Hair and Fake Hair

BY KATHY PERUTZ

“Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow” was an article I wrote many decades ago for Seventeen, a magazine for teenagers whose mothers subscribed to Vogue and whose older sisters read Glamour.  I was in my twenties then, awash with hair, most of it piled on my head in a kind of jungle, thick and kinky and requiring my constant attention, much as if I owned a particularly neurotic dog.  It had to be made straight and smooth despite its nature; it had to be cut, bleached and colored (but I’ve written so much about blond, blondes and becoming one that I’m satiated with the topic & won’t go into it here) and it cost me a fortune, at least $1500 a year, which in the 1960’s still counted as money and not just a tip at Mar-A-Lago.

I also paid much attention to the removal of hair, plucking my eyebrows or the area around and between them every day, after having watched my aunt Lisa, who was living in sin with my uncle Max, do exactly that on a beach in Truro on Cape Cod.  It was called sin in those days simply to share a lodging with someone to whom one was not legally tied; those innocent ice cream soda days when Coke meant a drink in a green bottle and when it was not necessary to bribe, steal or murder to be labeled a sinner.  Mere sex could do it, which added to the flavor, naughtiness being the spice or shot that transformed something simple into something transgressive.  Lisa, who studied dance with Martha Graham, plucked her lovely eyebrows in the sunshine on the sand peering into the mirror of her compact.  She had to do it every day, she explained, because every day new hairs appeared.  It may have been her imagination; she was militant about cleanliness and possibly saw hairs where none had yet grown.  But perhaps that was a by-product of  having spent four years in Auschwitz.  My mother, on the other hand, whose hair was as bushy as mine and a flaming auburn, never tweezed – or at least I never saw her do such a thing.  But she was a more private person than Lisa, more aware of what can and can’t be done in front of the servants and children.

Then there was the hair that grew under arms, hair on legs, hair in the crotch. My mother never shaved her underarms, as most European women did not in those days.  I, being first-generation American, needed to be as smooth as my classmates.  I shaved, though rarely, and because my body hair was blond (there it is again!) I didn’t really need to shave my legs, though I did it for form’s sake and often enough that eventually I actually had a stubble to get rid of.  My mother used Sleek on her legs, plastering them from knee to foot and then, after the white cream had set, scraping it off with a wooden spatula included in the package for this purpose.  Bikini line had not been invented yet (neither had bikinis), at least not among ordinary people, though I am sure those women whose profession included exhibiting the genital area might have trimmed here and there.  Dyeing of pubic hair was also not heard of yet, at least not by the average typist in Utah, and not even by Francesca, my up-to-date  hairdresser in Great Neck near the railroad station.

But hair was definitely a problem, whether absent or present. Bald men tried to cover up their patches however they could, at least until Yul Brynner came along in The King and I (1956), swashbuckling his way into virgin American hearts and convincing the millions who saw the film that bald was as sexy as you could get this side of the Devil’s abode.  Around this time it was proclaimed a Scientific Fact that bald men had more testosterone than others and when I had a prematurely balding Welsh boyfriend in the early 60’s, I was quite the object of envy at the parties we went to.  (Deservedly so, I could add.)

By the seventies, grooming had changed, hair weaving was in for those men who could afford it. Bald was out because it signified the advance of age and people were becoming more interested in money than in sex.  Men also began dyeing their hair (though keeping it secret) and plastic surgery helped both sexes remain in the “game,” as the making of money was referred to (perhaps on the model of Monopoly) until they were past retirement age.

Hair, which had always been a symbol of strength for men (see Samson & Delilah with Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr in the title roles – 1949, Cecil B. DeMille – or read the Book), also served a double purpose for women, beguiling and concealing.  This makes sense when we think of how women were/are forever depicted in stories, books, movies, art: the Virgin/Temptress, Eve/Mary, Mother/Bitch whose hair, falling below her shoulders, modestly conceals the beauty of her upper parts, in particular those breasts that give suck, and not only to infants.  Lady Godiva was a heroine, riding naked on her horse through the streets of Coventry to protest unfair taxation – but (as the paintings reveal) she rode out clothed in her modesty, her purity and her long hair.  It doesn’t take Freudian training to understand that Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, is a cry for the charmer to abandon herself to her would-be lover.

