“I remember…” is a series of posts about places from my childhood where I sometimes find myself today. I will be performing a solo show in one of these places, OR, on Wed. March 30 at The Shedd Institute for Arts.
I was living in Eugene, Oregon with my parents and my new baby brother at the Amazon Housing Project – married student housing – where we had a small 3-room apartment. The largest room served as livingroom-kitchen-diningroom. As usual, my parents had painted one wall mustard yellow. This was a tradition in each new place we moved. in this case, it was a narrow brick wall which I’m now thinking must have enclosed a flue of some sort.
In the outside bedroom, I slept in a bed covered with stuffed animals. Mostly dogs. My brother slept in a drawer on the floor. My parents had the other room.
The Amazon had originally been built as army barracks. Our own complex included about 30 families, give or take 10, but there were several other complexes a short walk away.
I became friends with a girl in another complex, and we decided one day that we would have an outing to the local drugstore for grilled-cheese sandwiches and cokes. This was a big splurge, for which we would prepare all day.
She had the idea of coiffures: we’d curl each others’ hair, and then head down to the drugstore.
Simple enough, I thought,. I’d never curled anyone’s hair before, and no-one in my family curled their hair, but I’d seen a great aunt of mine once with spit curls. I can’t remember who went first, but I know my hair was rolled onto a multitude of empty frozen juice cans. That seemed pretty tame. My idea was to create a single, superlative curl on the top of her head, which I wound up and secured with bobby-pins.
She didn’t seem happy about this. I got the sense she didn’t think my idea would work, but I was very optimistic.
An hour or so later, we unveiled our masterpieces. I had a glamorous head of curls. She had one curlicue sticking straight out the top of her head. I tried to be impressed by it, but I knew immediately that I’d missed the point somehow.
I sensed, without being able to articulate it, that I had merely pointed to something, whereas she’d embodied it. I’d played at the idea of a curl, and she’d invested deeply in the concept of fundamentally making my entire head curly.
I’d created a decoration. She’d changed the underlying structure.
I’ve seen this many more times in my life. Struggled with it. Know I’m missing the point, but no idea how to get it. But at least I can identify it: “Right … it’s the curl again.”