Most women (and even a few men) who lived through the 1980s and yearned for curly hair experimented with a perm at least once, which means that there were also a lot who also experienced a perm that didn’t go quite right. I fall into both of these buckets, though I might be one of the very few women who actually relished getting her ubiquitous disaster perm! How can I justify this outrageous claim? It’s simple, really, though very hard to admit: I have a bit of a hair ‘thing’, and as a blossoming teenage girl, I experienced one of the most exciting, arousing, and hilarious hair restyles possible, and loved almost every second of it. This is a long story, and as hard as it may seem, most of it really did happen as I describe it. I added in a few extra little pieces here and there, but for the most part, this is how I remember the events surrounding my first perm.
Now, before I delve into the steamy confessions of a hot-and-bothered teenage me, I want to say that this whole experience was also born out of the deep, wonderful love and affection I have with my stepmother, Angela. In case you didn’t read my first story, or forgot, Angela was, and is, my idol almost from the beginning of my knowing her. Stylish, beautiful, wonderful personality, smart, and a fantastic cook that does her Italian heritage justice, my Daddy really got the whole package when he married her, and I gained the perfect maternal figure. Angela used haircare and styling to bond with her daughter, my step-sister Brianna, and also with me, brushing my hair, braiding it, and even introduced me to the intoxicatingly wonderful world of the hair salon. When Angela made the radical change from her long, raven colored hair to a rich chocolate colored short bowl cut, her new hairdo inspired me to chop off my hair into an almost identical style! She was very touched that I wanted to look like her, and I was only too eager to do so! I wore that style with pride for almost six months before letting it grow out into a longer style. I never deviated too far from however Angela would wear her hair, but I did always keep bangs from the bowl cut onwards.
After Daddy and Angela married, the four of us moved into a new house still in the same neighborhood. It was really idyllic! After I had received that first bowl cut makeover, and gradually entered into blossoming womanhood, the more I realized I enjoyed styling my hair, but even more, having it styled. Of course, my interest in boys also started around this time, but this secondary fascination and pleasure, this ‘hair thing’, which wasn’t even always physical, was increasingly noticeable. Angela was very open about the fact that she loved visiting the salon and changing her look, and because I really saw her as a woman to emulate, I came to love it, too. Brianna seemed to, too, but not in the same way that Angela and I did. It became part of our nightly routine to brush my hair, catch up on our days, and sometimes just sing together. Even on those rare occasions where we might have fought, she always made sure my hair looked perfect for school each morning, and it quickly became one of those simple pleasures in life that I couldn’t do without.
About three years after my bowl cut makeover, I would experience one of the most profoundly wonderful hair experiences of my life. It all started one night when Angela was putting my hair in longer braids for the first time since the bowl cut, now that my hair was finally long enough again. Angela was placating me and trying to improve my mood, as Brianna and I had been fighting. Early on in Brianna’s Junior year in high school, she was diagnosed with scoliosis. Because it was the 1980s, she still had to wear that barbaric brace and spent most of that year either in bed or in the doctor’s offices. She missed so much school that she ended up having to repeat that year, which was very hard for her. All of her friends were now Seniors, and would be graduating that spring before heading off to college or starting their lives outside of school. Painfully, she wouldn’t be joining them. As a result of this, Brianna was often not a very nice person to be around, even after the brace came off. Daddy and Angela told me to cut her some slack, and to Brianna’s credit, she really tried not to be too mean her stepsister. However, it was inevitable that it would boil over from time to time. That evening she had been particularly nasty, and Angela was now lovingly calming me down as she changed my hairstyle. Even though my eyes were still red and puffy from tears, I was soon smiling again as I sat on the stool in the spare bedroom where she’d do my hair.
After Angela had let me vent, and she again forced me to see things from Brianna’s perspective to give her some more sympathy, she changed the subject with a minor bombshell, saying “Oh, I forgot to tell you, sweetie, I’m going to see Chrissie tomorrow and finally letting her give me a perm again.” I turned around, shocked, but also delighted. “Wow, really?! What finally made you change your mind? You know, she’s been wanting to give you a perm for like, forever, and she even wanted to see if I could convince you!” Angela laughed, turning me back so she could continue braiding. “Well that’s funny, but I can’t say I’m surprised! But to answer your question, honey, I guess I just decided it was time for a change. Plus, I like to humor Chrissie every so often, and was tired of her nagging!” We both laughed. Sorry for another aside from my last story, but I need to describe Chrissie, because she was a character, and also my favorite stylist I’ve ever had. 1980s flashy, over-the-top style was practically embodied by Chrissie. Always dressed in a vibrantly colored or gaudy patterned lower-cut blouse and either black leather pants or skirts, Chrissie spoke with a loud Brooklyn accent that did both her Italian and Jewish ancestry proud. She also never worked without pristine, but outrageous amounts of makeup, giant earrings, and of course, big permed hair. When she gave me my bowl cut, her hair was worn down past her shoulders in a tight perm, but teased at the crown to such an extent that it almost had a mullet-like appearance. Now, however, she had instead resorted to teasing all of her black hair just as much as her crown, though taking it a bit shorter, leaving her with a giant style that would fit in perfectly on any add for hairspray during that time. Her dramatic look was only matched by her almost unmatched chattiness, good humor, stubbornness, bubbly affection, and love of styling hair. She treated me like a princess when I first sat in her chair, and I was a loyal customer of hers until she retired.
I asked Angela several questions more about her upcoming perm, as I unfortunately wouldn’t be able to tag along this time. Most kids hated having to sit in the waiting area while their mom had her hair done, but I actually looked forward to it with genuine pleasure. Even after I became old enough to stay at home, I eagerly joined Angela if I could on those thankfully rare occasions when we didn’t have a joint appointment with Chrissie. Recently though, a few stylists had left to start their own salon, which Chrissie had predictably strongly-choice words on, but the book of clients remained roughly the same, so it became increasingly difficult for Chrissie to always try and accommodate an adequate block of time to get us in the same visit. Angela told me that, because I did have a more obligation-free schedule, it was only right Chrissie could bump me to a different time if someone with a bit less availability requested her for a specific time. Angela also only worked part-time in the mornings, and so would often opt for an early afternoon slot while I was still in school, as was the case for this appointment, as weekend openings were at an even higher premium. I couldn’t hide my disappointment, and Angela actually vocalized her own feeling, saying “I’m sorry you can’t join me, too, Janet. I like it when you’re there with me, especially when I’m getting something big done to my hair. Maybe it’s for the best, though. With me finally letting her give me a perm, Chrissie would be focusing all her powers of persuasion on you, sweetie!”
I thought for a second, then turned slightly as Angela finished one of the braids, “What do you mean?” She chuckled, then wrapped the braid she was holding around two of her fingers, smiling “You think you were the only one in this house she’s been whispering suggestions to? She’s been mentioning how cute you’d look with a perm every appointment! I only haven’t said anything because I didn’t want you to think I was pushing it. Besides, this should be your decision only, Janet. Honestly, I asked her not to mention it to you, either, and I guess she’s been able to keep that to herself, somehow!” I felt a small surge of delight at this news, and processed several emotions. On one hand, I was almost annoyed that Angela had asked Chrissie not to ask me about a potential perm, as I loved discussing new ideas for my hair, but on the other hand, the thought of Angela and Chrissie chatting about new hairstyles for me sent a ripple of delight over me. I swallowed as she continued working on my hair, saying “Oh? Has she, um, really been wanting to give me a perm?”
Angela laughed, tapping my back with her long fingernails. “Wanting? Please, she’s practically been BEGGING me to convince you, or even haul you in and just force you, but I’d never do that, of course. Why, have you been thinking about getting one, honey? Seems like all of your friends have already had one, at least once.” I smiled, feeling suddenly a bit embarrassed, “Well, kinda. What do you think? Do you think I’d look good with curly hair?” Angela turned me around on the stool, parting my bangs and planting a huge kiss on my forehead, saying “Sweetie, you know I’ll always answer that you and Brianna will look pretty no matter how you wear your hair! However, I think it’d be good for you to try curls, even if just once. It could also be a chance for you to step out of your shell a bit with a new hairstyle! If you’re seriously considering it, I can mention it to Chrissie, and see if she can set up an appointment for you when I get my color done in a few weeks.” I smiled, feeling myself growing more excited at this development, asking “I’d love that, Angela! Oh, and what color are you going with?”
