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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Not a wallflower

Walking in any direction from the Library I seem to be going upwind. I had taken to walking hunched over, or with my index finger holding down my bangs, or both.

"What are you doing?" asked a friend. ""You look like you're hunting for pennies on the sidewalk. Or in pain."

"Hair. It outs me."


"See?" I held up my bangs for her to see the globular, shining forehead, going, way, way, back.

"Indoors, no problem. But out here, every time there's the smallest breeze, people who have just walked by me look a bit shocked."

I patted the bangs back into place, and, making my nails into a comb, raked at my forehead in a vain attempt to look like -- well, me.

Something was going to have to be done.

Later, picking up the phone book on my desk, I learned that there was a "wig boutique" about two miles away. I wrote up a longish lunch hour on the office white board and drove over.

I could see from the street that this was not going to be an obviously accepting kind of place. Walls -- almost creepy. Furniture: old. carpet: faded. operator station chairs: holes in the forearms. Proprietresses: in their seventies.

Putting my courage to the sticking point, I marched in using my best body language.

"May I help you?"

"Yes ... my, my hair has been going away in front and I have -- I have a pony tail of my own hair, but the top's, too-oo, thin to hide to clippies well..."

"Mmm, hmm, that happens a lot. I think you are ready for a wig, my dear. I'm wearing one right now. A survivor, you know."

She settled me in the worn beauty-shop chair before a huge mirror. All around were shelves, floor-to-ceiling -- there must be a ladder somewhere -- each laden with a row, carefully spaced, of expressionless styrofoam heads, each wearing its own distinctive counterfeit of a woman's glory.

"Did you have a price range in mind?"

"Well, I don't have a six thousand dollar head ..."

"Right. We run one to two hundred. Now, size is a factor; these 'smalls' cost less than the 'mediums', and I don't think you need a 'long' ... "

"Umm, right."

"Now, I'm tucking your hair up both ways from the back, into this hair net, see? Above the ears, right along the forehead, and don't let it roll up or it will cut your circulation. I don't recommend human hair in this climate. The rain droops and frizzes unmercifully. "

" ... does, doesn't it?" I rejoined, weakly.

"Right. Now here is a 'medium', much like your own hair, but teased nicely in front."

And it did look nice. But ...

"Too much red? I think so too. Not that they can't be recolored or trimmed as needed, though they don't ever look the same again, and of course they can't grow."

She reached to a higher shelf. Too light; too youngish, really; I would need bare feet and a posy of daisies. She pursed her lips.

"You are aware you have an Audrey Hepburn neck? It's your best feature." Now that was pushing things a bit -- but I knew from that moment I was about to buy. A master saleswoman. "So I want you to try a bit shorter -- you see?"

Oh, god. What had taken me so long? Yes, I did see. "I'll take it."

As I left, I checked, as is my habit, my walking style in the storefront window. Upright already, a woman to reckon with, going into the wind. This was going to work.

Back at the Library, I gathered books from the Returns shelf and, on the way back to my department, visited the office of a friend who had emailed me to stop by for something or other.

"Risa! Omigod -- look -- stand right over here." She pulled from her desk drawer a tiny digital camera, and almost before I knew what was happening, set off the flash.

Of small things are our daily happinesses made.


My mom went out shopping a few days ago and so my call caught my dad off guard.

"Are you taking care of yourself?"

He hung up.

I rang again.

Pick up, pick up, pick up, c'mon, old man, you can do it.

He picked up.

"How are you?"

"Who is this?"

I could tell he was in bed. "Your only child."

"There's no need to hang up," I added quickly. "Just checking, are you ok, all that." My most male remaining voice. Not an easy thing to do.

"Well, I'm poorly."

"Blood pressure, huh?"

"Yeahhh." A long sigh.

"Where's the old lady?"

"Oh, she's out shopping, I guess ... up to no good ..."

"Uh, huh."

Don't let the silence run on, he'll start thinking too much.

"Didya get that envelope I sent, the Georgia Railroad stuff?"

"Yeahhhh, did. Yeahhh."

"What'd you think, all that CSX stuff in the yards and by the depot?"

"It's all diff'rent; that restaurant in there, they closed it. All dead now, them folks that run it. I wouldn't really know the place."

I'll send you one about Coast Guard Lightships, see if the one you were on is in it, O.K.?"

"No need; save yuh money..."

"Well, the way you talked about the lightships, I just hadda look 'em up; I thought it was very interesting."

"That was cold work."

"You liked it."

"Yeahhh. Yeahhh, I liked it."

"'K, well, you be good to you, hear?"


"Bye now."

The phone in the house on the St. John's River, Florida, clicked off.

I hung up. Beloved was in the hall, sorting old children's books.

"Was that your dad?"

I nodded and burst into tears. She dropped everything and came running.

-- risa b


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