I’m growing increasingly weary of
these patterns that are unable to be
of any usefulness to me while they
become more and more fixed onto
the surface of my melancholy wall
where the slowly peeling layers of
plaster reveal remnants of hate and
detachment from a world where no
love remains and where solitude is
the only dimension where emotion
can blossom into a thing of beauty.
It must be traumatic
for such a little girl
to one day discover
that her nose is runny
that what has always
been dry and discreet
now oozes an aqueous
discharge of yuck that
was no doubt acquired
from one of the elfin
tykes who shared their
in a cute fit of giggles
spritz all over my two
year-old and her baby
sister who now spend
restless nights hacking
and snorting and waking
up in puddles of mucous
that they look at in sheer
dismay wondering where
the mess came from and
why their parents look so
utterly worn and woebegone.
My mother quit high school to go to what they called cosmetology school back in her day to become what they called a hairdresser in her day, or what my grandmother (in her day) called a beauty operator.
While mom never did become a hairstylist, she has, over the course of her nearly 70 years, worn just about every hair style that has ever been created, and to this day spends more time, money and effort on her hair than she has the time, money and effort to afford embellishing the filamentous biomaterial that grows from follicles beneath the skin on her head whose express purpose is providing thermal regulation and protection against the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
But then again she’s a woman, and that’s how women roll.
I have a collection of about thirty photos of my mother wearing a number of hairdos that were worn by young American women in the late 1950s and 60s, as well as ones that chronicle the evolution of women’s hairstyles straight through to the end of the 20th century and into the noughties and tens.
As a young woman in her late teens, my mother was the perfect candidate to sport a beehive, short in stature and thin, this hairstyle was the ideal way to accentuate my mother’s long, tapered neck and made her look taller than her mere five foot and a bit. I must have a dozen or more photos of mom (some with aunties Phyllis and Eileen and the late almost-aunty Sondra) wearing a variety of beehives in a number of colors, compositions and height, one more stunning than the last.
The pageboy my mother wore at sixteen was actually known as the pageboy “flip” where the bottom flipped outward as opposed to under. The few photos of mom with her pageboy reflect the happier, more innocent, less sophisticated times that the end of the 1950s represented before the United States was thrust into an era of conflict highlighted by the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis and Viet Nam.
I love the bouffant for its timeless sophistication, piled high with an overhang on the sides that was often curled upwards. Jacqueline Kennedy’s is perhaps the best recognized bouffant in history, but mom’s was a classic in its own right.
In the mid 1970s, more people in my family (men and women alike) sported perms than didn’t. I recall a family photo that hung in my grandparent’s house of my aunt Phyllis, uncle Art and their three children where all of them except their daughter had perms (twenty years later it was the same photo but with all the men in goatees!). My mother’s perms outlasted them all—and the 70s as well—as she maintained her love affair with curls well into the 1990s. There’s a great photo of her at the book signing event for my first collection of poetry back in 1994 where she’s sporting a great loose and large-curl perm accentuated by a pair of really large eye glasses that were popular back then. That’s the hairstyle I’ll probably always best remember my mother wearing as it made her look young, vibrant and just a tad mischievous. That young, playful look probably contributed to my mother being marched into the principal’s office one day as she tried to enter my high school’s main entrance for a parent-teacher meeting and insisted the reason she didn’t have a school ID was because she was a parent. The hall guard, the late Lillian Schwartz, wouldn’t have any of it and escorted mom to the office where the misunderstanding was quickly resolved.
For me, the 1970s rekindle memories of weekends in the Wisconsin Dells, bar mitzvahs (mine was in June of 1976), Kiddieland and my mother’s frosted hair. This look was popularized in the 70s and consisted of hair—usually cut short—streaked with blonde highlights. For some reason, when I think of frosted hair I think of 70s sitcoms and just about every T.V. mom that wore frosted hair back then.
Mom began wearing her hair shorter and shorter as the 90s came to a close. She’s experimented with many short styles since doing away with her mop top more than fifteen years ago, many of them excruciatingly short (in this son’s humble opinion) and colored with a spectrum of hues I’m not even sure exist in nature. For the past ten years, I have implored her to let her hair grow out and comb it—or gently gel it—back, in an easy, virtually wash and go affair, but she insists that every time she tries letting it grow out it reaches a point where she feels it looks unruly, thus prompting another visit to the chop shop.
I imagine like most women, my mother will spend the rest of her life trying to find that perfect look, spending hours in the stylist’s chair, beneath the colorist’s brush, under the dryer and in the bathroom mirror in a quest that most women never finish. But perhaps it’s there, in the mere act of seeking out beauty that a woman’s true grace and elegance comes to light, and by searching for that one look in a million that truly says who a woman really is, the unique, one-of-a-kind style is born, one that, at least in my mother’s case, lasts a lifetime.