Angela smiled mischievously, answering “It’s a surprise for your Daddy, but I’ll be having some blond put in, which I know he’ll enjoy. You’ll be the first to see it though, if she can book us in together, though! Ooh, she’s going to be SO happy, sweetheart!” I grinned as she finished off my last braid and gave her a hug after checking my reflection. “Thanks for cheering me up, as usual. I’m super excited to see how it turns out tomorrow!” Angela smiled, running her long nails through her dark, straight hair. “I am too, Janet! I just hope she doesn’t make me look like my mother. Say, why don’t you go knock on Brianna’s door and see if you two can go to sleep on better terms, huh?” I sighed, not liking the prospect, but, feeling a boost with my hair freshly braided and my imagination thoroughly tickled, I knocked on Brianna’s door. A few minutes, later, we were both apologizing and back to our normal dynamic, once again showing that Angela was a truly wonderful parent with perfect advice on how to handle teenage girls.
The following day was almost an entire wash for my academics, as I spent it almost entirely daydreaming about hair! When I got home, I practically ran inside, but stopped myself to get the door for Brianna, who gave me a weird look. Dinner was already cooking, and as we walked into the kitchen, Angela turned around, flirtatiously posing with her hands on her hips and asking “Well, ladies, what do you think?” Brianna looked stunned, but I giggled with delight, setting down my bag and getting a closer look. “You look BEAUTIFUL! Chrissie did such a good job!” Angela didn’t look like an old woman, instead having been given a perm which I can best describe as Sigourney Weaver’s hair from Ghostbusters. Angela’s hair hung just past shoulders, and was now made up of large, full curls which coiled perfectly all over her head. Honestly, I still think this was one of the best perms I have ever seen to date.
Angela gave me a peck on the cheek, saying “Thank you, honey! Brianna, do you like it, too?” Brianna’s shock had turned to a smile, with her nodding emphatically, “You look so great, mom! Honestly, you look so different, but in like a really good way.” Angela gave her daughter a kiss of thanks, too, saying “And thank you, sweetie-pie! Janet, I have us booked for a joint appointment in two weeks.” Brianna turned to me, a bit surprised, “Are you getting a perm too, Jan?” I smiled, “Yep! I’m so stoked for it!” Angela laughed, “You should have heard Chrissie when I told her you were wanting one! She about blew out my eardrum with her scream! She’s probably more excited than you are.” We both laughed, and even Brianna smiled. Daddy was so complimentary of Angela’s new look that she blushed, which was very rare for her. The next morning, both of them were very bashful around each other, which while a bit uncomfortable for Brianna and me, still made me happy to see him so pleased with his marriage.
Angela’s curls were very soft, despite their pronounced shape, though they did smell a bit funky for a few days, which Angela did her best to mask with a mixture of hairspray and perfume. Whether it was the grocery store, church, or when friends came over, Angela received compliments left and right about her hair, which made me even more excited for my own impending appointment with Chrissie. I would frequently fantasize about how I’d look with curly hair, maybe like Angela’s, maybe different. Unlike when she had her hair bobbed into that beautiful bowl cut, I didn’t know if I wanted my hair exactly like Angela’s, but I was certain that I had to have curly hair!
The waiting almost became unbearable, with my only comfort being that I happened to have a few large tests in the interim to distract me. However, the day eventually came, and I was jittery with nerves and excitement. I had hardly slept that night, but I also felt like I had downed an entire pot of coffee! I was very lucky that day, as we had early dismissal from school because of work being done on our utilities. Every other Tuesday for two months, we got out at 12:00 so that the construction crews could work on the expansion, and Angela, being the bright woman she is, knew this when scheduling with Chrissie. Angela greeted me with a smile as I climbed into the car, saying “Ready for the salon, Janet?” I rolled my eyes, but smiled “Like you really have to ask?” The ride over to the salon was almost nonstop chatter, warm-up for Chrissie. Angela was definitely not one of those moms (or stepmoms) who controlled her daughters’ hair, but she did make little suggestions or recommendations. She never pushed anything, and wouldn’t take offense if her advice wasn’t taken. However, when she parked the car, Angela stopped me before I could open the door, and said “You know, sweetheart, don’t be afraid to be a bit bold today. Chrissie wants nothing but the best for you, so keep an open mind, alright? I know I’m repeating myself, but step out of your shell with this.” I smiled, nodding. I picked up on the fact that she used that phrase again. I wasn’t shy, but I was hardly what you’d call ‘Type A’ personality, and lately, Angela had pressed me to be more assertive. While Chrissie wouldn’t be the person to try this change of personality with, she might be the one to bring it out of me, at least that was Angela’s hope.
When we walked in, it was a surprisingly quiet day, with only two other stylists working on clients, and the receptionist lazily flipping through a magazine. As Angela approached the desk, though, she perked up and greeted us with a smile and said “Hi Janet! Hi Angela! I’ll tell Chrissie you’re both here; I think she’s just in the back on break.” We sat down and both picked up magazines as the receptionist, Joy, walked out back. Less than two minutes later, the loud clicking of dark red loafers, jingling of bracelets, earrings, a large necklace, and a loud, nasally “Ah, there they are, my two favorite gals!” heralded Chrissie’s arrival.
Angela and I both stood up, accepting her hugs. She then tugged on my hair, laughing “Ya ready to lose this straight stuff, kiddo? Ah, I’m SO happy we’re doin’ this!” I giggled, suddenly feeling both excited and nervous. Joy had already taken our coats as we were led back to Chrissie’s station. Her own dark hair was extra big that day, though she had pinned some of it up, creating a curly half-updo of sorts, with two large ringlets tucked behind her ears, allowing her massive almost wind chime-like earrings to be on full display. Even from a few feet back, I caught a strong scent of both hairspray and her perfume. “So I’ll be doin’ both of ya today kinda in between each other, so take a seat in the chair next t’ my normal chair, ‘kay Ang?” said Chrissie, as she pointed me and Angela to our places. I sat down, feeling a somewhat pronounced sensitivity to my legs. I looked at my reflection, and I can still picture my outfit clearly. The worst of winter had passed, but spring was still a ways away, so I was wearing a pale pink sweater over a white collared blouse, mint green pants, and a pair of white oxfords over floral stockings. I had wanted to look more mature for this impending makeover, but not overly conservative, and I like to think I managed that well! Of course, if you were to compare my outfit to Chrissie’s, you might think I was a nun!
Chrissie removed the hairband I had been wearing between my bangs and my crown and tightly fastened the usual heavy salmon colored cape over me before doing the same to Angela. She was humming to herself as she got out several things from her cabinets before stepping behind me to brush my hair. “So, Jan-Jan (a nickname she gave me), I have been lookin’ forward to this day for-EVER! Ah, your first perm! Do ya know what kinda curls ya want, or do ya want me to go over the choices?” I laughed, saying “I…I don’t know! Normally I’m so sure, but now I’m not! What, um, did you have in mind?” Chrissie smiled, running her nails through my hair, instantly hypnotizing me. “Well, to tell ya the truth, dahling, I was hopin’ you’d be open to somethin’ a bit more adventurous, but Ang wasn’t sure if you’d like it.” I looked over at Angela, who said “It’s all up to you, sweetie.” I sighed, feeling my heart pound, I bit my lip, remembering what Angela had said in the car, and answered “I, uh, well, like what were you thinking, Chrissie?” She ruffled my hair, saying “Ya got these cute little bangs that I can give you some gorgeous height, and I’m thinkin’ that if ya’d let me take a bit shorter on the back an’ sides, I can give ya a cute longer bob.” I looked in the mirror. My hair wasn’t nearly as naturally thick as Angela’s, and as I looked to Chrissie and Angela’s hair, my simple shoulder-length hair looked so drab, and I remember just feeling so plain by comparison. With one more look at my stepmom, who smiled, I nodded, saying “Okay, I’ll go with that! I can do something adventurous!” Chrissie shook my caped shoulders, and squealed “Oh, you’re gonna look FABulous, Jan-Jan! Now, ya mind if Rachel shampoos you so I can get Ang started, too? Me an’ her gotta talk her color.”
