Crazy hair – on poverty.

You know those people that you can look at and tell they are poor? We have several of those in the library. Some seem one month away from homelessness.

There’s a new lady who has started coming in who this describes. I’m going to call her Tommie. She only gets videos, and they are for herself and her husband. She is short and wears leftover clothes and has hair that is wild and stringy. Recently she held out her hands and showed me her French manicure. This was her Christmas present. She was really excited about it.

I was a bit conflicted. It was beautiful work. It was the one beautiful thing she had done for herself. She would have done better if she had gotten her hair treated so it didn’t look so wild. Her hair is a white person’s equivalent of an afro. It isn’t as thick or as tall, but it is very wavy. It looks like she hasn’t put conditioner in it in ever.

Of course, she doesn’t have to. There is nothing saying that people have to manage their hair, exactly the same as people don’t have to wear makeup or shave. But if they don’t do these things, they will get judged as different or as dirty. I understand this all too well. I don’t wear makeup or shave my legs, and I understand the social lines I’m crossing when I do it.

One of my coworkers thinks she and the friend who drives her to the library are both dirty. I don’t think they are. I’ve never noticed a smell coming from them. We have plenty of patrons who smell very badly. Sometimes the smell is best described as a blend of cheap cigarettes, the sweat that comes from lack of showering and a diet of convenience store foods, and ferrets. They too get only DVDs, and the cases come back reeking of this poisonous cocktail.

Then again there are people who are aware of how they smell and they try to cover it up with perfume that is very strong. As much as I dislike strong body odor, I prefer it to the perfume because it doesn’t set off my asthma.

Back to Tommie. I can only imagine what it was like for the tech who did her nails. That is literally hands-on work. Our counters are pretty deep, so we don’t have to touch anybody. We also generally don’t have to deal with them for long. Doing someone’s nails is another thing entirely. Maybe the tech doesn’t even think about this. She does this all day long. This is her normal. But for me to have to hold someone’s hands while working with them would be really strange.

Don’t get me wrong – Tommie is a nice person. Simple, but nice. I just can’t imagine spending a lot of time in close proximity with her.

It was also weird because getting your nails done is a very girly act, and there is nothing girly about Tommie. Sure, she is female. But she doesn’t seem to care about it at all. Maybe I’ll see her in a different light once winter is over and she stops wearing that immense grey puffy jacket. Maybe she will wear something pretty and colorful. I doubt it.

She reminds me a lot of a friend I had in high school. I’ve talked about her before. That friend who I was assigned to for her good, not mine. That friend who had no friends. Perhaps that is why I notice her, and why I’m curious/concerned about her.

I had suggested that she ease up on the constant diet of movies and she assured me that she soon was going to get books because she needed to study for her GED. I wasn’t surprised. This just seems to be such a cliché all around. If you want to stay poor, drop out of school and watch a lot of movies.