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Take My Word!

Language to Make Hair Stand on End

October 10, 1986|THOMAS H. MIDDLETON

Publishers sometimes send me their catalogues of new books to be issued during the coming season. Some time ago, I tore a particularly arresting page out of one of these catalogues, and that page has been gathering dust in one of my desk drawers. Every once in a while over the past months, I've looked at it and thought, "I've got to say something about that. Maybe someone can tell what it means."

The page is an announcement of the publication of a book called "High Performance Hair."

Up front, I must admit that the phrase "high performance" as an adjective makes my teeth tingle and my nose itch. I try to think of what "high performance" might mean. Surely those top guns who have the right stuff and perform in those breathtaking aerial extravaganzas way up in the whateversphere in jet fighters would qualify as high performers. Tight-rope walkers and trapeze artists, too.

Usually Associated With Cars

Obviously, that's not what is meant by the adjective "high performance" in a phrase like "high-performance hair." That adjectival use of "high performance" is usually associated with cars, I think. Most automobile ads irritate me, especially the ones that show hotshots swinging along a twisted, switchbacked highway in as close an approximation of the top-guns-with-the-right-stuff as you can get while earthbound. Accompanying that sort of image on the TV tube you usually hear a no-nonsense voice spewing nonsense about high-performance engines and high-performance maneuverability, and all I can think of is the twisted metal and torn bodies the nut who is driving all that high-performance equipment is going to be responsible for when some peasant like me in a low-performance heap tries in vain to get out of his way.

But back to "high-performance hair." Does that mean anything at all? The only image that comes to my mind is that of Little Orphan Annie, who, whenever she said, "YIKES!" in big black letters, would have her curly auburn locks suddenly stand over her head like a

mass of little corkscrews in what I suppose we could call a high performance. We could call it high for hair, anyway. All right, high for Little Orphan Annie's hair.

I didn't order a copy of "High Performance Hair." The fact is that I don't believe there is such a thing as high-performance hair, no matter what the phrase means. I have a very unorthodox view of hair in general. Call me un-American, if you will, but I believe that hair just grows from the roots, and, give or take an occasional dye, it hangs in there, getting washed, combed, perhaps ironed into or out of kinks or curls, maybe oiled or greased. By or for itself, it does nothing at all.

Greatest Suckers in World

I also believe that Americans are the greatest suckers in the world for products that are supposed to make hair do wonderful things. It would take a lot more than the opinion of a barber, for instance--or even a hairdresser, for goodness' sake--to convince me that any shampoo is going to put "life" into my hair--in fact, that it is better for my hair than ordinary bath soap--assuming that the hair is rinsed thoroughly to get rid of film. I'm not sure that Mark Twain, who was famous for his luxuriant, snowy locks, regularly washed his hair with yellow laundry soap, but I'm pretty sure that everyone I know is sure that he did. He just rinsed the soap film out afterward. That's one of those things everyone knows, but no one knows why he knows, and it's supposed to prove, as I'm pretty sure it almost does, that any shampoo that costs more than regular soap is a waste of money.

Anyway, it seems to me that if you want high performance hair, you should be as tall as you can be; you should blank out your eyes, Orphan-Annie style; and you should say, "YIKES!" and see what happens.

If your hair gives a high performance, call me, and I'll bring a crew around to make a movie of it.

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