It’s only my desire for a bit
of controlled disorder that can
easily be construed as what many
have considered to be compulsive;
but I don’t see what’s wrong with my
wanting the bed made, the rug straight or
the couch centered perfectly in the window;
and so what if my system of kitchen cupboard
management doesn’t make sense to others, I know
why the food goes here, the cleaning supplies there,
and the reason the cups are where they are is merely
a matter of practicality and what I consider common sense;
okay, so there are the little things, that the garbage bin has a back
and a front that apparently only I can distinguish; that both desk lamps
must be switched on so the bulbs burn out at the same time; that the black
remote control rest in front of the larger grey one for symmetry’s sake; and that
the cloth dinner napkins be folded just as I’ve been folding them since seeing it
done in the first copy of Martha Stewart Living magazine I ever saw back in 1992;
so call me compulsive, I’m not easily deterred by labels or other people’s opinions,
I don’t need anyone’s approval to ball my socks or fold them, to insist that my kitchen
and household appliances are the same brands; and that I throw away that extra bit
of butter I cut off because it doesn’t fit onto the butter dish though I know it’s wasteful;
So maybe I am a bit compulsive, maybe I do place as much importance on how my poems
look as on what they say, and perhaps making sure the mat inside the front door is even
with the one outside is a bit obsessive, but when I find balance and perfection in these
commonplace things, my world seems all the more anchored, bearable and satisfying.
I’ve seen the photographs
from that first day smiling
in the E.R. as if you had merely
scraped your knee or eaten too much
cotton candy at an amusement park;
but Mercurochrome or Pepto-Bismol
wouldn’t cure what was ailing you
and the photos kept coming, one
more disconcerting than the last;
the darkness that had fallen over
your room, the endless web of
tubes and wires and the dire and
desperate updates your father
posted on Facebook that while
expressing concern for his ailing
son never yielded to defeat and
remained hopeful and optimistic,
while demonstrating the untiring,
unrelenting and unconditional
love that a father has for his son;
I don’t know either of these men,
but their story has touched me and
given me an opportunity to observe
life at its most fragile and vulnerable
moment, one where lives hang in the
balance and the unknown is all that
exists between today and tomorrow,
life, death, solace and redemption.
We love to label
not caring about
what is beneath
the sticky paper
We enjoy naming
things and claiming
of the human condition
If it’s written in a book
than it must be true,
truer still if we see
ourselves on the pages
There are outbursts
and tantrums and
unbefitting young men
And there is radiance
exploding from the
long, thin fingertips of
an unassuming virtuoso
So much passion, confusion
and awkward adolescent angst;
turbulence, reticence and the
boiling malaise of innocent youth
You are not a little emperor
you are divine and lucent,
a contumacious soul trapped in
a world of other people’s ignorance.
While the world is still quiet and dark
My mind feeds on thoughts so placid
And lovely that even my longings and
Innermost sorrow seem to drift beyond
The reach of every disconcerting thing
Leaving me momentarily in a state of
Bliss that allows my senses to become
Renewed and for a fleeting instant I am
Reminded what it feels like to be alive.
I know you probably
can’t fathom how I
could possibly be
projects and two
small babies in
is that there is
nothing else that
I’d rather do than
play catch with you
out in the back garden
until nightfall envelops us.
I assume my share of the blame
for why things haven’t always
gone right in my life, but when
it comes time to make amends
and right the wrongs, it seems
that every force of nature finds
a way to treat me with disdain;
Now it’s a matter of waiting for
the winds of change to blow a
bit of good fortune my way and
accept the consequences as fate
deems fair to dole them out and
to search the depths of my soul
for the strength to face the storm.
I’ve never tried to hide or deny the fact that when I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1982, it was for one reason, and one reason only: to become a rock star. But when I first arrived in the City of Angels that June, just a week before my nineteenth birthday, my first priorities were to find a place to live and get a job. My first employer was a new-wavish clothing and accessories store in the Sherman Oaks Galleria called the Village Mews, whose British owner, John, was a towering man who I gathered had his fingers in more than one business pie and who was hardly around enough for me to enjoy his English accent.
It was at the Village Mews where I learned how the L.A. post-punk in-crowd dressed and was soon making regular trips down to Melrose Avenue, which back in the day was the Rodeo Drive of the punk rock, new wave and alternative lifestyle scene. My favorite store was a place called Flip, where they had a jeans counter at the back of the shop over which the dozens of styles of jeans they sold were stapled to a wood board. It was there at Flip that I began buying all the skinny-legged, colorful jeans and pastel sleeveless teeshirts that I wore as I developed my rock star persona.
Now that I had the clothes and an awesome pair of pointy, red suede Chelsea-style boots, all that was missing was a great new hair style. But there was a catch.
