Sunday, January 30, 2011

Splitting Hairs

If there is one thing I dislike more than shoe shopping, it is haircuts. Probably the only reason I like them less is because they need to occur on a more regular basis and you don’t really have a chance to try it on before deciding whether you’re going to like it or not.

This also explains why my head of hair has varied in length between six inches and three feet long over the last 15 or so years. While I like it shorter for the efficiency and general agreeability, short requires regular maintenance. And, as my hair grows faster than the average person’s, it requires a lot of maintenance. That means gritting my teeth, walking into a place where a woman is going to force me to sit in a chair, stare a myself in a mirror, ask me questions about how I want to be made to look beautiful (which she will ignore). And then she going to expect me to make small-talk while she proceeds to do things with scissors that I am convinced is going to either leave me bald or looking like I invited a three-year-old to have a go - or both. Then I must pay an exorbitant fee for a result that would have made Picasso proud.

So, long seems like a good way to go. Except that I have an incredibly tiny head (I nearly suffered the humiliation of having to purchase a child’s bike helmet complete with SpongeBob stickers), and my fine, thin hair does not hang gracefully or do anything to balance my proportions. Needless to say, I don’t believe in permanents or other volumizing treatments demanding more money and maintenance.

My usual routine is to rotate through the various stages. I allow my hair to grow out until I get sick of it. I cut it off in frustration and, if I’m in the right place at the right time, I donate it. Then I suffer through the various stages of short until I can just tie it back and ignore it again.

Last week was another final straw. In the panic of minding the Smithsonian exhibit over the last few weeks, my hair had crept to the annoying lengths. Too long to look decent, too short to tie back. No time to do anything about it added to the underlying dislike of haircuts. Finally, on the day the Smithsonian got packed away, I went to do something to control it on its way to longer lengths.

Unfortunately, the stars were aligned exactly against me. My dry hair was full of static and flat, making it appear far worse than even normal. The one girl in the walk-in cuts-for-cheap that had almost become my “regular” stylist wasn’t working. My request for “just a bob, not too short” was promptly ignored leading to a battle of me gently suggesting a modification of the course, and her gaily chatting along and continuing on her path. She was desperate to tease a shape into my hair. My request for a “bob” turned into a sad attempt at a layered, vogue, inverted bob, complete with intensive blowdry and half a can of hairspray.

I’m not an overly demonstrative person, and probably less confrontational than I should be. I gave the results a hesitant benefit of the doubt in hopes that when I went home and washed it, it would be usable.

Not so much. The front hung in my face the annoying way it had before, and the back was short to the point of boy cut. The transition between felt more like the start of an Elizabethan curl-around-the-face do. Or maybe 1920s flapper?

Well, I suffered through a day with it, including a TV interview that broadcast the results to the top quarter of the state and some of the neighboring one. Fortunately I did manage to go and get it “fixed” the following day. Only real damage done was setting back my efforts to grow my hair long enough to tie back by several inches and more months. And it has done little to relieve my apprehensions about going under the scissors in the future.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Christmas Puzzle

Many years ago when we were small, my mother’s side of the family brought together the “boys” (my aunt and uncle’s two sons) and the “girls” (my sister and me) for Christmases and Easters. We have since grown, Christmas has moved to January, the location in Arizona, and the kid’s table comes complete with filled wine glasses. It’s been a long time since any of us believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Yet somehow a certain tradition of making us work for our holiday inheritance has lived on.

Easter morning always arrived with a certain sense of foreboding for such a joyous celebration. A basket of colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, Peeps and jelly beans decorated the dining room table, but that was strictly off-limits to those that could be called a grandchild. Grandchildren had their own baskets, but one never knew where those baskets might be. Or what might be in them.

Easter was usually at the “boys” house, yet for all that you would think they would know every crook and cranny of their own home, the hunt for a fair-sized basket often lasted the better part of a hour or sometimes even a day. One year the baskets were famously booby-trapped with cans of silly-string, adding an element of danger to being the last to find the basket. The tradition continued for more than 20 years, and the finding never got any easier.

Now as we gather for Christmas, significant others of the grandchildren find themselves being initiated in the rights of present passage. A traditional monetary gift is hidden around the house, each “child” with their own, where an how must be worked out from a Christmas puzzle. One year I was extremely grateful to still be overseas when I found out that obtaining the clue had involved solving a Rubix cube.

This year our first clue lead us to a wrapped gift. The wrapped gift turned out to be a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle - ages 5 and up, maybe, but that was more about the choking hazard of the pieces. I was immediately grateful for the other family tradition of setting increasingly difficult puzzles at Thanksgiving and other family holidays.

I was quick with my puzzle (perhaps the easiest one of the bunch - it took seven of us to later complete my cousin's 100 piece hologram puzzle). Once completed, a cryptic message inscribed on the back of the puzzle directed us to the location of our gift. My message?

“Head north to find your modus operandi among the others.”

Hint: north was the kitchen.

One cousin’s girlfriend was quick with her clue - she’s been subjected to this before (including the infamous Rubix cube). Her tactic was to put together the scrawled-message side of her puzzle and discovered one key word as a giveaway. My other cousin’s girlfriend was initiated into the tradition this year and was overwhelmed by the whole process.

