Friday, August 24, 2007

my dream the other night

So, I've been reading Naomi Wolf's Beauty Myth, as research, for the book. It's an amazing read, a book that every young woman should know. How I got through four years at Sarah Lawrence without reading it is a mystery.

The other night, I read a little bit before bed. The Mathematician and I had just returned from a trip to the west coast. We had a big fight before boarding the plane in Long Beach, and didn't speak for the entire six hours on Jet Blue back to Boston. When we got home, I made the taxi drop me off at my house, alone. Hours later we resolved things over the phone, and I felt much better when I sank between the sheets to go to bed. I was exhausted from fighting, but not quite tired enough for sleep (my body clock thought it was only 9 p.m., after all), so I read. I read about the complicated matrix that binds beauty and women and work, the concept of beauty as currency in the American marketplace. Soon, my eyelids grew heavy, and I fell asleep with the light on. And I had terrible, volatile, dangerous dreams.

I dreamt of conflict and war. I dreamt that I was among a group of hostages or prisoners, being oppressed by a vigilant, unfair ruling party. We weren't just one group, my group, there were many groups, and many oppressors, and the mood was of tense chaos. The details are hazy. I was terrified, fighting for my life amongst a covert group of resistance fighters, who masked our subversive acts, so as not to arouse suspicion. We were worked like many cogs in a complicated machine, trying to overcome horrible obstacles to escape our hostage-like situations (I think the dream was also informed my my other book of the moment, Ann Patchett's fictional imagining of a hostage takeover, Bel Canto.) I raced for my life, plotting and collaborating, sneaking through a precarious spiderweb of alliances and mistrust.

Moments before waking, I saw a beautiful, angry, insubordinate woman caught and tortured at the hands of the vicious, nameless oppressor. She had long, brown hair, hazel eyes and olive skin. She was tall and had full, red lips. She was from a different group than mine, was fighting a different fight, but I knew that we shared the common goal of liberation. I stood, horrified, trying not to look but unable to turn away as a female terrorist raised a switchblade to the brave insubordinate's face, and slice a long, deliberate cut into the flawless flesh of her cheek. It snaked back and forth, a malicious ribbon running from eyebrow to chin. Eventually the wound would become a raised, ugly scar, resembling a flesh-colored piece of yarn affixed to her face, a permanent distraction from her naturally well arranged features. The pain would pass, but the scar would persist, a constant reminder of her insubordination.

But the beautiful prisoner was no victim. I watched in terrified awe as she raised her face to the knife, her jaw set and square, and growled at the terrorist: "Cut deeper." Her eyes blazed. "Cut deeper, come on, make me feel it," she taunted, not the slightest bit phased by the pain of the incision, the blood trickling down her cheek, or the impending scar. She was fierce, un-suppressable, and totally terrifying.

I put my head down and ran, and a few minutes later, I woke up. Blinking in the sunlight of my room, all I could think about was this brave, angry, brunette.

It was quite a dream, and haunted me for the rest of the day.

Perhaps I should be reading something a little bit lighter before bed?

Monday, August 13, 2007

"It's just hair"

Dear Anonymous, who left this post on my blog:

"ITS HAIR COLOR!!! people seriously need to get over it. I'm naturally dirty blonde. I've went brunette and I've went blonde. But honestly what does it matter folks?!??!?!?"

It matters. Ask any woman who has lost every strand of her hair to cancer and she will tell you: hair matters.

My mother lost all of her hair when she was battling breast cancer, about six months before I went undercover for this project. Her hair was naturally brown until Mom was in her forties. Then it started to gray and she started to visit the salon every six weeks to maintain her "natural hue." 20 years later, they found a lump. A few days later, she lost a breast. A few weeks later, she had her first chemo. Within days, all of my mother's carefully dyed hair was gone.

So, we shopped for wigs. "You could be blonde," the store-owner told us. "This might be your only chance to see what that's like." My mother looked at those wigs, perched suggestively on faceless dummy heads and laughed as though her as a blonde was the funniest thing in the world. She just wanted to feel like herself again. Our hearts leaped when we found the one, a wig the exact same shape as my mother's signature haircut in her "natural" color, almost the exact same dark brown. It cost almost as much as my weekly paycheck.

At first we were so excited! A chance to look normal in the midst all of that pain. We bought it instantly, my mom wrote a check. "The health insurance reimburses it by half," she said.

But wigs are hot underneath. They are itchy and uncomfortable and no substitute for real hair. She could only bear to wear it part of the time, when she had company, or had to leave the house. She was too tired to make the effort on ordinary Tuesdays.

Months later, my mother's hair grew back. It came in patchy clumps, weak and thin and tentative, as though still anticipating the devastating effects of chemo. It grew in a different color than her natural brown, reddish and strange and baby fine.

Years ago, I'd have thought you were right, Anonymous. I'd have stopped dying my hair, thrown in the towel and shut up. I never would have pursued this project, and listened to the many people like you for whom, after all, "it's just hair."

