Bad Hair Day
Overheard yesterday in a coffee shop:
“I see you cut off all your hair.”
“What, you got sick of it?”
“No, I donated it to Locks of Love. They’ll make it into a wig for a cancer patient.”
I had long hair once—my junior year of college I had dreads. My hair was kind of curly, and I never brushed it, and it just evolved into dreads organically, meaning I didn’t have to sit in front of a mirror and twist them or anything, which in my mind back then seemed to be false dreads—weren’t they a symbol of looseness, a hands-off approach to life, I thought. So my dreads took care of themselves. At least for a while.
Over spring break that year, I rendezvoused in Greece with my girlfriend who was spending the year in Oxford. I have a very complicated relationship to hair that goes back to third grade and the dissolving family dynamic (won’t go into that here), but it’s safe to say that I have never loved my hair more than that spring on a rented motorbike, tooling around Crete, mesmerized by the reflection of my snake-like dreads reflected on the highway’s shiny concrete, the reflection of my girlfriend clinging onto me. I loved how perfect I seemed in shadow, a silhouette in motion, my thick strands wiggling around, like each had a mind of its own.
A few months later, the subprime mortgage industry of my hair hit a wall: my dreads unchecked, uncombed were getting out of control, beginning to latch onto each other in clumps. When July’s East Coasr urban humidity began to settle into the furry swamp percolating on my skull, I knew was time for a change. I was working on a loading dock, unloading paint trucks in South Philadelphia, and my hair seemed to weigh three pounds. I needed to do something. I went back to my Dad’s apartment, where I was staying that summer. After snapping the teeth out of three combs, I had to turn it up a notch. Someone told me that an unconventional remedy might be in order. I found myself dumping a half a bottle of baby lotion into a large salad bowl and mixing in a few big squirts of skin cream and then stirring it all together with the plastic end of an old toothbrush.
Needless to say this voodoo remedy only succeeded in making my hair smell like an old lady’s closet. After a few hours of quarreling with tangled strands, I gave up and hauled out a pair of scissors. The dreads were so thick and gooey—they rebuked the blade. I had to get a pair of extra-large industrial scissors and hack my way through my the bush of my obstinate knots. Ah, the relief, when all the thick cables of hair were piled up on the bathroom sink. I threw all the cables into the trashcan, except for one. I would send it to my girlfriend who was still in Europe as a symbol of my love. I had a reality problem back then—to me it was a part of my being, a reminder of our days spent frothing in the sand on Crete, but to her it must’ve looked like a diseased rat’s tail wrapped in tissue paper and placed in a shoebox, because she scolded me by telephone soon after opening, telling me how gross it was. To me, her overreacting was just a sign, of how she wasn’t quite as laid back as she ought to be.
I was thinking about all this after I left the coffee shop, about Greece, my long-gone long hair, how I was immortal back then, how my hair removal was so much less altruistic than the girl in the coffee shop, when I approached a large trash bin on the sidewalk, about five feet high and five feet wide. For some reason I peered in, and I couldn’t believe what was on top: a brown and black wig, sprawled on some crushed cardboard boxes. What did this mean? Was it a sign from God? Some sort of oracle? Had someone just walked by, and ripped off their wig in broad daylight? I didn’t have the answers, but I knew I had to get away from that trashcan and quick.
Jeffrey McDaniel is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Chapel of Inadvertent Joy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Other books include The Endarkenment (Pittsburgh, 2008), The Splinter Factory (Manic D, 2002), The Forgiveness Parade (Manic D Press, 1998), and Alibi School (Manic D, 1995). His poems have...