Friday, January 14, 2005

street theater in my hair

so there i was, headed west on 14th street, lost in thought as usual. it was dark. all day the sky wanted to rain and sometimes it would, in stopgaps that left everyone ducking for cover and dodging sudden downpours all afternoon until by nightfall, it was nothing but sprinkles that sparkled against the streetlights like urban glitter. no one cared enough to cover their heads except old people. small children were bundled up and clearly annoyed.

i had just come from seeing my eyebrowist at union square. whenever my eyebrows don't look right, i think i look like "boy." once when i lived in austin, i cut off all my hair for awhile and someone walked up behind me at a gig and referred to me as a boy. of course, when i turned around, their mistake was obvious--i'm a 34C. but the guys in the band razzed me about it, anyway. that lasted way too long, which ultimately meant forever. after that, i was determined that no one would ever call me boy again. and so far, they haven't.

come to think on it, that's probably when i "officially" stopped wearing pants.

i took someone with me, "a friend from work," which means that when i leave the job, i'll probably never see her again. she wants to be an actress but she hasn't done any acting in a year and she hasn't done any singing in more than two years. she wants a pat on the back and a bisquit for defying convention (and her parents) and moving up here from north carolina. needless to say, i didn't give her either one. more on that later.

i had my head covered because my hair was (and still is) filthy. i looked like a haitian immigrant: my hair was wrapped in silk, with a hat fit onto my head at an angle, and i was wearing a simple black knit dress, boots, a hooded peacoat. as i walked along listlessly, i was probably thinking something like, why couldn't i get it together enough on any night this week to at least wash my hair before i go to bed? am i gonna wash it tonight? should i stop at the duane reade for some conditioner? some pink oil? some afro sheen?

my hair and i ducked down 15th street when i got to fifth avenue. i don't know why. probably because i wanted to see what bebe had in the window. they used to have such cute stuff--classic basic pieces--and then they totally fell off. i haven't been in there in years but every so often, i wander by to see if anyone has a clue.

after i saw all that nothing in the bebe window, i crossed to the southside of the street and kept walking west. i started thinking about all of the work that i'd have to put into washing my hair and how exhausting it would be and how tired i already was. i would finish in the wee hours of the morning and my arms would be so sore, they would feel as though they weren't even there. i have long nappy hair and it's really quite beautiful but after a certain length, i realized that it had a mind of its own and it didn't really want to listen to anything that i had to say. even if what i had to say was for its own good. so most of the time, i would come off like, "be that way," and i'd put it in bantu knots, which is probably the equivalent of hard time in san quentin or graduate school and a part-time job or something. i took the knots out the other day, my hair stretched out and yawned, and its been attitudinal ever since.

all of a sudden, i hear a blood curdling scream and i see people walking towards me looking across the street. its a guy walking in step with me (why, i have no idea) and a woman about 10 paces behind him, screaming her head off and yelling things at him in french. it was like performance art. it was visceral and gritty, the kind of thing that's so dangerous and wierd, your first instinct is to laugh hysterically. it's difficult to argue with people when they won't talk to you. she's following him like a lost dog, pointing and screaming and yammering away, and every so often he would turn around and tell her to leave him alone. and she would cower in fear, just as a small animal would. but then she'd crank right into it all over again, with even more venom. clearly, she didn't want an argument. she wanted to shame him publicly. but how could she do that in a foreign language?

all i could think was, wow. she must love him a lot to care that much. what in the world could she ever hope to accomplish by following him like that? when would she stop? so i kept walking to find out.

then the guy looked over and saw that we were walking together but on opposite sides of the street. it was just the three of us, really (this block was quiet and empty, for the most part). that's when he looked genuinely embarassed and more than a little pissed off. i realized that if i look as foreign as i know i probably do, he must think that i speak french and that i understand everything that she's saying. which meant that she was screaming at him but she was including me. i was a part of their performance art and i didn't even know it.

for a moment, i wondered if i should be scared. but there was no fear in me. just curiousity about what the fast-moving man in the red baseball cap was walking away from. and sadness for the screaming french white girl.

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