The Good Mad Doctor

When I first met Dr. Flaversham, I was sweeping up hair in Mike’s Barbershop in Coolidge Corner. Mere moments before Flaversham had come inside, Mike had given me the option to go home, well, to leave since I couldn’t go home until dinnertime seeing as my mother had banished me for the day. The decision to stay was one I have played over and over again in my mind.

Dr. Flaversham had wiry, dead-white hair and he generally got only one haircut a year. He had a meticulous procedure when it came to getting a haircut and was adamant that it be followed explicitly.

No one else could be present in the barbershop while he was there, the doors had to be locked, the shades drawn, and noise had to be as minimal as possible. He always prearranged his visit at least a week out, and often offered to pay extra if Mike would stay open late or open up on a day he was usually closed. The barbershop was closed on Sundays and Monday; however, Mike’s wife wouldn’t allow him to open on Sundays, and Dr. Flaversham would not come on Mondays. Dr. Flaversham held Mondays in contempt and with such animus that he refused to leave his own home out of fear that some sort of life-ending calamity would occur. (Dr. Flaversham was a highly superstitious man who grew more paranoid over time. Whether his superstitions were warranted is up for debate, but it should be noted that when Dr. Flaversham passed away on December 31, 1979, it was, indeed, a Monday.)

Dr. Flaversham sat in the barber chair and stared at his reflection in the mirror. Mike was in the back obtaining the special tools reserved just for the eccentric Flaversham. I remember the first thing he said to me.

“I rather enjoy your counterclockwise sweeping method. Now stop it at once, it’s far too loud. I can’t endure an ear bludgeoning today.”

For the next half hour or so while Mike cut his hair, it was dead quiet in the barbershop. Dr. Flaversham insisted on taking all of his hair trimmings with him, he claimed he used them for scientific research. Lord knows what he did with them.

“You seem rather strong, boy,” Dr. Flaversham said. “I was wondering if you’d be interested in making some extra money in exchange for allowing me to use your strength to move heavy objects, each heavier than the former.”

I was young, bored, naïve and, most of all, broke. I agreed.

Flaversham did not require my services immediately. No, he had to hurry home to cleanse himself of clinging hairs. “I’ve never felt such an itch!” He said he would summon me when my services were needed. He also told me I could bring a friend along and he would pay him too.

“I don’t have many friends,” I said.

“Boy, go to the library!” said Dr. Flaversham. “Where else would young boys gather? The comic book shop? The farmer’s market? Coolidge Corner? Though be mindful of wild turkeys and bears! If you can’t make a friend at any of those places then go to a barbershop. I’ve made many a friend and foe at barbershops. Why, just the other day I met a boy who agreed to do my bidding. That reminds me, I have an auction to attend to!” He was off…

Mike could only stare at me in disbelief. After a few moments, he spoke: “If you had a lick of common sense in you, you would have known better than to agree to go anywhere with that man. Didn’t they teach you this in school?”

“He’s just an old man,” I said.

“Do you want me to cut your hair before you go? It’s getting kind of long and girly in the back.”

I declined Mike’s offer because I knew my mother had likely made the request.

I was on my way home from the library the very next day when it hit me—a rock in the back of my head.

“Oh gees, I’m sorry! I thought you were a girl,” said a shaggy-haired boy my age with dirt on his face, neck and shirt.

“Why would you throw a rock at a girl?” I felt the spot where the rock hit me to check for blood. It stung like all heck. I could have easily cried.

“To get her attention,” he said, looking me over. “Hey, aren’t you Wiggly?”

“I am… Wiggly.”

“Yeah, yeah, we were in phys ed together. You can’t catch worth a damn and you’re scared of the ball.”

“You just hit me with a rock. I think I have good reason.”

“You run funny, too. Like a weenie.” He paused long enough to realize I did not like being called physically weak, even though I was. I also didn’t care for the frankfurter implication. “Err—that’s what some of the other boys say. I don’t think that… You’re fast—wicked fast—so that’s a plus, I guess. You always find excuses to sit out. You don’t like team sports or something?”

“Not really. I think sports are a waste of time.”

“I think school’s a waste of time. If there weren’t any girls I’d go bonkers. I’m Raymond, by the way.” He dusted his hand off on his pants, grabbed mine and shook vigorously. “Come on, I’ll buy you a cheeseburger.”

Raymond watched in horror as I slathered heaping globs of mayonnaise all over the top and bottom buns of my greasy cheeseburger. He had never tried mayonnaise on a burger before. “Mayonnaise looks gross.” I can happily report that I converted another that day.

Our friendship developed quickly. We went to the library, shared comic books, threw rocks at girls for some reason. I was spending so much time with Ray that my mother often commented on my absence.

One afternoon, Ray, as his friends called him, and I were leaving the arcade when I heard: “Emmett! Oh, Emmett! Stop there, boy!” It was Dr. Flaversham. “I have been searching high and low for you, Emmett. Mostly high. But some low. You’re not avoiding me now, are you?”

