The Hair-Catcher

Author’s Note: This one is pretty much all true. The boy, the dad, and the hair-catcher are all real, and are rendered here exactly as I remember them. Except for the last few lines. I’m not a good enough son for that part to be true.

            The hair-catcher crossed his mind again. Halting his fingers’ intricate keyboard dance and letting the steady stream of words pool up behind a dam of contemplation, he turned the image-artifact over in his mind. It had been years since he’d thought about it — at least it had been years before last week. But since then, the mental picture of that seemingly innocuous little hair-catcher had been plaguing him. It always seemed to be popping up, always when he least expected it, and always without any apparent reason or connection to anything in his life. And just as they had all the other times over the past week, the circumstances surrounding the hair-catcher flooded his mind — this time over-spilling the banks of the mental streambed through which his PhD dissertation had just stopped flowing.

            In retrospect, it seemed like such a small thing — an event of such little consequence. He had been ten or so at the time. His family was living in a modestly nice two-bedroom stucco house in a residential neighborhood of many other modestly nice two-bedroom stucco houses. The small bathroom that served him, his parents, and his little brother did its job and provided the necessary services as well as any self-respecting bathroom might, with one minor exception. The tiny bathroom sink was not equipped with a hair-catcher, that perforated, slightly concave disk that rested over the drain-hole and whose mission it was, in all respectable bathroom sinks, to prevent the occasionally dropped foreign body from falling into, and clogging up, the narrow throat of the sink; and, of course, to catch any disengaged hairs that might harbor an intent to do the same.

            Naturally, the sink, free as it was from the dietary restrictions imposed upon its kindred the world over, developed an almost insatiable appetite for all things clog-producing, as well as a remarkable affinity for acquiring them. As a result, it was a rare week that passed without his father having to perform open-throat surgery on the sink in order to remove from its pea-trap one undigestible clog or another. Many were the marbles, combs, coins, and small toys that were dropped into, swallowed by, and subsequently removed from the omnivorous sink, each entwined, to varying degrees, with tangled webs of soggy hair.

            It was during one particularly difficult pea-trap surgery, as his father loudly cursed a well-lodged G.I. Joe toothbrush, that he’d hit on an idea. Frustrating as it was to remove the clogs, he knew his father would never actually get around to buying the commercial hair-catcher that they so desperately needed. So, in a moment of rare inspiration he decided to make one himself. To that end he silently slid away, leaving his father to contend with the stubborn drain, ventured out to the small workshop in the back yard and began looking for hair-catcher construction material.

            It didn’t take long for him to settle on a pair of needle-nose pliers and a jumbo roll of mechanic’s wire as the necessary equipment. Having chosen his tools, he set to twisting and turning and shaping the wire into what he imagined was a disk with a slightly larger diameter than that of the ravenous drain-hole.

            Some two hours later, he walked out of the sweatbox of a workshop — escaping its dirty-window-filtered sunlight and cob-webby ceiling rafters — with the end result of his long labor. Walking over to his father, who was celebrating his victory over the G.I. Joe toothbrush with a lawn chair, a cold beer, and the shade provided by the large maple tree in the back yard, he presented his creation.

            “Here Daddy,” he said. “I made this for you.”

            His father examined the tangled mass of mechanic’s wire. It looked more like a heavy duty Brillo pad than anything else — its plump middle section tapering, Brillo-like, to single-strand, mechanic’s wire thinness on the edges. Looking at his son’s dirty face, at the smile that beamed from beneath his sweat-matted hair and glistening brow, his father patiently asked, “What is it?”

            Unabashed, he filled his father in.

            “It’s a hair-catcher for the bathroom sink. See, all you have to do is put it on the drain and push the middle down some so it will stay put. Then you won’t have to take the pea-trap off anymore ‘cause this will catch all the hair and stuff.”

            “A hair-catcher, huh?” his father said, chuckling. “Well I guess it is. Thanks, buddy.”

            And, handing it back, his father said, “Why don’t you go put it in the sink and we’ll see how well it works, okay?”

            With a proud “Yeah sure!” he ran inside with the new official family hair-catcher and pushed it down into the drain-hole as well as he could. No matter how hard he pushed, however, he couldn’t manage to dent it in enough to stay securely in place — even after his best efforts, the sink still managed to spit the hair-catcher out of the drain whenever the water was turned on.

            Later that night, upset that his fabrication was performing below expectation, he went to talk to his father.

            “Daddy?”

            “Yeah?” his father said, looking up from the news.

            “You know that hair-catcher I made?”

            “Yeah, what about it?”

            “It’s kinda crappy, huh?”

            “No,” his father said, his forehead wrinkling beneath his receding black hair. “Why do you say that?”

            “’Cause it won’t stay in place. Every time you turn the water on, it washes out of the drain. How’s it gonna catch hair and stuff if it won’t stay in the drain?”

            For a second his father had looked at him, thinking.

            “Listen,” he said, “it doesn’t really matter if it works or not. You saw a problem that needed to be fixed and you fixed it the best you could. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all that matters.”

            Some time after that, the homespun hair-catcher had disappeared, never to be replaced. The sink, free to feed once again, wasted no time in returning to its old ways, glutting itself every chance it got. In fact, it wasn’t until they had finally moved out of the house that the problem with the hungry sink was definitively solved, at least for them.

            His computer beeped loudly, snapping him out of his thoughtful trance with a low-battery warning. His dissertation forgotten for the moment, he snapped the laptop.

            On a whim, he got up, grabbed his keys, and headed for the door. Twenty minutes later he was knocking at another door, smiling faintly at the unlighted doorbell button beside it. His heart was pounding in his chest.

            A moment later, a chubby man with a wrinkled brow and a receded used-to-be-black hairline opened the door. Despite their close proximity, he hadn’t seen or spoken to the man in five years, thanks to a falling out involving his now ex-wife. With a mild shock, he realized that those five years had taken an unfair toll on the man. They had made him older than he should have been. The man, meanwhile, stared out at him in stark, unconcealed surprise.

            Then, holding out a visibly shaking hand, he offered his greeting.

            “Hi, Dad.”

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