Tuesday, January 18, 2011

E.T. phon home

Dear Readers,

Don't expect much from this post. I shan't dazzle you with brilliant word play, I certainly won't entertain you with witty observations, and in fact I just may bore you to distraction. For I have begun 2011 in a colossal fugue.

So much so that this post is actually about my hair. Yep, that's right, my hair. Isn't it enchanting? Aren't you titillated? At the very least I'm sure you're all glued to your screens, mouths agape in horror, as if witnessing the derailment of a train that goes careening off haplessly into the night--metal twisting and sparks flying--and wondering, "No! Is she really going to write about her hair?"

Just watch me.

While all writers have moments of self-doubt, I've spent recent nights writhing under my duvet, my gut smoldering with the sensation of futility, while the hobgoblins of mediocrity wreak havoc on my psyche, certain that I'm some kind of latter-day Bartleby the Scrivener--a tragicomic figure doomed to ignominy and blogging in obscurity. E.T.--in case you were about to make the wrong assumption--does not in this instance refer to the shriveled little gnome from outer space with a penchant for beer (and who is incidentally probably a much better writer than me in his native...whatever he speaks). It stands for Elizabeth the Trite. For that's how I feel lately--like a talentless hack. A talentless hack with bad, bad hair. The worst kind.

Let me first assert that I never begin the new year with resolutions. Resolutions are for suckers. Well, once I did make a new years' resolution, with my best friend Juliann--the only one I ever stuck to. (Or, to which I ever stuck. See? That was a sentence worthy of a talentless hack). The resolution, brilliant in its simplicity, was to learn to drink martinis with both style and aplomb. But I suppose that was less a resolution and more a kind of inebriate, fledgling-boozehound suicide pact a twenty-something Dean Martin might have made with Frank Sinatra--the kind of pact made to kick off New Years' Evening circa 1991 at a teeming bar in the South End of Boston, and merely the first rung on the ladder up to the slide of life-long dissolution. I digress. What I meant to say was that this year began much like every other of late--which is to say, in blinking disbelief. Nevertheless, I was humming along more or less happily in the burgeoning days of 2011, until last Thursday, when the postman rang twice.*

The devilishly good-looking, ever-tanned Giovanni, in his dapper blue and yellow postal uniform, brought me a small Christmas package from a friend in the States that was mailed over a month ago, and I went down to the gate to retrieve it. (The holidays, of course, being long gone--stuffed away like our tree in its cardboard sarcophagus in the dank depths of the ripostiglio. As an added insult, I had to pay the Dogana its customary customs pizzo, or extortion fee, which of course I did because it's useless to fight these things--they're as inevitable as death though far less pleasant).

Only until I went back inside and happened to glimpse myself in the mirror did I realize that I had forgotten to comb my hair--and being a nervous hair-twirler, I had, over the course of the morning spent doing housework and generally antagonizing my computer, worked my locks into feral cave-woman proportions. How could I have committed such an atrocity in front of the handsome Giovanni??!!

Perhaps it was high time I resolved to do something, after all.

I briefly and dementedly considered procuring an always-perfect, easy-to-care-for wig--but knew that it would become the abused plaything of my nefarious offspring, and quite possibly be used as a Swiffer in my own moments of domestic dereliction. Instead, the very next day I stormed into the beauty salon for a desperately overdue tune-up. I go so infrequently (putting it off until I begin to resemble my long-dead grandmother) that I must always endure a serious confab among the staff over how best to handle my hair--with its unruly cowlicks, various layers of grown-out color, and insidious gray stealth-hairs--as if they are attempting to deactivate a bomb or remove a brain tumor.

Unlike most women, I do not take pleasure in a trip to the salon. It's something I feel I must do, like going to the dentist, in order to ensure against one day becoming a toothless, snaggle-haired crone. Anyway, I get through the worst of the color-job and the cut and then I'm in the final stretch--the piega. How did I want my spiffy new hair styled? Lisci or riccioli? The answer was easy, and I gave it without thinking--it's the one I always give: blow it out straight. All my life I've struggled uphill against my natural wave like Sisyphus hauling rock, or Oprah trying to say no to the fried cheese sticks. I've always longed for thick, raven-black, Indian-straight hair--the kind of hair over which wars are fought and empires won and kings enthralled. Cher hair.

