The Beginning of the End
OCTOBER rain beat down on Pete Thickwhistle’s Duster. “Damn it,” he hissed, beating his hand on the steering wheel and inadvertently blowing the horn. “How am I gonna get across the street to get my hair did?” The Lord and Lady Beauty Salon beckoned.
Pete’s mother, Helen, sitting across the red vinyl seat, rolled her eyes heavenward. “You’ll just have to wait, Pete. There’s nothing you or I or anyone else can do about the weather. If you had brought an umbrella like I told you—”
Pete cut her off. “The goddamn weatherman said clear and sunny.”
“All the more reason to bring an umbrella.”
“You’re impossible, Mother.”
Helen regarded her forty-seven-year-old son across the vinyl seat and snorted. Pete had worn his hair in the same blond flat-top for the past fifteen years. Each day, he applied so much product that mousse was a staple on their weekly shopping list. Neither this rain nor a monsoon would muss Pete’s ’do.
Helen gasped when she felt a sharp slap on her arm.
“Damn it, Mother, what am I gonna do? In just a few hours, I’ll be bound for Chicago.” Pete’s face was a mask of desperation. He had just been promoted to advertising assistant for Pure Foods, the large food products company for which he had worked for the past twenty years. It was not only his first business trip in all that time but his first promotion as well.
Helen sighed. “Seems to me you have two choices: either skip the hair appointment or slide that fat ass over and run across the street.”
“Well, Pete, I thought you were looking for answers to your problem.”
“Skipping the appointment is out of the question.” Pete drew himself up with a self-important breath. “I am the advertising liaison for Pure Foods now, Mum.”
“Yeah, chief gopher is more like it.”
“Well, we’ll just see about that when this little gopher returns home, triumphant, from the Windy City.”
“Just get over there and get your hair fixed.”
“YOU’RE not bringing that, are you? My God, they’ll laugh you out of town.” Helen snickered and pointed at Pete’s open suitcase.
Pete gnawed on a hangnail, staring down at the chalk stripe suit he had just purchased from the International Male catalog. “What’s wrong with it, Mother?”
“Other than it looking like one of those zoot suits they used to wear back when I was a little girl… nothing, I guess.”
Pete made a “tsk” sound and shook his head. “You have no fashion sense. If you did, you’d know this is retro, it’s very in. This is how all the guys in Chicago dress.”
“And what about this?” Helen snatched up a black sweater with a gold glitter owl emblazoned across the front. “Retro?”
“Oh, would you just shut up and let me get packed? I have a lot to do, and I don’t need you in here questioning my fashion choices. I’m nervous enough as it is!” Pete put a trembling hand to his forehead.
Helen hurried from the room. Pete wondered why he couldn’t have a mother like other men, someone they called their “best friend” rather than their “worst nightmare.”
But this mystery would have to wait for further pondering. Pittsburgh International Airport was more than an hour away, and Pete would have to “get his ass jumpin’” (as Helen would have so delicately put it) if he wanted to make his flight.
Pete allowed himself to sit down on his bed, closing his eyes and imagining the upcoming trip for a moment. Chicago… Pete pictured towering skyscrapers rising up against a vast expanse of blue waters and thought that his destiny could be made on this trip.
After all, he wondered, as he had so often in the past, what could possibly go wrong?