I spent last weekend in Boston’s south shore enjoying the company of some fun, friendly people that I’m so happy to call family.
The occasion was a wedding and many of the lady-folk made appointments in Hingham to have their hair and makeup done. I planned on doing mine myself, and did end up doing my own makeup. However, as the primping hour approached I was feeling less motivated about standing four hours with my arms in the air, taming and teasing more volume into my sea-induced afro.
So after lunch, Mr.Me and I walked across the street from our resort to a salon and asked if they had time for an up-do. The latter-middle-aged, Italian stylist, who was picking the thin hair of an octogenarian through a plastic cap told me to go back to my room and change into a button up shirt and come right back. The other latter-middle-aged stylist on duty peppered Mr.Me with questions; where we were from, where the wedding was taking place, who his family is, where they live.
Twenty minutes later I returned by myself, shirt changed and braced for the fog of hairspray I was about to inhale. The octogenarian was sitting nearby, bedecked with aluminum foil antennae and had been joined by a contemporary receiving her weekly blow-out from the other hair dresser, who asked the room in general if any of us had seen Raquel Welch lately. She’s always been beautiful, was the consensus.
Grandma Blow-out was finished off and sent out the door with a “See you next week,” while Nana Foil-head took to the sink to have the poison rinsed from her scalp.
While my hair was being teased by the Italian dresser to heights I’ve never before reached, Nana Foil-head, in a poorly hushed voice, asked the other stylist, “What’s going on with Linda?”
There was no air between the question and reply, “Oh, you know she’s a little bit wackadoodle, right? She only dates younger men.”
At first I braced myself: I am gossip-averse. I have no qualms about bitching and complaining, but I learned long ago that people who will gossip to you will also gossip about you.
“Oh, is that right?”
My Italian dresser joined in, still back-combing the hell out of my hair, “The man she is seeing now is forty!”
The other dresser says, “And you know her daughter likes them older, right? She’s with a fifty-six year old, or something like that. I don’t know what’s wrong with them! ”
But Nana Foil-head knows! “Well they’re fucked up!”
Now, where I grew up, little old ladies don’t say, “fuck.” This partially accounts for my distrust of them, I’m sure. But I clearly don’t know these people and I began to relax into their catty judgment of others.
“I sure wouldn’t wanna hafta be nobody’s teacher,” one or the other of the two dressers said.
This gave me pause. I am forty! There’s more to learn? ?
Grandma Blow-out surprised us all by exiting the bathroom, saying her goodbyes, collecting her belongings from a corner chair, and leaving just like we all thought she had already done.
I don’t know if Grandma Blow-out knows Linda Cougar-pants or maybe (God, I hope so), might actually be Linda Cougar-pants, but while she was in our presence the subject was changed back to Raquel Welch. The other stylist brought me a new-smelling magazine to show me Raquel’s latest wig ads.
Wait. Didn’t they first begin talking about Raquel Welch when I re-entered the beauty parlor?
I look at the ad and concur. She is stunning! Appreciating her curves, I tell the dressers and Nana Foil-head that my mother once told me that when Raquel was just starting out Hollywood didn’t like her because she was too scrawny. Her mother sent her to Italy to fill up (and out) on pasta and meat and cheese. In almost perfect unison both hair dressers corrected me, my Italian one just a little too excitedly for my comfort with a hot curling iron now in her hand. “That was Sophia Loren!”
“Oh! Yes, probably that was Sophia Loren! That would make more sense,” I concede.
My Italian dresser comes to life when she says, not caring who can hear her, and perhaps hoping everyone can, “Sophia Loren is a bucket of shit!”
I think my throat made a noise as I actively tried to keep my jaw from dropping. Latter-middle-aged ladies where I grew up also don’t say “Shit.”
She went on.
“You remember when I saw her in the Rome airport that time?” She gestures towards the other dresser. “She is a bucket of shit, I told you! She had her two little boys with her and they are adorable but she is a bucket of shit!”
“I remember that,” says the other dresser, sounding like she wished she didn’t.
“And then I saw her out in California and she was still a bucket of shit! You know her mother married her sister off to Mussolini. When I saw her in the airport in Rome she was with some of them from that family. She’s still friendly with the Mussolinis, you know that?”
