I Will Survive
What is the saying: those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat the same mistakes?
That sounds close enough to enable me to launch into a story which I might have already told once or twice, or maybe more. So what, I say? Ever listen to a hit song just the once? Or did you wear out the grooves (or magnetic tape or CD player, or whatever new technology you might have bought into) trying to satisfy your hungering ears? Sure you did, so stop complaining and listen up. In the meantime, my older son lurks down in the basement, playing one of those vile video games. He is waiting for the results of his first hair-coloring experiment to occur.
I told him already; be patient. Things will change soon enough (I actually feel more excited than I let on).
Once upon a time, when Royal Crown was king of hair treatments (much superior to tubes of Brylcreem, a little dab will do you, or any bottle of Get Wildroot Cream-Oil, Charlie), and back when rock and roll music was just beginning to get a firm toe-hold into dull American culture, a horrific thought crept into the collective minds of innocent youth, one which was designed to alarm and dismay all adults living throughout the kingdom.
It was such a killer idea that most of the children shied away from its rebellious display, and few would attempt to do such shocking things. The brave few who did went on to become legends of sorts, who were then mentioned in hushed whispers at family gatherings and during high school reunions, and their courageousness was brought up and examined for many, many decades afterwards.
Yes, and a few lucky druggists even grew rich as hydrogen peroxide sales shot to unheard-of levels. This all transpired when teens began to bleach their hair.
I was one of those, and this is my story.
Billy Don Bixby showed up at school Thursday morning with hair the color of wheat straw. It was an instant hit. No one could count the number of girls who started flocking around him. It made me sick how all of them wanting to touch and tousle his strange-looking locks. Mine had never been tousled before, so the first impulse I had was to set him on fire, somehow. Their high-pitched, delighted squeals followed me home, though. I thought I wanted to crawl under the covers and never come out, but one of my classmates had said something during the day that was to change my life forever.
“All he used to get that effect was regular old hydrogen peroxide.”
I had been taught from an early age to pour an amount of hydrogen peroxide over a cut or a scabbed-over scar, and then watch as it painlessly bubbled and fizzed, killing truckloads of germs and all of their best associates. Remember, this was before television came along.
I believed in the actions of the product, too. Any chance I got, I used chemical warfare on those invisible hoards, and felt satisfied for days afterwards. But to put this agent on my hair? How did Billy Don manage that, I asked my erudite classmate.
He wipe it on, or did he immerse his head in a vat, or what? And how did it work, exactly?
The details he gave to me seemed sketchy, so I had to go home and resort to experiments and guesswork.
The first thing I did was lock the bathroom door. Then I washed all the pomade out of my hair. Pomade is what got bathtub rings going in the first place, in case you did not know. I am pretty sure that is true, since I never saw one stuck to the walls of a tub till I turned fourteen and started combing my hair the same way Ricky Nelson did. That guy must have went through a lot of pomade. But Royal Crown smelled sweet and held every hair in place, so who cared? I know I liked who looked back at me in the mirror.
I wrapped a towel around my head to dry the wetted hair. The shape vaguely resembled what my two sisters usually produced. That is, until I let go of it.
Somewhere around my third failed attempt at making a turban, someone tapped on the door. Mom knew I was in there, but she had no clue why, so she asked. I told her I took a bath. She then hurried off to tell my father how she was beginning to worry -- that boy went in and took a bath without being told to fifteen times.
I knew I had little time to waste, so I grabbed the brown bottle from among the multitude of odd-sized and many colors of bottles and jars kept on a long shelf behind me, and I twisted off its white cap.
Here we go, you handsome thing. It’s now or never.
I then carefully poured a small amount on top of my head and began to spread it around, using just the tips of my fingers, applying it much in the same manner as Vitalis Hair Tonic. The room began to smell. I stopped and watched my reflection. I timed it and waited three minutes. Outside in the hall I heard shuffling, but I was occupied with imagining squeals of joy.
No results. Nothing happened, so I sloshed on a goodly amount for a second try. A cold line of the liquid dribbled down the back of my neck.
