Hair Today, Dye Tomorrow

Hair Today, Dye Tomorrow

I’m not a punster; I am somewhat reluctant to foist my leaden and wholly obvious jests on an innocent public. My daughter, however, is both irrepressible and gifted. I’d give her credit for some of her best, but the loosely meshed trawling net that passes for a brain has perfected an easy-in, easy-out memory cleansing swirl that leaves me wondering why I am standing in front of the toaster. Recovering witticisms? Not today.

You have to believe me when I tell you I have heard some crackerjack puns, none of which are accessible at the moment, but uncertain imagination informs me that a good pun elevates the speaker and her audience. Puns clearly have their place, but is that place in the naming of hair salons, dog grooming boutiques, and tawdry motels? There are, of course, the good, the bad, and the unspeakable at play on business signs. Let’s start with the building blocks: Salons have two rich sources, hair and the tools used to do something with hair. Dog groomers have dogs, their breeds, their body parts, and things that dogs do. Motels and restaurants, well, I guess the gloves are off when it comes to them; anything goes. 

The number of “Dew Drop Inns” in America is both incalculable and inevitable. “Auto Stay Here”, “No Place Bedder” “, just sad. I came across a pretty nifty motel somewhere in the southern Berkshires of Massachusetts, “The Arms of Morpheus”. Classy, classic, and intellectually challenging enough to demand immediate check-in. Well done! Slicker and sadder motel spawn in somewhat the same vein – “Cupid Villa”. Once seen, not forgotten, however, an unwanted conundrum raises questions not worth asking. 

Let’s get back to hair with a slight jog into unnecessary and overwrought celebrity hair talk. I haven’t thought much about “The Slap Heard Around the World”, although a quick scan of those banned from the Oscars (all men) raises more doubts than certainties – Adam Kimmel (registered sex offender), Richard Gere (practicing Tibetan Buddhist who criticized China, Harvey Weinstein (serial rapist), Carmine Caridi (pirated Academy scanners), Bill Cosby (serial rapist) and Will Smith (slapper). Of the many unanswered questions jostling for space in my shrinking brain, why Chris Rock, whose documentary, Good Hair, a treatise on how Black women have perceived their hair, a documentary sparked by Rock’s three-year-old daughter’s question -”Why don’t I have good hair?” – that Chris Rock, would take a shot at Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia? 

Fine. Unanswered questions abound.

An incomplete list of salon puns would fill this space and spill into the next five editions of the Impractical Cogitator, but even a slight foray into the world of salon wit demonstrates the fluency of language. As I begin to gather some of the most evocative examples, I have to wonder why other enterprises wallow in bland uniformity.

The obvious and inevitable place to start is with “hair puns”, a genre I did not imagine exploring, and yet …

Hair Today, Hair Today and Gone Tomorrow, Hair and There, Hairphernalia, Hair Loom, Hairanoia, Hairway to Heaven, Thairapy, A Breath of Fresh Hair, Heroes and Hairoines, Millionhairs, Vanity Hair, Hair When You Need It, Hairforce One, The Hair Port, Hairs Johnny, Hair Apparent, Hair-O-Dynamics, Hair We Are Again, Hairely Human, Hair-O-Space, The Gang’s All Hair, and an oddly personalized greeting – Fancy Meeting You, Hair!

Not even close to finished with that category, but, wait! There’s more.

A couple of generative homonyms, “sheer” and “shear” throw open wide the gates of invention. So, “sheer” can mean diaphanous, essentially see-through, and also unmitigated/utter (The sheer brazen dishonesty of some politicians is stunning) and precipitous (They faced the sheer face of the cliff with some distress). Obviously, “shear” is the action of clipping off the wool of something, well, wooly.

Let’s go!

Shear Madness, Shear Heaven, Shear Joy, Shear Luck, Shear Delight, Shear Determination, Shear Chance, Shear Variety, Shear Amazement … and so on. Of course, true wit is not confined by standard usage, thus, Shearlock Homes. 

