Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A hair-raising tale

My good friend, P, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Her prognosis is excellent, thank goodness.  But at one point, the doctors thought she might need chemotherapy - which meant she would lose her hair.

So, when I visited her in D.C., P asked me to go to the wig shop with her.  Who am I to refuse adventure?  Off to the wig shop we went.

The wig shop was unlike any other place I have visited.  It was filled, floor to ceiling, with disembodied heads, all wearing intense eye makeup and sporting lush coifs of every imaginable color, texture, and style.

The store was staffed by an elderly Asian woman.  She was friendly and welcoming, but her English was very rough - so we were all struggling to communicate.  She kept waving a xeroxed newspaper article at us and yelling "Hillary Clinton!"  Eventually, P and I came to understand that Wig Lady had made Hillary's hair extensions for Bill's inauguration in 1993.  We were suitably impressed.

Then Wig Lady challenged us to guess if her own hair was real or fake.  P later confided to me that it was obviously fake, but of course we both said it looked real.  With a triumphant smile, Wig Lady announced that it was a wig!  She explained that the medication for her rheumatoid arthritis had caused all her hair to fall out.  She waved her hands as proof - they were twisted and misshapen, the fingers barely able to move.  Functionally, they were more like flippers or paws. 

After this sobering exchange, P and I proceeded to browse the decapitated heads in the store.  We were looking for something similar to P's natural hair, which is auburn and wavy.  Wig Lady plucked a wig from the shelf.  "This your wig," she sternly informed P. 

Wig Lady brought P to a mirror and began jamming the wig on her head.  Since Wig Lady's hands didn't work so well, P had to hold the front of the wig while Wig Lady used her flippers to maneuver the rest of it over P's head.  Several tufts of P's hair were yanked out in this awkward process.  P was very brave - she winced and yelped, but she didn't cry at all. 

P and I studied the wig atop her head.  It actually looked great, very natural.  "I like it," I said.  "Me too," P agreed, "but let's see what else she's got."

P removed the wig, and we resumed browsing.  Wig Lady looked alarmed.  "This your wig!" she insisted, pointing to the one P had just removed. "This wig best."

"It's a very nice wig," P replied, "but I'd like to look around a little more, please."

"No, no, this your wig!"

P looked at me in frustration.  "My friend likes that wig very much," I told Wig Lady, "but it's a big decision, so she needs to see some other wigs before she can know for sure."  Wig Lady sighed and nodded.

P pointed to a different wig:  "What about this one?"  Wig Lady shook her head vigorously.  "Why not?" asked P.

"Your face very big," Wig Lady explained.  She waved her flippers in huge circles to emphasize the monstrous scale of P's face:  "SOOOOOOO big!!!" 

P turned to me, her eyes welling with tears:  "Is she calling me fat?"

"Uh, I think she means that this wig is not right for your head.  Don't get upset, just keep looking."

P selected another wig, which Wig Lady also rejected:  "No, will not look right!"  But this time, P insisted on trying it on.  P and I studied her reflection in the mirror.

"Well," I began, "it's not bad.  But I like the first one better."

Yes," agreed P, "this one looks fake."

Wig Lady beamed with the satisfaction of being right:  "This wig no good on you.  Look wiggy!"

We resumed our search.  P asked if she could try on a blond wig, just for fun, but Wig Lady shot her down.

We moved to the back of the store, where the wigs suddenly became more modish and varied.  Wig Lady became alarmed:  "No, no!  Those wigs for Blacks!"

Who knew we would find Jim Crow in a wig shop?  "It's ok," P told her, "I'm just looking around."  P and I made a silent pact with our eyes:  Let's just find a wig and get the hell out of here. 

P tried a few more wigs on, but Wig Lady had called it:  The first one was the right one.  She was bossy and strange and probably racist, but, when it came to matching heads with wigs, Wig Lady was a pro.  P put a deposit down to hold the wig until she got the final word about chemo. 

We left the store completely exhausted.  We were too tired to eat dinner, so we just went back to P's place and fell asleep.

The next week, P learned that she would not, after all, need chemotherapy.  Great news!  But now what to do about the wig?  P contemplated returning to the store to retrieve her deposit.  In the end, she just couldn't face Wig Lady again.

I like to imagine that Wig Lady sold P's wig to Hillary Clinton, and the wig is now traveling the globe on Hill Force One.  Why not?  Stranger things have happened.