Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Over the weekend I had my cousin Fallon color my hair for me. I'd been putting it off forever. I've been blaming the recession, but my own good sense is also part of it. I no longer wish to spend large sums of money getting my hair done. I just don't. It's idiotic. I have better uses for my cash and my time.

For a long time I've dreaded getting my hair done as much as I dread dental cleanings. I don't like to sit there and wait for the dye to sit and then wait for them to blow out my hair. I don't have time for it, yet, I wanted my hair to look nice, so I endured the time in the stylist's swiveling chair and I paid the astronomical fees and I didn't look much different. I pretty much have no hair style. It's one length, usually that length is shoulder, and it parts on the side. That's it. Straight, boring, plain brown hair and that's how I like it. I'm notoriously horrible at styling my own hair, so I keep it as simple as is humanly possible without looking Amish (although we know I love the Amish, so that might not be so bad either). My hair is also uncooperative. Both straight and coarse, it laughs at attempts to braid, curl or even just to hold it back with a bobby pin. My two options are thus: down or pony tail. I'm ok with this. Really.

What I am not ok with is looking like a skunk, which I do if I don't color my hair every couple months. I have a big grey patch over my right ear. It's very obvious and not at all glamorous and Stacey London-ish. Once I had my hair pulled back and a student asked me if I'd been painting.

"No," I said,"Why?"

"It looks like you may have gotten some paint in your hair," he said.

And it did. It looked exactly like someone brushed white paint over part of my head. Not attractive. It makes me feel old. Not Lauren Hutton, still hot and modeling for J Crew old, but old like I live alone in a trailer wearing nothing but housecoats and keeping several wild dogs.

Fallon and I went to Target and got hair dye. She colors her own hair and her hair is the exact same dark, reddish brown color as mine, so she showed me which dye to get. Then we went outside on the dock to apply it to my stubborn head of hair.

I need to digress for a second to tell you why we were on a dock. We were on a dock because of my mother's unhealthy relationship with marble. Her whole house is flippin' marble. Porous, expensive, easily stained, very light colored marble. When I stay here I live in mortal fear of ruining my mother's marble and then having to 1. face her ire when she returns and finds it and 2. having to pay to replace it. Immediately upon buying the $2.99 box of dark brown Revlon hair dye, I had a vision of said dark brown hair dye Jackson Pollocked all over the expensive, pale stone. And then I had a vision of my own mother strangling me. I decided that we should go out on the dock to color my hair. The dock is already dark brown and it's far from any marble. It seemed the safest place on the property. In about two minutes I also realized that it was the hottest and then it started to rain, which really made things interesting.

But back to the hair dye itself. I generally don't trust do it oneself beauty treatments of any kind. I know someone who can give herself a perfect french manicure, but I tried it and ended up looking like a five year old who got into some white-out. I've heard stories from friends about home perms that burnt their hair completely off of their scalps. My sister once decided to wax her own moustache at home with some kind of cold wax kit she found at Walgreens. She ended up ripping the skin from her upper lip and part of her nose. It tooks weeks to heal.

I even bought a Ped Egg and couldn't use the damned thing. It seemed like a good idea, that Ped Egg. I wanted soft feet and I thought it could keep me busy while I watched TV, you know, give me something to do. I could just grate away at my feet as if they were wheels of Reggiano Parmigiana. But no. While the Ped Egg seems like a good idea, it suffers from a tragic design flaw. If you hold it at any angle other than perfectly upright, which is impossible to do when you are sanding your own calloused soles, a fine and abundant dust of dead skin snows down and coats everything within a ten foot radius with your DNA. It's gross and messy.

So I'm wary of home beauty products. While Fallon mixed the dye in its little, plastic bottle, I fretted and I finally realized where my heart pounding fear was coming from.

Like most things, this is my mother's fault. When I was five my mother had an unfortunate hair dying accident. Memere Marie helped. I will never, ever forget it.

I hadn't seen my mother in a while. She'd been in Florida, a mysterious place I had never visited, but where I knew oranges and coconut patties came from and where Disney was. Both Snow White and my mother lived in Florida. I believed that they knew one another.