I shook my head no, but was a bit disappointed, as Chrissie was an all-star with the shampooing. My stylist pinched my cheek, her way of acknowledging this, and called a bit harshly, “Hey, Rach! Can you give little Miss Janet a good shampooin?” I turned my head, as she called back “Yeah, jus’ give me a sec, Chrissie!” Rachel was a woman about 15 years older than me, and while not as vibrant a personality as Chrissie, wasn’t too far off. At this time, she had recently had her third boy, and while not very important to this experience, she had become quite a heavy woman. However, the first thing everybody noticed about Rachel was her hair, which was the most vibrant shade of natural red any Irish girl could hope for, and styled in a giant, curled updo that looked more 1960s than 1980s. As she walked over, she gave me a polite smile and said “Nice to meet ya, Janet. Just follow me over here.” I smiled back and tailed behind her, meeting her at the sinks. She somewhat roughly pushed my head back into the cool water, which took more than a few seconds to warm up to a comfortable temperature. I remember asking her a few questions about her kids, which she seemed to appreciate, and she gave me a nice enough shampoo and scalp massage. As she rinsed my hair clean, she asked “So, what’re you having done today?” I smiled, saying a bit nervously, “I’m actually getting a perm. My first one, too!”
Rachel smiled, but also said “Hmm, you have pretty fine hair. I hope it doesn’t wash out.” I didn’t really know how to respond, but soon my hair was wrapped in a towel and I was back in the chair as my nerves set in. Rachel interrupted Chrissie and Angela, saying “Say, Chrissie, you know that her hair’s pretty fine, right? Jus’ thought you’d wanna know.” Chrissie nodded, “Oh yeah, I knew! I’ll use them extra small rods and strong solution. Say, ya mind taken’ Angela, too?” I looked at Angela, who seemed mildly annoyed, but she played it off nicely as Rachel smiled “No problem! I got a cancellation, anyhow.” Angela was escorted over as Chrissie pumped my chair up several inches. She smiled at me, raising her thin eyebrows, clearly very excited. “You an’ Ang are both gonna look SO different when I’m done with ya!” Chrissie dried my hair just a bit more with the towel, then picked up a few strands, “Ehh, your hair isn’t THAT fine, Jan-Jan, but it is definitely fine. Now, I’m gonna be taken a bit of length off for this new look, ‘kay?” I nodded, as there wasn’t much else I could do! Even though I adored Chrissie as a stylist, I did always feel like a kid in her chair, even as an adult, and really never pushed back on her, even when she would occasionally go a bit shorter, or later on, change my color a bit more than expected. Looking back now, I think I enjoyed her pulling the strings of my hair’s fate, though, and I think Angela did, too.
Chrissie brushed all my hair down and around my head before taking out her scissors. “So, what made ya finally want to try gettin’ a perm, sweetie?” I cleared my throat, my mouth suddenly having gone dry as she snipped away four inches casually, “Uh, well, I really liked how you made Angela’s turn out.” She smiled as she continued working, filling my lap with a surprising amount of hair. “Aw, thanks, Jan-Jan! Now, yours is gonna be pretty different from Ang’s, jus’ so ya know.” I felt another icy bit of nerves, but gave a nervous smile and said “Yeah, I know. Um, how much shorter will you be going, Chrissie?” My shoulder-length hair now hung just below my ears in a somewhat uneven bob. With my bangs, it looked like a nice, if a little juvenile, style. Chrissie brushed it a bit, saying “Ya know, this ain’t half bad, either, kiddo. Makes you look a bit young, though. Well, not for long!” At that moment, Angela was returned to her chair by Rachel, and said in a shocked voice “Wow, Janet! Chrissie, you took her so short!” My cheeks flushed red, as Angela sounded more worried than pleased, but Chrissie waved this off, saying “I know, I know, but ya know that it won’t be as obvious once she’s permed. Hmm, think I mighta overstretched myself, here. Rach, can you help get started wrapping up Janet? She’s gonna have red ones over her bangs, and blue ones on the rest, but I should be done bleaching Ang before then. I’ll split the bill, too.” Rachel smiled, “Happy to, and thanks for the split, Chrissie. I’ll get the cart.”
I can still see the perm cart in my mind, as it was one of the many constants in the salon. How the salon got it was beyond me, but the perm cart was actually a converted airline drinks cart with a large, partially removed American Airlines emblem on the front. The plaque instructing for the cart to be stowed and latched for taxi was never removed, but depending on how the cart was turned during a perm, I would read it several times to stave off boredom! I watched as she wheeled the cart around between me and Angela, pulling out a couple of the metal drawers and taking out plastic baskets and a box of papers. Rachel passed me the box, saying “You’re gonna help me today, Janet. Just pass me the paper when I hold out my hand, an’ this’ll go a lot faster, ‘kay?” I nodded, “Okay, I’ll do that!” Rachel smiled, then picked up one of the baskets, setting it in front me. She pulled a few small red perm rods and a tail comb, running it through part of by bangs and pulling it up, holding out her hand for me. After I gave her the paper, she placed it over the rod, which she placed at the end of the section and began winding it down onto my scalp. It felt very tight as she pinned it in place, repeating the motion, and I watched, fascinated.
The fact that I was now really having my hair wrapped in small perm rods really struck me, and I found myself suddenly pressing my legs together and gripping the handle of my chair very tightly with my left hand. The little bit of tension I felt as Rachel tightly wound down each rod made me smile, but when I turned to look at Angela, I burst out laughing! “Oh, be nice, Janet. You’re going to be a sight yourself-ouch!-as soon as you’re wrapped up!” I had been so absorbed in my own hair that I hadn’t looked at what Chrissie was doing to my stepmom. I was quite surprised to see her sporting a light green highlighting cap, but not like today’s rubber ones. If you don’t remember or didn’t know, caps in the 1980s used to be that plastic bonnet with a big chinstrap, almost resembling a classic football helmet. Chrissie used a needle to weave Angela’s wet hair through dozens and dozens holes, leaving her resembling a large porcupine by the time she was done! It wasn’t a comfortable experience, but at least Chrissie was fast, and the two of them were in rapid, loud salon chit-chat. By the time Rachel had moved onto the blue rods, Chrissie had pulled all of the desired hair through the cap, and had smeared ample amounts of bleach over Angela’s head. It was not a flattering sight, and Angela seemed to regard the sight with a mixture of unease and discomfort. “There ya go, Ang. Let’s stick ya under the cooker for a few minutes. Rach, I’ll be right over to finish Jan-Jan, ‘kay?” I gave Angela a little wave, which she returned.
Rachel was still talking about baby when Chrissie returned, and smiled at me saying “Thanks for the talk, Janet! Don’t leave without lettin’ me how you turn out with the perm!” I smiled, answering with a bit of a shaky voice “I won’t! Thank you, too!” She smiled at me before stepping away. Chrissie then clapped her hands together, saying “So, let’s finish this part up so ya get nice an’ curly! Ahh, I’m just can’t wait to see ya permed! So tell me, is there a boy you’re hopin’ notices the new ‘do?” I blushed a little, both because of the question and because I was enjoying the continued sensation of Chrissie’s tight wrapping of my hair. I giggled, and she nudged me “Come onnnn…tell me about him, honey. Ang can’t hear us, so ya can be honest.” She smiled in a teasing way, and I couldn’t help but open up, saying “Well, there’s this boy in my history and IPC class, Michael, but I don’t think he notices me very much. He’s really tall and funny, but he really doesn’t know I exist.” Chrissie made a dramatic “Awww,” but added, “Well, tell ya what: I’ll make sure when ya walk outta here, there’s no WAY he won’t notice ya, dahling!” This promise made me both a bit worried and excited, so naturally all I could come up with for a reply was “Great!”.
