Sunday, March 29, 2009

Beauty Is My Business

My wife had to be at work early on Monday, so I stuck around to get Lilah off to school. When it was time to do something with her hair, Lilah handed me a brush and two elastics.

“Two elastics? Why two?”
“I want pigtails today!”
“Oh, hmmm…I’ve never done pigtails. They'd probably be all lopsided.”
“How about braids?”
“Yeah…I would have no idea how to do braids.”
“Why not?”
“I just never learned. I’ve never had enough hair to do anything like that.”
“Well, maybe you should get one of those big Barbie-head things so you can practice?”

I knew exactly what she was thinking. Two weeks before, I’d taken Lilah to Toys R Us to spend her Tooth Fairy profits, and we’d stumbled into an entire pallet of Barbie-head things. But these weren’t ordinary Barbie heads, they were Barbie Island Princess Rosella Karaoke Styling Heads, a hundred of them stacked in the aisle, all marked down to $19.99, and all pleading, “Try me! I sing!”

Lilah pressed the test button on one of the heads, and its jaw twitched up and down in an unnerving way, chirping, "Let’s get ready for the royal ball!” According to the box, Rosella could sing three songs from the Barbie Island Princess movie, and you could sing along using the included flower microphone.
Now, perhaps Mattel had been convinced that this groundbreaking karaoke feature would reignite the whole Styling Head market, but my guess is that most parents would rather set their own hair on fire than bring home a creepy robotic singing Barbie head with no volume control. (Which is to say that Rosella was clearly aimed at the grandparent market.)

I also had to wonder what the unlucky employees of Rosella's Chinese factory felt about her. What would an entire assembly line of these singing blond heads look like? And how much more disturbing would they seem if they all sang in some unintelligible foreign tongue?

Regardless, Lilah wanted one. Rosella was slightly out of her price range though, and for some reason, I could not be convinced to chip in. Instead, we took home the house-brand “Dream Dazzlers Stylin' School Stylin' Head,” which was smaller, cheaper, and far less likely to start chanting prophecies of doom.

After school on Monday, Lilah sat me down for a hair-doin' lesson on the Stylin' Head. I thought I did pretty well for a first-timer, but Lilah's main comment was that she would give me additional lessons this weekend, "when we have more time." I'll let you judge the results for yourself.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dentistry for Amateurs

Despite my numerous protests, my daughter Lilah went ahead and turned six last October.

Around the same time, she also discovered that one of her front teeth was loose, an equally disconcerting development that she never tired of flaunting.

“Daddy look!”
“Oh…wow. That’s, uh…wow.”
“See how much I can wiggle it?”
“Yeah, but let’s not play with it too much, okay? We don’t want it to come out before the new one is ready, right?”

Lilah had already lost two lower teeth, but I just didn’t feel prepared for the front ones to go. The way I saw it, their departure would be the first big step in remaking her adorable little-girl grin into something new, unknown, and far more likely to snarl at me when I asked her how her day was. She was already growing up way too fast…couldn’t we just keep the baby teeth a little longer?

That feeling proved fleeting though—Lilah’s tooth soon became so unhinged that it was actually unsettling to look at. She would be telling my wife and I about something that had happened at school, but I’d find myself transfixed by this errant fang, trying to imagine how it could possibly remain attached while sticking out at a 45° angle. The tooth drove Lilah crazy too, flip-flopping around uncomfortably at every meal. Clearly, the thing had to go.

So every morning at breakfast, we’d give the wonky tooth a once-over, and every morning, we’d reach the same conclusion: “Oh yeah—that thing is coming out today!”

But six weeks later, the tooth was still holding on, and evicting it became a full-fledged hobby for me and Lilah. We’d dedicate an hour to it on Saturday mornings, Lilah testing the tooth in the mirror while I egged her on: How far can you push it back? How much can you pull it forward? How much can you twist it? But despite our efforts, the tooth remained stubbornly attached, gradually acquiring a disturbing bluish cast that even Lilah’s classmates mentioned.

I will admit that it was tempting to reach in and yank the thing out myself, but something made me hesitate. I’d had a similarly maddening tooth when I was a kid, and my maternal grandmother had decided that she would be the one to remove it—her father had been a dentist after all, and she was still in possession of his tools. Retrieving some antique pliers from the collection, Gram reached into my mouth and, with one swift motion, yanked the tooth out of my head.

Or, that was the idea anyway. She’d actually extracted the tooth beside the wobbly one, but you know...close enough.

Strangely, this story only convinced Lilah that we needed some pliers—or at least help from her friend Shanna, the preschool classmate who had inadvertently removed Lilah’s very first tooth. During a momentary lull at circle time, Shanna had asked Lilah if she could try wiggling said tooth, and somehow ended up twisting it right out of Lilah’s jaw. This was very exciting to the rest of their class—apparently bloodshed was rare at circle time—but once order had been restored, there was much joking about Shanna’s bright future as a dentist.

Thankfully, neither the pliers nor Shanna’s help proved necessary. Lilah was at the mirror doing her dental calisthenics one morning when the tooth just popped free. Lilah spat the tiny thing into her hand and we both stared at it, shocked. It seemed impossibly small, hardly bigger than a tic-tac really. How could something so tiny have caused so much trouble?