I was quick with the puzzle, but slow with the clue - and even slower as I had to sort through a whole cabin to find it.

Still this is a tradition I am glad lives on, and one I will never feel too old for.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Food Chain

Just days before my sister returned from California, I discovered the culprit of shoes stuffed with dog kibble and items being mysterious knocked off of impossibly high shelves overnight (allowing me to rule out earthquakes and microbursts of wind inside my house): a flying squirrel.

Since dubbed “Walnut” (yes, there’s a story behind that, and it involves a friend’s attempt to live trap another mysterious creature causing damage in her garage, but only successfully ensnaring a shrew, a chipmunk and a walnut), the flying squirrel has taken its loss of anonymity in great stride. And unlike most creatures that sneak through holes in the walls to make homes in our houses, this one seems to be a relatively receivable guest. First, its cute. Second, unlike red squirrels or mice, they seem to do relatively little damage. And, their athletic prowess is to be admired. Mine regularly scales walls and curtains only to leap down again from ceiling height without pause. Finally, there’s almost a superstitious feeling about this guy, as this house was once home to another flying squirrel called “Chipper” who lived as a beloved pet among my father’s family. Oh, yeah, and did I mention Walnut is cute?

This would be more-or-less fine by me, except no sooner had I started to make friends, than my sister shows up bearing a cat.

Okay, a kitten, really. But one everybody had had high hopes of forming her into a mouser. And, despite my acceptance of one house guest, I am still suffering with the occasional unwanted mouse, so the idea of a cat had once appealed. But how do you teach a cat to differentiate between a common field mouse and a flying squirrel?

The squirrel has worked out a road system through the house, a part of which involves him trekking through some large storage cabinets above my closet, pushing open the doors, dropping to the hardwood floor with the sound of a tennis ball that doesn’t bounce, and then scurrying off into the kitchen to roust up a snack. Unfortunately, the other morning the cat was there to intercept him. The thud woke me from my dream in time to snap on the light, grab the cat (gently) by the tail and toss her out the door as I shut it behind her. This left the squirrel safe, but trapped in my room.

I sat quietly in bed, contemplating my next move, as he thoroughly explored his possibilities. He scurried up one wall, dropped on top of my dresser, traipsed across to the window, scaled the curtains, tight-roped the curtain rod, dropped onto my desk, ran across my computer, jumped onto my pillow, treaded across the pillow behind my back to the wall lamp on the far side, scaled the lamp, squinted desperately into the light, did a high bar routine on the arm of the lamp, dropped down to the quilt rack, explored my closet, climbed up the moulding but couldn’t make it back to where he came, dropped down to the door, considered trying to squeeze under it (despite the frustrated cat still outside), and restarted the circuit. He repeated the route several times before disappearing deep into my closet for a nap. The cat rousted him again later that day when I carelessly left my door open, only to be saved by me once again.

Add to the mix our Labradoodle. A Labradoodle that believes that anything smaller than himself has been placed on this earth to be chased. Cat meet dog - dog mee------ oh, never mind.

Except now the cat has learned that the dog is not that bright and even less persistent. Within hours she had him convinced that there were at least two, if not more, of her haunting the house. She could sit calmly on a chair and watch him as he gazed at a floor-length curtain, waiting for her to emerge from behind it.

This all would simply be amusing, except we’re forgetting the bird. Earlier this year when the storm knocked out my power for three days, all of us, dog, bird and me, moved to my parents’ home. The dog and bird stayed when I moved back to keep the flying squirrel company. Normally the bird and dog get along just fine (or, rather, they mutually ignore each other), and life is pretty balanced. However, she has been confined to the safety of her cage since the arrival of the cat, who has taken a very cat-like interest in this creature. The cage has been tipped a couple of times, despite my sister’s desperate insistence to the cat that the bird is a “friend.”

The bird and flying squirrel have not met. Bets are still open on that one.

So, thus far, we have cat chases flying squirrel and stalks bird, dog chases cat, and we all chase the dog. Beginning to sound like the House that Jack Built?

My uncle has two dogs, one of which happens to think himself something of a bird dog. My uncle leaves town and dumps the dogs on us. At one point that meant that there were three dogs, one cat, one bird, and not nearly enough humans in the house that did not have a flying squirrel at the same time. Three dogs is a love triangle that should never be attempted - the three of them chase each other constantly, vying for top dog. Two of the three dogs chase the cat and then fight over who actually gets her in the end. The cat and the other dog chase the bird and fight with each other for rights to knocking down the cage. All humans on hand break up whatever fights are occurring over various non-living toys at any time.

And now, we are going to leave the whole slew of them with my sister’s boyfriend as all of us abandon the frozen north country for some mid-winter sun. At that point, he will assume the top of a food chain that involves caring for three houses which, at any given time, could be occupied by at least one flying squirrel, unaccounted mice, one crabby bird in a cage, three neurotic and needy dogs, one precocious cat and Uncle Trevor in the attic. Oh, yeah, and a pellet stove that needs to be fed on a regular basis.

Less of a chain, and more like a knot of whatever my mother’s last knitting project was - I wish him the best of luck in keeping his place at the top of it.