Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer Hair

My straight hair is god-given, something that came with the Claire kit. Apparently, it can't be returned for exchange or refund.

I figured this out early, when selected to be an angel in the Christmas Eve pageant. Even my mom was enchanted by the halo and gossamer wings the church school teacher had given me. In a rare nod to playing dress up, she did her best to add to the overall effect, using bobby pins to twist sproing-like curls all over my head. I suppose she'd imagined a fluffy cluster of ringlets to disguise the wire that held the halo in place, but seconds after the bobby pins were removed, only one or two listless waves remained. At the eleventh hour, as the birth of Christ was nearly upon us, she dragged me to the church and the church school teacher came to the rescue with clouds of hairspray.

Once I'd entered elementary school, I absorbed the concept of envy more wholeheartedly than reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. Lindsey had this head of curly, dark hair, and Audrey was daring enough to tease her hair on top and make it flip out at the ends.

"I want curls like Lindsey, Mom," I begged. "Please?!"

Dutifully, Mom did what she could. After my bath, she rolled my wet hair tightly in these incredibly prickly curlers, snapped a shower cap over the top, and sent me off to bed. I'm still not sure how I survived the night. That curler helmet was nothing less than a scalp torture chamber. Everytime I moved my skull exploded with stabbing pain. When I didn't move, it kept up an aching, your-hair's-being-ripped-out-of-your-skull tension. And all for naught. The next morning, when she took out the rods (or cattle prods, or whatever the hell they were), the curls lasted less than half an hour.

My point is, I lusted after curls, but they'd always eluded me. So when perms made the scene in the 1980's, I was nothing short of ecstatic. My hair curled, and stayed curled! I had bounce, flair, my entire visage lifted. I looked and felt happier. I clung to the perm concept for over a decade, but after I had children, visits to hair salons by necessity became brief, anxious affairs. Once again, my hair deflated to its limp origins.

Then one day, it was a late spring afternoon, as I remember, when my son was at school and my preschool-aged daughter had a play date, I visited a walk-in hair salon and, on a whim, asked the stylist if she could give me a perm. She was so nice about it, willing to abandon several hours worth of clients just so I could regain my curly peace of mind. Together, we suffered through the smell, the drips, the folded papers and different-sized curlers, the whir of the hair dryer, the tangle of curlers clicking in the sink during the wash and rinse. The whole time, I felt a growing sense of excitement. My curls were back! I was back! Look out world! I could have it all!

Then came that last blow dry and style--the one where the stylist whips the chair around for the final "ta da"--and I knew in one glance: I'd made a huge mistake. I only had myself to blame. It's true, most of the hair I'd had when I'd walked into the salon had been on top. Perhaps the raw material had been lacking for what I'd envisioned. Whatever the reason, my hair was a mess, now rising up in a mound of floppy silly string, stupid, a ridiculous after-thought.

On the way home, I stopped to pick up my first grader. When your little son--who rarely really looks at you--notices something different, you know you're in trouble.

"What's that on your head, Mom?" He asked, frowning at my curly-the-clown hairdo.

"It's, um, my summer hair," I said, brightly.

"Yuk," he said, buckling in for the ride home. "I liked it better the other way."

The style grew out, but the "summer hair" moment has endured. I don't think I'll ever live it down.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Delving for that je ne sais quoi

When I was in my twenties, I moved seven times in seven years. Now that I've stuck it out in the same locale for a couple of decades, I've discovered stylists are perpetually on the move as well. One said she was moving to a different city to see what it was like. Another fell for a boyfriend who wanted her to learn to dance the salsa and sit by his pool. One guy got a chair in a better salon. Another moved back to Texas because he grew up there and loved riding his ATV through the desert.

Being in the market for a stylist is as torturous as, say, shopping for a car. Cars run the gamut of personality statements--racy, sexy, conservative, cute--just like hair. I'm looking for a stylist who will not only see me for who I am, but who will, with skill, finesse, and expensive haute couture training, produce the spitting image of how I see myself, or failing that, how I'd like to be seen.

Over the years, I've tried just about everything. Sometimes I've asked friends for referrals. Or I've driven down streets and eyed salon storefronts, wrapping my mind around flippy names ("Hair Works," "Hair Raisin'"), trying to hone in on harmonious vibes. Or I've opened the yellow pages to "beauty salons," closed my eyes, and pointed.

This time, the universe didn't seem to align with my quest. The friend I asked said her hair stylist had moved. Huh. Go figure. I called several numbers in the yellow pages but got voicemails. Meanwhile, my hair grew steadily limper, more frayed. Waiting in line at the bank one day, worrying over who I was gonna call (Hairbusters?), I noticed the woman's hair right in front of me in line. It was sophisticated, chic, not overstated. I tapped her on the shoulder.

"Excuse me! Can I ask you? Who cuts your hair?"

The woman pivoted, exclaiming: "Shelly! Oh, I just love her! She's done my hair for years!"

Since the line was crawling, we had an opportunity to delve: Shelly had staying power, Shelly cut hair at a salon not far from here, Shelly was the greatest hair stylist on the planet. The woman even gave me Shelly's card. That wasn't so bad, after all. You just never can tell.