Hurry, hurry, hurry!
I squinted at myself in the mirror. A muffled little voice cried out.
“Are you done yet?”
The piteous noise came from a sister who leaned her head against the other side of the door, so I ignored it. I was not about to miss any changes I knew would occur soon.
“Ma, he has been in there over an hour.”
What a whiner. I opened up the window and put away my tools, and only after she began to sob properly did I let her in.
“What are you doing? Don’t you know people have to pee?”
She had gotten just mad enough to miss the smell.
Later that same night, I snuck back in for two separate and swift tries. By bedtime I had given up. What a load of crap. Peroxide is useless. I then fell asleep and dreamt I had blond curly hair that filled an entire house. People drove for miles to come see. My parents acted so proud, and I had no sisters.
When I woke up, I dashed downstairs. What I witnessed left me glum. My brown hair looked as dull as ever. Lazy cats were laying about in the hallway, and sisters were talking somewhere close by. I kicked at one feline and the other ran, which helped my mood only slightly.
I decided to do one more application before school -- who knows? Maybe I did something wrong. Mother got a puzzled expression on her face, and she sniffed the air as I went out the front door.
Once at school, I confided to a close friend. He inspected my hair closely, but shook his head. Then we argued if peroxide could possibly be the real deal or not, but he still sounded more convinced of the rumor than me. That Friday was the worse day of the entire year, I felt.
Late that night, dad laid out his plans for the weekend. I discovered him and a map at the kitchen table. He had heated up a can of pork and beans, and it, along with his handful of garlic cloves and a hefty daub of mayonnaise mixed in, seemed to mask the smell of my last-ditch effort with the peroxide. Or he never mentioned it. But his eyes did light up when he pointed to a place on the map he had circled.
“White Sands National Park. I figure it’s just a few hours away from here.”
Exciting, dad. When do we get back home? I have friends to deal with here, you know.
To this day I do not know how it came about. Maybe the bright sun worked its magic while we romped around in New Mexico, running up and down snow-white dunes most of one afternoon. But by evening my hair had turned to the desired paler shade of straw.
I was unable to smile, though. From the moment I climbed into the backseat of our station wagon, I started to moan. My cool hairs aside -- my poor lips were killing me. Mom shook her head and handed dad a warm beer when I tried asking for lip balm. My words came out sounding like monkey-talk. Dad took the can from her and cranked up his new air conditioner. I got a glimpse of my white locks reflecting in his rearview mirror, and I choked.
One little sister sat beside me holding a small compact. The object was pink, with tiny white flowers. She held the thing steadily as she tried the newly-learned art of putting on lipstick. I wanted to gag. She then smacked her lips, snapped the case shut and smiled up at me.
How is that possible? I can barely form words without wincing.
I looked at the other sister. She too looked garish, but happy. My cracked lips were on fire, but then my teeth began to chatter from the frigid air, so I moaned about that. Mom shoved her ratty old fur coat over the seat while dad sipped his beer and drove. It helped some, but my pain only grew worse.
“Let me have your compact.”
“What for?” She looked at me like I had went crazy.
“Momma, make her give it to me!”
It took a few miles of arguing, and a few extra miles of me enduring the girl-giggles before I could feel any sense of relief, and only then did I give her back the compact and her lipstick. She looked at the spent tube with disgust. Both girls then began pointing and laughing after that, so I turned an angry face to the window. Then I leaned against the glass and let the fur coat hide all but my nose, and soon fell sound asleep.
Just before I opened my eyes again, I heard the rushing sound of a liquid coming from somewhere. I raised my head slightly and tried to focus on the face I saw gawking at me on the other side of my window. Some stranger stood less than a foot away, and his jaw hung slack with what I took as an expression of pure awe.
Then I realized we had stopped at a gas station.
And for whatever reason, the attendant could not seem to pull his eyes off of me and my blond hair, and my warm fur coat. Or my red lipstick.
So as soon as that boy of mine finishes with his little video game downstairs, I will offer him more helpful advice on how to be cool. I can hardly wait.