Last Saturday, I permed my hair. A digital perm which is supposed to be not only better for your hair but also produce more relaxed, natural results. I had a regular perm back in elementary school. The same time I had braces and short hair. I went to school the next day and a jackass with poetic leanings called me Medusa. By lunch he had revised it to “Metal Mouth Medusa.”
Alliteration. Gotta love it.
I avoided perms for a while until I was twenty-five, when I discovered digital perms. So that’s why Korean and Japanese girls have those glossy, glorious looking body waves. I signed up for one and it was a big hit. A friend said, “Whoa, you actually look feminine for once.” My mother said I looked very romantic, like Kate Winslet from “Titanic.” “…Thanks mom.” A guy I met online and went on two dates with said my personality was like my hair, “Bouncy.” It was a nice thing to say. Unfortunately his personality was like his hair, flat.
I’ve had other perms since then, but spaced out to let my hair recover. Also, in New York these perms are crazy expensive. Instead, I’ve been patient, growing my hair out, trimming it every few months to keep it healthy so that I could damage it all in one go for a digital perm, all in the name of femininity.
I sat in a Korean-owned Irvine salon for five hours getting it cut and permed. My stylist was pregnant and very pretty. She complimented the strength of my hair and told me about her husband who taught Tae Kwon Do. She was going to have another daughter and my goodness your hair is really strong I need to apply the relaxer twice. Set the temperature higher than normal. My neck got close to burning quite a few times and when it was finally done, I was running late for my cousin Angela’s housewarming dinner.
I walked in, aware of how curly my right-after-perm hair was. I prayed that it would not stay this way.
“Be honest,” I said, plunking myself down and feeling my hair swing up and down, “Do I look like Mozart?”
My mom paused a moment too long before saying no, but her eyes said, “A little bit.”
“It’s fine,” my cousin Angela said, her eyes saying the same thing, “It’ll relax.”
I knew this. But my other perms had not taken five hours.
Later, we moved from the restaurant to Angela’s new house. Grandpa, who’d sat at the other end of the table at dinner, came up to me now.
“It’s time you got a haircut,” he said.
I laughed (“Oh Grandpa, so acerbic and witty and sarcastic and funny”), and wandered off to see Angela’s house, a cozy duplex in Irvine with a gleaming kitchen and hardwood floors.
An hour later, I readied to leave.
“Bye grandpa,” I said, but he waved me over.
“Really,” he said again, a shade of urgency in his voice, “It’s time you got your hair cut.”
“Oh you were being serious?”
“Of course!” he looked surprised, “Why would I joke about these things?”
I had assumed someone told him why I was late to dinner.
“I was just at the salon,” I told grandpa, “I just got my hair cut and permed.” For nearly two hundred dollars! I wanted to add, but decided not to. Didn’t want to give a frugal man an extravagant nosebleed.
He leaned back with a bewildered look, “Then why does it look like that?”