Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A Cautionary Tail

I like to think of myself as a somewhat culturally aware citizen, so every so often I need to engage in an activity that stimulates me in a more intellectual capacity than say, watching a Real World/Road Rules marathon at a friend’s house. So to that end, I decided that it’s high time I made a trip the Chicago Historical Society. The Chicago Historical Society has been developing a new exhibit that will remain in the city for the next three years, and it finally opened to the public a month or so ago: Teen Chicago. According to the CHS website, the goal of this exhibit is “to study how teenagers affect Chicago’s history, and how growing up in Chicago affects the way people think, act, and feel.”

Now, aside from a few particularly provocative murals spray-painted on the El, I personally don’t know much about how teenagers have affected Chicago’s history. What I can tell you, however, is that from the moment I saw the huge advertising billboards on the city busses with Andy Warhol-esque pictures of teens sporting mullets and mohawks, I absolutely could not wait to see this exhibit. After much schedule rearranging with some friends of mine (people with jobs are very difficult to pin down), I eventually found a date that worked for all of us.

So finally, next week Sunday, my friends Chris, Cultural Attaché, and I (Note to self: do not allow friends to select their own pseudonyms anymore) will be packing our brown bag lunches and heading off on our field trip to see teen angst in all its glory. [Remember to check back next week for exciting details of our hilarious romp through time.]

Of course, my primary motivation for attending this exhibit is to perhaps help me understand my past, because in the immortal words of Carlos Santana, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And I cannot, under any circumstance, allow that to happen. I’m sure you all know the story, you’ve seen the ABC Afterschool Specials – it was 1984, I was young, a little rebellious maybe, seeking acceptance, and finding it with the wrong crowd. It seemed like everyone cool was doing it, and it was my body, right? So I did it. I got a tail. No, not the kind that might land me a job with a traveling carnival, billed as “Jenny the Amazing Monkey Girl,” but the hairdo kind of tail.

It seemed like a good idea at the time – Sheena Easton had one, the guys from Menudo had them, I think Ricky Schroeder might have even had one. But I was no Ricky Schroeder. It was disastrous, and I knew it from the moment I stepped out of the hairdresser. The breeze on my neck felt strangely unsettling, particularly when combined with the gentle flapping of my newly braided 4” long tail. One factor I hadn’t weighed into the tail equation was that I have naturally curly hair, and even the tightest of braids couldn’t stop the tail from curling up like a little corkscrew. I thought that maybe if I damaged my hair enough, it would lose the curl, so I bleached the tail white blonde. Now I was left with a platinum pig’s tail dangling from the back of my head. At that point, blending in with the crowd was no longer an option.

I think the tail (and the humiliation) lasted about six months before I could no longer stand it and had my mom cut it off. I would gladly post a picture of me with my tail here as a warning to those who might follow in my footsteps, if only one existed. It seems that my family and I had an unspoken agreement to never, ever allow photographic evidence of this hair disaster to exist. When people would ask why I was conspicuously absent from all family photos from summer 1984 to spring 1985, my parents would tell them that I was studying in Mexico that year.

The hairdo may have long grown out, but a mistake like that lingers on. It works its way deep into your follicles, somehow altering your DNA forever. I still live with the pain of that fateful decision every day. But sometimes in life, we’re given second chances, and I feel strongly that this Teen Chicago exhibit is my opportunity to reach out to youngsters who are struggling with the same types of decisions that I agonized over at their age. If I can use my own experience to help other teens get their lives back on track, and not go down that same road that I tumbled down for years, then it will all have been worth it.