Friday, December 12, 2014

The Perm

True story: When I was in sixth grade, I was tricked into getting a perm.

I've always had what can most kindly be described as "fine" hair. It can't really be called thin hair as that conjures images of receding or non-existent hair. I have hair, it just is so fine that it is almost translucent. The "fineness" of my hair is only exacerbated when it is longer. In fact, my barber once remarked that I am the only person he has ever known whose hair actually looks fuller when I have a crew cut than when it is longer. Consequently, I have worn my hair short for the vast majority of my life.

In sixth grade, however, nobody had short hair. The unwritten - yet extremely rigid - handbook at Valley Middle School required that hair be grown out. This posed a challenge for me, but a few barbs from friends about the strange consistency of my hair was easier than being the only person with a crew cut. Then, for motives I assumed pure at the time, my mom started hinting that I should consider a perm. I brushed off the suggestion as absurd. Only girls got perms! No, my mom insisted, guys were getting perms all the time. It was all the rage! I could be a trendsetter! I still wasn't sold. Gradually, the perm pressure increased. "Look! That guy has a perm!" became the nightly game while watching television. Over the course of what I now imagine to be months, but in reality was probably just a week or even a couple of days, my resolve weakened. Maybe a perm was exactly what I needed to become hot shit in sixth grade. I finally grudgingly agreed to consider it.

"Consider it" is all the permission my mom needed. Within a day, my Uncle Jerry, who just happened to be training to become a barber/hairstylist, showed up with all the necessary equipment. My feeble sixth grade mind never put two and two together. It was, strangely enough, Marisa Tomei who opened my eyes 10 years later. In the epic 1993 film "Untamed Heart", Marisa plays a character training to become a hairstylist. As a part of her training, she needs to find a "victim" whom she can give a perm to. My jaw dropped on seeing this. My own mother threw me under the bus to find my Uncle Jerry his perm guinea pig.

I can't clearly remember the full details of the actual perming of my hair, but I do vividly recall the smell giving me an immense headache and my brother offering a relentless slew of insults and slanders while I was captive in a chair, forbidden from moving and unleashing my fury on him. I'll let one of the very few surviving pictures of "The Great Perm Tragedy of 1983" tell the story of how it actually looked, but even as a sixth grader I knew immediately I had made a horrible mistake. I approached the next day at school with an overwhelming sense of dread, sure I was going to receive my righteous pummeling from an eighth grader. In my very first class of the day, however, I caught a glimmer of hope. The prettiest, most popular girl who I and every other sixth grader was head over heels in love with, noticed me and for the first time ever approached to speak with me. Yes! Mom was right! A perm is where it's at! My enthusiasm was fleeting, however, as the girl simply giggled, said "You like a girl!" and then called several of her pretty friends over to confirm that I did indeed resemble a female. I was mortified and demanded that the perm be reversed. The problem with perms, however, is that they are intended to be, well, permanent. I was left with no choice but to either shave my head or wait it out. So wait it out I did, while making the vow (kept to this day) that my hair would never see curls again.

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