My tenure hawking clothes and accessories at the Village Mews was short lived as my great-aunt Edgie, who had been working at a swank women’s clothing boutique in The Valley, arranged for me to have an interview with the owner of The Shoe and Clothing Connections who was always looking for good salesmen.
I got the job selling high-end women’s shoes and while I did pretty well and enjoyed the work—especially and waiting on celebrities such as Meredith Baxter and Justine Bateman—I had to wear a shirt and tie on the sales floor and was required to keep my hair well groomed and my face clean shaven.
I started auditioning for bands and playing with a few remnant rebels of the punk rock era that was just coming to a end on the west coast. At a rehearsal one day for a band I was playing bass guitar in, the singer had a really cool, interesting haircut that reminded me of a mohawk but when he wore his hair down, it concealed the fact the the sides were nearly completely shaved. I asked him where he got his hair cut and he told me about this character called Atila who had a storefront barber shop in (of all places) Beverly Hills and who specialized in (of all things) head shaves and mohawks.
I went to see Atila on my day off and he set me up with what he called an “urban mohawk,” one that allowed me to keep most of the hair atop of my head that would, during “normal activity,” fall over and cover the sides which where shaven practically down to the scalp.
But what I remember most about Atila—over and above his extravagant, eccentric and erratic persona (and the fact that he charged twenty-five bucks for his services, a virtual fortune in 1982)—was his suggesting that I buy a plastic spray bottle and take it to the beach filling it with ocean water and spray it liberally over my face before bed each night to eradicate my unsightly acne. While I only had my hair cut by Atila five or six times, the advice he gave me about spraying ocean water on my zits I continued taking for years and with great success.
My urban mohawk only lasted about six months until I formed my first L.A. band where my look transformed from the post punk skinny jeans and wild hair to the more refined, new romantic look of early eighties new wave.
And he’s still at it. Today, Atila Sikora can be found styling hair at a well-known Hollywood salon, has been a local personality having recorded his music, and has made a name for himself over the years as an artist working in the fields of children’s art, comics, greeting cards and personalized invitations. But I’ll always remember him as the renegade barber who shaved my head and made my zits go away.
For someone who
as time goes by
and less in
to keep my
heart from being
broken over and over.
Part of me wants to leave things alone
let reality take its course, allow nature
the time she needs to disavow herself
of the mess that she’s made, the havoc
that she’s wreaked and the inexcusable
harm she has burned us with by seeing
to it that the life of this young man can
not be lived in harmony or without the
hardships that are so clearly avoidable;
I have proposed a plan of intervention,
one that in its most fundamental vision
sees the jaws of the vice loosening just
enough to give everyone in its grip the
space to wriggle out from between the
pressures of a life that is crying out in
need of being lived the way it wants to
rather than the way others want it and,
all the sadder still, expect to see it lived.
It was bound to happen
sooner or later,
they all do that…
then they stand,
taking the first steps
that always seem
to be the ones that
take them the farthest
away from us.
I wonder what you were trying to tell me
When you lunged ever so quickly forward
Unleashing your rage and fear into my leg
Leaving me standing there on the stairway
Confused, in shock, wondering if what had
Just occurred had really happened or if the
Pain that was beginning to resonate through
The back of my thigh was imaginary or not;
The tooth marks remain as does the swollen
Redness and the recollections of the pit bull
I wrestled to the ground after it jumped out
Of a first floor window onto a car then in an
Instant ran towards me grabbing my dog by
The neck with the determined intention of
Inducing pain, suffering and ultimately the
Death and demise of my faithful companion;
That dog of mine has since passed on, as did
His companion some four years earlier, which
Leaves me now with a small, homely Shih Tzu
With an underbite who I adopted from a family
Who could no longer care for him and who I
Have only grown to love conditionally and will
Be the last pet to ever share my home, life and
The deep affection I have squandered on dogs.
Now I know why you weep
we have so much more in
common than I could
have ever imagined
your branches are
as bare as my
You used to be no friend of mine
someone I feared and loathed,
would do anything to avoid;
that trip to Albacete all
those summers ago
my escape to the
seclusion of the
only by lizards, wild
boar and the sound of
the creek rushing below
the old mill house where I
would sleep beneath a wooden
cross enveloped in a deafening silence
that drew me in and towards the brink of
madness; but now, all these years later, I seek
you out amidst the din of crying babes, ticking
clocks and T.V cartoons whose cackles and laugh
tracks leave me desperately searching for the silence
I once found intolerable; today I take little pleasure
in conversation, and the joy that music once gave
me is waning to the point where there are only
two albums on my iPod that I play repeatedly
day in and day out providing me with all the
inspiration I require to be alive, free, and
totally at peace with my inner silence.
There are some dreams
that wake me up at night
and keep me up lying in my bed
playing the scenes over and over in my mind’s eye
making me wonder if I couldn’t live those dreams for real
and if I could, would I be able to wake up once destiny revealed its face.