Then my mom lost all of hers. She was more upset by this than by the news of the cancer. Pain she could downplay, ignore, deny. But how do you ignore the fact that you're bald?

I was the only person besides my father to see my mom's bald head. It looked patchy, vulnerable, bare. I helped her cover it with wigs and swath it in scarves for 12 months. I helped her draw in her eyebrows with a pencil. We pretended it was the '40s, when women plucked out their eyebrow hair and drew them back in to be chic.

We are so lucky that those days ended. Three years later and my mom is still cancer free. Fine, hair covers her head all by itself again, though it's different than her hair from before.

Years ago, comments like yours might have stopped me, Anonymous. But after all of that, I just couldn't let my curiosity go. And I disagree.

Hair matters. A lot. Much more than you realize.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Somehow, through a surprising and strange twist of events, I have spent more time in the past few days alone than perhaps ever in my life.

Largely this is because the Mathematician has been working a lot this week. Though he works hard and is supremely talented at what he does, the Mathematician is not one of those people who "works a lot". He pulls the occasional late night at the office here or there, but his job isn't the kind of job where you have to put in a lot of "face time" or screw around and be at the office "just because" for certain hours of the day. The Mathematician usually begins his work day sometime in the 10 a.m. hour, for example. And rarely is he not ready to pick me up by 7 or 8 p.m. at the latest on a school night, and spend his entire evening buying me dinner or watching a movie with me or somehow else basking in my loveliness .

This week, however, I have seen neither hide nor hair of the Mathematician, because he has been on a deadline that seems to me to have popped up out of nowhere, and has kept him at the office until all hours of the night. Like 3 a.m. in the morning all hours, which is later than most of my fellow restaurant employees end up coming home, and very unusual for a 9-5'er, n'est-ce pas? This means I have been a work widow all week, with the exception of this evening, Friday night, the night that most couples are out having date night, at the movies, enjoying Boston restaurant week, what have you. Tonight, I am a recording widow.

Boo-hoo, woe is me. Actually, none of this is any bother, because as I have realized this week, since we haven't been spending any time together, boyfriends take up a surprisingly large amount of time and energy! As I am dying and desperate to make some headway on my book, having some time to myself to be alone and think and write has been a blessing. I have been solitary and enjoying it. I have been getting in touch with myself. I have even started meditating.

Besides, I am not interested in being in the kind of relationship where my life revolves around my boyfriend. I was in that relationship once already, for 5 years, and I even almost got married to it. Consequently, in some respects I am fiercely defensive of my independent time, and when I find out my boyfriend has made other plans, I am usually quick to make plans of my own, if they weren't already somehow in the works, because, like a good Virgo, I almost always have a back-up plan.

So, a Friday night, left to my own devices? Sounds to me like a perfect time for girl's night. Woo-hoo, I love girl's night! But for some reason, through some weird alignment of the planets and crossing of the stars, all of my girlfriends seem to be hanging out with their boyfriends/out of town/working/ simply not returning my phone calls. "Okay," I thought, "that's no bother. I'll call up my gay friends." Oops, they too all seem to be hanging out with their boyfriends/out of town/working/or simply not returning my phone calls. (Hope you're having fun in P-town, A-lo. Baaah, restaurant week, I want my friends back!!!)

With all of my friends in the city otherwise occupied, i decided to turn to my family, my beloved family, my always there for me, supportive, wonderful family...

But even my mom and dad had plans.

I knew this was probably a sign that really, I was meant to spend this particular Friday evening on my own, doing my own thing, working on the book and getting to know myself a little bit more intimately that I ever have before. But seriously? After several days and nights left pretty much to my own devices, with a long Friday night stretching way out before me and two long weekend days of solitude on the agenda, I am kind of starting to twitch.

By the time 8 o'clock rolled around and I realized that there really was no chance in hell that I'd be seeing the Mathematician tonight, and that none of my friends were calling me back, I decided to occupy myself my making a lovely, delicious dinner pour moi. I went down to South End Formaggio, bought myself some wine, came back and started to cook an awesome and easy-sounding recipe from a book I publicized this June, called Cucina del Sole, about Southern Italian cooking. The dish is baked eggplant and penne and it sounds fairly simple, and I'd already procured all of the ingredients at the Copley Square Farmer's Market today, so why not? Sure, it might be time consuming, but from the looks of things, I've got all the time in the world.

So here I am, alone on a Friday night. And yes, a night alone, with the apartment all to myself would ordinarily be a blessing, especially since co-habitation with the Mathematician is on the horizon, especially with a book to write. But after three nights this week spent 100% alone, and several hours spent meditating about myself, and days with virtually no one to distract me from myself,'s been a little intense.

