Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bad hair day

It's a cloudy, gray day, enough to depress just about anyone. As I head off to a hair appointment, the usual cut and color, I already have a down and out mood. My day goes quickly from bad to worse. On arrival at the salon, I learn "there's been a mistake." My usual stylist has the day off. The news comes as a shock, as much to them, it seems, as to me. Am I willing, the front desk staff asks, to just get a cut today, or maybe just a color? Like they don't even have a way to fit me in at all.

Emotional turbulence gusts in. I'm truly unnerved. I stand there, glaring, saying nothing.

"We tried to call you. Didn't you get the message?" the woman says.

"No," I erupt, gesturing impatiently. "As if it would make a difference. I planned my day around this." I'm almost growling. I have a hunch I look just like my father used to when he got angry, mouth set in a grim line, jaw tense and scary. Seriously? Over a hair appointment?! C'mon, Claire. Get a grip!

"We're so sorry, can we schedule you in another time? It's really weird this happened," blah blah blah.

"I'm really upset right now," I say, when she looks at me expectantly. It must be my turn to talk, but I've lost the thread. "I just need to step outside for a bit."

Out in the drizzle, I stare blankly at the gray. Gray street, gray cars, gray concrete parking garage, gray leafless trees, gray sky. What are my options? Walk down the sidewalk until I come across a hair salon that looks promising? Hopefully one with a "walk-ins welcome" sign? Or, give up and go work at the library? Live with bad hair (white roots, dull, hair-in-the-eyes tresses) for as long as I can stand it?

I realize I have little energy for that, physical, emotional or otherwise. Hair takes a huge amount of time and thought and care. And trust, too. I just don't have it in me today.

Turn around and go back in, I tell myself. Just deal.

I push open the salon door, worried now that when they see me coming, fear will cross their faces. A salon is like a fishbowl. Everyone knows when a client's in a snit.

"Oh, good!" One of the front desk assistants says, smiling. "Here you are. We've just had a cancellation, a stylist can take you in right away. And today, it's on us."

"Oh," I say helplessly. "Okay." I stand there limply while one of them comes around the counter, removes my coat for me, takes my backpack, and hands me a smock. Someone else brings me a cup of hot tea and leads me to a chair. Yup, the salon workers are all subtly checking me out, no doubt braced for more drama. As I sit down and gaze into the mirror, I recognize the stylist about to work on me. I've seen her before, and think she's more than competent. But I'm still feeling put out, the emotional disturbance pumping away inside.

In the next chair over, the woman getting her hair done is laughing gleefully and chatting away, with her stylist and with mine. I'm not quite ready for reckless joy, although when she tries to draw me in, I offer what I hope is a pleasant enough smile. I feel better already.

On the way out, as the assistant hands me my coat, I thank her.

"Sorry I imploded earlier," I say.

"You know," she says. "I really admire how you stepped outside."

A few hours later, I tell this story to a friend.

"That's an atta girl!" Cathy says. "Good for you."

I suppose it was. And for all that, my hair isn't half bad.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Horse hair

Recently, a friend pointed out that, despite the many topics I've covered about hair, I've not once mentioned horse hair. I'm rarely around horses, so it just didn't occur to me.

As I combed (ahem) the internet looking into it, I found that horse hair is much more prevalent in my immediate surroundings than I would have thought.

For instance, horse hair is often used in concrete. Its fiber adds strength. It's also used in mortar. The walls of my house date to the 1950s and are made of plaster -- horsehair might just have been sheltering me from storms all along.

Horse hair is used for all kinds of things - pottery, fishing line, fabrics, paintbrushes, jewelry... Until synthetic fabrics came along, it was the goto for padding in furniture, not a bad choice since horse hair is more heat resistant than human hair. According to, the hair would be stripped from the horse's mane and crimped with a hot iron. (A horse's mane grows as much as 1-1/2 inches per month.) Called "Horse-hair Curlers," people used to have jobs doing this kind of work.

Horse hair is also music to our ears -- violin bows are made of it. The quality of horse hair used in a violin bow is exceedingly important. For the upper strings, only white hair from a stallion is used. Why? Black hair is coarser, used for the lower strings like the cello and bass. The hair for string bows comes from the tails of horses in really cold climates such as Siberia, Mongolia and Canada. I learned all this, and eight other facts about the horsehair on a string player's bow, at a post at Colorado Public Radio here.

It was in reading the comments at the above post that things got even more interesting. Since horse hair is often procured from slaughterhouses, for some the use of horse hair is a "cruelty to animals" issue, with alternatives constantly being sought. As I scrolled down the comments, this pungent remark stuck with me, made by Kamrooz Sanii: "We must realize that only the hair from male horse is useful because those from female horse is not since the female urinates constantly on its tail." There you have it.