The Wig and Me
This is a delightful essay by Suzanne White from the New York Tmes. Since today is Mothers' Day, it seems important to write about something not too serious. I am certainly not suggesting that hair loss is not serious; it is awful for most of us. But humor helps with almost all problems, and certainly humor helps with bald heads and wigs. I have heard lots of stories about children wearing their mothers' wigs and perhaps trying it on the dog and, even, wigs falling off at inconvenient moments (usually not as bad, however, as breast prostheses floating around the swimming pool). Hope that you enjoy this and sending all best wishes to all you are or who have mothers. w.
April 26, 2010
The Wig and Me
By SUZANNE WHITE
Today I am in love. With a wig.
I am in residence at the convalescent Clinique des Espérels outside Draguignan in Provence. One recent Tuesday I received a morning's furlough to drive to town for appointments. At 9:25, Jean, my hairdresser, snipped and nattered on about how to deal with my problème. "I would never shave anyone's head," he said. "Yes, maybe a younger gay guy, if he was cute — but never a woman. This way it's already short when it falls out and doesn't leave great clumps on your lover's chest." Jean thinks he's funny. I'm 71. He scissored my hair to half an inch. I looked like a tondue — one of those French women sheared after the war for copulating with a German.
I went upstairs to the wig salon, where I was expected at 10. Whipped-cream peaks of plaster held years of gritty dust on the walls. Ancient, loose tomette floor tiles clinked underfoot.
''Bonjour!" I called.
A woman emerged. We shook ladylike hands. "Danièle" introduced herself. I met her boss, Pascal, the previous Saturday. He was away. Danièle waved me into a roomlet and sat me in front of a skewgee diamond-shaped mirror. To my right loomed a wall of white boxes with names: Colette, Nicole, Monique. Hundreds of wigs. Through a massive hot flash I said: "I tried one on Saturday. Pascal said he would put it aside."
"Oh, you must be the Armanda lady," Danièle piped. She flounced through a door and returned with the Armanda. Danièle combed the wig with gaudy pink fingernails, then wriggled its elastic border down over my head. I looked in the mirror. Shortish, straight, light brown hair with bangs and subtle highlights. Looked as good as it did before. "I'll take it."
"You ought to try the Patty," she said. Danièle was too thin. That nervous kind of thin. Fragile. Hair dyed two colors of blond. Dangling earrings. Rhinestones on the spectacles. I was afraid.
But O.K. Off with Armanda. On with Patty. Danièle worked the Patty down over my stinging scalp. While your hair is falling out during chemotherapy, your head stings. The hairs working their way out of the scalp feel like 10 naughty boys pulling your pigtails at once. The skin hurts to the touch and itches.
Once Danièle had settled the Patty onto my skull, she gave its hairs a quick whisk with her iridescent comb. ''Voilà!" I had never sought to resemble a dog. Now I had a poodle cut. "C'est si féminin," Danièle said. "Joli, joli." So feminine. So pretty.
I wanted to puke. It wasn't the chemo. It was the Patty. I wanted the Armanda. My natural color without the white. Nothing fancy. But Danièle had more ambitious plans. She offed the Patty, grabbed the Josette and started fitting it on. "This will give you some length," she cooed. "And highlights." The Josette was black, bluish black, with platinum zebra streaks. I looked like a
well-worn madam whose brothel had gone south. "The Armanda will do fine," I said. "Personally, I find the Armanda dull," Danièle said. "It's just hair." Precisely what I wanted. Hair. Just hair.
"That husband of mine. . . ." Danièle said suddenly. "We are married 23 years, and he ups and leaves me."
Uh, oh. Over the next hour, while Danièle unwound her dirty linen, I was strong-armed into trying the Jeanette (chin-length auburn with strident whitish tips); the Diane (subtle salt-andpepper pompadour in front, blackish stringy in back); the Marie-France (upside-down artichoke with golden tipped leaves); and countless others. I staunchly rejected each fantasy disguise. And felt increasingly tense. I was trapped. I had to get back for lunch at noon sharp. I didn't fancy breaking bread hairless with my three brokenhipped table mates. They lived through the war. They knew what a tondue looked like.
The pile of hairpieces on the counter resembled a heap of exotic-guinea-pig corpses. "I need to go," I blurted. "Pascal said that if I leave a check, he won't cash it till the government and the anti-cancer league chip in."
The phone rang. She went to answer. I wrenched off the Denise, clapped on Armanda and handed Danièle my check for 529 euros. "Au revoir," I called.
I fled, clutching Armanda to my aching scalp. I drove like hell and got back just in time for lunch at Les Espérels. I joined the ladies, delivered my Bonjour, mesdames, and began eating my endive salad. After the cheese course, my eldest table mate squinted across at me. "Have you been to the hairdresser?" she asked. I nodded yes. "I thought your hair looked longer," she said, and dove into her éclair au chocolat.
Suzanne White, an American author and astrologer, is writing a memoir about her life in France.