Friday, December 28, 2007

Hair-related frivolity

Several different prompts recently reminded me of an anecdote which I now feel licensed to relate, somewhat at my brothers' expense (but they will forgive me, it is an older sister's prerogative, just those couple years' advantage leads to all sorts of unfair benefits like always being the one to win at monopoly, at least until a brother who shall remain nameless would grow so frustrated--all our games ended this way!--that he threw the board up in the air and scattered money and houses and hotels across the floor--not to mention it really is a charming tale)...

The prompts:

1. I was having the ritual fend-off-haggardness winter haircut the other day (hmmm, not very successfully fended off, I fear I might have to soon take the plunge and actually get some of the kind of makeup that you, you know, like, wear on your skin as opposed to lipstick or eye stuff or whatever, this is mildly alarming, I am largely ignorant of the world of what my mother's sisters all scathingly call "lotions and potions"!), and the static electricity was making strands of hair stand up like crazy...

2. And Christopher Smart's lovely lines about the cat (which have provoked some delightful e-mails from readers especially struck by one or another phrase!) include that amazing series of words For by stroking of him I have found out electricity...

In the introduction to my new academic book, I talk about my childhood love for Franklin Court:
Growing up in Philadelphia, I loved visiting the underground museum below the Ghost Structure, a steel skeleton designed by Robert Venturi to mark the dimensions of Benjamin Franklin’s house, razed in 1812. The museum had a sort of phone bank that allowed one to telephone a huge number of different eighteenth-century figures whose names and numbers were posted across a banner like the menu at a fast-food restaurant. Once the call was put through, I would listen to the recording of what Washington or Mozart or whoever I had chosen to dial up that day had to say about Franklin: history as spiritualism-inflected gossip!

But we also passionately loved the Franklin Institute, a museum that I have not revisited as an adult but that I have designs upon (it's the swim fin project). It had all sorts of amazing things (the giant heart!), but one of them was the sort of device many of us got to play with as scientific-minded children, the magical Van de Graaff generator.

(Oh dear, this is a more roundabout story than I imagined, I am longwinded this evening!)

My brothers were very eager for me to be the demonstratee--this seemed unusual, but whatever, I was excited! I had my hair as always in two very tight long neat braids (or "plaits," as my English mother would call them--I don't think I ever wore my hair down a single day in my life, the elementary-school morning kitchen scene involved her undoing one plait and very stringently and painfully brushing it with a Mason Pearson hairbrush and tightly braiding it back up, and then doing the same for the other!), and I touched the apparatus and the hairs of my head did indeed dance up into the air.

But my brothers were very disappointed--and when our mother asked why, it became clear that they had imagined both braids sort of jumping up into the air like muscular pythons...

(And another good hair story--our mother had very bright red hair as a child and young adult, most distinctive, only many people in her family had it also and so it was annoying to her when strange ladies on the bus told her what unusual and lovely hair she had. And one day one brother finally said, "But mom, how could you have had red hair when you were little? When you were little, everything was in black and white!" Which indeed it was, if you went by the pictures...)


  1. Good link!

    The other funny picture story recently is that my mom has a picture up in her classroom of her first & brand-new grandchild Jack Maverick, whose parents I have been teasing by solemnly telling them that I can see he has the red-headed gene. It is a picture in the modern way, i.e. digital photograph printed out on a color printer. And she says that literally dozens of different children have entered the classroom, gravitated to the (very attractive) picture and asked quite earnestly, "Is this a picture of you when you were a baby?" And the thing is that there really is a family resemblance, it is not surprising they should make the conceptual leap!

  2. I loathe my winter haircut (luckily M's and E's are quite fabulous, so the long afternoon at the salon was not a total waste). I love Franklin Court.

  3. I was too busy to leave a comment the other day, but I loved Christopher Smart's cat poem. It made my day.