Archive for April, 2010


April 14, 2010

“You’re too vain,” my mother scolded everytime I’d obsess over a new hairdo I wanted to try, carefully copied from the pages of Seventeen magazine. I never looked liked the models, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I slept on brush rollers, pink sponge rollers with plastic clips, spoolies (anybody remember spoolies?) and – the ultimate dent in the scalp – orange juice cans. Ouch!

For many women, me included, hair is the pinnacle of vanity, the Everest of appearance. I hate admitting I’m that shallow. But when I own up to my hair fetish, it helps me acknowledge I’m human. I care how I look.

“Don’t cut the back too short,” I told my hair guy John at our 5:30 appointment this afternoon.

“It makes me look like a Planter’s peanut.”

He laughed.

John Sasso has been cutting my hair for 20 years. By now, he’s heard it all, but I love that I can still make him laugh. John has a studio in his home, a ten-minute walk from the Glen Park BART station in San Francisco. Every five or six weeks I show up on his doorstep practically panting I am so eager to get my  hair cut.

My hair is super thick and it grows really fast. For the first two weeks after a haircut I literally feel like a Planter’s peanut with an ungainly neck and huge ears. Then for about 10 days, it looks perfect, until suddenly, mysteriously, it’s gone gazinga! Until the next cut, my hair is completely out of control – shaggy, unruly, obstreperous. I look like the cartoon character Jughead. Every morning when I squint into the mirror, there’s a big pouf on the top of my head. Only generous dollops of hair gel and way too much hairspray keeps it semi-manageable.

John has a poster on his wall with a guy wearing an Elvis-style pompadour. It reads, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” I tell you, by the time I ring John’s doorbell, I am experiencing Sartori.

Today, I decided it was time for my spring hairdo – shorter, perkier, a little more daring. I’m still after that Suzanne Pleshette look, although it continues to elude me. I gave John careful instructions, including the part about not making it too short in the back, and away he went. We listened to Patti Smith, and Carole King. We talked about movies – we both loved The Ghostwriter and agreed that no matter what you think of Roman Polanski, the guy sure can make movies. We talked about travel, the last time we were each in Europe, and the geography of Switzerland relative to France – is Basel north of Paris? Yes, I insisted.

Before I knew it, an hour was gone, and my lap was full of reddish brown clumps of crowning glory.  So much hair! Where does it all come from? John wrapped it up in the crinkly material of the cape that covered me, and whisked it away. Then he spent five minutes sweeping up more of it off the floor. I felt light. I felt free. I ran my hands through my hair. I felt – oh my God – naked.

“I look like David Cassidy,” I said.

My hair is short, people. Walking to BART, I was surrounded by women with long, lush tresses. Pageboys. Ponytails. Flowing, blowing, feminine hair. Not an Audrey Hepburn or Suzanne Pleshette in the bunch. Just me, a gamine wannabe. I know it will grow back. I know probably no one will notice. I know that’s what I said I wanted. But gosh, I feel like a shorn lamb, or an ungainly guber with Dr. Spock ears. Or just a woman whose sacred perogative is utter dissatisfaction with her hair.


It was a dark and stormy night

April 11, 2010

Standard wisdom for writers is that cliches are always bad. But I’m not so sure. If a cliche revs you up enough to start typing words on a blank screen, is that really a bad thing? I’m in favor of whatever primes the pump. Oops. Cliche. Seriously, it is a dark and stormy night in my adopted city, Oakland, and we chai-latte-sipping-sunshine-loving Northern Californians are outraged by our fickle spring weather. It has dropped below 68 degrees and that is just not supposed to happen in April. The wind is lashing the Mexican weeping bamboo on my deck, and thunderstorms are forecast. Pity the poor hummingbirds who can’t even make it to the feeder yet manage to survive the elements that send we humans cowering in abject terror to our netflix mumbling the Serenity Prayer.

Hey, nothing against netflix. Or the Serenity Prayer. Both are useful – the former for distraction, the latter to bring us face to face with the reality that we control so very little. Except for how we respond to the avalanche of stimuli bearing down upon us. And by those responses we build our worlds – hell or heaven at the flick of a neuron. “The courage to change the things I can…” It takes many hours on my meditation cushion to observe the cacaphony of my inner life. Maybe courage is built that way too, one breath at a time.

Bounded by Lakeshore, Grand, and Mandana Avenues, the neighborhood where I live is known as Grand-Lake. I am a five-minute walk from Lake Merritt, Arizmendi Pizza, Peet’s and Trader Joe’s. From my deck I can see the Oakland Hills dotted with red tile roofs and palm trees interspersed with redwoods. Just below my street is an extension of Lakeshore Avenue with a small park where little kids jump, dig in the sand, and grab toys away from each other. It’s reassuring to hear their hoots and hollers and yelps, background music while I do the dishes or check my e-mail. Life is going on out there, I think, and like my old cat who loves to sit on the deck and watch the world, I am an observer of life. It washes up against me from the vantage point of the hill where I look out, as if from a tree house.

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