Paintings of Mother Eve usually show her naked, smooth-skinned and with long flowing hair. She is the temptress, born of Adam’s rib to tickle him with her locks and curls and entrap him in her (usually) blond tresses.  John Milton, who wrote all about Eve in his epic poem, Paradise Lost, was a trichomaniac; that is, a person manic about hair.  (He was manic about other things too, and had his wife sleep in a drawer that pulled out from the bottom of his bed when she was having her period – or so it is written by Robert Graves in Wife to Mr. Milton.)  Eve’s hair is man’s downfall, never mind the apple and the serpent.  If Eve had been bald we wouldn’t have sinned, and therefore would not have had to be redeemed, which would have made the writing of Paradise Lost and its sequel Paradise Regained unnecessary, since the epic is an elucidation of the Doctrine of the Fortunate Fall, which says that man sinned so Christ could rise and save us.  It was those damn locks and tendrils of hair, the ones Milton couldn’t get enough of, sinuous tresses like the long hair that proclaimed a new generation in the late 1960’s when the musical Hair was first produced, the Age of Aquarius was upon us and young men started wearing their hair long and singing about peace and love and understanding.  We still see these men from time to time: white-haired hippies with flowing manes or tiny ponytails, holding fast to their dream.  It is by hair that we are known: hair tells others if we’re young or old, sexy or not, employable or ready for the trash.   Hair, real or fake, has been the world’s obsession since the world (as we know it) began.

And never more than now. I would wager that in the last year and a half more words have been spoken, spewed and written about a certain head topped with an orangey hair-like covering than have been employed in the cause of human suffering during that same time.  I, who once was plagued by a barely governable mass of hair, now wear a wig.  Chemotherapy keeps me bald.  I don’t disapprove of wigs.  On the contrary; I depend on them – and love them too, for the way they can transform a young actor into a character stepping out of history, or make a judge out of a lawyer.  But I do know the difference.  There is hair and there is fake hair.  There is truth and fake truth, which we call lies.  There are men and fake men, those we call imposters if not something far, far worse:  men who ally themselves with something – a country say – and hide their allegiance to another.

“Comparisons are Odorous,”

BY KATHY PERUTZ

declares Dogberry in the third act of Much Ado About Nothing. He’s a Shakespearean fool of the first order, an  insufferable windbag whose words are empty of meaning, though he believes that the bluster he speaks is language and that he is communicating.

It’s been a long time since my last blog. The results of the election came a few days before Michael and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, at home with close friends, good food, pink bubbly and a large cake inscribed with M and K in gold letters. Despite what had just happened to our country, we were happy. In the last months of illness and confinement we had grown together, two trees entwined; a single entity forged from two separate beings. Then came Christmas, when Michael’s ability to breathe grew even weaker, though his mind was lucid and he continued to work on an important paper with his collaborator, Herb Terrace, attacking Chomsky’s notion that language is ultimately based on a “mutation,” which in this sense would make it a miracle, a deus ex machina suddenly landing in the field of evolution – a quasi-religious sort of belief that Michael and Herb opposed, and with excellent reason.  In January Michael died.  A few days later Trump was inaugurated and since then I have found myself at a loss for words.

*

Last year, over many of my blogs, I warned against Trump. My parents had come to America in the late 1930’s from Central Europe (he born in Vienna, she in Prague), skiing across the Alps when the Nazis invaded Austria, led by their guide into Switzerland from where they made their slow way to New York, where I was eventually born.  Others in the family were put to death in the camps or, perhaps worse, survived 4 years of Auschwitz.  I was aware that the sophisticates in the cafés of Vienna in the ‘thirties had reassured each other over their kaffee mit schlag that Hitler was a buffoon and clown and would never affect their lives.

Until he did.

In writing about Trump I was aware of Stalin too, the millions of deaths he perpetrated on his own people, murdered outright or left to die of planned starvation. I knew that Stalin was able to re-write history, to claim that something which had clearly happened hadn’t happened.  He and his experts were capable, even then, of erasing an image, a person, from photographs and of rewriting history, removing textbooks from the schools and replacing them with his newer versions.  Fake facts were his meat, as they are of any dictator, always have been and will be.

I made comparisons, odious and odorous. Trump was also the great showman, like P.T. Barnum, who showed the world the truth of the sentiment, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

Berlusconi too. That 70-something mad clown with lipstick on his face and pancake makeup who liked screwing children, at least those old enough to have breasts and curves.  He gave me the heebie-jeebies just to look at him, and he owned the media in Italy.  How could the Italians be so dumb?  How could they not see?

