Oceanside

A Story

by Daniel Woodrell

Those marines with the worst loneliness put on longhair wigs once the bus stopped in Oceanside. They kept their wigs hidden during the ride from Camp Pendleton, stuffed into brown paper sacks, rolled up inside a beach towel, or shoved down their skivvies. The bus was packed and loud, everybody revving their hopes for magical moments to occur during the brief liberty that began as soon as the wheels stopped turning. Those bearing wigs rushed down the steps, across the bus station lobby past sagged civilians waiting on benches, and shoved into the head to crowd the mirror. Marines wearing bell-bottoms with fluttery stitching along the seams and peasant shirts elbowed one another aside to better study their reflected disguises. A little boy standing at a urinal stared in disbelief that grew toward panic as he absorbed a new, deep confusion about men while spattering his sneakers. The veteran marines slipped the wigs over their high-and-tights and yanked them back and forth, searching for the fit that looked most natural. None of them looked natural. The wigs were the cheapest you could buy, synthetic pelts that looked fake at any distance. The blond rugs were stiff as straw and held a plastic sheen, and the black ones were the desperate black that old ladies or fading actors favored to draw eyes away from their sinking faces. The wigs didn’t fool anybody in Oceanside, where jarheads were so plentiful, but there was hope they might somehow succeed up the coast in Laguna or Long Beach, and enlisted men could pass as hippies among hippies for a weekend of communion before returning to base for a 6:00 a.m. formation, three-mile run, and mess duty.

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