French Roast

granny-and-baby-alisonThis morning she read about a new ice-cap sort of thing that you put on your head if you’re going through chemo. It’s supposed to freeze your hair follicles so that your hair doesn’t fall out.

And then she read her favorite blog – Your Man for Fun in Rapidan – which, from day to day, can be about anything in the world, and it too was about hair. Facial hair. Check it out: Your Man for Fun in Rapidan.

She took this as a sign from above that she, too, should write about hair, partly because writing about hair is easier than writing about white dwarves and dark energy, which was her original intent, and partly because she has a lot to say about hair. Who doesn’t?

Her brother, maybe,  as he is a man without hair. Anywhere. He is a very tall, very hairless man. It’s careless writing to use very with hairless – if you’re hairless you can’t be very hairless, right? – but she likes the look of the two very’s in quick succession, so she’s keeping it.

The (literal) saving grace of alopecia is that you never have to buy shampoo again.

If her brother were still living alone, which, ever since he acquired a wife and child he is not, he would never have to spend a moment’s time concerned about the drains of his house clogging up with hair.

Which she does. There’s a lot of hair in her house. Three women, all with abundant flowing locks, one (peripatetic) young man who contributes a bit more, one shedding cat, and one dog (who, although non-shedding himself, is fond of terrifying the shedding cat, making the shedding cat shed even more).

You can see how drains, and their free-flowing-ness, are a major concern to her.

Drain catches, the kind that fit over drains, abound in her house, and yet they do not always do the job, do they? No, they do not. In a tall cupboard she keeps a plumber’s snake, which, due to the fact that sink drain caps are non-removable these days, is virtually useless.

In the same tall cupboard you can also find a long, thorned, white plastic bendable thing which supposedly will unclog a bathtub or sink drain, but she has never gotten it to work successfully. Unless the tearing apart of her fingers and wrists with its horrid plastic thorns is considered success.

There are also, far back on a high shelf, the worse-than-horrid liquid drain uncloggers. About them, no more shall be said.

Is this post still about hair? It is, yes, but let us return to hair that is still attached to the heads from whence it came.

Her youthful female companions have beautiful hair. The hair of one is long and wavy, dark curls that cascade down her back and that she intently, determinedly irons straight three times a week.

The hair of the other is black, or as close to black as dark brown hair can be. Straight, heavy, it rivers its way down her brown shoulders and back. For years this youthful companion pulled it straight back in a tight ponytail, but now, often, she lets it hang free.

Now she thinks of her friends and their hair, so few of them happy with their hair as it is, most of them longing for hair that is other. If it’s curly they wish  it to be straight. If it’s straight they wish it to be curly. Long, short. Thin, thick. (She can hear her mother saying, “‘Twas always thus.”)

There are the friends who have spent months, on and off for years, some of them,  with scarves tied about their heads,  hats worn year-round. Chemo takes all your hair away.

She thinks now of a day she spent in the service of cancer and its cure: drawing eyebrows on her beloved friend with eyeliner pencil, sewing a small curve of miniature pillow into a bra. That hair came back with one difference; this time, it was loved.

She herself was born with hair two inches long, jet black, each strand tipped with white. A head full of soft porcupine quills, all of which fell out a few months later.

Her grandmother, the one in the photo above, went to the beauty parlor once a week, there to chat with Sharon, her hairdresser, while Sharon washed and then re-dyed the short permed curls bluish-white and sat her grandmother under the giant old-fashioned hairdryer.

Her mother went for years and years to her hairdresser Rocco – “he knows my hair, he knows my head” – and when he died, it was a long time before she could bring herself to go to anyone else. In the interim, her hair itself looked as if it was in mourning.

She herself has been getting her hair cut by Monique now for a long, long time, since just after the youthful companion with the long curls was born. Over these many years Monique has become very pricey, but she could not see anyone else – it would be like committing hair adultery – so it’s only a few times a year that they see each other.

When she and Monique meet up, they have only the one hour to catch up, and so they make the most of every minute, Monique’s sure hands on her head and hair. They have seen each other through so much: marriage and births and divorces and all the sundry in-betweens.

“Do what you want, Monique,” she tells her, and she is always happy with what Monique wants.

What would her father have to say about hair, if asked? She can hear him now, his big voice roaring through the room.

“What do I have to say about hair?” he would bellow. “Does a beard count? It does? Then you know damn well what I have to say about hair! The Yankees! That’s what I have to say about hair!”

