Assimilationist Junk, June 15, 2014

Post Storm King, I groaned heavily to L. and D. about having to spend the rest of the evening at the hair salon.

“I hate it,” I told them. “they take chemicals and put them on my scalp and the longer it is on the more it burns. You’re supposed to keep it on for 20 minutes, but I can never make it…I wish I didn’t have to do it at all…” I stopped my monologue and the sentence trailed off into a mumble. 

“Don’t do it,” D. said. “Go natural.”

I sighed. “Natural” -- what a word. On my cab ride to Chelsea for my hair appointment I considered the definition of “natural” (without cheating and referencing Google).  Is it exactly what is, the reality, the unadultured?  Nothing about me feels natural. I use about 40 different types of skin care products on a daily basis, and my make-up routine includes six products. I’d only gone bare-faced once in my entire New York life (read: moving at 5 am on a Saturday). Even when a relative was sent to the hospital via screaming ambulance, I put make up on when the sirens approached.

But in salon chairs I have deep inner conflict. I clench my hands till my knuckles turn white, I grit my teeth and make faces the more and more the product starts to burn my scalp. My placidity turns to anger. I look at my reflection and grimace, then I quote “Beneatha Younger” from “A Raisin in the Sun” – “Assimilationist junk!” I say to myself.

At the end of my session I fork over the $200, while simultaneously pulling a dunce hat out of my purse and placing it sullenly on my freshly done hair. What is the point of this performance?

Back in 2011 I wrote that I was “the pendulum and not the dagger,” that I’m a woman always in two parts. The very things I admonish in public I often encourage in principle. I tout etiquette but love to hear an out of turn comment at a dinner table, or a direct, vulgar, embarrassing question posed fearlessly to a person in power (or anyone). I will call scantily clad women uncouth, but secretly envy their gumption. I always support a conservative lifestyle in part because I don’t trust the masses to act without excess. But in my own mind, I wonder, “should the boundaries exist?” No, no, there should be no boundaries at all. So naturally, in regards to my hair, I believe one thing, and I do something entirely different.  After a few months, when my real, true hair emerges curly and wild from my roots, I go expire in a salon chair and remove it violently. While in secret, I think it’s silly. 

That weekend, after my stylist was finished straightening and snipping he lifted up a strand.

“Next time,” he said, “we’ll use a no-lye treatment so it’ll get straighter. We can leave it on longer,” he said. I nodded but told myself that there wouldn’t be a next time, but of course, I know that’s not true.