On the way home, my sleek new 'do tucked under a jaunty red helmet, I cycled past an electronics store and suddenly screeched the brakes, skidded, and left a black tire-mark of utter decisiveness on the blood red of the bike lane. Why am I forever dissatisfied with what God or Brahma gave me? Why do I force my undisciplined mane to contort into the straight and narrow? Damned if I wasn't going to invest in my locks and shell out €49 for a highfalutin' hairdryer with an attachment that looks like some sort of Henry Ford-era turbine, guaranteed to pump up luscious curls.

So, yes, I bought a phon--that's the annoying way Italians have of saying hairdryer, instead of asciugacapelli. Pronounced like a cross between "phone" and "fawn", it's one of my all-time linguistic pet peeves. According to my Garzanti it's supposed to be fon, from the German Föhn--which means hairdryer (or large, unwieldy sausage)--but for some reason the common way of spelling it is phon, though this is from the Greek phone which means "sound." Which is just dumb. (There are a host of ill-conceived words which have been warped into Italian, the mere hearing of which gives my hackles rise and makes me long to clobber the offending speaker with a Louisville Slugger. Among the worst are water for "toilet," pronounced "VA-tair" as if by some sadistic, imperious, chainsmoking Russian ballet teacher and ex-KGB operative; hamburger [self-explanatory], pronounced "ahm-BOOR-ghair," which sounds just like bile sluicing through a duct; and computer [ibid.], pronounced "kohm--POO--tair" in the manner of a French idiot. Sheesh. If you're gonna hijack our words at least make a semblance of pronouncing them right). Again I digress.

I therefore declare 2011 the Year of My Hair--in which those devil-may-care, insouciant locks shall have their druthers. I promise to nurture them (most of the time) and bask in their curliness. I may be a talentless hack, but I don't have to look like one. Cher, beware.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll ease up on the self-flagellation a bit this year too, and stuff a sock into the maw of my inner critic (who, coincidentally, also has the voice of a sadistic, imperious, chainsmoking Russian ballet teacher and ex-KGB operative). But until I gather the strength, all you big-name writers with your fancy book contracts--well--you've probably got nothing to worry about.

Yours in--hopefully--fugacious fugueness,


*A reader and friend--hi there, Alexandra!--was privy to this story via email, poor thing.


  1. Hee hee! Hilarious!

    I had no idea 'phon' is supposed to mean hairdryer!

    That reminds me of the first time I went to get a haircut in Brussels and the stylist asked me if I wanted a 'brushing'. Confused, I asked her what that was. It turned out that's the French way of saying 'styling'.

    This reminded me of the blog post I've been writing in my head on the ubiquitous Indian 'beauty parlour'. Stay tuned for more laughs - but I could never match your brilliant play of words and witty humour!

  2. Lord have mercy, my face hurts from howling! I’m just happy that someone else in the ‘hood gets worked up over a visit from Giovanni. No one should look that good in a florescent green jacket.

    As for the rest of it—sister, if you are a talentless hack then the rest of us mere mortals down here are in serious trouble.

    P.S. I see your “phon” and raise you “mobbing” (grrrrrrr).

  3. Isabel and Alexandra, thanks for dropping by and partaking in the 2011 celebration of my hair! Isabel, I await, with bated breath, your always-interesting observations on Indian beauty parlors (not to mention I'm utterly fascinated by and jealous of Indian hair). Alex--mobbing, lo stress, il relax, la privacy, lo shopping...it's all just linguistic pick-pocketing--and we're the one with the coolest pockets.

  4. That inner critic sure is one nasty bitch. I mean, seriously, who does she think she is finding fault in your whip-smart and ceaselessly entertaining screeds?
    I learn a new word, and nearly pee my pants, each time I read one of your posts.
    As for your hair, I heartily support your new resolution, being of the straight-locked persuasion and ever-envious of women like you with your full-bodied hair and bouncing curls. Oh the greenness of that grass...

  5. Hilarious! I love your curly hair by the way.. straight hair sucks, let me tell you :)
    Love M x

  6. Thanks, Melissa! Seems the grass is indeed always greener, on the hair front at any rate...


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