Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Youngest One in Curlers

Yes indeed, that is me at the age of two at the beauty salon, getting a perm. 

Our mother couldn't love a cat with short hair. A prerequisite for any kitten we acquired was that it would grow to have a long beautiful coat. Mom liked pretty things. No stray cats for her, and no stray hairs. Everything was well coifed and beautiful. Mom was a beauty herself. Appearances were of obsessive concern to my mother who made sure that she was well groomed and had full makeup on when she delivered her children. She was greeting us looking her best and it was hoped that we would do the same. Our appearances were a source of pride for Mom; having beautiful children was her claim to fame. We were all so nice to look at that we got hired to be put in movies and TV so other people could look at us. One can't help but wonder what might have happened had my mother given birth to <gasp> an ugly child. It seemed that with me, her fourth and last offspring, she had done just that. I was not a pretty baby. My fathers exact words when seeing me for the first time were, “We should have quit while we were ahead.” Then he softened the remark with “Well, she's not our prettiest baby but she sure is sweet.” Dad was not obsessed with appearances at all. He was just very innocently and brutally honest. Fortunately my countenance improved day by day so my mother never had to consider the heart wrenching choice of leaving me on the doorstep of an ugly family so that I could be raised by my own kind. 

As much as she couldn't love a cat with short hair, she seemed unable to tolerate a child with straight hair. Her first born had beautiful ringlets like a cherub. Mom was determined that we all be that beautiful. While I know this makes her seem terribly superficial and she was obsessed with appearances, she was also the deepest, most profoundly wise and wonderful person I've ever known. The contrast of her obsession with appearances coupled with a true ability to see beyond all physical matter into the spiritual essence of everything provided a gentle but persistent confusion that made me have to think harder and I am grateful for it. I saw the world in layers before I ever got my hands on a copy of Photoshop. I knew from an early age that things are not always as they seem, you have to look closer, you must look deeper. If you only look at the surface, you are missing all the important stuff. Still my mother's philosophy was that nobody would ever look beyond the surface if that wasn't as good as it could possibly be.

And in her defense I must say that when I grew up and fulfilled my rebellious desire to have a short haired cat, my mother loved him as much as any grandkitten. So I would assume if need be she could have found it in her heart to love a child who's hair did not curl - but why bother when there are such things as curlers to correct this unfortunate situation? With the same sense of mission one would have clamping braces onto the legs of a crippled child, my mother put curlers in my hair in an effort to correct nature's hideous mistake. When I had grown just enough hair to cover the circumference of a curler, one was was installed. The look was called “The Boston Curl” It strongly resembled the style worn by members of the Lollipop Guild in Munchkinland. As I grew, so did my hair and my mother's dissapointment in it. While it was blonde like my brother, there were no lovely ringlets. Something had to be done. 
What you see in the photo is me getting a perm at the age of two.Well it only made sense, I had an agent by then and was doing commercials. It's difficult to get a baby to sleep in rollers and questionable to risk burning them with a curling iron. Pouring chemicals on Baby's head would seem to be the safe and sane solution. In the photo I am demonstrating the temperament that got me jobs – I was not fussy. On my first job a bee stung me on my lip. I never cried. The director told my mother to put champagne in my bottle that night because I had been such a pro. (I doubt she carried out his instructions) I don't remember being praised for my behavior during this “first perm” but I clearly remember my second. I sat with a towel up to my face trying to keep the fumes away. My eyes burned, I cried, I became very “fussy” My mother admonished me lamenting over how good I had been before. With the hindsight of an adult I realize that the distress I heard in my mother's voice was not anger directed at me for my temperament, it was concern that she was doing something wrong. But I didn't know that. I thought she was angry. I felt ashamed for being a big baby, I wanted to be brave and strong but the fumes were overwhelming me. I tried, I really tried my best but I just couldn't handle it. I remember her and the beautician discussing how it was the same formula that had been used before and all had gone so well, why was it all so different now? The choice was made to neutralize me before the timer went off. My relief had a price, for the next few weeks I had to listen to Mom complain about how that perm just didn't “take” because we neutralized too soon and this is why I had to sleep in curlers. So this was my punishment for not enduring the sting of amonia vapors.

My hair would become an analogy of my life, Sleeping in curlers assured that not only was my hair being curled but my subconscious mind as well. There was a constant need to look act and be different than who I was . The focus on my appearance contributed to making me who I am today – a miserable slob. Wouldn't you know I would become known to millions as “the youngest one in curls”. But my hair is straight dammit! At last the truth can be told! By the way, there are no violins playing in the background. This is not a sad story. Begging for coins to get enough to eat is a sad story of childhood. Sleeping in curlers in middle class America is nothing to get fussy about.

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