Excerpts from Puberty Part 1

My parents were shy people, so they paid the neighbors to tell me about puberty.  Over E&J Brandy and lemon water and the chirping of frogs out in the back screen porch of our half-finished, homemade, modest house, the German cabin neighbors Fritz and Lou Weigscheider told me about body odor and that’s it.  I was ten years old.  All that came from that talk was that I started to bike to the bait shop more, so I could buy deodorant and not just ice cream and worms like usual.

Deodorant was one of the products featured in the bait shop’s convenience section.  All the convenience products there, like instant mac and cheese, magazines, and deodorant were expired—probably purchased in clearance from a bargain bin store or a nicer bait shop somewhere up in Duluth or Superior.

Voyager Bait Shop and Superette, which was the closest purchasing point for anything, was four miles away, an 8-mile bike ride round trip. No other businesses were along the route.  I’d usually pass deer instead of cars.  I’d also pass by a mysterious house up on a hill just after the Green Lake Public Access that was some sort of monks’ retreat, but I never saw any monks and luckily so: They would have scared me.  I knew monks had something to do with religion and I always wondered where they went to church, because there were no churches around.  At least, I had never been to one.  I thought Jesus lived on a star—a conclusion I came to after paging through an illustrated children’s bible I found in the basement and from the yearly television broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

It was just past this monks’ retreat where I’d decide if I should pull over at the Sand Lake boat landing to swim now or swim on my way back in order to cool down.  If I swam on the outbound leg of the trip, my cut-off corduroys would still be dripping wet when I entered the bait shop, so I usually waited.

 

Half of my bike route was gravel or sand, making the trek extremely labor intensive.  Had I made the movie 8 Mile before Marshall Mathers snagged that title, people would know my story instead of Eminem’s— a story of a little girl panting on a light blue, hand me down, banana seat bicycle her dad taught her to ride by holding a sweet-smelling, hand-rolled cigarette in one hand and using the other hand to push his girl quickly across the forever grass-seeded yard yelling, “Pedal” as she balanced.  The little girl only fell once before she nailed it, and now, a couple years later, similar to Eminem, she was covering some pretty rough terrain perpetually biking for deodorant.  My need for deodorant increased ten-fold because the physical exertion of the journey made me sweat such a healthy amount.  Add to that my discovery that it took twice as much of the expired Arid Extra Dry (a truly redundant name and waste of ink) to equal the protection of fresh deodorant, so with all the biking and the diluted product quality, I was buying deodorant all the time.

Fritz Weigscheider was a war hero. Even after WWII, he continued heroic service, installing the first phone lines and radio towers in Peru during which he had survived a plane crash in the Amazon forest.  He and his troupe faced starvation and malaria, climbing through vegetation, insects, and poisonous snakes for six weeks until they came to a village where someone could rescue them.  And this is the man whom my mother was audacious enough to delegate with the job of giving me The Talk.  The only thing my mother did herself to prepare me for puberty was to perm my hair on a very frequent basis between the ages of ten and fifteen.  One Saturday every month, with the help of my sister and no formal beauty parlor training between the two of them, she would give me a novice perm in the kitchen.

My mother, Jan, went to garage sales and bought other peoples’ left over and expired Olgilvie home permanent kits and hoarded the perm solution bottles in the dark musty basement like she was aging cheese or wine.  I’d spot her grasping the stairway hand rail and using exaggerated caution to make her way down to the basement with a flashlight, and I’d know it was perm day. “Oh no. It’s happening,” I thought, followed by my mother’s voice yelling up to my sister from the basement:  “Kari!  Get the rods!”  (It sounds like “rads” when they say it.)

My sister often yelled back, “Wull, what about the baby blue ones, Ma?”

Any other rod but the baby blue rods.  They were the skinniest rods and the tightest curl a person could execute.  Mom and Kari made me sit in a an old, yellow high chair with cracked vinyl upholstery held together with duct tape, and they’d wind the tiny roads rods ever so tightly into my tweenage hair.  They succeeded in and enjoyed rolling the rods so so tightly because they hated men, and they would take all their man hate out on my innocent head of hair.  Each chunk of hair had to be wrapped with a nearly translucent small piece of tissue paper—a wrapping paper, to use the correct jargon.  Mom, who had to constantly reposition her line of vision through her trifocal lenses, struggled to separate the thin, rectangular wrapping papers from the rest of the stack.  This task made the same sound as when I tried to separate and turn the pages of the bible I had found.  The musty papers clinging together made the perming process take even longer, but when my beauty team got the papers apart and tucked in around a wad of hair, they could then wind that chunk of hair around a narrow, cylindrical rod—tightly, so the tiny teeth of the rod could still grab your scalp even through the paper and the hair.  They repeated this about one hundred more times, really focusing on making a tight, neat cylinder, like they were rolling a hundred difficult marijuana joints they were too repressed to smoke themselves.  The tension of the rods in my hair made my head and brain ache.

 

Then my mother would inaccurately slosh me up with the garage sale perm solution stored in unmarked bottles.  Unlike deodorant, perm solution gets stronger when it’s expired.  It has a synthetic odor that makes your eyes water and reminds me of the smell inside the plastics factory my other sister Katie worked at—that odor if it were mixed with Buck Must or whatever that deer piss stuff is the hunters use to attract male deer.  After a perm, by the way, you can’t wash your hair for three or four days so it’ll take.  The victim walks around smelling like fresh plastic and old piss for at least that long—unless you got a fancier perm at a salon that didn’t stink so bad.  The yard sale perm solutions were aged and potent.

Once every month, this perm solution would run down onto the gentle, gentle skin of my twelve-year-old face.  I would cry from all the acid, and also from emotions.   But Mom and Kari said, “No it’s just the acid.  You’re ok. “

When the curls came out hours later, Jan used her gunked-up curling iron to make corrections. “Well, at least we got some body now, so we can do something with it.”

“It” meaning the tight perm in my hair that truthfully had excessive body already before the curling iron.  After the curling iron, she’d plug in a dangerous electrical brush and make my hair even bigger.  Finally, she’d spray it.

She’d spray it, not just with regular Aqua Net hair spray, but antique Aqua Net she got from her German mother, probably a watered down type of genocide spray the Nazi’s used.  It worked.  I had the bouffant of a 1950’s chain-smoking divorcé.

And that’s how I went to 8th grade.

Published in: on January 20, 2017 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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