Nora Ephron: On Maintenance
Unwanted HairI'm sorry to report that I have a mustache. The truth is, I probably always had a mustache, but for years it was sort of dormant, or incipient, or threatening, in the way a cloudy sky threatens to rain. It was fair, downy, and inoffensive. On a few occasions in my younger years, it turned dark and stormy, and when it did, I dealt with it by going to the drugstore and buying a much too large jar of something called Jolen creme bleach. (I always tried to buy a small jar of Jolen, but no one stocks it, for the obvious reason that it costs less than the big jar. It is entirely possible that the Jolen company doesn't even make a small jar of the stuff.) This trip to the store was usually followed, almost immediately, by the discovery of several other barely used, perfectly good much too large jars of Jolen creme bleach, which turned out to have been right there all along, under the bathroom sink, where I had just looked for them—I swear I had. Jolen cream bleach turns the mustache on your upper lip to the exact color of Richard Gephardt's hair, which is better than its looking like Frida Kahlo's mustache, but it's still slightly hairier than you mean it to be.
But then, along came menopause. And with it, my mustache changed: It was no longer dormant, incipient, and threatening; it was now just plain there. Fortunately, at the time, I was going to a lovely Russian-born hairdresser named Nina on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who, as it turned out, specialized in something called threading, a fantastic and thrilling method of hair removal she had learned in Russia and that, as far as I can tell, is the only thing the Russians managed to outdo us at in 50 years of the Cold War. Threading involves thread—garden-variety sewing thread—a long strand of which is twisted and maneuvered in a sort of cat's cradle configuration so as to remove hair in a way that is quick and painful (although not, I should point out, as painful as, say, labor). The results last about a month.
For a long time, threading seemed like a wonderful and not particularly burdensome addition to my maintenance regimen. Nina did my hair twice a week, so it took only five additional minutes for her to thread my mustache—plus, of course, ten additional minutes to thread my eyebrows, not that I needed my eyebrows threaded, because my bangs are so long you can't even tell whether I have eyebrows, much less whether they need weeding. But as long as Nina was doing the mustache, it seemed to her (and, let's face it, to me) that she might as well do the eyebrows, too. Having your eyebrows threaded is much more painful and much more expensive (although not, I should point out, as painful as labor) and causes you to sneeze uncontrollably. But that's a small price to pay. In fact, the cost of threading itself is a small price to pay for the smooth and lovely result.
Unfortunately, though, about a year ago, I moved away from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side, taking my mustache with me but leaving behind Nina and her compelling geographical convenience. So now I must add the travel time (and cab fare) to the cost of threading.
On the other hand, where unwanted hair is concerned, I'm duty bound to report that I spend considerably less time having myself waxed than I used to, because (and you don't see a whole lot of this in those cheerful books on menopause) at a certain point you have less hair in all sorts of places you used to have quite a lot. When I was growing up, I had a friend who was a pioneer in waxing—she first had her legs waxed when she was 15, and this was in 1956, when waxing really was practically unknown. She assured me that if I didn't start getting my legs waxed—if I persisted in simply shaving like all the other commoners in the world—the hair would grow in faster and faster and faster and faster and eventually I would look like a bear. This turns out not to be true. You can shave your legs for many years and they don't really get a whole lot hairier than when you started. And then, at a certain age, they get less hairy. My guess is that by the time I'm 80, I will be able to handle any offending hair on my legs with two plucks of an eyebrow tweezer.
As for waxing what I like to call my bikini, it has become but a brief episode in what the fashion magazines call my beauty regimen, and owing to my ability to avoid wearing a bathing suit, I rarely need to do it anymore. (In the old days, a bikini wax was not just painful—it was as painful as labor. I dealt with the pain by using the breathing exercises I learned in Lamaze classes. I recommend them highly, although not for childbirth, for which they are virtually useless.) I understand that some young women have their pubic hair removed entirely, or shaped, like topiary, into triangles and hearts and the like. I am too old for this, thank God.
Speaking of the pain of labor, which I seem to be, I would like to interject a small and irrelevant note: Why do people always say you forget the pain of labor? I haven't forgotten the pain of labor. Labor hurt. It hurt a lot. The fact that I am not currently in pain and cannot simulate the pain of labor doesn't mean I don't remember it. I am currently not eating a wonderful piece of grilled chicken I once had in Asolo, Italy, in 1982, but I remember it well. It was delicious. I can tell you exactly what it tasted like, and except for the time when I returned to the restaurant six years later and ordered it again (and it turned out, amazingly, to be exactly as wonderful as I remembered), I have never tasted chicken that was crisper, tastier, or juicier. The song has ended, but the melody lingers on, and that goes for the pain of labor, only not in a good way.