Not unlike this penne-eggplant project, which has been something of an undertaking. It's still in the works as we speak, and probably won't be ready for at least another hour. And at this point, I am not even the slightest bit hungry for the following reasons:
  1. I bought myself a massive brownie at the Farmers Market at Copley today, which I proceeded to eat in it's entirety while enjoying a cup of appetite suppressing caffeinated tea at 5 p.m.
  2. The nice guy at Formaggio tricked me into buying more cheese than I needed, and I have been nibbling on that since 8 (and by tricked I mean he ever-so-politely asked me, "Can I help you find anything else?)
  3. I have already consumed half of the bottle of wine I was also tricked into purchasing while at Formaggio (and by tricked I mean it happened to be on the shelf and it happened to be for sale)
My dinner will not be ready for at least another hour, which means if I ever get hungry again, I will be eating at around 11 p.m., which we all know is not good for the system and which I suspect makes you fat. And by then, I suspect that all of the wine in that bottle that I was so deftly tricked into buying will be in my tummy, which means I'll likely be drunk and about to fall fast asleep.

I am ALONE dear readers, and I am not used to being this way. And you can't really blame me, after all, I have TWIN. I have been sharing time and energy and space with at least one another person since the womb.

I am ALONE, and feeling restless and a little bit like Sylvia Plath in the Bell Jar. I know I always make that joke amongst friends, but tonight it's actually kind of freaking me out.

The timer just went off. The penne-eggplant smells amazing. It smells so freaking good in my kitchen, like basil and Italy and love.

hungry for some penne?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

i should share with you all...

That Jason fixed my hair! This happened like two weeks ago, and I just realized that I never posted about it. It looks so much better. Now for some before/after pics:

Before (in Montpellier, France):

In a wine cellar in Beaujolais:

Yesterday, in my apartment in Boston:

I also want to extol the virtues of going to the beauty parlor to get your hair blown out. It's so old fashioned, but Jason did mine for me this week and it was so worth it. It took about half an hour and cost as much as a yoga class. It was 90 degrees that day, humid as all get out, and I shudder to think of how things would have gone if I'd done my hair at home by myself that morning. There would have been sweating, tears, and heartache. Thanks again to Jason for saving the day. It still looks pretty 2 days later!

Bon weekend, mes amis!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

toro blondes: the epilogue

She came back! The ethereal blonde in the shirtdress from this post written over a year ago came back to Toro last week! And I waited on her!

One of the great benefits of conducting this hair color experiment while working as a waitress is the constant stream of first impressions it offers. The people that I wait on have no idea who I am, what I am all about, and even if they did know how absolutely fascinating my glamorous life truly is, they likely would not care. They just want to eat some tapas and get a little buzz on. So, if their first impression is that I am a dumb blonde, they have absolutely no impetus to put on social airs or politesse. Usually they feel free to treat me as such. And I feel free to immortalize their obnoxious behavior on this blog. It's a win-win situation, so far as I can tell.

One of the great drawbacks of conducting this experiment in a restaurant is that usually, I never get to see these clowns again. They remain emblazoned in my memory and on this blog as their first impression. Sometimes, though, the stars will align just right, and the same person who made enough of an impression to warrant mention on the blog the first time we crossed paths will happen to come into the restaurant again on one of the three shifts that I work, and the hostess will happen to seat them in my section, et voila: I get to write an epilogue.

So, what was my impression of the ethereal, full process blonde in the shirtdress from last June this July? Well, for starters, she looked a lot more human to me this time. So much so that at first, I did not recognize her. She was on a date with a cute, sorta clumsy guy, whose manners were not as good as hers. She was again very tan, had her pretty blue eyes lined heavily with make-up, and was wearing a cute, if less elegant outfit. Her bare shoulders looked very thin to me and her cheekbones even seemed a little gaunt, which at first made me feel fat, but then had me worrying if maybe she had an eating disorder and that made me feel sad.

But the hair? What about the hair??? Well, the color was the same full-process blonde, which I noticed immediately because, well, I'm writing a book about blondes and now I notice all bleaching in all forms. But it did not trigger that same sense of inferiority deep within my soul that it did last year; it did not entice me to want to be blonder. And this is why at first, I did not even recognize the blonde from last year's post. My initial impression was not "Wow, I want to be that girl." It was, "Wow, that girl's hair is showing signs of breakage and she's gonna have roots in like ten minutes." Only after waiting on the blonde formerly know as the ethereal blonde in the shirtdress for about ten minutes did I realize who she was.

Same cute girl, same cute body, similar cute outfit. Drastically different reaction from moi. So, what happened? After much analysis, I have come to this conclusion:

It's not you, full-process-blonde-in-the-shirtdress. It's me. I've changed. I've had enough of this over-processed way of life, this constant fretting over roots and hair color and how much blonder can I be. I just want my life back.

But, I'm glad you came back to Toro, and your hair seems to be working out for you. Maybe I'll see you again in a year, and we can revisit your etherealness, or lack thereof. In the meantime, good luck keeping up with those roots, and I recommend picking up a bottle of K-Pax to help with the breakage. But you're beautiful no matter what you do with the hair.

And so am I.