I was still nervous about the ethnically-prescribed hand waving with the curling iron around my face, so I tried to change the subject. “You’re making my hair so pretty! I feel so glamorous! I’m a mom and I don’t ever get to play dress up!'” I fib.
The other dresser takes my lead and feigns interest in my kids. How many? How old? 6 total? Oh, 3 didn’t come out of your body! How old are you?
Now, that should have been a straight forward enough question, but now I’m inexplicably scared of becoming gossip fodder myself when I leave. They’ve met my husband; he walked me in on my first visit. He not only looks significantly older than me, he kind of is. What if that makes me just as fucked up as Linda Cougar-pants?
It’s not like I’ve not already wrestled this aspect of our relationship into the ground (and won!), but there I was, nearly paralyzed with fear of becoming the gossip-ee, as if I hadn’t already sealed that fate when I walked in off the street with my southern accent, asking for big hair.
“Cat got your tongue, honey? How old are you?”
“Forty-seven,” I blurted out while furiously trying to do the birthday math in my head in case I’m challenged. It’s a reflex leftover from my under-age days, apparently. 1968. Whew, got it. Wait! Who was president? Goddammit! I’m experiencing test-brain. Who the hell was president in 1968? It was an election year…my birthday fell before the vote. Shit! That makes me almost 48! Shit! Shit! Let’s see, Ford, Nixon, Johnson. Johnson. Or maybe it was Kennedy? Holy hell, I’m in Massachusetts. They’ll catch me lying about my age because I don’t know when Kennedy was president. Wait, yes I do! He died in 1963. I went to Dealey Plaza last year. And the moon! We went to the moon in 1969 (thanks, Even Stevens!).
I’m not sure how that last fact actually helped secure Johnson as my final answer, but I tuned back in to the beauty shop around me to find nobody was actually questioning my age. I was passing for 47 goddamned years old.
Nana Foil-head was still smiling at me through the mirror and her hair was now beautifully blown dry and curiously the exact same color as Grandma Blow-out’s.
“Where’s the weddin’,” my Italian dresser asked as she began the endurance bobby-pinning phase of this event.
“At Black Rock Country Club,” I answer, pretending she hadn’t just punctured my skull.
“Where’s that?” She asked through the unoccupied corner of her mouth.
“I dunno,” I answered like the tourist I am.
The other dresser helped out. “It’s over there where Belichick lives. Are your family friendly with the Belichicks?”
“Will Bill Belichick be at the weddin’?” My Italian dresser is getting excited again.
“I don’t know. Nobody mentioned that. Maybe?” I was now worried that if the head coach for the Deflatriots was also a wedding guest any conversation of balls would be off the table for the entire evening. How can I really be expected not to mention balls at least once during what my mother-in-law dubbed a fancy-pantsy country club wedding?
“Do you like the Patriots?” My Italian dresser asked?
“Probably not, she isn’t from here,” the other dresser helped. Then she thought again, “But Carolinar doesn’t have their own team and she has to like somebody. Who do you root for, honey?”
I thought maybe it would be rude to simultaneously point out that she was wrong about Carolinar and explain how I don’t count the Panthers as a real team anyway, so I laid my football heart bare. “I used to be a huge Miami Dolphins fan, but I’m not anymore so I’ve kind of lost all interest in football.”
Nana Foil-head looked at me sympathetically. “Dan Marino?” It was like she could see my heart.
“It’s okay, honey,” the other dresser comforted me.
“When you’re ready, you’ll find another team,” consoled my Italian dresser just before launching the hairspray assault that would keep her masterpeice beautiful and on my head all night.
I paid the very reasonable thirty dollars for the new ‘do and tipped another $10, hoping a 33.3% gratuity might buy me a kinder, gentler gossiping when I left.
The weddin’ was the most perfect I’ve ever seen, from a bride so exquisitely beautiful she should grace every bridal magazine cover, to a rainbow custom ordered by her smiling grandfather in heaven.
I’m happy to report that Belichick was, in fact, not in attendance and I was able to freely discuss balls all evening.