“No, sir, Dr. Flaversham. And it’s Emory.”


“Emory. Emory Wiggly.”

“Wiggly?” He retched. “Wiggly!?”

“Like a worm,” I said.

“Gah!” Flaversham retched ever more dramatically. “If I had known that I would have never offered you the opportunity to lug my things about! Wiggly, indeed. Makes me feel rather…unsettling. Yes?”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Apology accepted. But it still shan’t do. Your forename is already most unfortunate. Most unfortunate indeed.”

“It is?”

“Oh, yes, more than most things in this or any other world or time. Both your forename and surname have worm-like implications.”

“They do?”

“Indubitably! Your forename might as well be Wormly. And then your Wiggly. Dreadfully dreadful. There’s nothing we can do about that. It’s who you are. I suppose we could undo you but that would take too much time that I can’t make. What’s your middle name?”


“That should stick. I shall call you Elmer. Hello, Elmer, how do you do?”


“Like a balloon, I assume. Very clever, Elmer. Now, about this Wiggly business. You simply must not invoke the worm when appending a footnote onto your moniker elucidation. This ‘Wiggly like a worm’ won’t do. Won’t do at all. Might I suggest ‘Wiggly like a brine shrimp.’ It’s far more retching. And by more, of course, I mean less. This being opposite day and all.”

“Opposite day?”

“Yes, every Wednesday is opposite day. Didn’t they teach you this in school?”

“But today’s not Wednesday.”

“Hence opposite day.”

“Hello,” said Ray. He seemed generally curious about the eccentric man before him who didn’t even notice he was standing there. I think that’s what intrigued Raymond the most.

“What are you?” said Dr. Flaversham.

“What I am is Raymond Mooneyham.”


“—Ham,” said Ray.

“Ham? Ham did you say? I like that. Not exactly Kosher but who is these days? MooneyHAM. Yes, that will do. That will do just fine. Come along, the both of you. There is much to do that hasn’t been done.”

It wasn’t until I saw Raymond around Dr. Flaversham, how they interacted together and played off each other back and forth, one encouraging the other and vice versa, that I really saw him at all. The first attribute I truly noticed about Raymond was that he was a soft touch for anyone with a plan; a follower, not a leader. Most teenage boys—most people—wouldn’t dare blindly follow such a peculiar man with a whimsical cadence and ghoul-like appearance. Not Raymond Mooneyham. Like most boys our age, he was always in search of adventure to be had. Dr. Flaversham could have lured us to a most gruesome death in a murky, watery grave and Raymond would have happily obliged, submerged in the thrill of the moment right up until his last breath.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

It was the summer of 1946. I was just an awkward and curious young lad driving my mother batty as only children can do when school is not in session. It was still the first month of summer break and I had already completed the books on my reading list, plus two of my own choosing. My mother had refused to give me anymore money to buy more books; instead she referred me, jokingly I had hoped, to her collection of quivering harlequin roman novels that had been given to her by the unloved widow down the street with the intention of warding off those lonely nights while father was away fighting in the war. Mother never talked about it, but both my sisters and I knew her greatest fear was that father would never come home and that she would grow old, alone, just like the unloved widow down the street, a woman who though she befriended publicly, mostly out of convenience, she didn’t care for very much. I suppose that’s human nature, to hate that which we fear we may become.

Mother would often dispatch me to the library for additional books; she never did understand my disdain for borrowing. To this day I still prefer to own books, proudly displaying them on my bookshelves as trophies: conquests of literature for all the world to see. Anyone can check out library books. However, not everyone is as considerate or hygienic when it comes to proper book handling procedures. I remember the time I borrowed To Kill A Mockingbird from the Brookline Library; there, on page 85, in the whitespace between chapters nine and ten, was a tiny brownish crimson blotch that could only have been oxidized blood. Blood. On a book. It was unmistakable. There were even a few microscopic traces from where the drop of blood had splattered onto the page. Based on the size and shape of the blotch, it was likely the result of a nosebleed. Nose blood. On a book. Perish the thought.

Explaining this to my mother in meticulous detail was yet another reason she wanted me out of the house. She was running out of excuses and reasons to ward me off. She so desperately wanted me to get a haircut but knew that if she gave me money for a haircut that I would spend it on books, like the previous times. She vehemently opposed my proposed summer of long hair. “Boys shouldn’t have long hair, Emory,” she said on numerous occasions.

My twin sister Josephine had managed to convince our mother to give her money for her own haircut, however she left out the part about her desire for boyishly short hair. Mother had always turned a blind eye to the disparaging news that her oldest daughter was a tomboy, and thus not very lady like.
Joe clued me in that she planned to have most of her hair chopped off. It took some time, but I eventually convinced her to let me cut it for her. “No use throwing money away for something I can easily do at home for free,” I said.

“But it’s not for free, Emory,” Josephine said. “You only volunteered so that you could have my haircut money to go buy another book that you could get for free from the library.”
She wasn’t wrong. We split the money.