The Yankees, ah yes,  the Yankees. Her father, lifelong Yankees fan that he is (a sad fact, given the bloated, steroid-ridden, overpaid, over-ego’d condition of that team, but she must state it anyway), took a vow that he would not shave his beard until the (next time the) Yankees won the World Series.

That is why every photo taken of him for some years, up until last October, shows him with that salt and pepper beard.

“Did I like having a beard?” he bellows. “Hell no! I did it for my team!”

Thinking about her father, with his bellowing voice, his 50-year comb-over, and his World Series beard, makes her happy. She will go wash her hair now.


  1. oreo · May 24, 2010

    and again i say, how strange it is that we are tuned to the same cosmic channel. i, too, spent the day thinking about hair, down to the same sub-topics.

    first i read the same article and thought how wonderful it would be for chemo patients to retain their hair. my dear friend, the first person besides my parents to hold me after my birth, lost her long, luscious red locks before she lost her life this winter, and i could barely bear to think of it (as she lived far away, i didn’t have to see her suffering in person). but after my mother died a few weeks later, i was going through her personal effects and found a photograph of the friend with just a bit of short hair clinging to her skull (must have been growing back between treatments), white instead of red, and was surprised to see that she was still absolutely gorgeous. for thirty years i thought it was the hair, when really it was a nice strong face with a joie-de-vivre-filled smile.

    then the plumber came and (after we took apart the wall for him to access the pipes) snaked our plugged drain, pulling out a clump of hair the size of a small animal. “you,” he said, pointing an accusing finger at my husband. “this is your color. your fault.” ah, if only blame could be assigned so simply for everything.

    then a friend of mine told my husband that her goal for 2010 is to see his long braid loosed into flowing tresses. he demurred, as hair is a somewhat spiritual aspect of his indigenous upbringing and he is probably only slightly less likely to honor a request to, say, flash his pubic hair. i mean, if it comes loose and someone sees him rebraiding it, no big deal, but he’s not going to unbraid it for show. as such i will probably advise her to choose more reasonable goals, like i have. you know, winning the lottery and losing fifty pounds and such.

    then, to top off my hair-themed day, my cousin arrived bearing his odd case of stress-induced alopecia. when his wife went nuts (her chemical dependency was later discovered and she is currently, pregnantly, in treatment), he abruptly lost a silver-dollar shaped section of hair. nice thick hair sprouts from every other part of his scalp that it should, but that perfectly round spot is perfectly smooth and bald.

    and for the record, though every friend of mine also wants different hair, i am going to deviate and say i like mine. i have split ends in spades and people are always saying it’s dishwater blond or dirty blond and it would look so much nicer if i just dyed it, but F that shit. i like it anyway. i also like my son’s hair, and today i was sending love out to my dear departed granny, wherever she be, because she managed to give him red highlights that skipped two generations. when he was born with that thick shock of dark hair i thought it would be jet black like daddy, but in the sunshine you can see that the dark brown is threaded with the prettiest red threads. my grandma did the same weekly beauty-salon treatment as yours, and it wasn’t until i was taking care of her as she died that her roots grew out and i realized that one of her few vanities had been dying her hair back to the vibrant reddish hue of her youth.


  2. oreo · May 24, 2010

    reading “your man for fun in rapidan” and seeing preservation of hair mentioned, i am reminded that my father has had a braid of his mother’s in a long skinny box in his closet lo these many decades. as a child i would, when feeling the need for a special occasion, ask him to take it out so i could view and gently touch the hair of the grandma i never knew. upon further consideration in the middle of this night, i am filled with questions. was it cut off when she was living or dead? why? how did he come to keep it when his siblings took most of her other things? what am i going to do with it when i inherit it? and my son when it’s his turn?


  3. Jennifer Bostwick Owens · May 28, 2010

    “Hell no! I did it for my team!” is so hilarious, I can see why it makes you happy to think about!


  4. alison · June 2, 2010

    Oreo, why does it not surprise me in the least that you too were having a hair-themed day on the same day as me? And how lucky you are that the blame could be so easily assigned re the plumbing problem. All of us have dark hair, and all of us have long or long-ish dark hair, so it’s not all that easy to assign blame, hard though I try.

    As for asking to see the braid unbraided, well, that’s just a bit too forward pour moi.

    And how happy I am that you like your hair just as it is. It’s beautiful hair, but that doesn’t always seem to factor in to the like/dislike feeling.


  5. alison · June 2, 2010

    Jennifer, that man is too damn funny! And extremely clean-shaven, these days at least. Although I tell him that the beard may have to come back once October rolls around.


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