FRESH YARN presents:
Some of you may remember Buffy from the '60s TV show, Family Affair. Well, because of that show, at least in my family, pigtails were called Buffys. I think my Southern mother found the term much more appealing, considering a pig's tail resides just above the hole where it does its business. So the TV characters Cindy Brady and Buffy inspired my mom to keep my hair in perfect curly-que Buffys most of my young life. Every night just before bed, Mom would ever so methodically roll my hair into pink foam rollers, never missing a strand.
"Our father, who art in heaven, ouch!"
"Oh Melanie, for heaven's sake it doesn't hurt that bad!"
I learned at a very early age that beauty hurts and get over it.
When I was 26, I got let go from my job on Saturday Night Live and all I could think of to do was to head back home to Tennessee, rent a cabin on the river, and figure out where the heck to go from there. Just a few days after I got the news about SNL, I received a call for a job opportunity -- to be the next spokesperson for Jenny Craig! With a can of Slim Fast in hand, I couldn't believe they were asking me. How dare they? Did my healthfully zaftig size 10 body really merit this invitation? I had taken such pride in the fact that I was a girl with a normal body right there on TV. Had no one noticed? I learned at a very young age in my acting career that showbiz hurts and get over it. But at that time in my life, the place where my sadness was really stemming from was the fact that I had not found love. In Tennessee years, 26 was just about too late. So I had my dad over to ask his advice.
Now right before he showed up, I was trying to make garlic bread in a stove that probably hadn't been used since 1975. The awful '70s décor hadn't been touched either. Yeah! '70s décor in a cabin! Not to mention the baby blue, satin Farah Fawcett pillowcase in the bedroom. Which was stained. When the stove wasn't heating I thought, "Oh well, I'll just light a match." Boom! I literally was knocked in the air onto my tailbone. The hideous, olive green and orange macramé wall hanging flew right off the fake wood paneling. I chose to bypass the small fire on the mustard shag carpet, heading straight to the bathroom to see what the explosion had done to my face. First things first! My bangs were frizzy and standing straight up, and my eyebrows had been singed right off. The Whoopi Goldberg look did not serve me well.
Just then there was a bang on the door. Off I went, stomping out the remains of the small fire on the way. When I opened the door, to my surprise, it was a guy I recognized from high school. Sandy Ledbetter! He had always looked rather elfin, with a boyish angular face and pointy ears. He was a tiny little thing, no bigger than a minute. He still looked the same as ever, with the exception of a small, but prominent, potbelly. But who was I to judge? He was looking back at a woman with no fucking eyebrows. His voice was like one of the little people from Munchkinland, only with a thick southern accent, a la Ernest T. Bass from The Andy Griffith Show, or for those of you who remember the voice from Jimmy Dean's sausage commercial, the little cartoon of a hillbilly that said, "Take home! A package! Of Tennessee Pride!"
"Melanie, is that you? Somebody tohd me you had come here for the summer. I live two cabins down and thought you done blowed the place up. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's good to see you. You haven't changed a bit."
"I sure enjoyed you on Saturday Night Live!"
His voice kept getting louder and louder. Did he think I had gone deaf from the explosion or what?! "WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW, MELANIE?!"
Thank God my dad showed up. Intimidated by my dad's football player physique, Sandy left in a flash yelling out, "Holler if you need anything, Melanie! We've got a case of Natural Lite if you git thirsty!"
After expounding on how lucky I was to be alive, Dad and I sat down to a dinner of salad and lunch meat, with the smell of gas still lingering in the air. So here we were, sitting at a tiny little metal parlor table that made my dad look giant and uncomfortable, but he had never been one to complain. As I stared out of the screened-in porch at the Little Tennessee River, watching the thousands of sun rays rippling through the trees and dancing furiously on the water, I said, "So Dad, why do you think I haven't found love yet?"
