The Bowlcut

I feared the chipped, 1970s, spicy-mustard–colored bowl in our kitchen cabinet. It was used primarily for whisking eggs, making dough, and to measure out my haircut.

One day, I was walking through my kitchen, nagging my Nagymama for a Fudgesicle before dinner. After about five minutes of persistent whining, she reached in the freezer and handed me the frozen treat. I ripped the white waxed paper victoriously, but my bliss was cut short when I spotted the notorious bowl in the middle of the kitchen table. For a moment, I hoped that Nagymama was just going to make us some Hungarian crepes (Palacsinta) for dessert, but I dismissed the thought when I saw the rusty, green-handled scissors adjacent to the bowl.

I almost dropped my ice cream. This was a trick! They were getting ready to give me a haircut!

I looked for a hiding spot. I had tried everything in the past: hiding behind the shower curtain in the bathtub, standing in the back of my mom’s closet with her blue bathrobe draped over me and cowering behind cardboard boxes of toys under my bed. For whatever reason, they always found me.

This time, I tried the hamper in the living room closet. I knew when my mother’s friend Dimitri had arrived because I could smell his cheap aftershave, even with the closet door closed. She felt that since he was good at mowing our lawn, he would be a competent haircutter for her little girl.

I could hear muffled chit-chat a few feet from where I was standing. I was still sucking on the remnants of my ice cream when blinding light flooded in from the opened closet door. “Sorry for all dah mess,” my mother said, “I haven’t even had a chance to do dah laundry—” She opened the top flap of the large wicker hamper and had already dumped about five pounds of handkerchiefs and kitchen towels on my head before she saw me.

“Stephie! Vhy are you playink in dah closet? Silly girl.”

She lifted me out of the hamper with great ease.

“Say hallo to our friend, Dimitri!” I didn’t even have a chance to wave hello before she took the popsicle stick out of my hand, dragged me across the house, and seated me in our blue, flower-patterned kitchen chair.

“Ve’re gonna do some snip, snip, snippy today, yes?” Dimitri said, his breath reeking of vodka. I stared at his grey speckled five-o’clock shadow as he placed bowl on my head. It was cold, heavy, and still smelled like eggs. He hummed some semblance of a polka as he snip, snip, snippied away, his shaky hands occasionally slipping and putting a little “v” in my perfect ring of hair.

My mother and Nagymama provided the audio commentary the entire time.

“No, it’s crooked, vat are you doing, that side is shorter than the other, make sure you trim her bangs!”

Nagymama was always afraid that my bangs would pierce my eyes, so as always, she made sure to have him trim them about an inch too short. She then took two pink plastic, bow barrettes and pinned the extra hair to the side of my head.

Dimitri handed me an old black pocket mirror. “Lookit, you’re beautiful!”

I looked like I had a receding hairline at age seven.

The next morning, I went to kindergarten with my navy blue, pom-pomed ski cap pulled over my head. I tried to hide in the back of the group, but my teacher nabbed me.

“No hats in class, Stephanie!” she snapped.

“But I vant to, my head iz cold.”

I could hear a few of the boys snickering in the front row.

“No ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts,’ take that hat off right now!”

“I can’t I—“

Mrs. Vandershaff had her hands on her hips. She meant business.

All eyes were on me. I slowly pulled my hat off to reveal a slightly staticy version of my bad haircut. The entire class erupted with laughter.

“A-ha, we have a new BOY in class, ha ha ha!” said Patrick, the head bully.

It also didn’t help that my mom had made me wear a boyish sweater with the big red knit tie sewn to the bosom.

“What’s your name, NEW KID?” said Kelly, the girl with pig tails, a pig snout, and a barnyard attitude.

“I bet it’s STEPHEN!” Patrick roared.

Kids can be so cruel.

If I knew what I know now, I would have come up with a snappy kindergarden comeback and put the class to shame. I sometimes imagine running into Patrick in the grocery store and saying, “Oh, yeah? Well, I am rubber you are glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!” I’d pull out Kelly’s pig tails and shove her head in a plastic trough of gummy worms in the candy isle.

Somehow, I don’t think it would be as effective, fifteen years after the fact. And I might get arrested.

So, after all of that, Mrs. Vandershaff, seeing that I was visibly upset, put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “Well, I like your haircut.” Of course she did. She had the same exact haircut, minus the hideous pink barrettes. Lucky her.

I wonder what color her bowl is.

Update! This story was just featured in Hinge Magazine! Pick up your copy at the Well Fed Artist Gallery!

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Comments (4)

MichelleJuly 24th, 2007 at 11:33 pm

I love your stories! I grew up with a hungarian born father and an american born ( non-hugarian) mother. For many years as a child we lived with and then lived next door to my Hungarian grandparents so your stories hit home. My brother and my favorite thing was to say “woodenspoon” in hungarian cuz it sounded like a bad word in english. We would laugh for hours over that one. I wonder if your Nagymama started every sentence with the phrase “Back in the old country”. Everything from cooking to remedies stated with this saying. like this one “Back in the old country if you did not stand up straight we would tie your arms to a broom handle for two weeks”. Yes these crazy solutions for a slouching child always raise my mothers eyebrow.

American GoulashJuly 24th, 2007 at 11:40 pm

AH, Michelle, mah belle, you beat me to Friday’s story, “Weapon of Choice.” And it’s about that “you know what.” OH MY GOD, that’s so so so funny! Yes, Nagymama always threatened me with Ye Olde Wooden Spoon whenever I was “bad,” and I never really understood why she got such funny looks from the church ladies until recently! :P

“Back in the old country” is also a familiar totem. Mostly she says it when it comes to catching a cold. “Back in the old country, women didn’t dress like whores with their kidneys hanging out!” For whatever reason, grandma thinks that you catch cold when your “kidneys are exposed.” I usually like to keep my kidneys inside of my body, thank you!


minilurchAugust 11th, 2007 at 7:28 pm

I can’t stop watching your films they are so funny and sooo true. My favroite film is seahorse!

EvaSeptember 12th, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Seems most of these posts are from a few years ago, but I just found your site today. My parents were both immigrants who came to the US after WWII. My two brothers were born in Austria and Mom was pregnant with me when they arrived in the US. I could write about so many funny things that happened as a result of language differences….really enjoyed reading things on your site!

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