Friday, December 19, 2008

A time to seek, and a time to lose

I chopped off my hair just before we left Buffalo, home of hot and spicy chicken wings and Friday fish fries. It was time to look forward to a new life in Seattle.

The week of departure, I told my stylist to cut off my floppy, fake curls, right down to an inch all around.

"Have you talked to your
husband?" the stylist asked. (They always ask this, it must be part of the training.)

"Look," I said, "Dave'll thank me. Until he passes the bar and gets hired at a law firm, hair cuts are a luxury we just can't afford. I mean it, cut it off."

The term "hair permanent" is a lie. Perms flop and frizz and fade, forcing continual expense and maintenance. Afterwards, I felt released: from misbehaved ends, and, to be frank, from Buffalo, as well.

I'd arrived three years earlier with a BA in Psychology and, the 1980's being what they were, could only find a job as a waitress at ChiChi's Mexican Restaurant. Early on, I succumbed to a hair permanent, perhaps because it went so well with the waitressing uniform: frilly white blouse, too-short flamenco skirt.

My friends--and drinking buddies--from ChiChi's included a disenfranchised teacher, a graphic artist, and a University of Buffalo student on the nine-year undergrad plan. We spent many nights at a tavern called the Keg bemoaning such things as Reagonomics and our directionless lives. We called ourselves the 27-club, since we all dwelled in that twenty-something limbo.

The town of Buffalo, too, seemed to be in limbo. The steel plants had closed. The economy was drifting. Even the football team, the Buffalo Bills, were floundering. Bills fans were so embarrassed by their team, they wore paper bags on their heads when they attended games.

There were things I enjoyed, too, about Buffalo. Its proxmity to Toronto, and to thunderous Niagara Falls. I used to love bicycling through downtown along the Niagara River. And Delaware Park. And the Teddy Roosevelt teddy bear museum. And the laid back, unpretentious people.

But my husband's stint in law school was only meant to last three years. After two of those years, I served up my last chimichanga and became a secretary at Healy-Schutte Advertising Agency. It may have paid less than the waitressing, but at least I was serving up words.

Now, though, it was time to move on. The ad agency team I worked for generously threw me a going away party. Amid champagne toasts, and joking and laughter, the account executives awarded me with a yellow rain hat (because it always rains in Seattle) and pink lingerie (Irene's boyfriend was a lingerie salesman). I made a speech of thanks, and rubbed it in about my escape to Pacific Coast seafood, mountainous wilderness, the Northwest's thriving economy.

So I'd said my good-byes, my curls were shorn from my head, but still, Buffalo had one more experience in store. In the midst of packing up our Colvin Avenue apartment and nightly farewell toasts at the Keg, I contracted an excruciating pain in my butt. I could barely walk, let alone sit, and it got more painful by the hour. I made a last-minute visit to a doctor, who diagnosed it as a thrombosed hemorrhoid. Perhaps brought on by a bad diet, he suggested, or an over-indulgence in alcohol. (Do ya think?) I wasn't about to argue--I just wanted it gone. The earliest he could surgically remove it was the morning Dave and I planned to leave Buffalo forever.

So bright and early on moving day, Dave and I headed west for Seattle, only to veer off the road as soon as we'd gotten on for my last-minute surgery. It didn't take long. The shocker was the post-operative care instructions: I'd have to recline or stand, not sit, for the next six hours.

Hence, I headed west toward Seattle, kneeling on the passenger seat, facing backward at Buffalo's rusting skyline. With the pain in my butt gone, as the city receded, I felt a sharp stab of sadness.