“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.”
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.