Red to red, green to green, black to black. George Kasper twisted bared wire-ends around each other. He lay on his back in the aisle between the seats of his new boat, his head and shoulders hidden from view underneath the dash.
“I still can’t believe you invited Andy,” his best friend said from the back seat where he sat sipping a Budweiser. “I don’t know if I can put up with him for three whole days in the boonies.”
George wrapped a piece of black electrical tape around each of his splices for insulation and inspected his work. “Hand me that CD,” he said to Jerry. George reflected upon his invitation to Andy for the camping trip. He’d already hashed it through with his wife. In the end she persuaded him. “He’ll be okay,” he said as Jerry tossed the plastic CD case in his direction. “I think Paula has made a breakthrough with Andy. Her music-reversal therapy finally seems to be paying off. I’ve seen a big improvement in him lately, especially since he’s back on his meds. He’s got a good routine going: he sees his psychiatrist once a week and then trots over to see Paula who layers her therapy on top of his shrink’s treatment.”
“He needs a double dose of something,” Jerry said. He scowled, unconvinced. “No offense, but I’m having a hard time buying Paula’s so-called treatment. It seems pretty far out.”
Paula Kasper had dropped out of the psychology program at the University of Texas in her junior year to open a hair salon in south Austin. An hour of hairdressing and scalp massages usually obliterated her clients’ inhibitions, and they unburdened themselves of their most intimate dilemmas.
Sudsy-haired, jabbering customers declared, “That was splendid advice you gave me, Paula!” Years of flattering feedback and profuse thanks for her faux wisdom nuggets had inflated Paula’s sense of competency, and she was deluded into thinking that she was equally effective as the licensed professionals. She cut Andy Mowf’s hair every week, and had become his sounding board.
“Paula’s theory,” George said to Jerry, “is that the music we are exposed to as adolescents shapes our personalities forever. She believes that if a person can be guided to appreciate music he intensely dislikes, it can shift his personality--for better or worse. Obviously, the goal for her patients is a positive shift, so you gotta be careful how you proceed. Anyway, that’s how I understand it.” George continued, “Do you remember how Andy used to be” He was a crazy rock and roll freak. He lived and breathed the stuff. And he hated country western music! Whenever he heard it he’d go berserk! He’d fight the first cowboy that came into his sight. And in Austin, that doesn’t take long. I bailed him out of jail more than once. Sometimes that was after he’d spent the night in the hospital. Some of those cowboys are real shit-kickers. Now Paula has him acclimated to that twangy steel guitar sound. More than acclimated---he loves it! He sold all his old rock CDs and replaced them with Dolly Parton and Garry Boots. It’s been an unbelievable transformation.” Jerry just nodded.
George said, “For a long time Andy wasn’t doing so well. He couldn’t even hold a job. Since Paula’s been working with him he’s a different man. He’s got a steady job as a security guard. He even gets his hair cut once a week just to get his therapy.”
The side door to the shop opened with dry-hinged groan, and George’s hairdressing wife, Paula, stepped through, accompanied by a blast of hot air from outside. At least Jerry thought it was from outside.
“Hello, Jerry,” she said in a tone without warmth.
Jerry saluted her with a raised beer from his seat in the back of the boat. Trying not to stare, he studied her tanned legs, athletic from years of water skiing. He sucked in his paunch and sat up a little straighter. Jerry Kramer was a lineman for the phone company. The utility was on strike, so he had an abundance of spare time between picket assignments, but he had no money.
“George, why don’t you knock off and come in for a bite to eat?“ Paula asked her husband.
“Sure, Hon,” George said from under the boat’s dash. “Jerry and I were just talking about Andy, and I was telling him about your new treatment for personality shifting. Maybe you could give him the Cliff Notes version. I’m not so sure I explained it very well.”
Paula weighed the pleasure of talking about her therapy against having to tell it to Jerry. “Sure, why not?” she decided aloud. “I can’t discuss a hair patient specifically, but in general terms I can say that neurological patterns are formed and reformed in the brain throughout life. I believe there is an association between music and personality traits within those patterns. If you radically change the neuron pattern established when an adolescent grew to love music, you will change his or her personality traits. That is the basis for my music-reversal therapy.”
Jerry said, “I’m not so sure if Andy has changed for the better or not. The last time I saw him he had become the King of Bullshit. That guy has a free-ranging imagination and a far-fetched story for every occasion.”
“Again, I’m not discussing any specific hair patient,” Paula said, “but one of the byproducts of my therapy can be the propensity to exaggerate. It acts as a release mechanism for the stress of the personality shift. It’s something to be worked out later.”
Paula walked back to the door. As she was leaving the shop she said, “Dinner’s ready, George.” Then flatly, “Goodbye, Jerry.”
“I don't know, George,” Jerry said after Paula had left. “I’m not sure I can take Andy for the whole weekend. His rubber band is stretched pretty tight, I think.”
“He’s a lot calmer now. Trust me,” George said. “Besides, Paula insisted that he come, and I finally relented. Andy and I go way back. He's helped me out of a few jams over the years, if you’ll remember. Besides, I can hardly uninvite him. He’ll have his own tent, and he’ll probably spend most of the day dove hunting. He’s got permission to hunt that piece of land that extends down the peninsula to our campsite. I don’t think we’ll be seeing too much of him. Andy’s naturally a loner anyway. If you want to back out, though, I understand.”
Jerry thought for a second and said, “No, I’m in. What the hell. How bad can it be?”
George reached out from under the dash and fumbled with the CD player until he managed to insert the disc. The boat came alive with the driving bass of an overplayed Stones’ hit as it reverberated off the insulated metal walls of George’s shop.
“Are both of those speakers working back there?” he shouted as he groped the dash in search of the volume control. Jerry assured him that the music sounded “kick-ass”. George neatly tucked his finished splices into the mass of cables and then wriggled out from under the dash. Tiny, colored pieces of rubber insulation hung in his full dark beard like garish ornaments in a burly black Christmas tree. He unfolded his lanky frame and stretched his cramped muscles as he stood up, proudly surveying his new stereo handsomely set into the dashboard of his speedboat. Fast boat, now fast sound, he thought.
Jerry was happy the installation had gone smoothly. He had seen George lose his temper when one of his stereo jobs didn’t go as he would have liked. The brown paper that covered the fiberglass insulation inside the shop was spotted with punctures where he had thrown screwdrivers in frustration.
George had met Paula after he had returned from Iraq, the experience that had contributed foremost to his lack of patience with those who thought they knew what they were talking about, but really didn’t. Lithe and tall, George cast an imposing figure: intense and penetrating. He was wild-looking when it served his purpose. A significant portion of his customers owned (or wished they owned) Harley Davidson motorcycles. George was a man to whom they could relate.
One other traveler was to accompany George, Jerry, Paula, and Andy Mowf on their weekend outing. Shelly Peters had just moved to Austin and worked at the real estate agency next door to Paula’s salon.
“I don’t really know her very well,” Paula had said a few days earlier, “but she seems pleasant enough. She just started working for Simpson Cole a few weeks ago. She came in from Wyoming where she was involved in some kind of oil shale project. I think she’s originally from there -- or maybe South Dakota. Anyway, we get along good at work, so I asked her if she would like to come with us this weekend to the lake. She doesn’t know many people yet, and she thought the trip sounded like fun.” Prognostication was not one of Shelly Peters’ strong points.
“Is she a good listener?” George had asked his wife, “because Andy will surely bend her ear.” He added, “I hope she has a sense of humor. She’ll need it.”