Chrissie talked to me about boy advice and the various boyfriends she had when she was younger until eventually she pinned down the last rod on my head, giving me a very strange reflection, but one I enjoyed immensely. All of my hair was now completely covered in those rods, and I looked very different. Chrissie then opened the cart, pulling out a long cotton coil and a white bottle. After placing the cotton underneath my hair, she held out the bottle, chuckling “Now, this is the extra-strong stuff, so that means it’s gonna be extra stinky, too, sorry ‘bout that sweetie.” Having visited the salon for a number of years by this point, I was familiar with the stench, but after she cut the bottle open, I gagged as the scent of sulfur and ammonia washed over me. “Yeah, and the bad thing is that you’ll get all that smell again when ya wash your hair in a few days, too.” I spluttered, a bit panicked, “Uh, I want people to see my new look, but I don’t want them to smell it!” Chrissie giggled, massaging my shoulders, “Don’t worry, kiddo! Ju’ put a few squirts of perfume and hairspray in, an’ you’ll be fine! Now, let’s have ya trade places with Ang. Oh, but first, you’ll need these.” My stylist pulled open the cart once again, retrieving two small purple covers, which she slipped over my ears. A roll of blueish cling wrap was then pulled over my head and clipped in place, completing my weird ensemble. Finally, she lowered my chair and held out her hand as I stood up, causing a bunch of hair to slide off onto the ground.
I was walked over to the dryers, where Chrissie flipped Angela’s unit off. My stepmom looked up from her magazine, a huge smile spreading across her face. “Well, look at YOU all rolled up! How’re you liking the perm smell?” I grimaced, but smiled, “It’s not great.” She stood up and I took her place immediately. “You’ll need t’ cook for about 40 or 45 minutes, but I’ll have Ang all done by then, so you’ll be all mine, Jan-Jan!” said Chrissie as she lowered the hood. She pressed the dial on the top, and immediately loud, hot air washed over me. Angela beamed at me, and I smiled back. I watched intently as Chrissie walked her to the shampoo basins and sat her down. I strained my neck to try and see how Angela looked as the plastic wrap was removed from her head. However, the hood prevented me from seeing her, much to my disappointment. The hot air started to have its intended effect, and I could feel my scalp start to itch. The tension I had felt earlier seemed to increase, and despite the discomfort, I found it very enjoyable. Almost embarrassed, I crossed my legs tightly together, feeling the kind of tingly buzz I normally felt when I looked at a hot guy. I closed my eyes and processed just how different my hair was already from when I walked into the salon, and I wasn’t even done yet! I amused myself by imagining all sorts of curly hairstyles, and picturing the curls that would soon be covering my head. I grinned, even as the stench intensified.
While I was too excited to sleep under the dryer, which was too loud anyway for sleeping, at least to me, I entered a sort of trance of pleasure. I distinctly recall what happened next, as it was a bit embarrassing. A sharp tapping on the dryer visor broke me out of my daze and I screamed, causing Chrissie to howl with laughter. “Dang, Jan-Jan! I didn’t mean to scare ya! Ya musta been dreamin’ about that hunk, ‘cuz you had a big ol’ dreamy smile on your face, honey!” My cheeks, already red from the hot air, likely looked like apples to Chrissie! Much to my dread, Angela was also standing there, also chuckling, her hair wrapped in large rollers, and further covered by a black net, which obscured her new color. I did manage a smile and say sheepishly, “Um, must have, sorry.” She patted my leg, smiling “Nothin’ to say sorry for, kiddo. Ang has just got to have her set cook for a little bit. Now, let’s take a look at what we’ve got.” Raising the hood, Chrissie undid one of the rods over my bangs, pulling out the hair and letting it bounce back. “Poifect! I need to jus’ put in some neutralizer, and rinse this out, ‘kay?” Angela poked me gently in my ribs, saying, “Sorry I can’t watch you get finished up, sweetheart. She told me you’re gonna look like a million bucks when you’re done!” I grinned, feeling very reassured. With that, Chrissie raised the hood of the dryer, and helped pull me up, with Angela and I again trading places. I was a bit wobbly on my legs as I followed her back to the shampoo area, and so was quite relieved to be sitting back down!
She removed the wrap, unleashing a waft of strong solution smell, and peeled away the soaked cotton coil. I remember being a little grossed out by this, but she just tossed both pieces into the trash without so much as a comment. She then placed a fresh cotton coil around my head, lifting it up to pin it place. Chrissie did light up as she began unwinding and rewinding a few more of the rods, though, gushing “Oooh, this turned out GREAT, honey! Glad I used the extra strong stuff on ya for sure. You’re certainly a curly girl now, Jan-Jan!” This sent a wave of excitement through me, and I couldn’t help but ask “Can I see yet?” Chrissie chuckled, “Not jus’ yet, dahling. I’ve got to put the neutralizer in, but then I’ll show ya, promise.” She rinsed my hair in warm water for a moment, then used a hairdryer to remove the dampness. She left, her loud shoes stamping against the ground, but returned a second later with another bottle. “Gotta warn ya though, the neutralizer don’t smell that great, either.” A strong chemical smell filled my nostrils a moment later as she poured the liquid over my hair, which sent an unnatural shiver through me. I laughed “You really go through this every few months on purpose, Chrissie?” She leaned her massive bust over me, primping her massive hairdo, “Well of course, kiddo! An’ trust me, you’ll be doin’ the same thing once ya see how good ya look with curls!”
I felt a bit skeptical at this as I was forced to keep my head laid back for about 10 minutes. While I would come to like the perming results, the process was not without uncomfortable drawbacks! When she came back into view, she beamed, saying “That’s enough pain for now, honey. Time to rinse all this crap out.” The rods made a sharp clinking sounds as they fell into the sink, and I was once again embarrassed as a slight moan escaped me as she gently poured some cool water over my scalp. This seemed to be more reassuring to her than amusing, as Chrissie said “Yeah, your scalp gets pretty red under the dryer, so I feel ya. Well, let’s dry this off a bit, and then I’ll show ya your curls!” She again wrapped my head up in a towel and escorted me back to her chair. She ruffled it for another few seconds before pumping my chair back up. She then whipped the towel off dramatically, saying “Ta-da!!! One permed Jan-Jan!” I gasped, floored at my reflection. “Oh…oh, wow! I-it’s so curly!” My hair was radically different from than anything I’d ever seen before, aside from my bowl cut. Very tight, damp curls hung down just over my earlobes, except my bangs, which was now the curliest of any hair on my head. I reached a shaky hand from underneath my cape, and broke into laughter as I felt the curls for the first time. It was unlike anything I’d ever touched before, and I could hardly believe that as I pulled one of the strands out, I felt it attached to my head! That tingly sensation surged, and I laughed again, unable to string any words together!
“Well, didn’t I tell ya? Now, I need to trim this up, an’ then I’ll give ya some height and shape.” I was a bit nervous as she took out the scissors again, but I was delighted as tiny curled hair began filling my lap. Chrissie didn’t take too much length off though, with the tops of my ears still covered entirely. When she came to my bangs, though, I was shocked with the length she was taking, given how short they already were. I was about to say something when she said “I’m just trimming your bangs up to give ‘em more height they’re dry.” Chrissie set her scissors down, nodding approvingly at her work, then took out a teasing tail comb, a brush, and a large can of hairspray. “This needs some mousse, first though,” she said, more to herself than to me. Retrieving a can of that product, she poured a healthy amount of the foam into her hands before dragging her long nails through my hair. She also used this as an opportunity to massage my scalp, which felt divine. Chrissie then used a hairdryer to remove any last traces of dampness, and also causing my hair to expand. “Likin’ it more, Jan-Jan?” I smiled, not quite sure, and said “Yeah, I still can’t believe it’s me, though!” She laughed and pinched my cheek, “Believe it! I’m gonna be doin’ a lotta teasing, so don’t get too mad at me, ‘kay, kiddo?” I grinned, “I promise, Chrissie!” She beamed, “That’s a good girl. Ooh, you’re gonna be so HAWT when I’m done!”