A second later though, Lilah all smiles, charging downstairs and yelling to my wife, “It came out! It came out! Yaaaay!”

This relief lasted until the next morning, when we discovered that Lilah’s remaining front tooth had tipped itself into the vacant space, essentially leaving Lilah with one very crooked, very central tooth. Thankfully, this configuration didn’t last that long—the leaner popped out two weeks later, opening a spacious, lisp-inducing gap in the front of Lilah’s smile.

So here we are: change has come, and more is coming as the two new front teeth inch their way into view. I still can’t say that I’m happy about all of it, but I’m trying, since I have little choice in the matter. And I know that soon enough, those two lost baby teeth are going to look even smaller than they do now.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Japanese Fan Club?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the months following your 16th birthday are pretty much the ideal time to go on vacation with your parents.

In my case, it was a trip to San Francisco in 1986, which allowed me to share my special brand of adolescent moodiness—and nerdy fashion sense—with the entire Bay Area, from scenic Carmel-by-the-Sea to the rolling hills of Wine Country.

Or at least I think that’s where we went—I actually spent the whole trip with headphones clamped to my ears, ignoring one breathtaking Pacific vista after another, and insisting that Alcatraz was the only thing that interested me in Northern California.

(And to Mom & Dad, I would just like to say: bad. Thanks for not abandoning me on the side of Highway 1.)

For some reason, my parents declined to spend even three hours of their vacation inside a prison, so the closest I would get to Alcatraz was a cruise around San Francisco Bay. That’s okay though, because it was while we were waiting in line for this ferry that I experienced the most singularly magnificent moment of my life to that point: out of nowhere, five young Japanese women approached us and asked if they could have their pictures taken with me.

To my 16-year-old self, this was as awesome as it was confusing. I regarded any female attention as an intrinsic good, even as I accepted the following very real possibilities:

1.That they had only chosen me because I looked unusually ridiculous, even for an American.
2.That these “Japanese tourists” were actually UC Berkeley students who just enjoyed messing with gullible out-of-towners.

But as the girls giggled through their round-robin camera exchange, taking turns posing beside me, I definitely got the feeling that they'd mistaken me for a celebrity—I just couldn’t imagine who. And between the language barrier and my burgeoning social awkwardness, I wasn’t about to ruin the moment by asking.

And then it was over, and time to board our ferry. From our seats on the upper deck, I got one last glimpse of my new friends, still standing together on the pier as we motored away. I waved to them, and they waved back with an enthusiasm that made me smile, even if it was intended for someone else. (And to these mysterious women, I would just like to say: Thanks. And my parents thank you too—if not for your arrival, I'd still be sulking about Alcatraz.)

I’ve often wondered how long it took them to realize their mistake. At the time, the only celebrity I could think of who even vaguely approximated my age and coloring was Michael J. Fox. But although he was still playing teenagers, he was really nine years older than me, six inches shorter, and (one would think) far less likely to be traveling with his parents. I doubted that anyone could confuse us, even considering the well-documented challenges of identifying people from other ethnic groups wearing enormous Ray-Ban Wayfarers.
Michael J. Fox photo by Alan Light

Come to think of it though, I’d originally acquired those sunglasses in an effort to make myself look more like Huey Lewis—perhaps I’d been more successful than I’d realized? Sure, Mr. Lewis was a full twenty years older than me, but he and the News were based in the Bay Area, after all. Even more telling, they had contributed two hit songs to Michael J. Fox’s biggest movie, Back to the Future. Hmmm...

However, I suspect that the answer might actually be found via one of Mr. Fox’s smaller films, Teen Wolf, in which he had portrayed a basketball-playing teenage werewolf. Those who have seen Teen Wolf understand that the film simply demanded a sequel—Teen Wolf Too—for which the producers turned to Jason Bateman, who was younger and less famous, but who still kind-sorta looked like Fox...and a little like me too?
Jason Bateman photo by Alan Light

Did those women think I was Jason Bateman? Maybe. Although, I have no idea what kind of Japanese fan base Jason enjoyed circa 1986—or for that matter, if my friends from the pier were actually Japanese.

What I do know is that Bateman played a character named “Derek“ on the popular TV show Silver Spoons, which might just seem like an eerie coincidence until you consider the fact that, on Arrested Development, Bateman played the father of Superbad actor Michael Cera, whose current hairdo is clearly an homage to the Chia-shrub that I was rockin' in '86.
Michael Cera photo by eugene

Okay, so maybe it's a stretch to suggest that those women mistook me for Michael Cera, especially when you consider the fact that he wasn’t born until two years after I visited San Francisco. But still, I can’t help feeling like there’s a connection there somewhere...maybe via Doc Brown’s DeLorean? (Or perhaps I’ve just been watching too much Lost.)

So the mystery remains unsolved for the moment, but darn it, I know the truth is out there. If the Internet has any real value (and I’m still not convinced that it does), maybe one of those women will find this post, recognize herself in the pictures, and send me an e-mail explaining what the heck happened that day. That would be pretty cool.

More likely, I'll get an e-mail from some smart-ass teenage boy pretending to be one of the women from that day...but I probably deserve that.

Either way, I just hope that Michael Cera gives me a call when he finally decides to complete the Teen Wolf trilogy. How about Teen Wolf Three: Family Vacation? I have some totally bitchin' ideas for the script.