Wednesday, May 14, 2003

My Poor Hairdryer

My poor hairdryer died yesterday morning. It was a rather dramatic death… There I was, styling away, and suddenly there was a loud pop, sparks whizzed from the dryer past my face, and then silence and the smell of burnt plastic and wiring. The power cable had apparently twisted itself as far as it could go, and suddenly snapped, breaking the copper wiring. Fortunately I didn’t have it too close to my face when it blew out. But I actually felt rather mournful when I realized it was gone. It wasn’t that it had been a particularly good hairdryer or anything — but that I’d had it for so long. I had been using it off and on for 14 years, and that’s pretty amazing when you think of it. I had bought it on my mom’s credit card when I was 20 and in college, and I remember thinking at the time that it was rather pricey (all of $15 at Service Merchandise!)

In the years since then, $15 has seemed like a minor expenditure. I can easily spend that in a restaurant or at the movies. I have bought curling irons, RevoStylers, flatirons, and various hair care products for about the same amount, used them a few times, and stuffed them in a basket under the sink. I’ve wasted $15 on more things than I care to remember. But that hairdryer… It has gone far and beyond in recouping what I initially paid for it. The value of that battered, smudged gadget was far greater than anything else in the bathroom.

And it has been with me through my twenties and into my thirties, through all my Seasons of Hair and pitiful efforts to fix it in a style that actually looked current and fashionable. I’ve used it with diffusers, round brushes, regular brushes, glitter gel, tinted gel, leave-in conditioner, mousse, you name it. And in the moment of its passing, it gained a historical import and a personality all its own. It had been with me when I still permed my hair, when I tried bangs, when I bobbed it short, when I gave up on hairdryers and it sat forlorn in the basket under the sink while I went au naturel for several years. A year ago I cropped my hair the shortest it’s been since my toddler years, and I picked up my old hairdryer and started using it again. For the first time in my whole life I was absolutely current with the flippy, razor-cut styles of the day.

So when it snapped on me, it felt like I’d actually lost a friend, and I put it down on the counter, patted it, and thanked it for so many years of hot air. I hummed Taps as I wrapped its cord around the handle and carried it to the trash. That Conair 1600 hairdryer had done good service, and now it was gone, and I would have to find another one. It seemed like I shouldn’t replace it so soon; to go right out to Target and buy another one would be disrespectful in the face of so many years of faithful service. Plus I knew that whatever I bought to replace it would not be as sturdy or long-lived, since "they really don’t make them like that anymore," whispers my inner Old Codger. For example, my 2-year-old VCR died a few months ago, while the one I bought after college is still going strong.

But I did go get another one, because, after all, it is just an appliance; just an inanimate object with no soul. There is no room in my life to hold onto a dead appliance just because I’ve had it for so many years and I have some nostalgia for what it has endured with me. Plus I am obsessive about making my hair look as good as I can manage, and I can’t do my current hairstyle without one. Vanity reasserts itself. The Revlon 1875 I purchased to replace it only cost about $20, but the thing seems cheap and lightweight and has this ion switch that supposedly cuts back on the frizzies. The Old Codger within rises up in protest, muttering "we didn’t have no Ion Switches on our hairdryers in my day… didn’t need no Ion Switches…"

But then I am cheered by the hopeful thought that, if this one lasts me 14 years too, I will surely be married by then, and possibly have some kids. It will be with me as my looks begin to fade and my hair continues to thin, and I only use it to keep up appearances, and dry my kids’ hair after their bath, until it dies in its own dramatic accident when one of my children attempts to use it to melt plastic. I won’t name it… I refuse to sink to that level of pitiful personification of a mere gadget… but over time it will become common and everyday and familiar as did its predecessor, and when it dies, I will mourn it too in a corner of my mind. Because sometimes your hairdryer is the only thing you can count on.