Chrissie wasn’t lying, as she started by teasing and brushing my sides, teasing each section, starting at the ends, gently teasing and brushing the curls apart. She was careful to keep the volume more concentrated at the ends and center of each strand. Chrissie skillfully used a round brush together with her hair dryer on the areas closer to my roots, softening the curl. Of course, each little section was sprayed stiff with very fruity-scented spray. The end result was hair that had a huge amount of lift as the hair went outwards, almost like a mushroom, except incredibly curly! This made me feel somewhat unnerved, as I didn’t like it very much, but at the same time, I was relishing the care and numerous steps Chrissie was taking. When she finished the back and opposing side, she moved directly in front of me, about to start my bangs, when her white cooking timer began ringing. “Ah, shoot. Thought I’d finish before she was done! Hang tight, honey. I’m just gonna go collect Ang.” I muttered something, but was so perplexed by my conflicting delight and horror that I had no idea what I was saying. I stared, bug-eyed, at my reflection, my curly bangs now were surrounded by a curly pyramid that sprung up above my ears. I was gripping the handles of my chair tightly, and crossed my legs even more tightly, enjoying a sharp tingle that was interrupted a second later by Angela practically screaming “Holy COW! Janet, your hair!”
I blinked, my jaw dropping as I looked at her own hair, the net now removed allowing me to gawk at mostly blond hair wrapped around large rollers. “You-you’re blond!” I said, shocked. She grinned, “Well, not completely, but you’ll see. I can’t believe how your hair looks!” This caught me off guard for some reason, and I actually felt my lip quiver and my eyes suddenly go warm with tears as I said in a panicked voice “Is it bad? I don’t know if I like it!” Chrissie and Angela both threw their hands up, Chrissie running over and putting her hands on my shoulders. “Oh, no, I didn’t mean that, sweetheart!” said Angela, before adding “I just wasn’t prepared for how dramatic a change this was! No, I think this is great!” Chrissie patted my shoulders, adding “I haven’t even finished yet, either! You’re only lookin’ at half a hairdo, anyways!” She laughed, and I sniffled, forcing myself to smile, and I said “O-okay, sorry Chrissie, sorry Angela.” Angela looked at me with concern, saying, “No, please, you don’t have anything to say sorry for, Janet. I’m the one to say sorry!” Chrissie clicked her tongue, picking up a small, white pic comb and hairspray, saying “The two of ya need t’ stop apologizin’ already! Now, Jan-Jan, you’ll see the kinda height I was talkin’ about before!” Again stepping completely in front of me, I closed my eyes so I wasn’t simply staring at her chest as she resumed her styling. I could feel her picking out the curls with vigorous technique and enthusiastic spraying. She swiveled the chair as she then switched to her tail comb, teasing the ends even further. She used her fingers to play with her creation every so often, making little noises and smiling. Chrissie grabbed her scissors, snipping away tiny curls, and shaping the sides up even more. At last, she gave the hairspray can one more shake and covered my head in a cloud of product, saying “I think that’s it, Jan-Jan. Here ya go!” as she turned me back towards the mirror.
I took a huge gasp, hiccupped, and shoved my fingers into my mouth to keep from screaming. I looked, for lack of a better word, ridiculous, even for the 1980s! Chrissie had teased and picked my super curly bangs out into a giant fluffy pom-pom that stood nearly 5 inches tall, and almost reached across my entire forehead! The rest of my hair had been dried and sprayed into a triangular, mushroom-like shape that was now just above my ears, but spread out at least 7 inches or so. For those of you who are ‘Peanuts’ fans like me, Chrissie had made my hair look just like Frieda’s hair, though I couldn’t boast that they were natural as she loves to say! My permed curls had been so thoroughly teased that the ends formed a halo-like appearance as the salon’s light poked through. “Pretty great, right?” said Chrissie, holding up a mirror to show me various angles of my perm. She picked out one curl on top, then sprayed it in place, almost like Alfalfa. “Jus’ needed a little somethin’. I went extra big teasing, but extra tight with the curls, so you’ll be the spotlight of every room ya go into, dahling! Ang, doesn’t she look good?” I turned to Angela, too dumbfounded to even talk, but she had a gigantic grin. “She looks like a model with her perm done up like that! It’s, well, a bold look, but your hair looks just beautiful!” I looked back at the mirror, hardly recognizing myself, looking like some cross between Bozo and the Bride of Frankenstein. And yet, I suddenly realized that I loved it, and I’m sure that Angela’s praise made me feel better.
I felt the curls for the first time, finally mustering up the nerve, and immediately started giggling. The bounce was instantly noticeable, and I couldn’t resist stretching one of my bang ‘poofs’ out a bit further, and watch it recoil back into place. The curls felt dry and crunchy, and when I shook my head, they barely moved at all. Chrissie squatted right down next to me, beaming as she looked at me in the mirror, both of our gigantic hairdos filling it up. She picked out a few curls with her long nails and said “I think ya look super HAWT, dahling. It’ll take some gettin’ used to, but the curls fit ya jus’ poifectly. Oh, that reminds me: hey, Rach! Come take a looksee at Jan-Jan!” The redheaded Rachel walked over a moment later, and when Chrissie turned my chair towards her, she took a short gasp and said “Oh, wow. You really did a big one on her, Chrissie! Boy, ya stick a couple a bows on her and you’d have a great big poodle!” I suddenly felt a bit embarrassed about my new hairdo, but Rachel ended her look with “I’ll tell ya what, though, it makes ya look real mature, Janet. I think you’ll get lots of compliments.” I smiled at this, responding “Thanks a lot! I really do like it.” Chrissie rubbed my shoulders again and gave me a peck on the cheek, “See, I knew ya would. Now, I’ll tell ya how to manage it, but I’ve gotta get started on Ang, ‘kay?”
Despite having already seen my stepmom’s new color, somewhat, I had become so wrapped up in how different MY hair now looked, I had completely forgotten about Chrissie’s other client! Chrissie wasted no time, keeping me caped, but turning my chair so that I was now looking straight on at both Angela and her. My stepmom had her eyes closed, however, as Chrissie was drenching her still rolled-up hair in a cloud of hairspray. Unlike me, Chrissie was using a huge chrome gold can of spray that had a much stronger scent. Once she was satisfied, she waved her hands through the air to clear it, saying “There we go. Now, just big, down, and out, Ang? Like real classy?” Angela smiled, saying “Yes, could you, please? I’d love it a bit bigger at the top, too.” Chrissie nodded as she got to work, unwrapping the rollers. I was amazed at how quickly the hair snapped back into the round shape like a mold, and amazed, too, at how blond her hair had turned out! Angela’s head was soon covered in large tubes of hair, almost forming a bouffant-like shape, which I admit, intrigued me.
However, Chrissie didn’t let this arrangement stick around, as she used her brush to break the hair apart, causing it to spill out and down. “Now, a few things to tell ya about a perm: ya can’t wash it for a few days, so you’ll have t’ use a cap when you’re showerin’. Ang can tell ya, it’ll stink pretty rotten, an’ like I said before, perfume and spray can help cover up the smell. Not that ya’d want to, but don’t straighten it for a few weeks, and try to be real gentle when you’re teasing it.” This last bit seemed a bit hypocritical to me, given how massive my hairdo was based on HER teasing, but her technique was professional, whereas mine was not. “I’d let it air dry, so ya get a more natural look if ya want to try somethin’ different, but ya could also brush it out an’ get like an afro.” Angela laughed at this, chuckling “Ha! Remember when you gave ME an afro all those years ago? Janet, sweetie, I won’t tell you what to do with your hair, but maybe try that look out before heading outside.” I laughed, picturing the style. Chrissie shrugged and said “I dunno, Ang. You’re not too far off right now, Jan-Jan! Well, ya like it so far, Ang?”
