Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Cue the Queue

The other day at a used book sale, I picked up A Military Miscellany by Thomas Ayres. "The Battle over a Haircut" was the prime reason, a few brief paragraphs clueing me in as to the existence of hair queues, otherwise known as pigtails.

Author Ayres starts out by explaining that "in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, soldiers traditionally wore their hair braided in the back and secured by a ribbon." According to the Revolutionary War Journal, this practice was part of the uniform, born of the popularity of wigs in the 18th century. So important was it to the military uniform, if men didn't have hair long enough for a pigtail, they braided one out of leather.

Photo from the Revolutionary War Journal blog

The "battle" in question took place in starting in 1801, due to an edict by General James Wilkinson ordering all U.S. enlisted military men to cut their queues.

One Revolutionary War hero of record, a Colonel Thomas Butler, Jr. refused to follow orders. He got away with it for a while, because he had friends in high places -- George Washington, members of Congress. But eventually, in 1803, General Wilkinson refused to look the other way any longer, and put Butler under arrest.

Colonel Butler's friends stepped in, including Andrew Jackson, and pleaded on behalf of the recalcitrant Butler. Their objections gained the colonel a reprieve and restored his rank. But General Wilkinson couldn't let it rest. Again, he erupted in outrage and ordered Butler court-martialed for refusing to cut off his pigtail. The colonel was found guilty. Before he could serve his year in the brig, however, Butler came down with yellow fever.

According to A Military Miscellany, Butler then instructed his friends, upon his demise,
to bore a hole in the bottom of his casket. 'Let my queue hang down through it so that the damned old rascal may see that, even when dead, I refuse to obey his order,' he told them. Colonel Butler went to his grave with his pigtail dangling defiantly beneath his coffin. He would have been disappointed to know that Wilkinson was not there to see it.

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.