I should also tell you that at that time, I had been taking lessons on feminism from my good friend, Miss Jill Soloway, and I was going through quite the bohemian phase -- sporting a one size fits all, army green and pee yellow tie-dyed dress and not a stitch of make-up, not even a coat of lip gloss. In fact, I recall a moment at Mom and Dad's house right before heading up to the cabin, when my mother chased me with a tube of coral lipstick. "Just a little color Melanie!" With every syllable her voice would go up another octave, "Oh, Honey, why? Please!" Her voice got much smaller when she realized I was not giving in. "Have a little pride."
What I am about to say may not make sense to most. But in addition to my mother's love for hair and make-up, right there in Maryville, Tennessee, this woman who was once crowned Miss Hilltop in high school and was even head cheerleader, was also a natural born feminist without even really knowing it, always pushing me towards independence and being my own woman. Neither she nor my dad ever said a negative word to me about my weight, which has been more empowering than anything. But back to that yearning question, "Why do you think I haven't found love yet?"
At first my dad completely evaded the question, sounding like a sweaty preacher in mid-sermon, "Now why would Lorne Michaels hire that Ja-neen Girraffe-alow over you? I don't get it! And doesn't she already have a movie career anyway?"
My friends back in Hollywood and New York had asked me the same question. No one, including me, would have guessed that Janeane, with her mask of dry wit and cynicism, could possibly have had a dream to be on SNL. But I felt desperate to get him back to the topic at hand. "Dad! We're talking about my love life here! I mean, I've had all of this excitement around me, and no one to share it with."
Then he got quiet and intense. "Now Mel, you're not going to like this, but you need to start wearing some make-up. What with yer lipsticks and yer eye shadows and yer blushers. And I believe if I were you I'm just going to say it -- Buffys!"
"Buffys! Put your hair in Buffys! Now listen to me! If you do all of that, I guaren-dern-tee you, you're going to find yourself a man!"
I was pretty sure there were a handful of prostitutes in downtown Knoxville that were having plenty of luck with this look.
think it's hard for parents to see their kids getting older, metamorphosing
into adults way before they are ready. I often wish that I could go back
to being that little girl with Buffys, red Keds, blue jean cut-offs, and
my hot dog t-shirt, hopping in the front of my dad's red Ford pick-up
truck, standing right beside him with my arm around his neck, drinking
a grape Ne-hi with not a care in the world. Safe.
Next thing I knew, I was pregnant with my first baby, and the doctor gave me lots of do's and don'ts, one being to stop highlighting my hair. It was the first time I had seen my natural hair color since I was twelve years old, when my mom put a plastic cap on my head and pulled strand after strand of my dulling blonde hair through with a crochet needle. I thought the pink foam rollers were bad! I had known that beauty involved pain, but blood? Good Lord!
About six months into the pregnancy, my husband Fred and I went to Tennessee for Christmas. Now keep in mind, there was not as much as a half a strand of blonde left. MY-DAD-COULD-NOT-EVEN-LOOK-AT-ME. Granted, I did look a little like an Elvis Presley Weeble Wobble, but my own father!
The moment came right before church services on Christmas Eve. I had picked out a special outfit. Black was good. I was excited to wear all of the new shades of lipstick and eye shadow my mom had so painstakingly picked out to go with my natural hair color. She was working for Lancome at the time, and just saw it as a fun challenge! As long as I can remember, my dad and I would always look at each other right before going to church:"You look pretty," he'd say.
"Thanks Dad. You look nice."
But on this night, a cold, crisp snowy night in 1998 -- silence. Nothing. He couldn't look at me. Later that evening at my Aunt Debbie's house, as Dad and I hovered by the spinach dip and Pretzel Jello Salad (every pregnant girl's dream!), he put his arm around me and said in his low, tender voice, "Hey Mel, I know you're doing it for the baby. It's for the baby."