Chrissie hadn’t paused her work for one second while we were talking, and had rapidly transformed Angela’s locks into a properly finished hairdo. With good height at the crown and front, Chrissie had made a fuller rendition of something like Morgan Fairchild, except with more prominently shown dark roots and undertones throughout. It was big hair, but not obscene or ridiculous like mine. Angela wore a big smile, and almost had the expression that she knew how great she looked. To be honest, I did a quick look at my reflection, and felt almost jealous and insecure at how my hair had turned out in comparison to hers. Brianna would later say, not entirely in a nice way, that Angela’s perm got looks, but mine got stares. However, this didn’t stifle my true feelings, when I said “Wow, you look really, really pretty, Angela!”, truly in awe of how beautiful she looked. Angela blew a kiss my way as Chrissie used her hands to add some body and rearrange part of the style. “Aww, thank you, honey! Chrissie, I love it, too, but this is wild seeing myself blond!” Chrissie laughed, smiling in a most satisfied way, saying “Yeah, but ya love it! You’ve got a good set of hot rollers, right, Ang? This style needs some heat t’ keep it lookin’ this good!” Angela sighed “No, mine finally broke. Janet, looks like we’re going to have to make a stop before home.” Chrissie sighed, “Oooh, sorry ‘bout that. Pick up some good hairspray for our permed princess here, too, ‘kay? I want BOTH of ya to promise me that you’ll be able to keep these styles lookin’ like they do now! These are like nice clothes!”
Angela and I made several promises that we’d keep her work looking just as she had, and we were both very sincere, too; Chrissie had a good nose for liars! I think she was more worried about my ability to manage my new hairdo, though, as she went over the basics with me once more as she removed my cape. When I saw myself properly with my outfit and hair makeover, I felt a mixture of pride and unease, as my somewhat conservative outfit coupled with outrageous hair made me appear more like a woman in her late 20s than late teens! Had I been wearing those big, thick glasses so popular then, I think I could have easily passed for 30! Angela gave me a hug once she stood up, saying “I’m so proud of you for trying something so different! Your sister and Daddy are going to have shock, that’s for sure!” I didn’t really know what to say, other than that I agreed, as I was still in shock at both of our hairdos! Chrissie smiled as she slipped my coat on over me, saying “Ah, I’m just THRILLED ya finally let me give ya a nice, big perm, Jan-Jan! I’m thinkin’ we’ll be able to do some real fun, dramatic stuff when you’re back in my chair, huh?” I smiled as I gave her a hug, “Well, I guess, but I don’t know how it can get more dramatic than this!” Angela laughed at this, saying “Uh-oh, don’t challenge her, sweetie!” I turned to Chrissie, expecting her to be laughing, but instead she was smiling, chewing on her tongue with one of her thinly arched brows cocked up, perfectly conveying that she was picturing something for the future.
Even though I had taken out my purse, Angela insisted on paying for us both, which, between her dye job, restyle, and my perm, wasn’t cheap. Joy was floored when she saw us, and I admittedly felt very self-conscious when she said “Oh, boy! Chrissie sure had fun with you today, huh?” Chrissie answered for me as she stepped behind the desk, “I sure did! She looks dahling, doesn’t she? Now, let me get somethin’ in the books for next month, and I’ll see if Joy can’t find another joint time, ‘kay?” I was distracted as I caught my reflection, and no longer paid attention to Angela and Chrissie’s conversation. I poked the little curled ‘spike’ that Chrissie had decided to give me, and felt a little rush as, even in a salon surrounded by permed hair, I had been given a uniquely, if not pretty, striking hairdo. Angela tapped my shoulder and said “Chrissie has something for you, sweetheart.” I turned, “Oh!” But Chrissie, cut me, off, handing me a wide-toothed comb, offering “Here, take this with ya! This’ll get the curls real nice and big! Plus, you can frizz it out, ya know, when you can ask Ang to help you get the way you like it. Take care, kiddo!” She gave me another hug as I thanked her, and waved again as we left.
When we got in the car, I felt a bit drained. Angela wasted no time with me, immediately asking as soon as she closed the door, “Oh, honey, are you okay? I know you don’t like causing a scene, but do you really like your hair this way?” I remember feeling a bit surprised by this question, but this also reassured me of my own feelings, because I answered, “I, uh, I do like it, but I also don’t know if I do or not? It’s not what I was expecting, that’s for sure!” She smiled, patting my curls for herself, “Well, you’ve definitely got curly hair now, Janet! I’ve had a few hairstyles that took some getting used to, so don’t worry if you don’t like it right now.” At this point, I started to feel a rare twinge of annoyance with Angela, when I said “You said you liked it at the salon. Do you really not like it?” She shook her gorgeous curls, saying sincerely, “Sweetie, I promise that I do, but I will also say that it is not a, hmm,” she considered for a moment, and I looked at her skeptically. She then patted my arm and finished “It’s not a hairdo that fits your quiet personality, and I think this might actually be a good thing. You’re going to get a LOT of attention with this style, and, to be honest, I didn’t think you’d have the nerve to let Chrissie give you something so big, flashy, and different. That’s why I really am so proud of you, honey! Janet, this is one of the cutest styles I’ve ever seen you wear! I’m a bit jealous.”
I was flattered and stunned, not being able to come up with an intelligible response, so naturally I burst into tears, giving her a hug. Suddenly, the whole flush of emotions, the shock, the excitement, the uncertainty, all of it boiled over. Thankfully, Angela knew just how to respond, returning my embrace while shushing me, saying with a smile “Janet, you’ll ruin your hairdo if you lean into me! I know, it’s a big deal when you change your look this much.” I sniffled, wiping my face with a handkerchief, and then spending the next few minutes giggling and sniffling as I fixed my makeup. Angela was so kind, patiently waiting for me to collect myself. Finally, she said “Well, now that you’ve gotten that out, tell me how you REALLY feel with your perm, Janet.” I laughed and rolled my eyes. “I really do like it, but, like, I’m worried it’s TOO much, almost. And, nothing against Chrissie, but I’m not sold on this thing!” and I pointed to the ‘spike’ at the center of my curled poof. Angela sucked her teeth, saying “Yeah, I’m not sure what she was thinking there. You might be able to pin it down when we get home, but you’ll have to live with it for today, sweetie.” I sighed, looking at my hair, primping the bottom. It was hard to believe that just a few hours ago, my hair had been stick straight, and now was about as curly as I could have ever imagined it would be!
Now, here is where I show my age a little: before driving home, we had to stop at the Sears department store to pick up a new set of electric curlers, and some items for me to help maintain my new curly coiffure. Before we got out of the car, I did my best to fix my makeup, grinning as I tried to remove a little bit of the puffiness around my eyes. While this Sears wasn’t anything out of the normal, one of the things I remember most clearly about it was the fact that, without fail, either Angela, Brianna, or I would run into somebody we knew there. It almost became a running joke in our family, and as it turned out, that day was no exception. We had been in the store for no more than two minutes when we heard in a sharp, shrill voice “Angela, is that you with blond locks?”. I groaned, as of all the people to see, this was one of the few I was specifically hoping NOT to see! The voice belonged to Mrs. Eileen Krieger, my ex-piano teacher, and a somewhat nosy neighbor. I always thought she looked like a bird, with her long neck, long, sharp nose, and perpetually pursed lips. If I hadn’t mentioned that I played piano when I was younger, it was because I hated every second of it. It never came naturally to me, and despite lots of practice, I never seemed to get any better at it. When I had finally convinced Daddy and Angela to let me quit, which took some time, Mrs. Krieger had accepted without protest. And while she had never been all that nice to me to begin with (though not cruel, if I’m honest), she became even cooler towards me, and even years later, I felt very uncomfortable around her. So, with that being said, you can imagine how excited I was to talk with her! What is very unsurprising, though, is that Angela, of course, got on with her very well.
Angela smiled, walking over to her, answering “Why, hello, Eileen! Nice to see you. Yes, it’s me. I had a big change, as you can see!” Mrs. Krieger, who was quite tall and thin, turned her long nose somewhat up, saying “Yes, quite the change. It looks very nice, I must admit. My word, is that Janet with you? I hardly recognized her with that…interesting hairdo. That’s certainly one way to draw attention to oneself.” Instantly I felt a bit embarrassed, but Angela spoke up saying “Janet wanted to try something different with her hair, and I’m very proud of her for asking for such a big change. I think she looks wonderful!” Angela is not very keen on arguing with others, especially in public, but she has this knack for voicing an opinion in such a way that makes it clear that this is her stance, and she’s not interested in having her mind changed. This is exactly the tone in which she addressed Mrs. Krieger, who took the hint, turning directly to me saying “Pardon me, Janet. You look quite nice, and mature I should add. Now, Angela, did I tell you what happened to happened to my sister?” Angela and Mrs. Krieger indulged in idle gossip for several minutes while I wandered off to the nearest department still within earshot. I think I was looking at belts when Angela walked over to me, rolling her eyes saying “Oh, of ALL the people to run into with our new hairdos! Oh, well. Let’s get those curlers and some things for you, then we’ll be on our way.”
