A light turned on in the dashboard of my car. It looked like an exclamation mark in parentheses. I don’t know what a parenthetical exclamations mean on a dashboard, but I do know that such a light is my car’s subtle way of clearing of her throat.
Against my nature, I chose to take the matter seriously and got some help at the local Firestone. The guy checked the pressure in my tires as I waited.
He said, “Nice hair.”
Now, I’m not one to turn down a compliment, and many a conversation has happened around the topic of my hair. In my sophomore year of college, in a large lecture hall with several hundred students and all of us studying biology, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked back as the person behind me tossed a note over my shoulder and into my lap.
The glee of passing notes in class may be lost on all generations to come, as we can now so easily text one another the captions to lectures or even the subtext to dinner conversation.
I unfolded it to find this message: “Is your hair naturally curly?”
I wrote underneath, “Yes,” and passed it back over my shoulder.
A few minutes later, it came back to me in the boomerang way notes-in-class do. This time I opened it to read: “I hate you.”
An anonymous, straight-haired girl sitting a few rows behind me had had enough of the injustice. I get it. I’ve long admired the straight, shiny sheen of what I called “cheerleader hair.” We want what we don’t have.
Anyway, this tire guy said, “Nice hair.”
I said, “Well, thank you.”
And only then I realized he was talking about the pressure in my tires. He had actually said, “Nice air.”
And I had thanked him.
(Dear Tricia: Not everything is about you.)