Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I looked in the mirror and fiddled with my hair, pulling the curls out a little more on the back of my head. I had a date--my first date in college--and I wanted to look extra special. I say I fiddled with my hair. That's true in the generic sense. It was my hair; I'd paid good money for it.

There were a couple of logistical problems that were looming large with me. To begin with, my date, an airman from the local airforce base whom I'd met in one of my classes, was exactly my height. My height if I were barefoot, hunkered over a bit, and had stuck my hair back with Butch Wax, which was pink, smelled like . . . well, I can't really describe what it smelled like, exactly . . . maybe a combination of bubble gum and cotton candy (besides, only boys used it). It predated hair gel and bore a strong resemblance to Silly Putty, only you couldn't transfer comics with it.

The fact was, Dave was shorter than me, and that was that.

This was the late 1960s.  Girls wore their hair two ways--either straight as a string, often ironed, with bangs that draped artistically over their eyes like those girls who hung out with The Beatles and The Stones--or ratted and sprayed. My hair fit into the latter category. It was nape-length in back, very short on the left side and chin length on the right side. I went to bed every night with it wrapped around brush rollers (little hollow mesh rods with a brush inside them that protruded through the mesh--holding the hair on it and making sleep next to impossible--I am sure they were invented by a bald mysogenist), and awoke with a headache and a stiff neck--but  day-uhm, my hair looked good!

Every morning, I took control of the bathroom where I pulled out the rollers and  ratted (back combed) my hair until it stood straight out all over my head. Then I used about half a can of Aqua Net Extra Firm Control hair spray, creating a crispy tumbleweed that I then 'picked out' with a rattail comb until it resembled a fat, brown helmet, the short side tucked behind my left ear, the long side nearly obscuring my right eye. The poufy top added about 4 inches to my already 5-10 frame. More hairspray completed my coiffure--and I was good to go. I'm fairly certain that had I experienced the misfortune of being run over by a tractor/mower, my hair would have survived intact.

Anyway, my usual hairdo, considering the height issue, and Dave's lack of it, was out of the question, so I decided to wear my 'fall'. I bought it with babysitting money when I was a senior in high school and kept it on my dresser on one of those white styrofoam heads. It matched my haircolor sort-of exactly, but was shiny in an electric way--like most acrylic hair of the period.

Sometimes I wore my fall 'down'--meaning it trailed down my back from its anchor of bobby pins on the back of my head--like moss on a tree in the Louisiana swamplands. Falls never tend to adhere to the whole back of your head. They erupt, instead, from beneath whatever part of your own hair you've used to cover up where you've pinned them on, and there is invariably a strange, often visible void underneath, where your short hair is hiding, kind of like you've suffered some disfiguring head accident and part of your scalp no longer grows hair.

On this particular evening, I opted for a more sophisticated 'do', and so spent some time ratting my fall and molding it into a succession of barrel curls, skinned my own hair straight back, and--using several dozen bobby pins--attached the hairpiece securely to my head so that the curls hung dramatically down the back  like a cluster of overripe concord grapes.

The other problem was on the opposite end of my considerable geography: shoes. Back then, which is evidenced today by my now lumpy and hurty feet, I wore high heels--the higher the better. I scrounged around in the back of my closet and finally came up with a pair of flat-heeled pumps. Looking myself over in the bathroom mirror, I could only hope Dave would find fascination in my blue eyeshadow, and oh-so-popular false eyelashes,  and thus not notice that those ugly flat shoes made my legs look like howitzers.

Dave picked me up in his little green sedan and took me out to dinner, then he took me dancing, shepherding me brazenly into a bar near the airbase where they didn't ask for my ID, and where he drank beer and I drank soda. I'd never been in a bar in my life, and was terrified that any minute the beer police would swoop down, cart me off, and I'd have to call my folks for bail money. But after a few minutes it became clear that the barmaids would only have cared about my age if I'd needed  a diaper change or a bottle warmed--and were occupied for the most part in fending off groping airmen while trying to be flirtatious enough to get a decent tip.

Dave turned out to be an excellent dancer, and since I'd spent all of my teenage years dancing alone in my living room, I took the opportunity to make it clear that I was a pretty good dancer, myself. I drew the attention of another airman who was much, much larger than Dave, who danced with me several times, too.

In high school, when I complained to my mother that I never had any dates, she consoled me by telling me that my time would come--that when I was older, and met men, instead of boys, I would have dates. Well, in my mind, my time had finally come, and I was having a ball. Dave wasn't particularly thrilled that I was having a good time with people other than himself, so after a few dances he glommed onto me again and wouldn't let me go.

We rocked out. There was a live band that made up with enthusiasm what they lacked in techical skill. Dave grabbed me, spun me, twirled me. We truly sweated to the oldies--which were newies, back then. I loped off to the ladies room several times where I got dirty looks from tough-looking women who smoked unfiltered cigarettes and pulled up their nylons while I wiped gallons of perspiration off my face, fiddled with my hair, and hoped I didn't smell too much like a construction worker.

We left at eleven-thirty or so and drove back to my house. Dave parked out front, conveniently concealing his car in front of some of Mom's big shrubs. We had a few spare minutes before my midnight curfew. He turned off the engine and the lights. It was cozy there in the dark quiet and he smelled like Jade East aftershave. I knew immediately how nice girls like me got from the front seat to the back seat. Dave put his arm around me and urged me over next to him for a goodnight kiss. I have to tell you, it was stunning, exhilarating, mesmerizing--and seemed to go on forever. My first, real-live, grown-up kiss.  When it ended, he gazed deeply into my eyes. I felt him lean over and I prepared for another one.

Instead he reached over the seat back. "Here," he murmured, placing something gently onto my lap. "Your hair fell off." In the vacuum that followed, I could hear the car's engine ticking as it cooled.

I looked down at my lap, and there crouched my fall. Thinking back, I can't decide now whether it looked like a wet cat or a small, sick possum. We sat there--me, Dave and my hair--in chummy silence for a minute or two, but somehow the romance was gone. With as much dignity as I could muster, I thanked Dave (who had the grace not to crack so much as a smile)  for the wonderful evening, casually picked up my hair, got out of the car and went in the house.

My folks were in bed, the house dark and still. In my bedroom, I kicked off my ugly shoes and pinned my damp, sticky hairpeice onto its styrofoam head. Glancing in the mirror, I was struck with the knowledge that with my real hair slicked back and my eyes made up, I looked a lot like Adolf Hitler in drag.

Without the moustache, of course.

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