Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Hairy Mess - Part I

Every weekday morning, I wake at 5 am, drag myself out of bed and put on my running shorts, athletic bra, t-shirt and tennis shoes. Then I strap on my pre-packed backpack with the day’s wardrobe neatly rolled into wrinkle-proof packages and prepare to head out the door on my daily 3-mile running commute downtown to my office job. But, before I go, there is one more thing I have to deal with – my hair.

To visualize the hair on my head, especially right after I get up, imagine (in black and white perhaps) a cotton candy machine into which someone has thrown a grocery bag full of twigs. Spun bark, anyone? The volume could pierce eardrums if we were talking about the other definition of the word. This hair is big. This hair is ornery. It made a very decent Hagrid costume one Halloween. Cavewoman and asylum patient are also successful costumes that capitalize on the thorny mess I wear on my head. It is long, bushy, brown, and out of control.

Hairstyle choices for running to work are many, but none are especially flattering. This does not matter because no-one sees me in the pre-dawn pitch blackness as I trumble by sleeping dogs and the neighbors’ dark windows. I can put it in a ponytail and tuck it down the back of my shirt, but that itches like crazy. If I leave it outside the shirt, it frequently tangles on the teeth of the backpack’s zipper and lashes me to my equipage in a very inconvenient way, which I realize only once I have arrived at the locked office door and try to hoist the backpack from my shoulders to retrieve my keycard. Clownish acrobatics ensue as I reach over my shoulders trying to unclamp the jaws of the angry backpack from the curious, creeping vines of my knotted, now shredded hair. My colleagues – the ones who arrive early enough – pass me with averted eyes, embarrassed to know this crazy, sweaty woman bending over backwards in a civil war with an unruly body part.

Another running hairstyle option is the braid. This is a safe partner with the backpack because it is too thick and contained to wedge itself in between zipper prongs. The raw, tender spot where the ocean-going-vessel-sized rope steadily slaps the back of my neck – once for every one of the 4,800 bobbing steps of my commute - can be salved and solved with a little TLC. But getting the snarled hair into the braid in the first place first thing in the morning takes as long as it does to run to work.

The simplicity of letting my hair float, untethered all around me as I run often tempts me. The result is two solid curtains of brown, ensconcing half of my face. Although this gratefully conceals my identity from early-morning dog-walkers and the security guard at my office building, it also acts as blinders, blocking my peripheral vision (and most of my axial vision too). This allows skulking bad guys and cracks in the sidewalk to remain unseen until it is too late, an unnecessary hazard my scarred knees probably resent. I value being able to see, especially when alone on a dark, lonely back street.

The solution that I use most often these days is the double clip. I bundle up what starts out as an angry cloud of wiry, errant hair, and, without the need for brushing, I twist it up into a single thick stalk, strong enough to support Jack, if not the Giant, which I then clip to the back of my head with two “jaws of life” hair-holding devices. They might just as easily be called the jaws of death, as they resemble fighting piranhas or tangled bear traps as they lock together on either side of the twisted trunk of hair. Luckily, they are made out of plastic. The double clip is a miraculous remedy for too much hair.

The double clip didn’t always work for me. In between the shorter, layered style I used to wear and the extra long, all one length anti-style I now host, the clips weren’t able to hold all of the various pieces out of my face at once. It is ironic looking back at how frustrating it was to struggle with the double clip in those days of more manageable hair, and now that my hair is certifiably unmanageable, they work like a dream. The one good thing (yes, there is only one good thing) about having long hair is the ability to put it all up at once. Medium length hair and layered cuts require multiple clips, elastic bands and other hair-securing devices to contain the many different lengths if you want to be able to play sports or see.

So, why, you ask, do I continue to battle the millions of strands of dead keratin that exude from my scalp? The answer I tell my officemates is “Locks of Love.” Of course, that is not the primary reason, but it is the easiest to explain. Ostensibly, I have been growing my hair out for three years so I can cut it all off and donate it to a charity that makes wigs for children with a disease that keeps them from growing their own hair. I set a goal of 14 inches of hair to grow and give, so that someone could benefit from this plethora of dead cells my body insists on producing. I always say, the rich should donate their money, the idle, their time, and the hirsute, their hair. I have too much hair, so why not give it to someone who needs it? But in reality, the goal is not to grow it, but to cut it, regardless of poor bald children or contrived beneficence on my part.

I want to cut my hair, not just short, but Sinead O’Connor short. Sigourney Weaver/Ellen Ripley short. GI Jane short.

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