When my daughter Carly was born, as soon as I was able, Fred and I headed to Tennessee for a visit. We had just gotten there when my 65-year-old Aunt Buddy D (originally Barbara Dean), who will be blonde until she dies if she has anything to do with it, stopped by. This is the same Aunt who remarked during the O.J. trials, "Oh no, oh I don't think he did it, no, oh he's innocent...oh he's a pretty nigger." That's Aunt Buddy D. But the look of concern that she got on her face as she laid her eyes on Carly for the first time made my heart drop. What was she seeing that I hadn't? A rash? A mole? Uh...third nipple?
"Oh. Carly's a brunette. I couldn't tell from the pictures. Oh, her hair is dark, it is, yeah she's going to be a little brunette. She's going to be brown-headed."
"And she's going to be a beautiful brunette, Aunt Bud!"
"Oh Melanie, now come on, that's nothing a little 'ol bottle of bleach won't take care of!"
She just cracked herself up with her comment and, as she continued to cackle for what seemed like an eternity, I had a vision of myself sneaking into the viewing room at the funeral home when she dies and placing one of my nappy old wigs from my sketch days, preferably a dark brown one, on her head just for kicks. Then I imagined her raising up, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror behind me, and with a high pitch tone saying, "Oh no, oh that won't do, oh that's awful, oh that color is just about to make me sick to my stomach. I'd just as soon be dead and buried than to have this color of ha oh shit, I am dead. Lo' I said Lo' I tell you what's the truth."
Lo' is short for Lord and pronounced law, as not to take the Lord's name in vain. "Shit, God! They are just going to have to close this casket. Will somebody close this casket somebody?"
Carly's hair went from brown to red to blonde in her first year of life, and when she turned four, it turned dark again. Being married to a Jewish guy from Chicago, I thought for sure this reaction that my family had when she was a baby was just a Southern thing. But when Fred's mom saw the course nature had taken with Carly's hair, she just about lost her dang teeth! In the thickest Midwestern accent you can imagine, she exploded, "Oy Gutunu! Her hair got so dark, when did that happen?" As she wiped off the piece of noodle she had spit onto her blouse because her new set of false teeth didn't fit, she continued, "I mean the color is just sooo nothing."
Then I thought well maybe it's a Midwestern, Southern thing. But even one of my cool, hip Hollywood friends said in a monotone voice, "Wow. Carly's hair got dark. That's weird." And then! My friend Supriya's mom came in from India, and said, "Oh my God, Carly's hair got so dark, vhen did it happen?"
I wish I could tell you that I stood up to defend Carly from this shallow attitude coming from every direction, but I can't. I wanted her to stay blonde, too. I even resorted to a kid's highlighting product that didn't do crap. "Add a touch of natural looking highlights to your child's hair." Yeah right, my ass! I'm just as bad as my family. I'm worse! I'm like a pageant mom walking around looking shabby while my daughter is perfection. My husband will say, "I'm sorry honey, is your hair wet or is that grease?" What am I teaching Carly, anyway? That color of your skin doesn't matter, but the color of your hair does? "Carly, people come in all shapes and sizes, but honey sit still while I put this lemon juice in your hair, I don't want to get it in your eyes -- oh shoot, honey, I'm sorry. I know. It hurts. I'm sorry. Oh honeeey."
Just a few weeks ago I went for a walk in Palisades Park, and found myself mesmerized by this homeless man sitting on the ground eating someone's California Pizza Kitchen leftovers. His hair was neatly styled into curly Buffys. He was tan and good looking. Perhaps he once had his own Hollywood dreams. As I walked closer, I noticed that his hair was beautifully streaked from all of his days in the sun, and it was parted down the back of his head in a perfect straight line. He couldn't have done that himself, could he? Friend? Maybe a girlfriend? Boyfriend? As I watched him shaking his head as if to say, "No, no, no, no," all the while rocking back and forth, back and forth, staring out at the vast, wide open Pacific Ocean, I could only hope that he likes his hair that way, and that whoever did his Buffys for him is someone who loves him.
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