But my mother wasn't exactly living the life of a fairy tale princess down South. She was becoming more of a Disco Queen and she had waist length, perfectly straight, center parted, bleach blonde hair. It was a look that had suited her well as a pot smoking hippie up in the countryside of Millpond. It looked great with her smock tops and earth shoes. She wore bell bottoms and went barefoot, while carrying a large crocheted sack of a purse. My mother was a Southern Rock kind of a girl, who suddenly, in Florida, landed herself in a BeeGees dominated world. It was a world glittered with disco balls. It gave her a Saturday Night Fever and she needed a new look and a new beginning. She wasn't a little Millpond Hic anymore. She was a diva and needed to look like one, but even more than that, she wanted to look like a Jewish diva.

My mother had recently met and fallen wildly, uncontrollably in love with the man who would become my father. He was Israeli and came from a devout, Jewish family. He told her he would marry a Jewish girl and they would raise Jewish children. There were no Jews in Millpond, Lord knows and she didn't know a thing about the religion, but as soon as he told her that she acquired a taste for bagels and lox and began to imagine herself tacking mezuzahs on doorframes. She would do anything it took to marry this man and she would turn into his ideal woman, even if it meant a total overhaul of everything she had ever been and ever known.

For one thing, Jewish women were brunettes. He liked brunettes. When they met he had been dating a real, honest to God princess and she had rivers of black hair that my mother coveted. My mother decided that while learning the Torah would be the most difficult thing about becoming Jewish, that dying her light hair dark would be easy. She decided to do that first and she'd do it on a weekend away so that she could surprise him when she stepped off the plane in Florida, magically transformed into a dusky Mediterranean beauty.

My mother came to Millpond for the weekend and picked me up at my grandparents' house where I lived at the time. She had her same, blonde hair. It was the only way I had ever known her. We went to my mother's parents' house for the weekend. Poppop June was off at the town Pub, but Memere Marie was home. She cooked for us. I remember this because she always made baked potatoes and I called them "brownies." They were my favorite food. The whole night my mother gushed about her new love. He sounded like the most perfect man in the world. She said they were meant to be together and that she wanted to make herself beautiful for him. She had to dye her hair.

Since she had always colored her own hair and had never been to a salon, she went to the pharmacy and bought some dark brown dye (just like I did). She came home to her parents' house and Memere Marie helped her. Memere Marie has always done her own hair too. She still does. The woman has never been to a salon and she cuts her hair with a terrifying straight razor that looks like a murder weapon. For the whole 35 years that I have been alive my grandmother has never once ever even subtly altered her appearance. She looks exactly the same. She doesn't even age. I swear, I think she's a Highlander.

Back then my grandparents still lived in the small, red Cape Cod that my mother had grown up in. There was a sky blue, tiled bathroom. It always smelled like Eves and Aquanet. I don't know how my grandmother didn't set herself on fire smoking and spraying her hair in there. It also seemed like she always had a box of kittens in that bathroom too, nursing and kneading at some stray mother cat that had appeared on the front step. My grandmother has also always been a cat rescuer. It's like they know where to find her. Just like I don't know how my grandmother didn't ignite her bouffant with tobacco cinders, I also don't know how the kittens didn't suffocate from the CFCs and cigarette smoke. Somehow things always turned out ok in that bathroom. Except of course, for my mother's hair.

I couldn't handle the smell of cigarettes and hair dye so I lolled around on Aunt Kiki's bed. Aunt Kiki was about seventeen at the time and still lived at home for the most part. At least, she still had a bedroom. It was always a mess with clothes everywhere and a birdcage in one corner needing to be cleaned. A large, round Japanese paper lantern hung from the ceiling like a dim moon and I loved this strange, luminous sphere. What I really loved though, was Aunt Kiki's headboard. It fascinated me. It was just a regular, cheap, fake wood headboard. There was nothing unusual about it at all in its natural state. Aunt Kiki though had completely covered it in a bizarre and surely unsanitary mosaic of wads of chewed gum. A consumate sugar addict, Aunt Kiki was never without candy. For this I adored her. She always gave me a candy I don't remember the name of. They were little balls of candy coated chocolate and they came in red, green and yellow. I seem to recall a malty taste. When she wasn't nibbling on these or smarties, Aunt Kiki was never without gum. All kinds. She chewed Juicy Fruit, Double Mint and Fruit Stripes. She liked Big Red and the new kind of gum with the bursting liquid centers. She couldn't resist a gumball machine and blew bubbles the size of my head with Bazooka. Due to the variety, her headboard was a rainbow of nickel sized gobs. When you got close to them you could still faintly smell their fruity or minty flavors. As a five year old, this wasn't disgusting. It was magical. My aunt wasn't a lazy slob - she was a goddess. And while my grandmother helped my mother turn herself into one of God's Chosen, I marveled at the gum wads and tried to count them, except I couldn't count that high. I occupied myself with this for some time until I heard screams coming from the bathroom.