Mother had fallen asleep reading one of her romance novels on the front porch swing. Our younger sister, Ruthie, was holding a fancy tea party up in her bedroom with the stuffed plush penguin ambassador from the Arctic and his colleagues of bears, both polar and grizzly, and a purple elephant. Our other sisters were in various places around the house. The combined allotted the perfect amount of time for Joe and I to execute our plan in full, without pesky motherly or sisterly interference.

I liberated father’s hair clippers deep from the back of the cabinet below the sink in our parents’ bathroom and met Joe in the backyard. She was cartwheeling around barefoot in the grass. That was the first time I truly realized just how different from normal girls Joe was. She was special. Original.
Joe was not at all concerned that I had never used clippers before. In fact, she seemed to know more about them than I did. I had forgotten to bring the blade attachments; actually, I hadn’t really forgotten them because I didn’t know there were attachments or that I needed to bring them, and so I didn’t really forget them.

“That’s OK,” Joe said. “We won’t need them for as short as we’re going.” She cartwheeled one more time and then flumped Indian style onto the second to last step on the back porch. She licked her index finger and tested the wind. “Perfect, most of the hair should blow towards the neighbor’s yard. If you like, I can do you after. Mom will be so pleased.”

“We can’t have that now, can we?” I studied Joe’s head for more than a few noticeable minutes.

“Do you know what you’re doing?”

“Of course I do.” I didn’t.

One of Ruthie’s toy dolls with long, flowing blonde hair lay atop one of the white wicker rockers that lined the back porch. “Gimme,” Joe said. I handed her the doll hesitantly and watched as she demonstrated the proper clipping procedure. “You want to keep it at an angle. Start at the top and work your way against the grain. Now you try.” She handed me the doll and clippers. By the time we both had a go at it, Ruthie’s poor doll was bald.

I got behind Joe, clippers at the ready. “What if I hurt you?”

“You’re not going to hurt me, ninny. Now hurry up before we get caught.”

“Welp,” I said, steadying the clippers with my unsteady hand, “hair today, gone tomorrow.” I had never noticed how much long, beautiful blonde hair Joe had until I zipped the first patch right off the top of her lumpy head. Light as a feather, hair slowly drifted to the ground; it almost seemed to make a thud upon impact—the impending sound of looming doom.

When I finished, Joe sat there rubbing her hand back and forth across her fuzzy head. “Now you try,” she said.

I rubbed her head. “It feels like a peach.”

“I like peaches.”

“My stars and heavens!” Mother flipped at the sight of her freshly buzzed-head daughter holding an equally buzzed-head doll. The resemblance was uncanny. “Josephine, what have you done?”

“Emory did it,” Joe said like a bratty tattletale. I bit my lower lip and stomped my foot. “What? It’s true. You did do it.”

“Your hair! Your hair!”

“She made me do it.”

“I made him do it.”

“Your hair. Your hair!” Mother was running in circles, like a cartoon character on fire, screaming over and over again. “Your beautiful hair!” You’d think I had decapitated my sister. “My God. My God!”

“My God, too,” Joe said.

“I like it,” I said, rubbing Joe’s head back and forth. “Try it, mom. It feels like a peach.”

“I like peaches,” Joe said. I had never seen my twin sister so defiant, so confident before. She was cool as a cucumber. It was awesome to behold. Even father would have been impressed.

“Emory,” mother said. She now seemed slightly less erratic. “Go.”


“Yes, go. Go now.”

“Go where?”

“Just go! Now! Go and stay there and don’t come back until suppertime.”



“Just go, Emory. Get out of mom’s hair.”

Mother swallowed a gasp and slapped Josephine across the face.

They stood there silent, in shock. Mother tried to gather her composer. She looked like she was trying to figure out if she had indeed slapped her daughter. She tried to speak, still riddled with uncertainty, but only a murmur came out. She had never struck one of us before. She had never even remotely raised her hand in outrage. Not even father had ever done that.

“No pun intended,” Josephine said almost apologetically and with the driest hint of sarcasm. She had a stone-cold stunned look across her now half-rosy face, yet she seemed impressed. Deep down I think she always purposely pushed mother’s buttons in the hopes of generating that type of response. Joe had always said, “Mother doesn’t feel.” Maybe she was right.

I ran into the kitchen to grab a banana for the road. I could still hear them outside.

“Just like Emory,“ Joe was saying. “Hair today, gone tomorrow.”

“Do you think you’re funny, Josephine?”

“Not especially. It’s Emory’s joke. Do you?”

“Of course, you’re very clever. Bright as a tack.”


“Go get your sister.”

“Which one?”

“All of them!”


“We’re going to church.”

“Church? It’s not Sunday.”

“It will be today.”

“You can’t just change what day it is.”

“I’m your mother, Josephine. I can move Heaven and Earth if I want to. Now go!”

When I stepped out of the front door and onto the front porch, I heard Ruthie start to cry. She had found her bald baby doll.