Not a Permanent Solution

Mary Lou Edwards

I wonder, if in the Land of Make Believe, these baby dolls have flashbacks about their first permanent wave. I know mine was seared into my brain. I was about to start first grade. Apparently neither the nightly ritual of winding endless banana curls on my fidgety noggin nor my non-stop whining about stupid boys yanking on my braids was appealing to my mother so her cousin Della the beautician’s suggestion of a hot perm seemed like the perfect solution.

Though I viewed the horrendous contraption with its black wire tentacles and gleaming steel curler clamps with great trepidation, my mom said I’d be too busy reading books to waste time on the nightly hair-setting ritual. This permanent, she promised, would end my hairy tales of woe; I’d be permanently beautiful.

It took hours to section my massive mane into appropriate sized chunks for the electric curlers. Only the promise of a fuchsia hair ribbon forced me to sit still atop two giant Chicago telephone directories. Finally a disgusting permanent wave solution was applied to each curler and Della threw the switch.

Immediately my head started hissing and steaming like a pot of boiling ravioli. With her eyes as big as the giant meatballs my Nonna fried on Sunday morning, my mother asked, “Della, is her head supposed to smoke like that?”

“That’s only steam,” said Della, “If her hair was burning, we’d smell it—singed hair smells disgusting.”

Looking at my mother’s popping eyeballs and smelling the stinking fumes sent me into orbit. My sotto sobs erupted into what would have been hair raising shrieks had not my head been so wired.
“This is an electric chair!” I screamed. “I’m turning into Frankenstein!”

My mother grabbed the telephone book highchair.

“Sit still,” she hissed. “If you fall off those phone books, you’ll be scalped like an Indian and you’ll have to wear a babuschka to school. Besides," she grinned, "You told me you wanted to be beautiful!”

That was true. I did want to be beautiful. I settled down.

A few minutes later the wires were disconnected, the hair unwound and a nauseating “neutralizer” was sloshed through my ringlets. Then my locks were twisted into pin curls and I was placed under a giant steel helmet for another hour to dry.

At last my tresses were combed out with the coveted fuchsia bow planted in the massive eagle’s nest of curls.

I was beautiful.

Two weeks later my hair was stick straight. The beauty maven said the “hot wave” didn’t take; she would give me a “cold wave.”

“No, no,” I told my mother, "No, thanks! No more torture. Being beautiful is way too much trouble.” And so it was and it is…

MLSE 06/27/08