At Mr. Perry’s

It was the seventies and Mr. Perry was a very flamboyant gentleman with huge hair and an equally large mustache.  He wore shiny, too-tight shirts with wide lapels, and brightly colored bell-bottoms.

Mr. Perry would coo and cluck and tend to my grandmother, always calling her Dr. Howard, never Laura.  (She loved this.)  She sipped a glass of champagne while he cut and set her hair.  Meanwhile, his “girls” would take care of me and my brother.  Whichever girl was doing my hair would always tease me, ask me how many boyfriends I had while she combed out the tangles, shampooed and cut, turning me from a wild girl of the woods into someone who might resemble a relation of the distinguished Dr. Howard.  I hated the boyfriend questions, the teasing, the knowing winks the girls gave each other when my face reddened.

And my poor brother, twice as shy and sensitive as I was, had to endure the same harassment.  How many girlfriends do you have, Tommy? (He was always a Tom and hated to be called Tommy.) I bet you have them lined up around the block.   Have you kissed a girl, yet Tommy?  Oh, you don’t kiss and tell, what a good boy.

On one fateful trip to Mr. Perry’s, the girl who was cutting my brother’s hair was struggling with the unruly tangles and teasing him about girls when she stepped back and  let out a yelp.  She called for Mr. Perry and my grandmother.  My brother looked terrified.  They stood over him, parted his hair and gasped. 

I slipped out of my own chair and saw that there, under the mass of curls, was a dime-sized tick, head buried deep in my brother’s scalp.

A haircut was out of the question. 

I’m not sure how to explain this, but at that moment, as we all peered down at Tom’s  tick, I saw that the charade was up.  My brother and I were not like other kids.  We had a father we saw only once a week, a mother who loved us, but could not be relied upon.  We lived with our kind, educated, dignified grandmother – but even she couldn’t tame us.  We did what we wanted – crazy adventures in the woods and down at the pond all summer.  None of the kids in my grandmother’s well-to-do suburb had divorced parents.  They spent their days swimming at the country club pool, and getting their tick-free hair done at places like Mr. Perry’s. 

I looked at Mr. Perry and his hair girls, all standing gape-mouthed, shaking their heads, saying things like “Well, I’ve just never seen one quite so…enormous,” and I knew, I just knew that at that moment, they saw all the dark secrets of our lives. 

9 Replies to “At Mr. Perry’s”

  1. If you can evoke such strong feelings from a post on “Haircuts,” Jennifer, I can only imagine what’s in store for us in “Promise Not to Tell.” Honestly, you’re amazing.

    OT: Happy 831 Day to all!

  2. Thanks for sharing the story of my tick with the world! Perhaps if the subject of torturing younger siblings ever comes up you can explain about the SLUGS!

  3. Uh oh. Busted! Sorry, Tom! Actually, I think I may have ‘fessed up about the slugs in a comment on one of Tish’s earlier posts, but for those who missed it… Yes, it’s true. I once tied my sweet younger brother to a tree shirtless and blindfolded, then covered him slugs and told him they were leeches. I also put him in a dryer. And cut up his beloved blanket, “Greenie.” Overall, I was a horrible big sister.

    To everyone else – you are too kind! Thank you so much, your compliments mean a lot to me.

  4. Oh God, I can feel that moment. How devastating and honest, you had me physically cringing.

    You know, I once took my kids to a snazzy kids’ salon I could not afford because they hated to sit still for haircuts, and this place had movies and other bribery. We had just such a moment when the stylist called me over and pointed out an actual bug, a louse, crawling across one of my children’s heads. The stylist was discreet, thank God, and followed through with the haircut before marching off to STERILIZE her tools!

    Turned out they both had lice, as did the little neighbor girl who’d been lolling around on our sofa a few days prior…

  5. There’s nothing like a dime-sized tick to put things into perspective and show you who your friends are … 😉

    And Tom, I’m so glad you’re here to “encourage” Jennifer to tell us all of her dastardly big sister antics – mine include telling my brother he was adopted (a classic, but very effective), dressing him up in a bonnet and shawl so we could play Little House on the Prairie or something bizarre like that, and once convincing him to get a perm and then lying and telling him it looked good.

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