Critical Thought: Toni & Jana

In addition to being quite humorous, the opening paragraph of this story is also a solid line of reasoning. The main (or only) character responds to an awkward situation with his intellect; he is a thinking man. He is supremely comfortable with analyzing himself and his surroundings. He knows his likes and dislikes. He is even capable of empathy in some sense. Why the situation is awkward has no cause outside of himself. And yet, he can’t figure it out. One’s understanding of themselves often times is inversely proportionate to the confidence with which they approach the task.

The intellectualization of emotion is a common theme in my writing; it can also stand as a concise and functional definition of neurosis. Trying to understand and interpret one’s own emotions, trying to reason with the unreasonable, is an enticing journey marked with missteps and folly. This leads to humor playing an all-important role in this and other stories of mine.

While failing at self-knowledge has great comic potential, this character should not be seen as a figure of ridicule. Identification with a character struggling to know himself seems perfectly natural. I am always happy if I make my readers laugh, but the greatest goal of my writing is to help them laugh at themselves.

The final scene of the story can be seen as a symbolic illustration of the problem of intellectual pursuit of self-knowledge. Two mirrors facing each other, infinite regress in either direction, you are curious to see the end of it, but your own head keeps getting in the way. Then again, as Freud might have said, sometimes a haircut is just a haircut.

John Dodge is from Denver, Colorado. He currently lives and works abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. His short story, “Smatchamo” was published in the premier issue of Blue Crow Magazine (Sydney, Australia). A collection of his comics will be featured in the upcoming fall issue as well as in a group exhibition in Prague this September.

Toni & Jana

Women have legs. No, wait. Let me restate that. Most women have legs. I’m sure I must have seen at least one legless woman in my lifetime. It can happen—but it certainly isn’t a common sight. I should be more inclined to stare at a woman with no legs, now that I think about it. You don’t see that everyday. But I think just because some women don’t have legs is no reason for me to pay any more attention to women with legs. I mean, a woman who has no legs might be thought of as unfortunate, but we don’t then think of a woman with legs as fortunate, do we?

Then why do I keep staring at this woman’s legs on the cover of this magazine? I think it must be because that little towel is covering the top portion of the picture. I can’t see her face. I can’t even see what magazine this is. It’s definitely one of those women’s magazines though. You can tell because of all the words crowded onto the cover. They are all using her legs as a margin. If I could see her face, I don’t think this would be happening.

I’ve never thought of myself as a “leg-man”. I’ve heard it’s a sign of maturity though. Mature as opposed to infantile, I suppose. This must be because you experience breasts earlier in life and you have to be at least able to stand up to wrap your arms around a leg. But I like breasts too! I can’t even see those either though. I need something else to look at.

Jana is behind me cutting my hair. I don’t want to stare at her in the mirror though. But that wouldn’t be as bad as if she caught me looking at this magazine. Looking at myself in the mirror? I don’t mind it. I think some people do. But it would really look weird if every time Jana looked at me to check her work she saw me looking straight into my own eyes. There’s nothing else to look at. Her bag of scissors and combs is the only other thing, but I can’t even see what’s inside.

When I first sat down, we started talking, but that always dies down quickly. I can’t keep up that sort of thing for very long. I like to think she appreciates a quiet customer. I just hope she doesn’t think I don’t want to talk to her. She’s been cutting my hair for two years now. Progress has been slow. But I have learned several things about her. Her and her husband are renovating their house, she has one or two children, her favorite movie is Scary Movie 2, and I’ve even seen a picture of her dog.

When I tell my friends that I go here to get my hair cut, they really don’t get it. It is expensive. But it’s worth it. I do think a haircut is a haircut, don’t get me wrong. But there is also such thing as a bad one. The people here are very well trained. There was one time when I called for an appointment and Jana was on vacation. I really don’t like when this happens. I had to see someone else. The haircut was fine. But I had to explain what I wanted to him. I hate doing that. I don’t have to explain to Jana. I always get the same thing. Somehow, though, it’s always a little different. I guess it’s not an exact science. Now whenever Jana is on vacation I just wait until she gets back.

She doesn’t even take me to her station first to ask me what I want anymore. She knows. And besides, it was always difficult when she ran her fingers through the sides and back of my hair. She always said it’s really heavy in those places. I would sit and look at myself in the mirror and wonder why it isn’t heavy on top. A sign of things to come, I suppose.

My favorite part is when she takes me over to this line of little sinks with big leather chairs in front of them. Each sink has a little divot in it meant for your neck. Having my hair washed was weird at first, but I’ve gotten used to it. The best part is when Jana massages my head though. She has good hands. Even though I can tell she tries to avoid it, I really like it when one of her fingernails scratches my head. It’s probably the only time that female—or any other—hands touch my head like that for such a long time. It feels great. And it makes my whole body tingle. I look forward to it. But I am always let down when it’s over.

I think she has definitely noticed me looking at the magazine now. What would she think of that? It probably isn’t as bad as if I had been caught staring at her legs. I wouldn’t do that though. She’s married. Plus, she’s wearing jeans. I would understand it, but I think it would be unfair of her if she thought I was some sort of pervert though. They’re just legs! And as I said, most women have them. And I think she should be very happy to see that at least this one man’s attention can be so consumed by them. I would be if I were her. I would be happy to learn that I—as a member of the opposite sex—was in possession of certain...advantages.

I wish I could move that towel. But if she hasn’t seen me staring at the magazine, doing that would certainly point it out to her. If I could just have the whole magazine cover to look at, I would at least have some plausible deniability as to which part of this woman— whoever she is—that I was staring at. After all, she might have nice...eyes.

Jana just finished now. She is using a blow dryer to get rid of all the little bits of cut hair. It is truly a relief to have my eyes closed right now. She hands me a mirror and spins me around in the chair so I can look at the back of my head. This place is set up so that there are two work stations across from each other. That means there are two big mirrors facing each other. I look at the back of my head with the little handheld mirror. It looks perfect as usual. But what I am really interested in is the reflection of the other mirror across from Jana’s station. These two big mirrors swap reflections back and forth and I try for a bit to see around the reflection of my own head so that I can see further into this strangely enticing, infinite tunnel, but I can never manage it. I also wouldn’t want to try for too long. Jana would think that’s weird.

I pay and, as usual, give Jana a big tip. It will be two or three months before I see her again. Like I said, I’ve been coming to Toni & Guy for two years now. I worry sometimes about Jana leaving this place for another job or something. But until that happens, I will keep coming here. One thing that I still wonder about is: what guy?

by John Dodge