The following enterprises are real, do exist, are open right now, and charge for whatever services they provide:

Che Bangs – Probably not a shout out to Che Guevara, maybe invoking Ricky Martin’s She Bangs. Bangs being associated with hair?

Lunatic Fringe – So, crazy good? 

Hair Today, Dye Tomorrow – Always good to suggest mortality in any commercial venture.

Anita Haircut – Let’s hope someone named Anita is involved at some level.

Julius Scissor – OK, let’s give credit for a classical reference, but knowing the general state of cultural literacy in the republic at the moment, can’t we assume this will be confused with Orange Julius?

Jack The Clipper – Not as off putting as The Rape of the Lock (mock heroic poem by Alexander Pope), but close, close. 

Equally menacing? I’ll Cut You.

Headonism – This one is interesting. The pitch is in the class of services located in faux boho, self-deprecating, pricey, shabby chic niche neighborhoods. West Hollywood – “WeHo”? Mission District? Wicker Park? Not my neck of the woods.

I live in a small town that presents three major styling options: The Hair Loft, peterdominic salon and spa, and Hair Gallery at the Mill. I don’t know Peter or Dominic, but they seem to share (and maybe shear) nicely. This is or was farm country, so the Hair Loft is like “Hay Loft” but … you know. I think of a “gallery” as an exhibition space, but whatever they do at the Mill is probably not what I might expect.

My son cuts my hair. I sit outside on a stool as he torches up the clippers, starts at the front and sweeps through whatever vestiges of hair I bring to him. Should he wish to go public, there seems only one appropriate name left.

Hair’s Looking At You, Kid.

A Picture Is Worth …?

A Picture Is Worth …?

Recently a friend sent me some cartoons inked by H.T. Webster, whose signature character, Caspar Milquetoast, embodied many of the characteristics I have described as my own. They’re great (the cartoons, not the characteristics), and I’ll hunt down some of his other work, particularly Life’s Darkest Moments, a lighthearted romp through the indignities that give our untroubled lives some savor. I’m grateful to have met Webster at a distance of almost a century, and will add him to the curious band of cartoonists and illustrators who, for better or for worse, in childhood molded the strange confabulation of personalities which is your author.

I spent a great deal of time alone as a child. How that came to be is a matter for another day and, probably, another platform. For a variety of reasons, then, I sat in some quiet corner reading anything that sat nearby. The usual collection of books, and stacks of newspapers, magazines, comic books, and comic strips. Comics, cartoons and cartoonists zig and zag all over the cultural map, some self-consciously world aware, some chuckling along with mindless vapidity. The mainstream, Sunday comics I met in the 1950’s were more than odd enough.

Let’s start with FERD’NAND, a cartoon character drawn by a Dutch artist. FERD’NAND was vaguely European, apparently mute, a silent man-child like Charlie Chaplin meeting ordinary circumstances with mildly unexpected consequences.

See? He sat on his glasses! 

I didn’t roar with laughter, but I got it. 

Snuffy Smiff, however …

This was in “The Funny Papers” …  so, apparently funny? Great Granny’s Bussle! I could decode some of what was going on. Two Appalachian men (Clem and Rufe) know each other. That was about it. Over the years I came to understand that uneducated poor people were apparently considered funny. I could also visit Dogpatch where L’il Abner was immune to Daisy Mae’s short skirt and open blouse and folks also bludgeoned language. 

I missed a lot of semi-heavy handed satirical action in Dogpatch, but a primitive political sensibility seeped in as I happily read Walt Kelly’s Pogo. Set in a southern swamp with some of the curious language used by less educated creatures, Pogo, an opossum, was thoughtful and insightful; his best friend, Albert the alligator, was considerably less intelligent and almost insufferably self-centered.. Miz Mam’selle Hepzibah, a skunk, longed for Pogo as Miss Piggy was to long for Kermit. The swamp’s bard was a mud turtle, Churchy LaFemme, whose lyrics once heard could never be forgotten. No holiday is complete, for example without this stirring modern carol:

Deck us all with Boston Charlie

Walla Walla Wash, n’ Kalamazoo

Nora’s freezing on the trolley

Swaller dollar cauliflower alleygaroo

It was Walt Kelly who gave Pogo the phrase that remains the most concise assessment of the modern age:

One of my most treasured possessions is the campaign button touting Pogo for President in 1956.”I Go Pogo!” I also have a Nelson Rockefeller, George McGovern, and Ross Perot campaign button, but can’t find my Elvis Christmas cookie tin.

