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