By the time I was eight years old, I had for years already mastered my impersonation of a horse.
I was focused primarily on growing my hair out to resemble that of a horse’s tail I had ridden at summer camp called, “Rocky”. He had brown and white splotches and a light brown mane that swayed in the breeze and swatted at all the flies that hovered near his rump. During a magical two week stint at camp I also became obsessed with Rocky’s gait and used to spend hours emulating him clippity clopping down the hillside, haunches slowly shifting back and forth with a casual repose reserved specifically for middle-aged horses who had to endure seasons of hyperactive ADD Jewish children wearing themselves out on their backs day after every achingly long day.
By the time September rolled around and “Picture Day” was in my short game, I knew I had to get not only my horse swagger perfected (for the pose in the class picture) but also make sure my long, auburn, more or less straight hair was prepared for the big day. I already had my pink polo shirt picked out. It wasn’t an official “Polo” shirt, as a stretching tiger was in the location a horse should have been, but I didn’t care because I had had my pink shirt, Hush Puppy shoes, plaid socks, red striped shorts and blue bow all laid out a week in advance for the event. My parents, liked to order, wait, wait, my Mom liked to order the obscenely large portrait package that gave you seventy-five wallet sized photos as well as one giant ass photo that was the size of your neighbor’s lawnmower. They never framed these enormous images, so I’m not quite sure why they always opted for the Big-Mac-Supreme-My-Kid-Must-Be-Better-Than-The-Rest-Of-Those-Poor-Slobs- package. Every year I would slowly shuffle up to the front of the classroom when my name was called out, knowing that my envelope was going to be large enough to ship us all to Ethiopia, mortified at the image gluttony that was housed inside.
But this year, a week before the big day arrived, my Mom announced that we were going to get our hair cut at a salon she had driven by called, “The Yellow Balloon”. It was located on Ventura Boulevard in the heart of Studio City. Which on paper probably sounds glamorous, if the word, “studio” is glamorous to you. It’s relatively close to where there are indeed recording studios, movie studios, and janitorial studios. So it really is a melting pot of culture, art and cleanliness. Tuesday afternoon, two days before my anticipated photo time (not to be confused with an actual photo shoot which involves more than a stool and lightly mustached woman combing your hair with a community comb) our Mother picked us up promptly from school and carted us off to this balloon saloon. Upon entering I notice children and parents waiting in brightly colored chairs under a roof that resembled a circus big top. There were multicolored conical statues scattered around the salon, all of which had balloons floating upwards towards the ceiling. Hair dryers blew in every direction, drowning out the din of children’s muffled crys. Most of the kids looked on in a glaze where emotional fatigue met identity theft as they glanced forwards into the mirrors to adapt to the newly discovered identities staring back at them.
It was at this time, as I sat in my plush rainbow colored booster seat that I recall having had a casual conversation with my Auntie Arlee, only weeks before as I had returned home from summer camp in Colorado. We were spending the last few days of our summer vacation at her house in Denver, enjoying the rare delicacies that one could only find in the cupboards of the Galchinsky household: Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms and hand-made ballet tutus. (These were actually stored in the basement but in their closets nonetheless.) The snacks were a mystically foreign and rare treat we never saw the likes of at home as most snacks in our household ended in the word, “bran” or “oat” or “oatbran”. And the tutus, well, costumes in my house were made up of Macgyver -esque materials. You were more likely to find a dress built from coat hangers, duct tape and Mecuricome than anything that involved tulle and satin. But to my parents credit, the dresses they made us were both durable and fire retardant.
After having spent a solid hour brushing through my horsey mane, my Aunt casually suggested that I should consider trying a shorter haircut, that it might be time for me to do something different. Something cooler. In all fairness, my Auntie was really cool to me. She was an interior decorator and she had not only a ballet studio in her house for her teen-age daughter, but a fireman’s pole connecting the 2nd floor to the 1st. They also had chairs in the living room that spun around in all directions (later I would learn that these were extremely rare designer Eames chairs- a fact that eluded my 8-year-old self. They were just giant Sit-&-Spins to me) and massive asymmetrical, geometric windows that made their house look like a giant puzzle waiting to be put together. Her words, albeit subtle, had weight.