"Oh Christ Almighty!!"

I ran to see and found my mother standing before the tiny, steamed medicine cabinet mirror with a head of damp, green hair. Her once golden locks were now the color of a stagnant pond in parts. Most of her hair was a darker, Christmas tree green, but it was streaked lighter in sections. She looked more like she came from the depths of the Bay rather than from Jerusalem; a Sea Witch instead of a Semite.

My mother had dyed her hair green.

I looked again. It was true. She was hysterical. My grandmother was confounded. They blow dried it and without moisture, it's true verdancy shown under the heat lamp. My mother had green hair.

It was not the subtle green of blondes who've spent too long in the deep end. It wasn't a shadow of green or a faint patina. Strangers upon seeing it wouldn't blame it on their glasses or the flourescent lighting. This green was undeniable, Barnum and Bailey, 7-Up can, in your face, screaming lime, apple, hundred dollar, Jolly Rancher Green Green Green. It was a public spectacle waiting to happen.

I don't remember the rest, but what happened was this. My mother wrapped her head in scarves. She dropped me off Sunday evening when her visitation was over and caught the next flight back to Florida be-turbaned. The next morning she went straight to a salon and had it corrected, emerging later the brunette she had imagined herself.

As a child, I drew my life. Each week my grandfather bought me drawing pads of thin, shiny paper upon which I colored and sketched with pencils and crayons. Before I learned to write, I drew comic book style serials depicting the world and people around me. For months I couldn't get the image of my green hair mother out of my head. For months I drew portraits of her with flowing, green tresses. I even remember the color crayon I used: Pine. Every green thing I saw reminded me of my green headed mother.

I saw her a short time later at Christmas. Her hair was winged and feathered, a glossy panther black. Gone were her smock tops and baggy jeans. She wore a sleek, velveteen track suit with heels and a web of gold chains around her neck. One bore the charm of a Hebrew letter. To me, it looked like a small animal, maybe a goat. I could never see it as anything other than a small head with legs and a straight body. She was married less than a month later, but that is an entirely different story.

This is the story of how my mother dyed her hair green and how I thought, back on that dock, that the same thing was going to happen to me.

It didn't.


Shanna said...

Sixlets!! That's the candy your aunt gave you!

Wide Lawns said...

YES YES YES!!! I love you Shanna. That's them. Sixlets. I want some right now.

Kiera said...

You can still get them here:

I love this place! They have everything I remember from my childhood.

The Fifth Sparrow said...

Too funny!
Wonderful Daughter once paid a fortune to have her naturally black hair dyed pink.
Just in time for her great grandmother's funeral.
It was held in a small, predominantly Mormon town.

MtnMama said...

Oh, sweetie, your beauty traumas make me LAUGH, but I wouldn't be the mean girl making fun of you, I would be the (slightly older) friend who would take you to my place and do fun things to you. Okay, that sounds bad, but it wasn't meant like that. ;)

I also used to have a friend who got ready in the bathroom with a lit cigarette, and I was fascinated that she wasn't burned or severely damaged the house. And she had cats. Maybe they go together somehow...

Green said...

Your mom was probably wearing a chai on her necklace. It means both the number 18, and the word life. Very common for the chosen peeps to wear chai's.

I too want to dye my hair from a bottle, but I am so hair-retarded that I am confident I'd totally screw it up, no matter how easy it is. I couldn't do a ponytail until I was 26.

Renee in Seattle said...

Your memories are soo like my own... my mother in the bathroom, smoking, dying her platinum blond hair, and drinking coffee... the three smells mingling together could knock out an elephant. but I would sit in there with her and watch her work her magic with make-up, curling iron, etc.

JoeinVegas said...

Hmm, might be a nice look for you, green.

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