Permanent

What confused me off the bat was how something whose signifier denotes permanence could be so knottily rooted in a particular style, to be of fashion for only a specific time and trendy, therefore fleeting and immaterial. “But it’s permanent,” I thought, more lasting than Sharpie on my wrist, tattoos you could laser away, or that time of my childhood where absolutely everyone was wearing power beads, inexplicably. This type of permanent was molecular, on the level of genes and personality-determined-by-proteins precision, I was fucking with my absolute biology, tinkering with AC/DCs in the bloodstream trying to get a certain kink to solidify. All for vanity! I suppose technically speaking I wasn’t the one fucking with it, it was really a job for a technician, not a fruity “stylist” because this is down in the nitty gritty, nuts and bolts kind of procedure, dear god man we are not dealing with style here but inherent possibility! We are helping this little lock of hair see god, realize its true potential through exhausting hours of ritualistic washing, rinsing, repeating, soaking, drying, equalizing, etc. etc. This is serious business because it is taking the future into our own hair and deciding what is best for it, disguising it with a technically-possible-in-nature reformation so you could have been that tall girl who you played varsity volleyball with and had a strange her-deodorant-is-the-best-deodorant charisma and drove a beat-up orange Volkswagen listening to NIN, or at least been her hair. You’re not doing it to become that person, you are not that gullible of the transformative possibilities inherent to hair style that keeps Rogaine on shelves, you are doing it because you have granted yourself this one and only vanity that scratches an itch. Don’t worry, it’s not as if tomorrow you’ll be scouring Groupon for make-up tattooing deals or keeping an eye out for a completely non-functional but nevertheless enviable vintage bike horn. This is a deliberate, premeditated attempt at conscious visual presence, more innocent experimentation than balls-to-the-wall (so to speak) drag. So after that pep talk there’s still four hours of time to pass, of washing and rinsing and conditioning and then an interminable rolling process akin to a tamale-party to end all tamale-parties. The woman-technician doing this barely speaks, only occasionally swearing at a fallen roller or a nano-sized chunk of errant hair that escapes her nimble fingers. When every hair is fully spooled, something starts to seem wrong… The technician is rubbing fatty-balm into your temples and along the hairline, like prepping an electroshock patient for clammy rubber cups, and it turns out, when you finally manage to squeak a “what’s that for”, that it’s a preventative measure for chemical burns of the face (CBF), so that if the chemical treatment that the technician squirts onto your scalp manages to soak its way past the moat of cotton that has been simultaneously wrapped around your head at the hair-border then at least it will be diffused by the fatty conditioner for a moment, long enough for you to take the fresh towel she hands you to dab lady-like at your temples, sweaty with CBF fluid at a garden party, before it has a chance to eat its way into your delicate flesh. And like a sneaky doctor with a vaccination needle this quiet technician did not mention at all the smell, that races into your nostrils like a dog on a tear through a linoleum-paved kitchen and can only be the unholy union of DADS (Day After Drinking Shits) and gasoline. Isn’t this what they make napalm out of? This is chemical phase #1, literally unknitting the protein chains that gave that single hair its personality and faults, this is hair drunk from mixing red wine with barbiturates. Loose and relaxed, melted butter, for now — fallen over a fainting couch again and again until the ends meet the scalp in a tight wrap. Now what? Bag it, tag it, wait a few hours — the cloud of noxious gas creating its own atmosphere above your head, an actual chemical phenomenon version of the Charlie-Brown-rain-cloud-shadow, has been temporarily contained by a clear plastic bag, tied tightly around the rods. Suffer for fashion, a phrase that the stylist likes to throw out like a rosary, and a promise that doubles as an expectation for any worthwhile beauty-endeavor — it means it’s working. A tiny white dog, completely hidden inside a black purse except for its hateful little face and monstrous tongue, suddenly attracts all attention. It is sitting in the bag in the lap of the red-hat-society lady across the aisle, and absolutely no one is talking about how ridiculous its tongue looks. Given a twenty-second stereotype-audit, this lady is one to have a purebred dog but you hope she, despite her obvious wealth, wasn’t asked to pay full price for an animal who is so clearly genetically damaged. Worse than the hair on my head, certainly, you think — its tongue belongs more to some reptile, or if it must be compared to another mammal, an anteater. Some cruel fateful disproportion lent it a tongue too big to fit in its mouth, like an invisible nun was constantly slapping it on the head from behind hard enough to jolt the pink appendage persistently out of its mouth, the ironic fact being that the nun was punishing the stupid animal for impudently sticking its tongue out at authority figures. What would normally be a gesture coded for impudence in humans becomes tragic in this stupid, tiny animal — despite the tongue being (most likely) the conclusion of the just-so story that features a sassy, entitled, asshole-dog who sticks its tongue out at all the other animals until it finally freezes that way. Thinking about the facial scar of this dog is a pleasant distraction from the subtle burn vibrating on your scalp, and the plastic dome fitted like a futuristic sun hat around your own dome seems less embarrassing. You settle down with a good book. This is the first time you have sat quietly, without talking to anyone, without deliberately shirking work, for perhaps eight months. Or at least it feels like that, because you are completely ignored, and it is incredible. You have to wait, there is no way around it, and your head is essentially shackled to the plushy vinyl seat so you are going nowhere for a good amount of time. This is not the going-nowhere of toll-takers on the bridge or the nowhere of Casper, Wyoming, but the nowhere of your cell phone falling in the toilet at the Puerto Rican hostel so you go to the bioluminescent bay with nothing but an extra towel and a Swiss Army knife. This is luxury nowhere (despite the threat of CBF). It goes by remarkably fast and after the chemicals have done their final unknitting it’s time for a rinse. Not in water, but in equalizer, which has the refreshing quality of liquid nitrogen after the previous chemicals, and the purpose of which is actually to freeze those curls as-is. This does require a rather compromising position, hinging the body at the neck over a deep sink at the hip level of the technician, bending a very fragile joint weighted with plastic coils over a sharp porcelain edge, a position for an early guillotine prototype. But this is the final hour, not because your jugular is going to burst but because everything is being taken apart, unwound and disassembled until you feel like you’ll float away, everything is so light. Your first glimpse of the new jerry-curls is a bit of a slap — where is the cherubic bounce? Everything is many soft spiral jetties and you wanted a bit more heft god damn it, mixed with no small amount of crazy like Doc Brown’s Jewish stallion of a love child. There is no cake, only slightly flaccid party blowers that don’t wind back up all the way anymore. You pray that this is just the beginning, that a ascending slide whistle will suddenly play to the tune of everything tightening closer to your scalp, but as the hair dries and presents all it can ever be, you’re still hopeful that this isn’t the end, that it’ll become exactly what you want because you sacrificed all the perfect amounts of money/time/comfort/pride and deserve this and so wouldn’t it just be fair if everything worked out? On the BART ride back home you have to stand to steady your bike and sheepishly catch and avoid your reflection in the grimey car windows, confident that you reek of mousse, conditioner, artificiality, superficiality, vanity, 80s-envy, and perhaps even a little of actual sweat. A few stops into the ride a slightly tipsy and shorter-than-average white man chats you up and manages to intersect perfectly with your feeling of restless alteration and his own brazen come-ons, to the point that it’s actually very pleasant, talking about the design of courthouses with this (you then learn) torte lawyer, and how you both went to Berkeley, but after that have absolutely nothing in common. He then gets down on his knees to inspect your sandals, and as the train slows takes one shoe in his hand to smell it. You actually laugh out loud but then realize when the doors open you are on the wrong train and immediately exit.