So when hairdresser Judy called me up to get my haircut, and what my Mom thought was going to be just a simple trim, turned into my spontaneous decision to go for the big bucks. My Mom watched in disbelief as I proudly blurted out to Judy, “Bangs! I want bangs! Something shorter I think!” Had only just one person advised me to give stylist Judy a tad more direction, it would have led my life’s path down an entirely new road. But my Mom applauded my sense of adventure (she of course was the most hair adventurous, as one week she would be sporting dreadlocks, the next green tips, the next, a Pat Benatar copy-cat cut) and into the hands of Judy I fell.
I don’t recall if my eyes were closed or if I just blocked out the initial clean sweep of destruction, but before I knew what happened, my waist length equine hair had been replaced with a mullet the likes of which had never, and will never be seen again by humans with eyes. Prior to puberty my hair was mostly wavy with a few baby curls up around the crown. What was unleashed in that timeless moment, was the love child of 1988’s Chuck Norris, Andre Agassi, and Michael Bolton on a bad hair day. A bad hair day. Think about that for a minute. I’ll give you more time. It hurts, I know. Wait, I take it all back. After Googling “mullet images”, it’s come to my attention that I looked like John Stamos as a little girl. And that’s that. With this sixth sense I had become Uncle Jesse’s doppelganger, I shed tears that could wash away a small town in Pennsylvania, say the size of Scranton, or Altoona.
I was devastated. What the hell was I thinking? My forehead was assaulted by long sausage waves that wrapped around me like a xenophobic snake. The top of my head was essentially a plush landing matt for birds and small helicopters. I cried so hard I threw myself into a full fledged asthma attack. My Mom didn’t know whether to medicate me or squarely punch Judy in between her scissors.
Moments later when my hysteria was just beginning to get it’s legs, and my Mom was flailing her arms around hoping it would somehow calm me down, although it looked more as if she were trying to fly away, a woman walked straight up to my Mom amidst the chaos. This woman had apparently been walking by and saw me in the chair through the giant front window of the salon. She calmly asked if I had an agent, to which my Mom laughed at her and replied, “No!” And who did she think she was interfering in what was clearly a very traumatic moment in her daughter’s childhood. The woman, let’s just call her Judy, because I’m lazy and I’m getting over a concussion and I don’t feel like coming up with another name, well, this Judy just replied, “Call me if you’d like to get her in commercials.”
And then she handed my Mom her card, turned and abruptly left, because come on, does anyone want to be in a kid’s hair salon, ever? Even the balloons wanted to fly away.
After a few days of inconsolable hysterics, I eventually calmed down enough to leave my bedroom for short stints at a time to eat, poop and dance to Duran Duran in the living room. But I was still pretty broken up about losing my horse hair and no amount of “Girls On Film” was going to take away that sadness.
My Mom did however remember that we were in fact, in Studio City, where not only janitors cleaned up nicely, but also, dreams did come true, so she did what any young Mom in the late 80’s would do when presented with the opportunity to exploit their child for money; she took it faster than an internet land grab.
After reading through a script in agent Judy’s office that was, to my recollection about puberty and my young pre-teen desire to wear a bra, I found myself signed to a talent agent. I had no idea what that meant, but I’d been signed! Hooray for Studio City! – The dreams capital of the San Fernando Valley. As we were walking out the door, Judy looked up from her desk piled high with head shots of children wearing entirely too much hairspray, and hollered out that while I had an interesting “vague ethnic look” I was terrible and needed acting class or I’d never get work. Ok, thank you agent Judy for the tough love and hard knocks.
My best friend’s father, we’ll call him “Bob” , was a pathological crazy person, and also a professional photographer. In between bouts of psychosis he managed to find time to take headshots of me. (*See essay, “Best Friends Hold Hands While Going Backwards On The Freeway”) While alternating between making me cry and fearing for my life, he managed to get a few decent photos of me flaunting my happy go-lucky grin, still naive to the pains of the world, smiling through my eyes and proudly sporting the mullet of a soldier before the PTSD has set in. A few days later, my final head shot in hand, I was ready to charm the pants off any casting director. And my hair cut assured them, if they didn’t cast me, I would most likely shoot them in the face.
