At the juncture of St. Bernard and St. Claude is a wedge-shaped building, decorated with a mural of accessories and their prices. Brushes, bows, lashes; posters of women taped against the windows. I push between the mannequins, loitering in their spandex, and through a gauntlet of costume jewelry. The bell catches on the door and a woman emerges from a stack of boxes. Can I help you? I hold out the end of my braid. Do you have this color?
She leads me up a shallow catwalk, sliding a ladder along a wall hung floor-to- ceiling with hair. Maybe H sixteen, maybe six thirteen. She pulls down a few and matches them against my scalp. If you have it, I’d like it longer. I hold one to my neck, flatten it over my chest. Long costs more. I tell her this one’s all right. She pulls down a swathe of hair indistinguishable from the one in my hand, except for the price. Next time you come, get this one. Virgin hair. Lasts a long time. She hands me my bag and smiles. You’re going to look like Barbie.
“Remy hair is the modern spelling of the word ‘remis’ which was derived from the French verb ‘remettre,’ meaning ‘put back.’ Its historical meaning is that all hair (human or animal) has been ‘put back’ to the original direction it grew in.”
Remy Yaky Human #613, reads the plastic sheath. The packaging releases a smell both chemical and animal. The internet tells me that “weaves and hair extensions originated in ‘the early days of ancient Egypt.’” A grid of photos appear with their captions:
100% Virgin Silky Straight Brazilian Human Hair Grade 7A Not Processed Not Chemically Altered Smooth Easily Styled Dyed or Colored Double Weft Shed Free Tangle Free Lasts Up To 1 Year with Proper Care Very Soft Very Natural. 100% Unprocessed Virgin Hair Fully Aligned No Chemical Process Strong Grade 6A Natural Color Can Be Dyed Bleached Curled Straightened Styled As You Like Double Weft Constructed Can Last About One Year with Good Care No Shedding No Tangle. 100% Brazilian Virgin Human Hair Body Wave Grade 5A Very Soft Healthy Thick No Tangle Minimum Shedding Soft Silky Shiny Can be Washed Permed Heat-Styled Dyed Double Machine Weft Last Six Months to Year Under Correct Condition of Care Never Mixed with Synthetic Hair or Animal Hair.
There are a lot of ways to get someone else’s hair into your hair: clip-ins, knots, braids, tracks; sew-ins, tape-ins, bond-and- seal; micro links, rings, loops, or beads. The only time I’d used any of them was years ago, in the tiny dressing room of my first club. Can you help me real quick? Scarlet had handed me a tube of noxious, gray glue. Just spread it on there and hold it until it sets up. I held onto the stray hair where it had dislodged from her scalp, my reflection behind hers in the mirror. You have to wait, just like with eyelashes.
I watch a couple how-to technique videos while Facebook-messaging Dallas. Did you get the hair already? Yeah. Get this next time. She sends me a link: Your Virgin Hair Destination. This is the good kind, we order it from Memphis. I melt a glue-stick with a flatiron, then snip a thumb-size piece of hair off its weft. I press the hair into the glue, rolling the end of the hair between my fingers, making a tip like the quill of a feather. An hour later my desk holds a tidy pile of tipped hair; the floor clumped with glue, hair snarls, shreds of weft. I sweep this into the dustpan and take it out to the yard, turning it into the compost, pushing my hand in to check the barrel’s heat. In the soil, I pick out a garment tag, a couple of bobby pins, a sequin.
“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation, rather than protracted and thoughtless labour.”
A pair of cats sit in the gated doorway, watching the street as I come up the steps. Dallas shoos them back and sits me down in a chair beside a folding table-tray, facing the panel TV. Another dancer sits in front of the coffee table, her package of blonde unfurled on a towel. I’m addicted to weave—she snips off a piece of hair from its weft—I used to do sew-ins but they tore up my real hair and now look how thin it is. She presses the hair into the glue, rolling the end of the hair between her fingers. Dallas stands behind me, my hair on the table-tray, threading the extensions against my scalp and closing them with her pliers.
In the parking lot on the edge of the Quarter, JD and I park our vans side-by-side before walking to our respective workplaces, four blocks apart. I toss my new mane around. I have someone else’s hair in my hair. That’s weird, isn’t it? He runs his hands through. It’s a costume. Costumes are fun.
You’re from Texas. I can tell because you’re polite. I slide a straw into the vodka-soda he bought me. I just saw a man take a crap in the middle of the street, he says down the neck of his beer. People come here to celebrate— sometimes it gets out of hand—I think they want it to get out of hand. It is midnight, a weekend, and the carpet is already covered with confetti. Today is his birthday and he needed to get away for a while.
He works on a wild-cattle ranch—deer, antelope, horses. I lean in. I imagine you like all that open space. His ranch is one of three, each a thousand acres large, owned by the same company that controls the longest total mileage of natural gas pipeline in America. There’s people all the time. They come to sportshoot, do their weddings… kids on field trips. The bar lights up for a moment: a waitress holds forth a liquor bottle with a sparkler flaming in the spout, for a group across the room. Happy Birthday. I know somewhere a little quieter we can go.
We have options. The VIP hostess lists the names of the bottles and their prices as we walk through each of the champagne rooms in turn. If you take care of me, I’ll take care of you, the waitress murmurs, I’ll let you go long. I follow the cowboy’s eyes as he looks up into the corner. Someone, a long time ago, rolled the drop-ceiling black. Above us is a missing tile, divulging a tangle of HVAC and armored-cable wire, a pail positioned to catch a leak. You oughta fix that.
In the dressing room, I comb through my tangles, the ends already fraying. I think about the rooms, each one a variation of its neighbors. One with a fake fire and a futon with faux-chinchilla cushions; a long couch and seven throw pillows printed with the Eiffel Tower; a lattice trailing plastic ivy stapled to the walls; a gray print of Audrey Hepburn in a big sun hat. I gesture at these details, a tour guide in an imagined landscape. A soft light beams from myself, dissolving the flaws in the backdrop: the temperamental AC; the shouts coming over the balcony; the hand-prints on the mirror; the damp-carpet smell. I try to be gentle, but a hair-extension pulls out into my brush.
When I come downstairs again, the cowboy is gone from his barstool. A man approaches me, pointing at the wall. Is that you? A poster of a blonde, her mouth wide, recumbent on a sofa. Yep, that’s me. He grabs at my hips as I walk him to the booth. I unclasp the front of my bra; he reaches and I swerve—Let me do the work—setting his hands beside him. You’re so natural. Don’t ever get them done. I turn from him and bend over, wishing I’d sprung for the Memphis stuff. How much would it cost, or how much waiting would it take, to have hair enough to cover me completely? I feel a touch on the back of my neck. Relax! I tug his hands out of my hair. Ugh, what is that… is that a wig?
I dump my bag onto the bed and hang my heels on their hook. A year ago, the apartment was empty: no bed, no desk, no shelves. Now, every surface is saturated in tools, materials, ephemera: rolls of camera film, tangled thread, seed packets, Mardi Gras beads, stray hair extensions, bolts of fabric, book stacks. Last spring, I’d sold enough champagne rooms to buy a van and fill it with the contents of my storage unit, things I barely remembered I had. It will take another year to sort through it all.
The sparrows pipe up from their nest in the gap between column and balcony. Their parents fly in and out, picking up twigs, aligning hair strands with their beaks. I drag the hose out onto the driveway and water the plants, running my hands over the seedlings. You’re doing a good job. They reach from their containers, plastic go-cups from the club. I peek in on the worms, churning in their bin, transposing the night’s soil, without the need for thought.
photos Lyn Archer