat comes in, I can’t help but confess my plans. I tell her that I am to leave the foot in the place of Miss Michelle’s lunch.
Pat can’t keep the secret and soon, every time Michelle steps into the back, more than half the school follows her.
Including Miss Judy. Up until that moment I had not realized that Judy did not like Michelle.
Michelle looks surprised to see herself gang stalked every time she comes to the backroom but after three false starts, she finally opens that fridge.
Now as I stated in the beginning, I had ordered a PIG HEAD. To me, the foot wasn’t a terribly shocking thing to find, perhaps a little icky.
Still it had cost me nothing and it was the best I could do for revenge.
Michelle let out such an earsplitting wail, that a couple of us moved into sight of the open fridge have a better look. Her response convinced us that someone must have swapped a human head in place of that cloven foot.
As we approached, Miss Michelle fled past us weeping. I watched her push the outside door open.
Her shoulders were quaking as she lit her cigarette.
For the rest of my hair schooling days, no one ever touched my lunch again.