I was sitting at my computer, minding my own business, when a banner ad appeared for a product that promised to regrow hair. Apparently, it’s not enough for Big Cyber Brother to know my shopping habits; he now feels the need to prey on my insecurities. He knows that my hair is thinning in some spots and going rogue in others. He knows what’s in the shopping cart I bailed on at Amazon. And he seems hell bent on making sure Jenny Craig and I rekindle our relationship.
Usually, I refuse to give in to this invasion of Internet privacy. I vow NOT to click. But like a toxic relative, the cyber CIA knows exactly what buttons to push to bait me. And that day, it came in the form of two simple words: Dr. Oz.
I knew better, really. Every green coffee bean extract and African berry that can help me lose weight effortlessly while gorging on Dunkin Donuts seems to claim to be endorsed by the all-powerful Oz. But I’d sell a kidney to get back my luxurious, once-thick Persian hair. So I clicked and entered the world of Keranique. And I bought. And I washed. And I conditioned, rubbed and sprayed. And the only place I seemed to grow any new hair was on my chin.
It’s a dirty little secret that no one tells little girls: that it’s not enough to have your monthly “friend” for 40 years or be in labor for 18 hours trying to squeeze a 10-pound turkey out of a hole the size of a marble. Despite all your feminine dues paying, there might still come a day when some random hair god decides to strip you of your precious locks and make your scalp as see-through as a Miley Cyrus costume.
For the last several years, no matter how good the cut or expensive the salon, I find myself spending hours with a comb and a mirror, trying to tease and sculpt my dwindling tresses over expanding patches of desert. Each time I strategically move hair to cover a thin patch, a new one appears. There’s just not enough to go around.
So what’s a balding girl to do? (Besides complain that I already have wide feet and a weight problem and whine that this should have happened to Christie Brinkley, not me, since she already had her good years, while I’m still waiting to peak.)
I’ve tried everything. I’ve stopped by those kiosks at the mall and had them clip in all kinds of extensions. But that only makes my thinning hair longer; it doesn’t fill in the patches of mange. So I’m a middle-aged woman, styling myself like a Catholic schoolgirl from the fifties. The only way to attain maximum coverage is to pull my hair straight back over the crown, secure it with a headband and shellack it with enough spray to double as a bike helmet.
Even bald guys have options today. It’s now socially acceptable to just shave your entire head.
African American girls have choices too. They can buzz their hair short and look spectacular. And their culture embraces wigs. The only segment of the white population that espouses wigs are washed up country singers and orthodox Jews. And unless you can spend close to $1,000, wigs have hair that unnaturally sprouts from a single point on the head, like a fountain … or one of those fiber optic lights at Spencer gifts.
I bought a wig a few years ago and wore it twice, but it was hot and sweaty, and it tickled. I couldn’t rid myself of the sensation that there was something on me. It just felt wrong … like there was a badger sitting on my head. And it made me feel like a poser … inauthentic … like I should be carrying a sign that said, “This is what I’d look like if I had hair.” And it never felt secure. I must have some abnormally large skull, because it didn’t cover the spots over my ears. I just knew it was going to pop off at some inopportune moment.
I’m a dramatic person (think Jewish gestures … think “jazz hands!”) I just can’t run the risk that an overly zealous impersonation of Taylor Swift’s annoying head flip will send my hair flying through the air like a Badminton birdie. No siree. Not me. I will not be the victim of a wig mishap. Trust me: They happen.
I take you back to 1974: the year the Great Adventure amusement park opened between New York and Philadelphia. The new theme park was boasting the longest log ride and tallest Ferris wheel in the world. I was 11; my brother was 8. We begged our dad to take us.
It was September when we made the two-hour car trek from Brooklyn to Jackson, New Jersey. My dad went all out, kicking off the day’s festivities with a drive through the park’s African safari. This was a time in history when zoos began fading in popularity as people began to feel that confining animals was cruel and inhumane. Safari parks cropped up, allowing animals to roam freely through acres of fenced-in “naturalistic environment,” while people were the ones confined ― to their cars.
We entered through Great Adventure’s rustic toll plaza, where we paid and were given a guide pamphlet. An ominous sign warned visitors that vinyl-top cars were not allowed in. When I asked my dad why, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know, but we’re about to find out. That guy ahead of us is going in anyway.”
And so we entered the real live fake tundra.
We encountered animals from the North and South American plains: two different kinds of elk, buffalo, llamas. We drove by a herd elephants from Uganda. Rhinos crossed the road right in front of our very Brady Oldsmobile station wagon.
Six-foot ostriches came up to our car and pecked at the windows. They stuck their goofy faces right into the shiny chrome hubcaps and and attacked their own reflections.
Next, we drove through “the grasslands,” where we found ourselves among giraffes, antelope, gazelles, zebras and camels. Then onto the big cats: lions, Bengal tigers, cheetahs, leopards and Siberian tigers.
Finally, we hit the last section of our journey: the baboons and monkeys: hands-down the most exciting part of the safari. Some were swinging from trees, while others descended upon the cars. When you’re 11, you realize you haven’t really lived until a baboon moons you with its big red, inflamed behind right on your windshield.
While our car made it through unscathed, the destructive baboons tore off other cars’ wipers and antennas. Some jumped into the beds of pickup trucks and attempted to hitch a ride out of captivity. There were wardens at the exit gate shooing them back into the safari.
And then it happened … something equally hilarious and terrifying.
A group of baboons plopped onto the car ahead of us. They dug their agile fingers into the edge of its vinyl top and ripped the roof right off that car. Sitting in their new convertible, the family inside the vehicle screamed, sending safari wardens in their zebra-painted trucks zooming to the scene. But before they got there, one of the baboons reached out to the mom in the passenger seat and plucked her wig right off her head. I have vivid memories of a semi-hysterical lady, arms flailing as she tried to protect her face. Moments later, the baboon, clutching her synthetic hair to its bosom, ran off into the faux jungle.
Okay, I’ll admit that lady’s experience was a bit extreme. But you never know. I live in Florida. On any given day, I could walk under a trellis of bougainvillea, where a thorn could catch my wig and pull it right off my head. If I move back up north, the mishap could come when a gust of wind blows across Lake Michigan, or through a subway tunnel as a train enters the station. Whatever the circumstances, one minute you’re standing there looking like you just stepped out of a L’Oréal commercial, and the next, your flat, matted wig hair makes you a dead ringer for a contestant backstage on the set of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
I just want my own hair back … the kind you can curl and flip and run your fingers through … the kind that gets tousled on a boat ride, but remains attached to your head.
God? I think you misunderstood when I asked to be thin.