CHESTER Wilson prefers that you call him “Chet”.
He really does.
This singular, modest preference is even clarified on his business card from the office of Dr. Rex Smiley & Assoc. of Modesto, California. “Chester Wilson” is printed in italics at the top of the card, his position as Teeth Whitening Consultant printed in boldfaced type underneath, and at the very bottom, the phrase, “Call me Chet,” neighbored by this smiley face: 🙂 . The card itself is the pinkish color of bubblegum that you only chew as a kid.
Chester’s pink card pervades countertop fish bowls in fast food establishments across Modesto Beach, stealing weekly burger give-a-way attention from its monochromatic ilk in the bowls and consequently incensing local businessmen whose own cards were printed on the principle that tradition is fair, which is pretty much the definition of business as usual. All’s fair that remains fair. (Note the increasing number of neon colored cards being deposited in fast food fish bowls by miserly and hungry businessmen. Note the magician’s slight of hand from these businessmen as they deposit neon colored cards, and the subsequent disappearance of Chester’s pink card from three different area Burger Barn fish bowls, like the trend of election sign disappearance from domestic yards at nightfall in small town politics. Note the teenagers who steal all cards vibrant and alluring from fish bowls to cure their fleeting taedium vitae as they wait in line to order their chicken nuggets. Capitalism at its most skeletal.)
In karmic defiance of his disappearing cards, Chester wins a burger drawing weekly, and he obligingly eats his prize at the bestowing restaurant in the same manner he eats all of his meals: solitary, in a way that’s only socially acceptable in public parks. Patrons in plastic booths nearby who have actually made the effort to divert attention from their hamburgers to their solvent environment have remarked on at least two separate incidents to their children about the unpleasant way in which that lonely red-headed man consumes his food, as if he strongly disagrees with the burger’s political views and is only stomaching its distasteful exhortation so that he may later refute it.
They’re referring to Chester’s manifest dislike of eating, after an accident in which regular, devout application of Dr. Smiley’s patented whitening product during only week three of the regimen catalyzed an allergic reaction that singed Chester’s tastebuds, kind of the same way NaCl dissolves a snail, so that all of Chester’s meals post-singeing taste like a flavorless instant pudding. Blackened triggerfish w/ a parmesan grit cake: Pudding. Organic pesto over whole-grain linguini: Pudding. Pan-fried basil chicken topped w/ a sun-dried tomato puree: Pudding. Quarter-pound Barnsider w/ cheese: Pudding.
A little taste of purgatory.
Children are typically too enamored with Chester’s appearance to notice his physical quirks (like two people looking at the same window), mesmerized by the stark contrast of colorful food against Chester’s teeth, which appear to have been primed for a week-long paint job, and the morsels of food are like paint samples being held to the white wall to determine which color scheme works. But shrewd eyes involved in incipient ambition are always too small to see the bigger picture.
The pink business card currently sits in a fan shape with 249 others on Chester’s filing cabinet-colored aluminum desk, where he has spread them out like a semi-circle of collapsed dominoes. In that crepuscular time before the dimming of fluorescents at the conclusion of a work day, Chester has chosen to pass the minutes by squinting at his cards, attempting to determine whether — through narrowed eyes — his name at the top looks like “Cheddar Wilson,” and the bottom of the card appears to say “Call me Cheet-O.”
Exactly half of the cards remain from the original 500 Chester purchased four years ago when he was hired by Dr. Smiley immediately after completing college. At a time of future uncertainty, for Chester, business cards implied permanence. Validity. These were two traits Chester was chasing when he applied for the job, traits that always appeared to be running away from him.
When Samantha informed him that she would be accepting a temporary job as a receptionist at Dr. Smiley’s office, mainly just for the free dental, Chester knew immediately what his career path entailed. The ensuing months of break room seminars on dissenting shades of white, the weekly required and clipboard-logged hours of door-to-door peddling that made human interaction a series of facial winces and muttered pleas rather than smiles and enthusiastic agreement, the $1,500 starter kit that meant a summer vacation outside of county lines was obviously out of the question, all were necessary evils, examples of Hollywood sacrifice that Chester knew were vital to sustaining a healthy relationship.
Chester was often prone to romanticized visions of chivalry and courtly love, his perception of the ritualistic dating dance resembling a queer wedding of medieval England and 1950’s American cultures (viz: one of King Arthur’s knights promising to lift his bascinet’s visor and gouge his own eyeballs for even leading off for a second base run at Shirley Donaldson during a drive-in movie), and prone is precisely what Chester was when a traveling drug rep who gilded the office’s white schema with a veil of tan began conducting assiduous sales-pitches and follow-up (evening?!) phone calls to Reception during only Chester’s second week at Dr. Smiley’s, a drug rep who knew that — underneath all the catchphrases and discounts and promotions — a salesman still had to sell himself to attain what he truly wanted. Chester considered two months to be indicative of love. With a tease and a smile, Samantha was gone, accompanying a Hollywood face to avoid a Hollywood fate. Chester was unsure if he had ever even touched her.
These were two traits that Chester believed to be subservient to teeth, white and structured, teeth the shape of the Pope’s hat and wedding tulips and sun-bleached tombstones and sheet ghosts and the porcelain mask of comedy (which could easily be the mask of tragedy, depending on where the holes were drilled).
