Where are your badly-shaven, well-dressed idols?
My hair (who’s still with me! yeah!) (actually that’s not fair; you guys turned out in droves when I talked about my hair last winter) recently reached the length where it no longer curls properly, and since this is the only thing I like about my hair, it’s all I’ve complained about for about three weeks now. (That’s not fair either; I’m sure I’ve complained about many other things as well.) I don’t know if it’s the weather or London water or what, but my hair has just been hanging there, never completely drying and never completely curling, and it’s too heavy to even get into a ponytail without a headache. Nick, who I have a pretty big crush on lately, surprised me yesterday with an early Christmas gift of a haircut at a fancy salon, the kind where they’re playing Air’s Moon Safari and they wash your hair with something that smells like warm root beer and then a cute Australian girl massages your scalp and there’s a whole magazine in front of you about how Gwyneth’s marriage is crumbling. Still can’t resist a Gwyneth article, you guys. What eye-rolling/soft-chuckle-provoking thing will she say or do next? I will always check in to find out.
I was lured into this surprise by Nick asking if I’d come to Stoke Newington to help him paint our friends’ living room, so I took two buses and two trains and arrived in my running shoes, faded Steelers T-shirt, and the black drawstring pants I wore to repaint our bathroom two summers ago. (Maggie Mason may hear the words “six months in London with your fiancé” and pack vintage scarves and hot rollers, but my first thought is where are my stained pants?) Also it was raining and I was wearing my puffy coat. So I was really happy to be sent to the salon instead of handed a paintbrush, but it’s difficult to feel worthy of being in the same room where someone is playing “Sexy Boy” when you’re wearing clothes you wouldn’t even sleep in. I feel like wherever I go lately I’m reinforcing some cruel American stereotypes, namely that we all just shuffle around like the cast of Roseanne, idly licking the cheese dust off our fingers while distracted by whatever light is blinking nearby, but I’m happy to provide this service if it means I get a scalp massage.
Once I was shampooed and sat in the chair, I felt a little unmoored. This was my first haircut since 2004 by anyone other than my darling Nikki back in Brooklyn, and not only does Nikki know exactly what to do to my hair, she also knows my entire life history and I know hers, and sometimes she has a margarita waiting for me and we’re immediately like, Right, what is the latest with your brother. The prospect of making light conversation with a stranger has never fazed me, but I was really aware of the fact that I had a sopping wet head and was dressed like a five year old boy in a pediatrician’s waiting room circa 1990 and this girl hovering behind me with the scissors looked like a hot stylish Molly Ringwald so I just forged ahead with Trivia About My Hair. This seemed like a good idea since it was all we really had in common at the moment, other than the fact that we were both wearing shoes.
“My hair used to be straight, but then one day it turned curly!” I announced brightly, much in the same tone of voice a four year old would use to announce that sometimes dogs are brown.
That gave us about four minutes’ worth but then it got quiet again, so I tried another Hair Fact: “I’m going gray now!” To which she politely said, “Oh, no, I can barely tell,” so I barreled ahead and began to point them out for her, each and every one. I was soon aware of my mistake here, because what was she going to do, ooh and ahh over each gray hair? Yes, that’s a very scary picture of a monster you made! I see it! Yes!
I go in again, this time with, “My hair had gotten so long, it was getting kind of hard to wash!”
The girl next to me with her hair in foils, reading about Gwyneth, shifts in her seat and looks at me sort of pityingly. Air is still playing, the room still smells like rich people’s bathrooms, and no one else has suddenly changed into anything held up by an elastic waistband. I smile and say, “Last winter, my hair felt dirty all the time, like for months!”
This is a great, no-pressure way to start conversations and I’m doing it all the time from here on out: just blurt out personal, possibly negative things about yourself to a roomful of strangers and smile. “We have an ant infestation!” “I haven’t pooped since Monday!” “My sister is addicted to diet pills!”
Let everyone else smile with raised eyebrows and open mouths and scramble to string it all together. You’re getting a scalp massage while wearing the most comfortable pants in existence. You are a fucking ambassador to the world.