HAIR Stories on November 6

HAIR themed BugHouse SPIN
Friday, November 6th – doors open at 7pm, show starts at 7:30, RSVP here

KGB Bar Redroom on 85 East 4th Street (3rd floor!)
$5 cover/2 drink minimum

And the spinners are… Carolyn Swartz, Mariah MacCarthy, George Bull and Jeanine Anderson.

In the meantime, enjoy this piece by essayist & writer, Gabriella Costa.
Gabriella Costa is a student at Fordham University studying English and Art History.  She spends her time dreaming about cats and asking people to braid her hair.

The Leave-In Conditioner

The salon owner sits in the dryer chair across from me slipping French fries into her mouth with one hand.  She reaches down with the other to sneak a piece of fried chicken past the teeth of a little white dog kneeled down at her feet.  “You like that don’t ya, Daisy,” she pulls on one of the dog’s ears, dip-dyed pink.  “I see ya licking your lips.”

I didn’t want one before, but now I would do anything for a fry.  The greasy odor floats over to mingle in the bleach-induced chemical cloud that’s been hanging around my head for the last half-hour.  In comparison to the aggressively clean smell stripping my nostrils of feeling, the fries seem dirty and earthy and comforting.

My mind flips through a Rolodex of possible names to call the French fry-bearer.  I’ve been going to this salon for the past three years and for just as long have hidden the fact that I never learned most people’s names.  Inevitably blank, my brain is left to experience without distraction the searing sensation taking place just above it.  Heat radiates off my scalp.  If given raw potatoes, I could cook up some fries there myself.

Across the room, my hairdresser pays attention to none of this.  She is standing and eating a salad with the dressing on the side.  I do know her name, it’s Shannon, and I know that she is on a diet.  This salad is all she is going to eat all day, and she would never offer me any of those cucumber slices.  But I would have taken them if she had, laid them over my eyes, and settled into the pain.

It’s like this every time I get my hair done.  Every time, I entertain the notion of telling someone that I don’t think it is supposed to hurt this much.  Every time, I decide to just keep my mouth shut.  And, every time, I pay for that.

My younger self would not know what to do with a bottle of leave-in conditioner.  That is to say, my younger self would not have found it necessary.  My hair bounced around in pigtails courtesy of my mother nearly every day of my adolescent life.  On special occasions I might have placed two wiry and metal butterfly clips on top of each tail, but usually I left them unadorned.  This way my dad could use them as pretend joint sticks, flying me around the house like an airplane.

Now that my hair routine has grown to include a regular chemical process and an irregular hair color, I am very familiar with the stuff.  One bottle in particular is a permanent fixture on my dresser.   This is the first brand of leave-in that I picked out, and it is the one I have stuck with ever since that initial purchase.  The container is shiny and light blue, a shade reminiscent of the first color I ever dyed my hair.  That one was an accident.  I was going for purple, and it just wouldn’t stick.

In most ways there is nothing special about this conditioner.  It looks like any other hair product, shiny and scrawled across with multiple herb-associated promises.  One hand on its screw-on pump will release a soft white substance into another waiting palm.  Accompanying this release comes an uninspired powdery smell, empty yet floral enough to be read as feminine.  It’s quite a simple operation really.  You take that mass of scented lotion now in your grasp and you rub it all over your hair.  

On top of all that, my conditioner lacks originality and a limited nature.  Whichever bottle happens to sit on my dresser at this current moment is not a distinct entity.  It is merely the most recent acquisition in a line of conditioners.  If it went missing or if it were to break, it is no matter of great importance or loss.  I can always buy another.  I don’t even need to travel somewhere special to obtain it.  In fact, most drugstores will give it right to you, no questions asked, provided you have a few dollars in pocket.   

Still, there’s nothing like it for the scorched landscape left atop my head in the wake of chemical processes.  When moisture evaporates away from bleach and toners, I am a desert snake.  Scabs peel off from my hairline like a molted outer skin.  Hair seizes up venomously under shampoo, defending against more foreign substances aiming to wipe it clean.  I depend on my leave-in to return me to human form.  It alone coaxes forgiveness out of the dry, angry strands that hold their new, reptilian nature against me.  Without it, I couldn’t even rake a brush across this bush.

One could argue that this is far from positive.  There is enough evidence to make the case that my conditioner enables a procedure more harmful than good.  My mother inspects my hair when I return from the salon, pressing her tongue to the roof of her mouth and bringing it back down again in a judgmental click.  She always asks why I can’t just leave my body well enough alone.   

The truth of the matter is that my conditioner seems to understand something that my mother does not.  The abuse I heap upon my hair does not come from a hateful place.  It is instead a tender act to force my hair to new places and unexplored territories.  After all, encouraging those you care for the most to be their best is an act of love itself.

And I do love my hair.  I love it as an extension of my self and an expression of my identity that grows and changes over time.  In this way, my leave-in conditioner actually empowers me to be most my self.  It makes possible a process through which I explore in a physical way the emotional questions of who I am, who I may be, and who I would like to become.

When the hairdressers’ lunch is finished and my hair is blown dry, I expense on my credit card more money than I should and tip more than the Internet recommends.  My head feels a little woozy from all the heat, the chemicals, and the missed meal.  My hair throbs at the roots from the repeated rounds of pulling and washing under hot water.  My favorite black cardigan is wet and speckled in a bird’s egg pattern with the bleach that Shannon dripped onto it accidentally.  Still, I complete my good-byes with a smile.

“It looks great,” the owner declares when she sees the finished product.  “I bet you feel like yourself again.”

Not yet.  But, with a little of my leave-in conditioner, I will.

***

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