I am now the age my grandparents were when I landed on them for weeks or months at a time. I think I’m fairly spry and reasonably competent; I’d love to have my granddaughter stay, and I’m pretty sure I’d stock the house with books, toys, and games she might enjoy. My grandmother was a classical pianist who had gone deaf and whose literary interests were impenetrable, but maybe closest to a spiritualist conviction that spirits continue to evolve after death, and by evolve, she meant creep from graveyards to overtake the living. My grandfather was less deaf, nervous, more than kind, but perpetually hunched in what seemed a state of permanent dyspepsia. My only clear memory of him is the sound of his urgent stifled belching and the ring of dried Maalox around his mouth.

They took the New Haven Register, so my comic needs were met. They did read, or had read; there were books in the house. Most were as arcane as my grandmother’s poetry, but three oddities had somehow remained on the shelf: Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel The Way You Do by E.B. White and James Thurber, The Peter Arno Pocketbook, and We Buy Old Gold, a collection of cartoons by George Price. I knew E.B. White as the author of Stuart Little and James Thurber was a local celebrity and much admired in our house. Thurber’s illustrations were fanciful at best and terrifying taken out of context. Here’s one I found in the empty hours in a silent house:

James Thurber was a cartoonist whose drawings were barely representational but oddly evocative. This exceedingly simple drawing has lomg been a model of understated comic genius. So many questions unanswered.

At the age of seven, everything I knew about sex I’d found in Peter Arno’s cartoons in The New Yorker. I knew Arno’s work was sophisticated because several of our family friends had pasted his work in their guest bathrooms – always a sign of approbation in our circle. I have come to admire Arno’s wry wit, and it has been suggested that his cartoons “saved” the New Yorker in 1926 -1927 when his work appeared 63 times plunked in the middle of lengthy prose pieces.

He was particularly fond of drawing showgirls in various states of undress but stopped short of putting children in a nudist colony as Thurber had. 

This one was one of the few I could understand even as a lad untutored in the ways of showgirls.

I’ve saved George Price for last, in part because his sense of humor was absurd and touchingly humane. We Buy Old Gold is chock full of evocative cartoons, but as an extensive stay with grandparents came about as roads throughout the state were flooded and my hometown largely washed away, this one remains a poignant reminder of the pleasure Price brought in some lonely moments. I found the book in a “Take This For Free” basket outside a book barn in Maine and drag it out at least once a year to remember how grateful I am for humor.

I Just Can’t Change My Mind

I Just Can’t Change My Mind

I consider myself a thoroughly ordinary, inoffensive, fairly milquetoast kind of guy. I bathe. I floss. I know how to use a washing machine. I laugh too loud, some would say, although, come on. It seems, however, that some people (ok, my immediate family) find a few of my foibles somewhat jarring, and by jarring they mean maddening. 

For example, I tap. Tap my feet, tap a drum roll on any surface, tap the wall as I walk, tap the sink as I do the dishes, tap the computer as I write this sentence. There are variations of tapping, of course. Flicking a dishtowel, spinning a coin or bottle cap, riffling the pages of a book. Pens and pencils will be flipped, erasers or caps tapped, flipped back, perhaps lightly tossed in the air, returned to the hand for some reckless flip tapping, accompanied by a generous drum roll with the other hand. Apparently I tap my feet as I sit, and in moments of exuberance, “play” a tune with my fingers as my feet provide syncopation. Should this be brought to my attention, I freeze, carefully crossing my feet at the ankles to prevent tapping. Silent. Unmoving. Until I begin to rub the shoes together, gradually tapping one with the other.

