Frank’s Hairspray

I was born in August 1979, so all but the first four months of my first decade on earth were spent in the 1980s. Consequently, I have nostalgic feelings for hairspray. The same goes for the Smurfs and anti-Soviet sentiment. 

I recall two notable encounters with the latter attitude during my prepubescent years. When I was in first grade, someone told me that people in Russia weren’t allowed to go to church, which I found utterly mystifying because up until then I wasn’t aware that not going to church was an option. Lucky commie bastards. 

Then, when I later saw Rocky IV on VHS at a sleepover, I got what I assumed was another authentic glimpse into the Soviet soul when Dolph Lundgren’s character, Ivan Drago, kills American boxer Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in the ring. “If he dies, he dies,” says Drago in a guttural monotone, chilling my prepubescent bones to the marrow. Godless commie bastard.

As those last ice cubes of the Cold War were melting in our New Cokes, the decade’s style trends for women and rock stars favored exaggerated silhouettes involving shoulder pads and big hair. The teased-out ‘dos were held in place by gallons of hairspray, expelled from aerosol canisters in noxious clouds with a sickly sweet aroma reminiscent of insect repellent. 

I actually kind of like the smell, perhaps because I associate it with the mirrored vanities of the women I grew up among. That said, I do not savor another of the era’s hair-based odors—that of wet perm, which smelled like a skunk dipped in gasoline. 

To the touch, a hairsprayed head feels similar to spun sugar: sticky and stiff yet delicate. You were never supposed to run your fingers through a finished hairstyle, though. In coiffures, it was the Age of Immobile Fright Wigs, when every strand on a woman’s head could—nay, must—defy gravity thanks to the magic of ozone-depleting chemicals. 

Except for a few bold experiments, I never misted hairspray onto my own head, which sported the same, side-parted Dan Quayle–ish look throughout the ‘80s—and, with only minor variations, into the present.

My husband, Frank, still uses hairspray on occasion. His preferred brand is TRESemmé, a name I can’t see without singing the line’s old jingle that went, “TRESemmé, TRESemmé, ooh la la!”

Frank has curly hair, and when he wants to minimize that feature, hairspray is one of his tools. Personally, I like when he keeps things natural, but it’s not my decision to make. Unlike the hairspray can itself, I do not claim to exert Extra Firm Control over anyone. 

The packaging also asserts that it will leave hair with a “touchable feel.” That’s like describing something as a “seeable sight” or “hearable sound,” but I think the company is trying to say it has solved the sticky-stiff, spun-sugar problem bedeviling the hairsprays of the past. 

Not that, as I mentioned, hair with an untouchable feel was considered a major drawback in the ‘80s. But then, that was a less touchy-feely time, what with all the greed-is-good capitalism and heartlessness in response to the AIDS, homelessness, and crack epidemics. 

Come to think of it, I don’t know why I was so shocked when Ivan Drago said, “If he dies, he dies.” After all, indifference to death was the U.S. government’s official policy. 

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