OK, I have to go," said Isabel, looking at her watch. She retied her army boots and scanned the crowded corner of Polk and Sutter for a bus, blinking in the late afternoon sun. "Why did I bother voting for Willie Brown? Muni has never been worse."
"What's the rush?" I asked. "I thought we were going to hang out and have a beer, catch some groovy rays." Isabel had just seen "Austin Powers" and her newfound vernacular had started to grow on me. "Come on, baby. My treat." I started to pull her down the street.
"No, no, really I can't," she said. "I have a waxing appointment at 5 o'clock. Sofia will kill me if I'm late. I'll never be able to get in to see her again. She says I'm becoming too dependent on her anyway."
"Oh, that's right, your Nazi cosmetologist," I said. I had accompanied Isabel on her first trip to be de-haired, and it wasn't something I wanted to repeat. Isabel had sat there, mute and white-faced, while Sofia had listed all the places on her body that she was going to apply her painful hot wax magic. Isabel is a bad-tempered, hairy sous-chef of Mediterranean descent, and I've seen her on occasion throw a few sauté pans in the direction of errant cooks and waiters. But at Sofia's House of Wax, she'd been positively cowed.
"Did I tell you I had a nightmare the other night, involving Sofia?" I asked. "I can't remember the details, but there were shiny black boots. German shepherds were roaming around too, and some type of barbed wire was involved. I woke up screaming."
"Oh, shut up," said Isabel, looking annoyed. "If you were hairy like me, you'd be doing the same thing. You Northern European descenters are always so damn smug."
"Why do you get all the hair removed? Because of your boyfriend?"
"No," Isabel said, sneering. "He doesn't care. He just hates stubble. But I have yet to be with a guy who tells me they like lots of hair on women."
"Believe me, I am no fan of hair myself," I said, thinking this was probably culturally induced, but at this point it made no difference. "You think because I'm fair, I'm not hairy. That's not the case. I think some of your ancestors must have raped some of my ancestors once upon a time. I can show you the evidence." I lifted my shirt and pointed to my belly button. "See? It's time to see the wax lady for me too. But not Sofia."
I wonder what it is about women and hair that gets everybody nervous. Lots of hair on the head -- good. Lots of hair on the body -- bad. Waxing, shaving, depilatories, electrolysis ... all so that we don't cross over into that hazy land of the masculine.
I understand Isabel's fear of her body hair perfectly. I myself have gone to great lengths and expense to make sure my underarms, legs, bikini line and the backs of my thighs are all smooth and well, babylike. All my women friends take some sort of stand on body hair, and all have differing means and methods of deforestation. When my checkbook can accommodate it, I get myself waxed too, and often. It's true that the pain becomes somewhat addictive.
I thought about the women I'd seen at Mitchell Brothers' O'Farrell Theatre one time, most of them labially pierced and completely devoid of pubic hair. How did they do it? No ingrown hairs, no stubble, nothing. More to the point, why did they do it? Aesthetics aside, if all the women at the O'Farrell Theatre had this in common, they must be on to some prevalent male fantasy having to do with sexual attraction and prepubescent girls.
I turned to Isabel. "Do you get rid of all of your hair? I mean, all of it?"
"What do you mean? My underarms? Princess Diana has her underarms waxed. Madonna reportedly spends $600 a month on waxing. It's not so very weird ..."
"No, no," I said. "I mean your nether regions. Just curious."
Isabel looked at me critically. "You are really a very strange person. For the record, yes, I have the mound done. Not, you know, way down there. I think having everything taken off is just plain weird. I mean, for God's sake, I'm still a woman with hormones." She spotted a cab and waved frantically. "Sofia said she does lots of Playboy women," she continued. "And they get everything done, even anuses."
With that parting shot, she hopped into the cab and leaned out the window. "Don't worry!" she yelled. "I brought my fifth of Stoli to get me through this! You know what they say: There's no worse pain other than childbirth."
The cab pulled away into the stream of traffic as she called to me, "It's wonderful being a woman!"