Six months after initially getting signed to agent Judy with no auditions on deck, she finally called my Mom one afternoon in July and said I had an audition the following week for a national Toyota commercial. What had happened in those six months was miraculous. I had gotten a pair of pink leather sandals. (Still the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned) a pair of sunglasses shaped like hearts (think pre-hipster, post-hippy chic), a giant pink tee-shirt with an iron-on shaggy dog, and a perm. As in, permanent curls on the head of an 8 year-old using sulfur, Clorox and gunpowder. Or whatever it is they use to make your hair stay that way. Because what helps out a mullet more than a permanent curl set? Nothing. Nothing helps a mullet. The answer stops there. But far be it from my Mom from trying to help me get over the loss of my locks. “Let’s perm your hair honey and then you won’t cry any more.” So she did. And I looked like Richard Simmons. Or Gene Simmons. Or Gene Wilder. Take your pick. They all would have been upgrades. So off to my Toyota audition I went, pink sandals, bony knees, pink shirt, sunglasses and the hairdo of a gay, middle-aged, aerobicizing, rock-star.
Two waves at the camera, a toothy smile and hand shake-nice-to-meet-you-later and I had booked my first national commercial. To be clear, there is the art and craft of acting and then there is the dumb luck of some kid with a fancy mullet getting cast in a commercial about blowing up a car. You do the math as to which one of these categories I fell into.
Showing up on set which was out in the middle of the desert, not knowing what acting in a commercial meant, I was shuffled around from one area to another while they coiffed my hair, pinched my cheeks and told me to wait. I kept asking the other actors, “What are we supposed to do?” to which they all replied, “Don’t worry, they will tell us. Go have a snack at the catering table while you wait.”
Slamming my free Capri Sun’s down ravenously like Augustus Gloop let loose in a candy store, I thought to myself, “This acting thing is the best! I’m missing school, I’m wearing my favorite pink outfit and I hardly notice my mullet with this see-through green visor they have taped to my head!” Four fruit punch packets in and half-way into a diabetic sugar coma, they called me over to stand at the edge of a man-made crater emitting smoke. We were instructed to lean over the edge of the crater and happily wave at the destruction beneath us, hollering, “Goodbye!” I had no clue why we were doing this, but I was starting to itch from the side-effects of ingesting 78 teaspoons of sugar.
Next came my glucose induced paranoia and I began to obsessively worry I was doing it all wrong.
“Do we say goodbye now?” I asked my new brother.
“Not yet” he flatly responded.
“What about now?” Me scratching my arms, shifting from from one foot to another, I was beginning to look more like a meth addict with every passing minute.
“Not yet.” Big brother answered again, slightly annoyed.
I was officially becoming the annoying little sister. This was method acting. I was in it!
Finally my milky skinned, ginger on-camera mom gently grabbed my now fleshy raw arm and softly told me to wave on cue. I did as she said and hollered goodbye to the billows of smoke and the cavernous hole beneath us, silently wondering when I could grab my next Capri Sun.
Once the sugar buzz wore off, my Mom decided I’d been cut off from the juice. Out came the swaths of sunblock across my cheeks and nose. I was baking in the desert sun. We all were. This man-made family of red-headed actors were on the verge of looking like burnt gingerbread cookies so they ushered us into the trailers to wait out the hottest part of the day. What I learned in that holding period was that just because someone plays a family member doesn’t mean they love you.
“Hey I like your shoes.” I told my new little brother who was probably 6 or so.
“Shut up! You smell like farts!” He yelled back at me.
Ok, another tough love lesson in the business they call show. I learned I smelled like farts.
The afternoon wore on and eventually they were ready for us in the next shot. In this scene they had the whole family hovering around a fancy new mini-van talking to it like a sexy exchange student visiting for the summer. Except we all resembled the pervy dad in this scenario. We were instructed to stroke and fondle the interior and exterior of the car with fascination and non-consenting verve. Upon the director yelling, “Action!” we began this exploration of the new family member, piece by titillating, chrome-plated piece. Our family was introducing the mini-van to America and by god this mini-van was going to like it. “Helloooo!” we all cooed, and ooh’d and ahh’d as we walked around the van, touching and rubbing it excitedly. Gross you say? Sex sells people. Whoa! Whoa! Let’s re-place that comma. Sex sells, people. Ok, that’s better. Yes, news flash, we are selling sex in all commercials. Don’t be fooled. I’ve been in a fair amount of commercials since, and whether they are selling cheeseburgers (which they hand paint to look sexy), mobile phones (come on, who doesn’t want to hump the new iPhone?) or Health Insurance (a sexy body= a healthy body!) they are always trying to get you randy for their product. And this little new mini van was no exception.
