It was my first year boarding at Kamehameha and I was ecstatic to be off Kauaʻi, away from the prying eyes and attention of family. If you grew up on a neighbor island back in the day, you may be able to relate when I say that being on Oʻahu made you think you could pretty much do anything. Kinda like Vegas, but whatever you did would eventually find its way back home by the end of the week via the coconut wireless.
It might’ve been the anonymity of living in a sea of unknowns or the fact that anything I ever wanted, or didn’t know I wanted, was conveniently available, but that along with my newfound freedom was exhilarating. I began to think that because I could wash my own clothes, I was probably capable of making decisions for myself too.
Despite my developing confidence from living “on my own”, I felt there was very little happening in my favor back then, in terms of appearances. My skin was very dark and I was still wearing braces and a headgear I put on when I slept. While classmates were developing, I still had the body of an 8 year old boy, stick skinny with absolutely no curves. Lady Puberty wasn’t entirely absent, however. She had begun hitting me repeatedly on the head with the ugly stick, because my hair, once black and stick straight, had soon become an uncontrollable wavy, frizzy, puffy mass.
One weekend, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I had exactly $20 to my name and being that I still had food from my last care package, I opted to use the money to deal with my hair. A very adult move, I thought. Back then, there was no such thing as Brazilian Blowouts or straight perms. If you look back to that time, it was all about bangs in the style of a “wave” and maybe a hint of Sun-In. I was tired of my hair having its way, so I boarded a bus that took me down to Kamehameha Shopping Center to take some drastic measures.
It wasnʻt long before I caught a whiff of the food being grilled at Kenny’s. A yakitori plate was calling my name, but I quickly snapped to. No deviating from the plan. Hair. Deal with the hair. I saw a hair salon in the distance. $12 haircuts. Perfect, my $20 would go a long way. After a tip, I could still hit up Kenny’s or TCBY. I popped in and was greeted by an older lady with stick straight hair in an asymmetrical cut. I was a bit envious she could pull of such a brave cut with her hair and said a little prayer that she would tame my thick rag mop. She showed me to her chair and the marquee above her work station read, “Sweet Pea”.
Sweet Pea did her consultation, and all I could hear myself say throughout was, “Just make it look better”. Her accent wasn’t thick and there were times when I just couldn’t understand, but I agreed anyway. My hair needed fixing, so I put all my faith in Sweet Pea, who’s real name I later found out was Melchora. How she got a stage name like “Sweet Pea” remains a mystery.
There was a lot of hair on the ground when she was done and when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t know what to say. It was a mullet. A puffy mullet. I tried to convince myself that it didn’t look so bad, but who was I kidding? It was bad. Really bad. It wasn’t long enough to pull back into a ponytail to let it grow out under the radar. The only length came from the “tails” at the nape of my neck and pulling that back into a ponytail wasn’t going to do a damned thing to make things look better. I was screwed. Thanks Melchora/Sweet Pea, I had asked you make it look better, not worse. Adding insult to injury, she tried to sell me some product. I politely declined, paid Sweet Pea/Melchora Queen of Mullets, tipped her a dollar, and high-tailed it out of there.
It never occurred to me to demand that she fix my hair. I was meek back then and the truth was, there was very little that could’ve been done to fix it. What was she going to do? Cut off the rat tails at the back? If I didn’t already, I’d have certainly looked like an 8 year old boy then.
Forget TCBY, I needed to figure something out and fast. I wandered into Longs Drugs and ended up in the hair accessories aisle. Banana clips were rising in popularity and I thought, this was how I was going to cope. The little change I got back for my haircut could buy me a monster can of Suave mousse and 2 banana clips. Sold. I made my way back to the bus terminal, my head hung in shame, never loosening my grip on the Longs plastic bag that would save me. I was bummed I didn’t have enough to buy some Cup O’ Noodles, but well, it was the price I needed to pay for thinking $12 would buy me a haircut that would relieve me of my pubescent coif woes.
In the weeks to follow, I rocked the mullet with copious amounts mousse to keep it all under control and when my hair was finally long enough, I pulled it all into a banana clip. I wore banana clips for a little less than 2 years and as time passed, I got rid of my braces and head gear, shed the banana clips, and finally, escaped the clutches of puberty.
The swan had emerged.