While we didn’t end up seeing anyone else we knew, I did catch several people give me double-takes, which filled me with a blend of delight and a bit of embarrassment. When we got to the haircare aisle, I did have an older woman stop me who, much to my delight, said “Honey, I had to tell you that I LOVE your hair! Can I ask if it’s a perm?” I grinned, blushing a little “Thank you, ma’am! Yes, it’s a perm. I actually just had it done today!” She nodded, inspecting it closer, “Well it’s just lovely. Ma’am, you have a very, very pretty daughter.” I blushed even further, and Angela squeezed my shoulder, beaming “What a kind thing to say! Thank you so much!” The lady smiled and waved as she cleared the aisle, and I looked excitedly at Angela, saying “Wow, did you hear her?!” Angela chuckled, “Of course, silly! I was standing right here! That ought to make you feel much better, hmm?” I swayed in place, looking at my shoes, “I guess. I think I’m going to be getting a lot of look regardless, huh?” Angela sighed, but smiled “That’s the burden of having an eye-catching hairdo, Janet. I think you’ll manage though!” What went unsaid between us was also that wonderful experience where a stranger mistook us as mother and daughter. While the compliment on my new perm was fantastic, this was the best compliment I could hope to receive. However, the lady’s compliment did inspire to go for the extra hold Aquanet. I can still picture the white can and pink label with the white diamonds running across, and this particular variety became my go-to spray for the next few years.
Angela wasn’t done treating me for the day, paying for both her new electric rollers, several cans of spray for the both of us, mousse, a few packages of rollers, a few new teasing combs, a teasing pic, and shower caps. She did shush me as I protested, but smiled good-naturedly. Like I said in my last story, she did like to express affection through gifts on occasion, which also always had the desired effect. The drive home was much more lively and enjoyable, with my feeling much more secure and the woman’s compliment serving as bona fide shot of happiness into both of us. The lights were on when we got home, meaning Brianna must have been pack. We carried our bags in, and we heard Brianna come down the stairs. “Hey, I was wondering where you guys were at. Is there – OH MY GOD!” Brianna’s eyes bulged out, her mouth hanging open. I couldn’t tell if her shock was more in delight or terror, but I actually spoke first, asking “Notice anything different about us, sis?”
My stepmother burst into laughter, hugging her daughter before making her ways over to the kitchen. “You-you’re blond, mom! And-and-and, boy, Janet, that is one BIG perm! Did you, uh, ASK her to make you look like that?” I shot her a look, but she waved her hand, poking my bangs with her finger, “I didn’t mean it like that, Jan. I mean, do you like it? You look so different!!!” I smiled, answering “She sort of took a few liberties, but I asked for a new look, and based on how everyone else has reacted, that’s what she gave me. I hate this thing, though,” again pointing to the curly ‘spike’ in my bangs. Surprisingly, Brianna put her hand on her chin, saying “I dunno, sis. I actually kinda like it. It’s almost like a hint of punk among all those curls. I think you should keep it.” I could tell she was sincere, and asked me lots of questions as we helped Angela get dinner ready. Brianna was very interested in what Mrs. Krieger had to say, as she hated her with a burning passion (long story), and laughed when I told her Angela sort of put her in her place. Brianna might have been a little overly-complimentary as a way to make amends, but she genuinely seemed to be interested in my new look, and seemed to like it. She finished off her questions with a reminder, saying with a mixture of laughter and warning, “You know, you’re gonna get a LOT of attention tomorrow,” parroting her mother.
I smiled bashfully, “I know, I know. A few of my friends knew I was getting a perm, but no one will be expecting this. I still can’t believe it!” Brianna nodded in agreement, then said something that changed my whole perspective: “You should, like, lean into the look, Janet. Don’t try to hide it tomorrow. You’ve got a mega big hairdo, and everyone’s going to flip when they see it! I’m gonna show you off in study hall!” Brianna seemed really excited, and I was shocked she mentioned study hall! Underclassman and upperclassman didn’t share a lunch period or really any classes except specials, and that year, Brianna and I had lucked out and both wound up in the same study hall period. However, while she didn’t usually ignore me, she would sit with her friends, and I would sit with mine, and didn’t really interact. Even if you were siblings, Juniors and Seniors didn’t really associate with Frosh. Apparently tomorrow was going to be different!
However, before my friends’ and classmates’ reactions, I first had to contend with Daddy’s. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long for him, but Angela pulled me aside to go over a special plan. She greeted him at the door, and I could hear him practically fall over himself with compliments. Blond, it seemed, seemed to have an adverse effect on his intellect, instead of Angela’s (No offense to blonds)! Finally, Angela called, “Janet, sweetie, why don’t you show your Daddy your new hairstyle?” I giggled, rushing around the corner, and shouting “Ta-da!” He shouted, “Holy smokes! Look at you, Janet! You have curly hair now, too!” I gave him a kiss on the cheek saying “So, do you like it?” I saw him flash a look at Angela, and said “Well of course! I wasn’t prepared for something so, er, big. You, uh, did mean to look like this, right? You didn’t stick a finger in an electric socket, did you?” I gasped, and Angela smacked him with a wooden spoon. “George!” she screeched, raising her spoon once more. He covered his head, “I’m kidding! I’m kidding! You look beautiful, Janet, I promise.” I stuck my tongue out at him, but gave him a hug anyways. His teasing was always good-natured, and he knew I could take a joke from him.
Like Brianna, he was very complimentary, though he was very drawn to his wife’s perfect hairdo, which was quite understandable. Getting ready for bed that night was a little stressful, as I was very concerned about ruining my hair while I slept. However, I experienced one final hair delight that day: a full roller set from Angela, though her own hair was still salon-fresh as she styled me. Running some mousse through her hands, she applied it to my already coated locks, wrapping it in the smallest curlers I had ever seen. She pinned a lot of my hair down, essentially mimicking the shape Chrissie had given me, only covering the curls in the rollers and clips. It took almost 30 minutes, but it was truly enjoyable. “You know, Janet, my mother would often help me wrap my hair in rollers, so this is a nice little tradition we can start up again. How about you help me tomorrow?” The experience had dulled my senses a little, as I asked, dumbly, “You don’t want help tonight?” She chuckled, “No, I’ll manage tonight, sweetheart.” I nodded, then said “OH!” as realization hit me, and my cheeks turned red. She patted my shoulder, “Uh-huh. And that’s all we’ll say about that. Now, you’ll need to get up EXTRA early tomorrow morning so I can help you get it ready for school, ‘kay?” She did an imitation of Chrissie as she finished her sentence, causing us both to laugh. I went to bed that night with a bonnet over my hair, and thought I looked like quite the grandma as I climbed into the shower with the plastic floral cap snapped snuggly over my hair.
I was quite groggy, but Angela was her usual bright and perky self as she perched me in front of the vanity mirror. I noted with a sly grin her hair was indeed now in rollers. I was surprised at how much more condensed my hair looked as she unwound the curlers, but was relieved that the overall shape seemed to still be there. She then picked up both the teasing comb and pic, and got to work. She rapidly broke apart the curls, spreading them out and fluffing them as she went. She then very carefully began teasing the curls, brushing them backwards and leaving me with a more defined, singular rounded wedge shape than what I had the day before. It was left looking even shorter, cleanly resting above my ears by nearly an inch. It looked somewhat formal and old-fashioned, and despite my mixed feelings yesterday, I wasn’t liking this as much. Angela asked, “Honey, do you want it as big as yesterday, or would you rather have it a bit more conservative? I can tease it out a bit more, if you want.” I hesitated, now thinking I looked somewhat like I had a football on my head. “Er, can you make the top a bit taller? And rounder? I kind of liked how Chrissie made it have sections.” I couldn’t quite explain it, but thankfully, Angela understood, perfectly, and she seemed pleased with this direction. Soon, my bangs had been raised to an even more outrageous height, and the Aquanet made sure they were glued in place. The curler set and way in which Angela had broken the curls up made my hair have a more cohesive flow, though, and looked much more ‘normal’ than Chrissie’s work. Part of me was disappointed, as I had somehow enjoyed having my hair be a spectacle, not just a fashion statement! My hair now looked almost as if it was either a ‘normal’ hairdo trying to be a bit bolder, or a bold style trying to be a bit more ‘normal’. Even then, I remember being confused at what I was trying to convey how I felt in that moment!