After that came the final scene of the commercial, the one where they actually blew up the station wagon the family owned before the new sexy one arrived and changed their lives forever. They had the entire family, which consisted of two-red headed parents, a teen aged ginger boy, a younger ginger brother, a toddler ginger whose gender was a bit ambiguous, and me and my red mullet. What this family lacked in melanin it gained in horror film street cred. The entire family stood a hundred yards or so from the actual explosion. But sure enough, they detonated 300 tons of fireworks or whatever it is they use to blow up cars. (I Googled “how much dynamite does it take to make a car explode” and even though I didn’t click on any of the links, I realized that just the act of me typing in those words has probably put me on some watch list. So let’s just assume that my science of how many tons it took to blow up the car is an approximation. And if you read about me getting arrested for some explosion you, sacred reader, will know it was all a giant misunderstanding of me simply re-telling the story of a bad haircut.) Car parts went rocketing in every direction and as we watched it all flying haplessly through the air, they filmed us waving with our pervy, masochistic smiles, calling out, “Goodbye”! We were happy to see the destruction of the car. It meant the new exchange student/family vehicle would caress our bottoms soon.
Covered in dust and smite, we as a content Aryan family were finally ready to welcome the new mini-van into our lives. And with that, the last shot of the commercial showed us all driving off into the dusty sunset. (Ok now I just Googled how to spell the word, “aryan” and I’m sure that between me looking up, ‘car bomb’ and ‘aryan’, I’m definitely on somebody’s watch list.)
After a long day of fruit punch highs, car explosions and taming my wild mane, I felt happy with the way the adventure of filming a commercial had gone. I didn’t know if I’d done what they wanted, but I did know that wearing a visor was fun! And eating free snacks made me feel powerful! I thanked all the crew and told them it was nice to meet them, as per my best friend’s instructions. She was also an actress and by the age of 8 she had starred in no fewer than 20 commercials. So she knew how to be polite. Plus, if she didn’t shake people’s hands her father would slap her upside her little braided head and force her to eat cold liver and onions. (Again, I strongly encourage you to read the previously mentioned essay. Child abuse, laughter and taxes. It’s a riot!) My Mom was proud of me and said I did a great job. But I think she was just happy I was finally becoming friends with my mullet.
I didn’t think much more of the experience until a few weeks later when my Mom said that a check arrived for the commercial which was airing on television! What?! I was going to be on television?! Bring me more Capri sun, bitches! It was time to celebrate! As it turns out, the commercial ending up earning me somewhere in the realm of $15,000. Which, also as it turns out, would pay for almost a year of college, for in-state tuition, if you don’t have a car and eat only one meal a day. But hey, my parents put that one firmly in the ‘win’ column. Although, little did they know that I would soon develop a love for the sport of gymnastics. Which will plow through a college fund faster than a starving gymnast locked in a donut pantry. So if memory serves me correctly, that money ended up funding my gymnastics addiction which, funny enough, fed my food addiction. See how it all works out in the end? Luckily though, years later as a senior in high school, I was cast in another national ad campaign, this time for a weightloss program. So as it turned out, by the Transitive property, my mullet ended up paying for my college education. If you’re confused see the clear and concise chart below. (Which I learned how to do in college.)
Traumatic Mullet Hair-Do = Got Me Noticed By An Agent
Agent Got Me Commercial = Money For Gymnastics
Gymnastics = Body Issues And Terrible Eating Habits
Terrible Eating Habits = Getting Cast In A Weight Loss Commercial
Weight Loss Commercial = Paid For College (1 semester, 1 meal a day, no bus pass)
I woke up this morning and looked in the mirror to discover I have ‘new hair’ growing at the crown of my head. The curls are similar to those I had as a little girl back when I had that long horsey mane. I’ve secretly been wanting to cut my hair for some time now, to have bangs and try something new. The next time I’m at the salon, I have to remind myself, as I stand on the edge of that crater looking down into the unknown smoke below, that even after the tears, something great is inevitably going to happen.