A couple months back, Mrs. Piddlington and Ma Smash came to visit me in New York. Because I am an excellent hostess, I took them to all the tourist spots. We went to the Empire State Building, the Algonquin for brunch and got our hair straightened in Chinatown. This last was the cheapest and definitely the most interesting.
I love getting my hair straightened. I have very, very, very curly hair. So curly that I can’t brush it when it’s dry, lest I bush out the curls. So curly that when I used to comb my hair, I used a pick, not a comb. Curly hair, my pals. When someone mentions how curly, I call them racist.
I have come to love my hair, after fighting against it for most of my life, but it’s fun to have it all sleek and straight. It’s like being in disguise. If you go to any salon on East Broadway in Chinatown, you can get a blow-out for ten bucks, and they massage your head like crazy into the bargain. They clean your ears. The first time I had this done, I was ashamed at how they dug in there, like there was definitely something wrong with my normal hygiene practices. Now I just lie back and let them at it.
Mom and Meg were amazed. At the price, at the lo-fi feel of the place (placards from the ’80s, featuring girls with punk rock hair cuts and prices written on them in another language, piles of hair left to lie on the floor, and the staff doesn’t speak English), at the way you can walk through a door in New York and be in another country. I picked up the tab and felt like a big spender for 30 bucks, and when we all walked out the door, we were movie stars with our freakishly straight hair blowing around us.
But! The best part was definitely when I was in the chair and the stylist’s daughters descended. They were maybe six and eight, if I’m guessing, and dressed entirely in bubble-gum pink. The younger one was the talker, looked like a boy with her neat little soup-pan bob and upturned face, and wanted to talk to me about everything.
“You have a cut,” she said, poking at a spot on my arm where I’d gotten grazed by my broken fridge door earlier in the day.
The stylist looked at me like, is this OK?
“I do,” I said.
“I have a Band-Aid,” she said, and reached into a tin in her Dad’s station and produced one.
“Let me put that on,” I said, too late. “OK, well, don’t touch the cut, OK?”
She cocked her head. “Why not?”
“Other people’s cuts are dirty.”
“But mine aren’t?”
“Not to you.”
She stuck her tongue out of the side of her mouth. “That doesn’t make any sense. Hey! I have a Barbie!” She nudged her sister. “Show her my Barbie.”
The sister, looking terrified, pulled a Barbie from behind her back. It was dressed in a bright green dress, very Christmasy, obviously homemade.
“We’re going to change her outfit,” she said. “Don’t look!”
The stylist smiled at me and pulled out the flat-iron.
“I’m not,” I said, and put my hand over my eyes.
“OK, now look.”
The Barbie was now wearing another homemade outfit, this one blue and yellow.
“OK, we’re going to change it again. Don’t look!”
This went on for three or four more outfits. After awhile, she got bored, and climbed up on my lap.
“Oh, hi,” I said.
She dug her hands into the side of my hair that wasn’t straightened and fixed me with a very serious look, as though she was deciding whether or not to buy me. “Your hair is so round!” she said, pulling out a curl and letting it bounce back.
“But it’s so round! Is that your sister?”
Easy call: Mom and Meg and I were the only white ladies in the salon.
“Her hair isn’t round.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Huh. Is that your mother?”
“Her hair isn’t round.”
“Nope. I’m the only one with round hair.”
“I don’t know. I was born that way.”
She nodded solemnly. She pointed at her sister, who now looked terrified completely. “Our hair is the same.”
“Yes, it’s very pretty.”
She shook her head. “Your hair is very, very round.”
What can you say? Mouths of babes, etc. It is round.