Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Young and the Combless

Bob Marley
John Butler Trio
Michael Franti
My sister, Tori
Sprint PictureMail
My Man and the peachy footed kitten

One of the most hurtful statements my grandmother ever made on a fairly continuous basis was, "Are you going to comb your hair?" And the thing that made it sting the most was, I had inevitably been in the bathroom combing my hair.

Let's just say my naturally curly hair didn't always cooperate. Sure, I went through an 80's phase where people coveted my hair. Others braided their hair and then combed it out. Or they crimped it. Or they spent $100+ on spiral perms to get my ringlets. But that was short-lived and haphazard at best. It definitely couldn't be counted on, and like some sort of mythical beast, it was only captured in perfection in my senior pictures. On any other given day, it was just a glimpse of Bigfoot or just the tail of Lochness. It was a fleeting measure of coolness often squelched by the seemingly always en vogue straight hair style.

To be honest, most days I looked more like Slash from Guns n' Roses or triangular perfection like Alice in the cartoon Dilbert. Combing didn't help. Add to that a propensity for knotting, and what you get is a girl who fantasized about just giving up on it. I considered starting a hat collection. But trying to conceal an abundance of curly hair with a hat is kind of like trying to hide an at-term pregnant belly with a bikini.

I also considered letting my hair go wild. Back then, I sort of envisioned the dreading process as a matter of giving one's self over to nature. I figured the hair formed itself into those glorious hanks of hair, much the same way that a blackberry bush was a tangled, dark, dangerous mass of delicate tendrils abuzz with life. They beckon with their fruit, but they say, if you pick this fruit, you might get hurt, which makes the fruit all the sweeter. And isn't that what teenage girls do anyway? Don't they emit hormonal come-hithers while at the same time with a jail bait, Lolita-esque risk?

Though I managed to unintentionally rock some pretty mean tangles which eventually I had to cut out, I never officially partook of the dreadlocks. I just admired them from afar. I remember falling for a man, not because he had dreadlocks, but because he had done his doctoral work in the mountains of Jamaica. Once finished with his studies, he found that he couldn't leave and so bought a cobalt blue house in the jungle. There he spent his days listening to reggae, smoking ganja, and counting as friends and mentors the old men who had dreadlocks down to their knees. He showed me photo after photo. The hair looked like tree roots. They look like cigars. It looked like a mop. It looked like bungee cord. It looked like Predator. They tied it with one strand. They piled it atop their heads like a geyser. They tucked it into a crocheted version of what looked like a cross between fishing net and cafeteria worker hair net.

It's not as if this boyfriend was the first to introduce me to dreadlocks, but I think he was the first to make me see their beauty. His admiration for the men helped me understand that the dreads are less a hairstyle and more a way of being. And so it goes without saying that I am an admirer of the dreadlocked ones: Bob Marley, John Butler Trio's lead singer, Michael Franti. My sister has them. My boyfriend has them.

I am compelled and repelled.
I am in awe and dubious.

I'll admit, my boyfriend's dreadlocks are the first I've touched or been in contact with on a daily basis. And I feel sometimes like Jane Goodall must have felt when studying the apes. Among my findings:

* Dreadlocks can be like a rosary or worry stone. He fiddles with them, sometimes absentmindedly and some times methodically. Sometimes he rolls them between his big palms in order to compact them and to make them more distinct.

* Do not ever expect to run your fingers through your lover's hair in the way made popular by movies and paperback novels. The result is less than romantic. You must be careful how your hands and fingers operate in the head vicinity. An errant finger can snag, catch, pull, or put pressure on them and cause pain, which makes for a grumpy macho man. It's kind of like a self-induced cock blocking. The lady goes in for a sweet or sexy gesture, accidentally causes pain or discomfort and is thus DENIED. Therefore, approach with caution.

* He uses a special shampoo that makes me feel like a koala in a grove of eucalyptus. The bottle has a picture of a cartoon black kid that looks very much like the main character in Boondocks. It is expensive and must be special ordered, so don't go using it like a hotel courtesy sample bottle of Prell. Above all, if you do snitch a little, under no circumstances should you put your hands near your eyes or your genitalia. If you disregard my friendly reminder, the unfriendly burn of the shampoo on those sensitive parts will be your punishment.

* It's an ordeal to wash them every day, so on days when he doesn't, he gets into the shower with a neon green shower cap. This is the least attractive he will ever look but also the most vulnerable and thus cutest.

* He doesn't dry them with a towel. Instead, he shakes his head like a dog or more accurately, like a heavy metal head banger. He does this outside, in the midst of winter even, and I find it sinfully sexy. Some day I expect him to come back inside looking as if he's returned from Everest expedition, with frost on his beard and icicles hanging from his....rock pick.

* When he scoops the cat up in his arms, the cat sees the locks as toys. Likewise, every once in awhile you'll find her playing animatedly with something. She'll bat an unidentified object about the kitchen linoleum until you take it away from her. Upon further inspection, you'll see it's a tuft of hair . I might lose a strand of hair, but he loses little knotty furballs.

* They come with presupposition and judgment. People naturally associate the hairstyle with other behaviors. Thus, when he travels through the airport, he'll be the one they "randomly" search. Likewise, they'll be the subject of awkward dinner conversation for old ladies who mistake them for cornrows. People will associate them with being dirty, no matter how many showers you take. The subject of bugs and critters will come up, both as joke and in all seriousness. When he travelled to meet with his conservative grandparents who live in Florida, he worried that his grandfather would disapprove.

* They are most beautiful
when he hovers, my night sky:
display of Peony, Chrysanthemum,
Dahlia, Willow, Horsehair, Spider, Palm.
A visible trail saying: This
is where we ascend. This
is the descent. This
is the spark, flash powder,
the stars, he, me long-burning
glowing, free-falling in the glitter
trail, named for the shape of its break.
It is a timed rain. A salute, nightly.


  1. I didn't know much about dreadlocks...but I guess that's corrected now...regarding my hair...I prefer to call it Medusa's head on my bad hair days....which is around 360 in a year... :)

  2. Nothing says free spirited artist than dreads! I am 54 years old and love them! Had I not such judgmental parents I'd have tried them in the seventies. You're description is accurate and objective addressing many misconceptions. Loved all the visuals, from the shaking them out after a shower, to the burn of knotty boy shampoo, and the all the condescending jokes in-between! So well done!

    I have curly hair envy and was one to spend bucket loads of money on spiral perms for a good 15 years in an attempt to have your hair!One of my daughters best memories is of my long chestnut permed hair entwined with my best friend friends long blond naturally curly hair while riding the scrambler at our local fair!
    Thanks for sharing, and going to bat for the creatively unique dread wearers!

  3. Your pre-amble made me smile - 'compelled and repelled' - isn't that true of many things in life. As a proud owner of an honorary 'Jew-fro' I have learnt to shake my hair proudly in the rain rather than shave it off..your poem was mighty of itself..although I could really picture the scene after the photo of your partner and the 'peachy-footed' kitten..thanks so much also for your wonderfully incisive comments about my last blog..Jae