Nachman Burning by Leonard Michaels, 1998
The magic trick:
Setting up a believably ridiculous, ridiculously believable situation to illustrate the social difficulties Nachman faces every day
“Nachman Burning” was the first of the five Nachman stories to publish in The New Yorker. It may not be the story to grab first when introducing a friend to the many merits of the Nachman World, but it still is pretty solid.
All of Nachman’s human interactions are tricky. He overthinks everything. There is a constant fear of social code and moral propriety. There is a omnipresent sexual tension from the repression of God know’s what desires in Nachman’s life.
It’s really excellent stuff.
In today’s feature, all of that takes the form in Nachman getting aroused during a haircut. That’s really all you need to know. And that’s quite a trick on Michaels’s part.
Near the end, Felicity would say, “You like O.K.?”
Nachman would say, “Perfect.” He would sound drowsy.
Later, he always tipped generously and smiled, saying, “Thank you,” and walked giddily home, supposing that his head might now look appropriate on a pedestal in his garden, with a grin on his lips, expressing blissful indifference to the fluttering doves and jays, lighting and asquat, shitting on his haircut. But where else, for twenty-two dollars (four for the shampoo, thirteen for the haircut, and five-dollar tip), could Nachman get such relief from low spirits and uncomplicated satisfaction? He’d have paid more.