Just as she was about done, she asked, “So, are we making you Alfalfa today? I’m really having more fun with this than I thought I might!” I smiled, then closed my eyes and said “I have to try it at least once, don’t I? Part of me wishes my hair looked almost, well, as crazy as it did yesterday. I, like, REALLY want it to stand out! Is there something you can do that won’t take too long, Angela?” She’d already spent the better part of an hour fixing my hair, and while Brianna carpooled with her friends, I still had to catch the bus!
Angela smiled, then said, “Well, I can try something fun that’ll make you ‘stand out’, but you might not like it. Are you sure you want to look a little, what was the word Chrissie used, adventurous?” I looked at my reflection, took a deep breath, and said, “Yeah, definitely!” Angela gave a rare squeal of delight, saying excitedly, “You asked for it, honey!” She took out the brush and hairspray again, but this time she grabbed much more of bangs than Chrissie had, then sprayed it stiff before twirling the end with her finger. I now thought I looked like I had a horn cropping out of my bangs, much more obvious than the ‘spike’! Then, with almost blinding speed, she took the pic and began expanding my bang pom-pom even more. Angela was concentrating, but was smiling as she worked. I got the distinct feeling she was enjoying herself, and despite the early hour, I was, too. Although the curled perm on my sides was more conservatively dressed than the day before, the top was, in a word, outlandish. And I loved it! My stepmom then pulled open a drawer, pulling out several ribbons. “When Rachel said yesterday that all you need was a few bows to make you a poodle, I almost spoke up! I used to love putting bows in Brianna’s and your hair, so just indulge me today, as this is too good a chance to pass up! You don’t mind, do you?”
She seemed so enthusiastic that I was powerless to protest, just like when I sat in Chrissie’s chair. She was standing in front of me, and I could feel her tying several bows, and clipping on some others. Angela then looked at the clock, and said in a huff, “Oh, honey, I’m just going to have to drive you. I’m not quite done!” I looked at my stepmom, and was slightly bewildered that she had an almost giddy expression on her beautiful face! I didn’t protest, merely nodding as she continued working. She kept taking out the pic and spray, arranging a section here and there, until finally she gave a satisfied sigh, declaring “Well, you really look the part now, Janet!” This may be the most far-fetched part of this whole experience, but it is the truth. Angela pulled up a chair to look at my reflection right alongside me, and I could scarcely believe what my stepmother had done! My pom-pom was even higher than Chrissie’s talented hands had left me, resembling a frizzy dandelion and completely covering the width of my head. The large curled ‘horn’ now stood defiantly obvious, making me look like one of those terrifying angler fish! However, it was the bows that now graced my hairdo that really made me feel a rush of nerves and excitement. At the base of the horn was tied a white and red polka-dotted bow, and just at the side partings were two matching ones, giving me the uncanny look of, as you guessed, a poodle dog. However, above the large center bow were two tiny pink clip-on bows, which I had somehow missed upon my initial look. Angela’s enthusiasm was obvious as she exclaimed “Well, you’ll be the stand-out young Freshman lady today, won’t you?” I chuckled, prodding the horn, saying “I guess I asked for this, huh? Should I just go get my bag and meet you downstairs?”
Angela was the one staring at me for a change with a smile on her face. “Just a second, sweetie.” She left the room, returning a couple of minutes later, wearing a jacket and jeans, but holding the polaroid, smiling “Say cheese!” Of course I reacted with a big grin before the flash blinded me. She shook the picture as it came out, grinning “I’ll have to make some copies of this, Janet. Your kids will NEVER believe you let me do your hair like this. You look just darling. Now we can go.” I stood up a little shakily, patting my hair, now tacky with spray. Angela was humming to herself as she handed me my lunch pale and thermos while I checked my reflection in every shiny surface I could. I was almost having an out of body experience. I couldn’t believe I was going to school looking the way I did! Daddy had long since left as always, so it was just Angela and I. “You have no idea how much this just made my day, Janet!” Years later, when we were looking at photo albums, and yes, with my kids, Angela confessed that she did some vicarious living that morning, admitting that she had tried, to great success I might add, to ensure that my new hairdo would be the talk of the school that day, but she was also having great fun turning me into a wannabe poodle.
I was so preoccupied with my thoughts that I barely noticed Angela had kept her rollers in her hair. While this was not as big a deal in the 1980s as it would be today, for her, it was very unusual. I think she did this to boost my confidence, however, as Angela didn’t drop me off that morning. To my mingled chagrin and delight, she actually walked in with me, heading straight to the administration office. I felt my cheeks burning a tad red as Angela marched to the reception desk. The secretary, Mrs. Lions at that time, gawked at my appearance, saying “Janet, look at YOU!” Angela smiled, “Kathy, it was my fault Janet was tardy this morning, and was hoping you could give her an excuse for first period. It won’t happen again, I assure you.” Mrs. Lion waved her off, saying “Not a problem, not a problem.” A permed woman herself, she then actually stood up from her desk to get a better look at my hair. “My, my. You look cute as a button, Janet. I remember putting bows in my hair when I was your age. Glad to see that’s still en vogue, even if not in quite the same style,” she chuckled. She then took out a pale green pass, initialing it and handing it to me for safekeeping. She then turned to my stepmother, smirking “I must ask, Angela, did this look cause a bit of a stir at home?” Angela laughed, “Quite the opposite! I love this look for her.” I sighed, almost volunteering that Angela was the one who GAVE me this hairdo, but instead just gave her a hug, before asking if I could be allowed to head to class. Angela gave me a big smile as I turned back to see her resume talking with Mrs. Lions, both of them now smiling and laughing, doubtlessly about me!
Being a teenage girl, I was juggling many emotions all at once, even contradictory ones, as I made my way from my locker to class. I still remember, first period of my Freshman year was Algebra I, taught by Mr. Smith, one of the most patient teachers I ever had. I knocked on the door, passing him my excuse note, and saying “I’m sorry for being late, Mr. Smith.” Not one to embarrass a student in front of the entire class, he nodded “Thank you for joining us, Janet. Quiet, please everyone.” As soon as I had walked in, I could hear a murmur float around the room. I took my seat right in the middle of the room. I didn’t make eye-contact with anyone as I sat down, but I tried to hold my head high, too. My friend Nancy sat right next to me, and when Mr. Smith had his back turned to the class, she hit my shoulder. I looked over, grinning, and she mouthed “WOW!” and gave me an approving nod. Notes were passed to me in every class that day, and I felt like a movie star in between periods, someone calling my name to make a comment on my hair. Brianna was shocked that my hair was so different than what she had seen before, but her friends seemed very interested and gave me several nice compliments.
I did receive a few teasing remarks, with the most common thing being some guys, and even a few girls, directing some yappy barking my way, but I was actually expecting more. My Spanish teacher, Senorita Pena, taught me the word ‘rizada’ that day, which I can still remember! While I didn’t keep the ‘horn’ every day, I did ask Angela to give me a tamer version on occasion. Bows, likewise, were not an everyday accessory, but for the next year, my curly hair was often decorated with at least one bow, tied so lovingly by Angela. My perm had the desired effect, allowing me to step a bit out of my shell with my bit of high school celebrity, and while I would hesitate to call it ‘life-changing’, this change in my outlook did expand my friend group, and, if I can say, by the end of the week, Michael had said ‘hi’ to me…