Hair

By Victoria Patterson

Essay

 


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Victoria Patterson is the author of the novel This Vacant Paradise, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Drift, her collection of interlinked short stories, was a finalist for the California Book Award and the 2009 Story Prize. The San Francisco Chronicle selected Drift as one of the best books of 2009. Her work has appeared in various publications and journals, including the Los Angeles Times, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. She lives with her family in Southern California and teaches through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Riverside.

16 responses to “Hair”

  1. dwoz says:

    It’s not just the ladies.

    My grandfather made a weekly pilgrimage to Tony the Barber, in his hospital-green shop above Nonie’s bakery. He had a big chrome and leather barber’s chair that swiveled, that had a big leather strop hanging off the side. My grandfather would bring my brother and me along.

    Tony would sharpen a straight razor on that strop, even though he wasn’t going to use it, because what could be more enticing and amazing than the sharpening of a straight razor to an atom-fine edge? he would show us how impeccably sharp it was.

    Tony loved my grandfather, and my grandfather loved him. Tony loved us, too, and was just as proud of us as he was his own grandkids. To please my grandfather, he would give us very close cuts, and then fill our hair with smelly Italian hair oil, because it would piss off my mother, a single mom trying desperately to embrace a counterculture life smack in the midst of her own idyllic New England home town. “Our Town” as a matter of fact. Fat chance.

    Tony cut hair up until the day he died, and on that day too.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      I love this, dwoz. I hope you write more about it. As I was posting, I was wondering if these kinds of close relationships develop among men. Now I have an answer. Your comment reminded me of the part in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn–which I recently read again–where, after her father’s death, Francie goes to his barber and collects his “shaving mug,” which has his name on it in gold letters. It’s the one thing she keeps of her father’s.

  2. Tawni Freeland says:

    By the end of this piece, I found myself feeling quite fond of Mattie, and was rooting (pun!) for you to accept his offer of a writing-for-hair-services barter. He sounds like such a sweet person. Do you still see or talk to him?

    I am also intrigued by the promise of eyelashes. There are people who could give me eyelashes instead of the blond stubs with which I was cursed? Where are these glorious eyelash-giving people? Now I really want an Eyelash Lady.

    What a lovely look at the traditions of beauty and friendships. I really enjoyed reading this, Victoria.

  3. Victoria Patterson says:

    Yes! I still see and talk to Mattie. I worked on his website a little bit. I know he’d do my hair for free if I ask, but I haven’t yet. I might take him up on it when I really need it.

    I never met the Eyelash Lady, wish I had. I have to admit I don’t know the technicalities of the Eyelash Lady. Is that all she did? Did she also do my grandma’s hair? I wish I’d asked more questions. I only know my grandma called her the Eyelash Lady and she went every week. Do Eyelash Ladies still operate? Is that their sole vocation?

  4. Gloria says:

    My ex-stepfather’s mom, the only grandma I really ever knew, wore fake eyelashes. I never saw her without them. Or without her fake fingernails. And, on rare occasions when I got to sleep over, she would wear her satin pajamas with a long, flowy stain robe with feathers or fur on the lapels, and high-heeled house shoes, also decorated with feathers or fur. This probably all sounds tremendously ostentatious, but my Grandma Turner was actually one of the dearest, sweetest people I’ve ever known and I always thought she was SO glamorous. I never, ever once saw my grandma without her eyelashes or fingernails. A few times, I saw that the eyelashes were coming loose from one corner of her eye or the other and I remember feeling as horrified as if I’d seen her naked. It was so much a part of who she was.

    I haven’t been nostalgic for my Grandma Turner in so long. But I swear to God after reading this, I am seriously going to sit down and write her a letter. This weekend. I’ll mail it Monday. (I heard recently that she was in very poor health, so I’ve been meaning to anyway.)

    Thank you, Victoria. This is so sweet.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      My grandma also wore high-heeled house shoes with little tufts of fur on them. And she had these pink satin pajamas. I miss her very much!

      I’m so glad you’re going to write Grandma Turned a letter. I LOVE your description–especially with the eyelashes coming loose, and how that made you feel.

      Grandmas rock.

  5. Beautifully written.

    You have a certain poise and elegance with your words.

    🙂

  6. He should hire you to do graphics work, too. Those pics look great. And The Eyelash Lady, or her equivalent, was sort of a fixture around my grandmother as well. I love those small details that only seem unusual in light of someone else’s reminiscence.

  7. Holly Stauffer says:

    I love this piece, and I was so mad at your mom when you told me that she had cut off your hair appointments. But I hadn’t thought past that to the relationship you had with Mattie. I am glad you are still in touch. Have your hair privileges been reinstated?

    I love all the people in service work whom I depend on to help me with all the stuff I can’t or don’t want to do, like Lisa who grooms my dog, Jackie who does my nails and Lee who cuts my hair. I am so thankful for all they do!

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      No, hair privileges have not been reinstated!

      People in beauty service industry are part therapist/friend/esteem-builders. Very important.

      I’ve developed quite a beautiful relationship over the years–come to think of it–with Seta. She performs a very delicate procedure for me that will go unnamed on this very public commenting post. Holly, I think you know what that procedure is, right? **clearing throat** If not, you can email me privately!

  8. Irene Zion says:

    Victoria,
    I have never heard of an eyelash lady.
    What service does she perform?
    Makeup?
    False eyelash application?

    Lovely story, Victoria.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      Thanks, Irene. I’m fairly certain that the Eyelash Lady’s sole vocation was the application of fake eyelashes. Grandma only referred to her as “the Eyelash Lady,” so I’m assuming that’s all she did. My grandma went once a week, I believe. I wish I knew more! I should’ve asked questions. I wonder why my grandma couldn’t put the fake eyelashes on herself? Was something else going on? Was she getting her hair done as well? Grandma barely wore makeup, so I know that didn’t happen. How old was this Eyelash Lady? Where was this service performed?

      Next time I talk to my mom, I’m going to stealthily ask some questions.

  9. […] her job waiting tables.  She has some strange keepsakes (This Chick’s Had It!).  She knows that hairdressers are part of the family.  And she’s been at TNB for over a […]

  10. Natasha says:

    So this is what the ladies do. I’m sorry you lost your hair privileges. Mattie did always make your hair look great. And I definitely need an Eyelash Lady – so let me know when you find out more.

    Thank you for this slice of life – as only you can describe it!

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