Dr. Smiley enters Chester’s office teeth first, the rest of his body concealed behind the jamb for affected industriousness, and addresses Chester through a cemented Christmas card smile like an amateur ventriloquist.
+ Are you sleeping, Chester?
– No sir. Just shuffling some business cards around.
+ You could be on the phone with our patients in these last few minutes, spreading the Word of White. Do you have the Good Book on you?
Chester holds up a manual whose cover is embossed with a cartoon molar and the phrase “White Power.” Dr. Smiley nods in approval, teeth still fixed, so that the nod is more of an elastic jack-in-the-box bow.
+ And smile. Let’s see those job-securing teeth.
Chester Wilson hasn’t smiled in four years.
A ginger isn’t a 21st century prototype of an alternative human being, cast from the cerebral play-dough of jungle gym bullies who need their targets to be uniform in appearance for easy identification and efficient noogie distribution. The title itself might be a 21st century invention, however. At least in its context. The words “carrot top,” “daywalker,” and “ghost” are also synonyms. “Bluey” is popular in Australia. What all these words attempt to describe, or — more appropriately — demean, is a person with hair colored copper red and fair skin coated in what’s basically an extra epidermis of freckles. Like a fourth stratum of skin. And they have to be thick-skinned to deal with the phenomenon of prejudice tidal waving against them after someone popular or cultured or influential in popular culture decided that red hair is now the mark of a subhuman creature who lost (by a landslide) the genetic Powerball, and that all public settings are a high school locker room in which anyone with red hair should be reminded of how inferior he is as often as temporally possible, until everyone with that specific physical trait is demoralized into complete mental slavery. Which demonstrates the capriciousness of all things popular and cultured considering redheads have been documented in works as early as Homer’s Iliad, in which they were formidable and enigmatic, like one of the Greek gods themselves. During medieval times redheads were considered licentious and volatile — character traits that don’t exactly protrude as cottony white elastic bands above the rear waistline, begging to pulled and stretched over the head in visible contempt. Shakespeare made red hair the Jewish character’s calling card for easy ethnic identification in his plays, while in Elizabethan England red hair was considered high fashion for women.
Genetically, researchers have discovered in modern centuries that people with red hair possess a higher tolerance for pain, due to the unique way a redhead’s mutated hormone receptor responds to the skin pigmentation hormone and to pain-relieving hormones called endorphins, the whole process of which can be summarized in chemistry textbook nomenclature that will be omitted out of basic concern for your digestion priorities and attention span. This amplified pain tolerance requires redheads to be given larger doses of anesthetic when undergoing surgery, which relieves them of sensation and that pesky awareness of their physical reality; analgesic, which relieves pain without eliminating sensation, is only administered to them in diminutive doses. An anesthetic-overloaded redhead (alternately spelled “anaesthetic,” or “devoid of beauty”) recovering from the procedural removal of wisdom teeth might meander without sensation for days like a well-sedated orangutan dragging its knuckles along the sidewalk, oblivious to the foot and wheel movement of encompassing traffic.
The combination of red hair and fair skin also happens to be the rarest genetic pairing in the world. At 2% of the world’s population, people with red hair are the veritable minority group, existing near, but clearly distant from, the bodies of melanin-rich skin and dark hair like Mars floats in the peripherals of Earth, and with frequent public use of coined derogatory epithets like “ginger” and “carrot top,” solidarity through degradation has yielded a red-headed race, just as it created the other categorized races. The red-headed are God’s new chosen people for their trials, the 21st century belonging to them like the 19th belonged to blacks and the 20th to Jews. This time oppression will be disguised in cutting quips rather than being presented as distinct abuse.
Because redheads are included under the umbrella of Caucasian, all sport can be made about their appearance without the oppressor being stamped with any kind of polarizing -ist or -ite. And the sport is practiced so frequently, through mindless repetition of drills, that the drillers have become experts in their craft, so much so that all red-headed kids these days seem to be wearing the same mask, uniformly crafted with the tragic frown. Their camps of hell are the summertime confinement to forested lakeside retreats of tire swings and log cabins and bunk beds, where bureaucracy consists of beige-headed, clear-skinned, 8 to 15-year-old governing bodies, while college counselors serve only the purpose of further humiliation through atoning kindness. So basically summer is a blazing extension of school semester hell, falling asleep has attained the same appeal as waking up, and redheaded kids across the push-pinned map are saying “No, thank you” to human existence for something that would have at one time caused them to be fearfully worshipped.
Chester hasn’t really responded yet to human existence, but this may just be out of inherent shyness. His hair is the amber of a seasonal microbrewery ale, sparkling, fizzy, buoyant, with body thats sheer volume causes the attached head to pale in dimensional comparison. All of this overflows onto a severely freckled face, where lactic skin sporadically shows through, like a child in the middle of removing face paint with a wash rag at the conclusion of Halloween night. Most freckles are a mark of childhood that fade with time, but Chester’s seem to be multiplying with age, incestuously mating with one another, an epidermic Rorschach test that guarantees after seeing Chester once, you’ll never be able to interpret his face the same way next time you meet him. His complexion has a spectral pallor rarely displayed on the West Coast. Not since people started lying in those tanning beds that someone else made. Chester would be more at home as a character in a Renaissance painting, one of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel angels — equipped to fly back to heaven, but restrained by the goddamn ceiling.