And then the Orange Dishrag appeared and the same nausea overtook me. A visceral reaction, going hand in hand with the mental revulsion that awful creature caused and keeps causing, because nothing in the world exists except himself, because he doesn’t care for anybody, doesn’t see that he is made in the image and mold of man, a person like others; that we are all the bloody same in our needs and desires and claim to respect.  So he spouts rubbish, any rubbish, just to be heard, to be the center of all eyes all the time.  No matter that he is crude, that he was kicked out of his elementary private school (Kew-Forest) for being a bully even though his father was on the board.  Quite an accomplishment, that.

I saw it coming and told myself I was wrong (as almost everyone around me did, saying how wonderful that this buffoon was running against Hillary; it guaranteed a landslide.) I tried to tell myself that I always go straight to the worst case scenario, that this was my form of optimism (since if it happens the way you’ve predicted, you’re not shocked, and if it doesn’t happen, well then, marvelous.)

Then came Brexit. I had lived in England for a few years after college. My first novel and the next two were first published there.  Michael was a Brit who had gone through the education system famous for producing leaders of the world, stiff upper lips honed on “the playing fields of Eton,” where men learned the onus and responsibility of privilege (colonialism) known as “the white man’s burden” to Kipling when Britannia ruled the waves and much of the world.  Michael did not go to Eton, but to another “public” school built on the same foundations of belief and empire, and then went on to Cambridge.  He left England after that because the system he’d been raised in oppressed him.

Brexit appalled us both, and my friends in England took to their beds. It was then that I realized democracy has a basic flaw: it does not require that the person who casts a vote know anything at all about the issue or person that he or she is voting for.  Brexit should never have been put to public referendum; the public simply didn’t understand the ramifications of what it would mean to leave Europe.

When Brexit was voted in, I was sure Trump would win. The know-nothings would invent their own scenario and project it onto the man who was nobody, nowhere, who had no objectives, no vision, no knowledge.

And so it happened, and now we are fed daily, hourly dispatches of such appalling behavior that any three-year old doing it would rightly be confined behind the bars of the playpen. Whatever Trump does brings pain or anger or grief or all of it.  “Whither I fly is Hell; myself am Hell,” is how Milton’s Satan put it, but Satan was an introspective sort compared with the dishrag now in charge of the planet.  And to be rid of him, with all those awful appointees in place is no longer the solution.

Now I find a new comparison, odorous indeed. I realize Trump is very like a hippopotamus, an animal that marks its territory by spinning its tail like a fan when it excretes, scattering the excrement over as large an area as possible.

A hippo is described by Wikipedia as: An extremely large animal with a round, barrel-shaped body, short legs and a large, broad head. . . . The virtually hairless skin is moistened by a secreted pink, oily substance that protects [it] from sunburn and drying, and perhaps infection. . . The hippopotamus is a highly aggressive and unpredictable animal and is ranked among the most dangerous animals in Africa.

The difference between the two is that the hippo is limited to one continent and even there has become a threatened and endangered species. Our excrement-flinger is leader of the world.  The hippo does not rape females, nor force other hippos of perhaps a slightly different shade to leave the river.  The hippo is an animal.  What we have in the White House is a “beast that wants discourse of reason,” as Hamlet characterized him some 414 years ago – an empty, cruel, self-seeking demagogue.

“Demagogue.” It’s a word we don’t often use of our own leaders, though we have used it of leaders in other country, particularly those known as “undeveloped.”  The word ricochets in my ears and returns as “demi-god,” which is what the followers of the Orange Dishrag must believe he is.  Some form of deliverer, certainly, though one who is without values, standards, or any concept of social behavior, empathy or responsibility.  There is no inner man there, only the hippo with its shit-flinging tail, and a very bad sort of hippo at that.

And yet, because I am an optimist in pessimist’s clothing, the sequence “demagogue. . . demi-god” puts me in mind of a beautiful Emerson poem that begins, “Give all to love,” and concludes:

Heartily know/When half-gods go/ The gods arrive.

Or perhaps we could convince Pope FrancIs and Angela Merkel to set up a joint rule in America, he being the visionary and she the enforcer. We don’t deserve them of course, but what a dream team they would make!