Blissfully unaware of my curious and constant fidgeting, I am obviously  in need of intervention. None of us are keeping track of the number of times I am rebuked, shoved, poked, or swatted per day, but it’s a number alright. Never see it coming. I am startled and confused. My victims assume I’m on high rev, bursting with energy. How do I see myself? Well, the question doesn’t come up all that often, but when asked what sort of creature I consider my spirit animal, I’m inclined to nominate something fuzzy and slow moving. Maybe not slow moving, but deliberate. A panda, say, or a … no, a panda.

The zookeepers here, however, put me in the insect category. Which bugs are the most insistently in the face, constantly moving, humming with purposeless activity? Which are swatted away but which cannot be deflected? On a good day, they suggest, I’m a mosquito or moth; apparently on a bad day I’m a horsefly. 

Bad enough, but then too, I hum. The soundtrack of my life is on shuffle and with me throughout the day. I could burst into song and spout the lyrics, but even I observe the basic elements of common courtesy. No, I hum a quiet, steady hum, usually sticking with one song at a time, but occasionally slipping from one to another. I used to assume that I was not alone in waking each morning with the song-of-the-day playing in my brain. I also assumed that everyone kept a constant concert, just popping up. I wake with a tune in my head (“Stay” by Maurice and the Zodiacs, “The Pirate King” from The Pirates of Penzance, “Rum and Coca Cola” as performed by the Andrews Sisters, “Luck Be A Lady” from Guys and Dolls, and the everpresent “Zip-Ah-Dee-Do-Dah”). The range of uninvited tunes is impressively random. Then, as the day progresses, a thousand words encountered in a thousand contexts, put the needle in a new groove. I make oatmeal, and cereal reminds me of the Sugar Pops jungle – “Kell-Ogs Sugar Corn Pops (Bang! Bang!) Sugar Pops are tops!”. That pushed aside, I grab a spoon and hear Doris Day – “By the light of the silvery moon, I want to spoon”, which reminds me of ten other Doris Day songs – “Que Sera Sera”, “Teacher’s Pet”, “Everybody Loves a Lover”, and on and on.

Today’s selections began with the Beatles’ “You Never Give Me Your Money, you only give me your funny paper …”, morphed into “O-O-O-O-O-Klahoma, every night my honey lamb and I sit and talk and watch a hawk making lazy circles in the sky”, and is currently hovering near “Take me home, Oh Muddah, Faddah, Take me home, I hate Grenada. Don’t leave me, out in the forest, where, I might, get eaten by a bear.”

 My fictional spirit mentor, Winnie the Pooh, was a hummer. Some of his most insightful moments arrived in the midst of one of his hums. Several are wedged pretty close to the surface, so I’ll stick to only one, knowing it is likely to come dribbling out aloud at some point in the next few hours, probably when my wife is trying to read captions as we watch a Finnish detective procedural together.

The more it snows (tiddley pom)

The more it goes (tiddley pom)

The more it goes on snowing

And nobody knows (tiddley pom)

How cold my toes (tiddley pom)

Are growing

So that’s in there now. 

I drive my family nuts, I know, and I regret my involuntary tapping and singing as it intrudes unbidden in their lives. I stop (mostly) when corrected and really do try to squelch the most obnoxious of behaviors. Someone told me that the best way to escape an earworm is to begin singing “It’s a Small World After All,” as the mindless monotony of the tune blots out any other song that might have wished to persist. Good luck getting that one out once it arrives. The tricky part for me is that tapping and singing seem to be part of who I am. I don’t mind constructive commentary about my brain, but the brain does what the brain is built to do, and mine has a built-in jukebox and a time keeping metronome.  

There are more significant questions than “Who Put the Bomp In the Bomp Bah Bomp Bah Bomp?” but I’ll leave those to better, clearer minds and tap my way to bed, knowing there will be a fresh playlist queued up when I awake.