It was early afternoon and I was sitting in a 1950’s style diner, listening to my lunch companion (heretofore known as “my mom”) divulge the latest gossip from the local hair salon where we both get our hair cut on a regular basis (hers more regular than mine). Apparently, the new ownership had brought forth sweeping changes to salon policy, ousting many preexisting stylists toward other professional endeavors. This included the woman that normally cuts my hair and has been trying to get me to buy highlights from her for the past three years (give or take a few months). A slightly more paranoid and less medicated person might think that the woman was fleeing from them, specifically, rather than commission-based payment. But, I don’t, given the following two facts: 1. I get my hair cut a max of two times a year, opting for the less expensive and less stylish method of letting each bob grow out past my shoulders and past the point where the layers make much sense; and 2. I’ve been on a steady dosage of Fluoxetine for the past six months, and no longer endeavor to seek out paranoia-inducing conspiracies like this.
All this is for not, however, because I’m barely paying attention to the conversation. Instead, I am intently watching the girl just over my mom’s left shoulder. From my seated position to her seated position, I can tell she’s tall and a little bit lanky. Her almost white blonde hair is parted down the center and her skin has a similar pallor. For as many times as I’ve read about women with “translucent skin,” I never quite understood exactly what that meant. I used to picture literal see-through skin, exposing all manner of arteries, veins, and muscles, nothing ever like this. But this is what she looks like in the metaphorical sense. She’s a waif with extra large features, including a set of eyebrows bigger than the structure of her face. Her flying-saucer eyes betray a sense of unemotional sadness and boredom that comes from having too much money and perfectly plucked eyebrows.
I can’t exactly tell how old she is—though I never really could. The high school seniors I see on a regular basis always look too young for 18 years; the middle schoolers I see on a slightly less regular basis always look a too old to be 12. I worry that this is a similar situation and that I am slowly entering a Humbert Humbert k-hole, without the pedophilia. I must look like a creep, attempting to be covert in my gaze, but failing miserably. I note two definite adults with her and I assume them to be her parents. They look optimistic and goofy and I like they’re from out-of-town. They are suburban and she comes from Paris in the 1960‘s. Never before has there been a perceived family that looks so dissimilar.
Some time passes. I ask my mom questions to clarify and become further engaged in her conversation. I decide this fascination with the abnormally beautiful must be left to a David Foster Wallace novel, as I am being rather rude to the person I am sitting with. The salon is renovating, and staying open while the process unfolds. She says there are places on the walls where structures have been ripped out and the first coat of paint has been applied. She says the waiting area is getting moved from the center of the business, which is a relief because the previous set-up had an awkwardness to it not unlike a theatre in the round. She also says her current hairstylist is going to start renting her booth, rather than accepting the commission structure and depending on her select group of clients, meaning she will probably earn more money. She says that there are some stylists who seem to be doing this as a hobby, not bringing in consistent clients, and that she suspects they will not earn a regular taking. I don’t envy their desperation, because it’s not my desperation.
The next thing I’m fully aware of outside the conversation I’m embroiled in, is the plates of food finally delivered to the girl’s table. The people I suspect are her parents, look grateful and enthusiastic at the plates laid in front of them. She regards her mound of what I can only identify as mashed potatoes and some brown gravy and nondescript meat product with the trepidation of a baby deer, balancing on a boulder. My attention diverts. I wonder if she will actually eat it–if she’s ever eaten anything in her life–or if she will just sit there and regard it with the natural cruelty of a pretty girl who has been given everything.
She grasps for her knife and fork and positions them politely above her plate. The tines of her fork arched up toward the ceiling above her; her knife gripped in the other hand, where it will stay until she finishes her meal. She cuts at her food and lifts a sliver of what now looks a like a sliver of onion ring from a distance. She studies the tiny piece for an eternity, before lifting it up to her face, to that space in air just bellow her nose and sniffs at it cautiously before putting it in her mouth. She reminds me of Scout from the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, eating like one more bight on top of the whopping zero bights she’s already taken will send her into violent gastrointestinal episodes into perpetuity. She selects another bight and completes the same ritual, scrunching her nose to create the only lines on her plastic face.
I decide I hate her. I want to scream at her: “You’re in a fuckin’ diner, hon! The food isn’t supposed to be that great!” Who gets a dinner entree at a diner like this, anyway? There was a combination of the polite way in which she held her silverware and the fickle way she sniffed each bight that seemed so odious, that she secretly regarded herself a cut above the company, that one day, she would be the epitome of success and class and that everyone who was sitting in the diner around her was of the inferior class.
I sensed this because I knew this. Because this was me when I was her age (the premise being that she was at least 7 years my junior). I realize, now, that there is an eternal struggle between the superior and inferior complexes embedded in every young idealist that was ever told they were “special.” You feel superior to your company because you are well aware of what sets you apart: your extraordinary beauty, your extraordinary intelligence, your extraordinary gift for story-telling or singing or painting or rhetoric. On the flip-side, however, is the awareness that none of this really matters. Sure, you esteem your ability–especially if you are one in a million, but you are well-aware that your everyday experience does not differ from that of others. Everyone eats; everyone poops (to reference a well-known children’s book). And, in the end, everyone will die. So, you struggle with yourself. How ridiculous you find the banalities of everyday existence, but the superficial sensitivities of the extraordinary are equally ridiculous, and you know it. Because you watch The Big Bang Theory (doesn’t everyone?).
Further, I have to wonder what similar behavior would be like if that woman was a man. Maybe he would appear just as finicky and just as hate-able. Maybe I would think he looked just as stuck-up. Or at least I try to think I would. You know, to be equitable and to be the embodiment of feminist theory in slightly more reasonable, real-world application. Truth is, though, I had no reason to hate this woman. Yeah, her behavior kind of confounded me and, damn it if I’d ever seen something so abnormally good looking in real life.
If I was a thinkin’ woman, I would say that this could be a deep-seated desire that everyone who is good looking is automatically of odious character, because I’m not good looking. Maybe I would delve into my past and say, “I was rejected by the beautiful people in school, so they must all be victims of my generalizations!” and have this massive epiphany that my therapist would terminate our sessions over and I would no longer have to take a teeny-tiny little pill every night on a semi-regular basis.
But, then again, I think I wouldn’t want to bother. I figure, maybe the woman’s food smelled a little weird and she was trying to figure out where it was coming from. Maybe this all sounds a little “poor little rich girl.” Maybe I’m betraying an arrogance that I would rather not. Ah, well. Everyone has an ugly side…