One of my favorite parts of the holidays, for years, was David Letterman’s Christmas shows. First, he’d have the divine Darlene Love come and sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” with a gazillion backup singers and looking younger every year. And then the late great comedian/actor Jay Thomas would come on and tell the same story about the Lone Ranger saving the day during a weed-fueled road rage incident and then knock a meatball off the top of a Christmas tree with a football. As one does.
These shows were always a tradition with my sister Lynne and I, watching it together or over the phone whenever we could. Now that it’s over, I’ve decided to institute my own holiday tradition of storytelling, spectacle and weirdness, also involving my sister. It’s the story of how master magician David Copperfield ruined my sister’s exquisite holiday hair. It’s not Darlene Love or the Lone Ranger or even a meatball. But it’s hilarious.
It was Thanksgiving 2003, and I had been living in West Palm Beach for about a year writing for the Palm Beach Post. I was 32, very single, and getting paid to write about going to movies, live performances and bars, while living on the water. This meant that many, many people I liked and a few jokers with a lot of nerve asked to come visit my tropical shoebox of a luxury apartment that I was renting for way cheap, because I’d been grandfathered into an introductory rate before they went condo. I knew that the management was waiting out my lease so they could sell said shoebox for a ridiculous price and kick my cute party-hopping self out on my keister. That would eventually happen several months later, but for the moment, it was gonna be Single Girl Disco Thanksgiving with Lynne and my college roommate and dear dear friend Sonali.
We didn’t have any particularly wild plans other than going dancing, maybe, and walking on the Palm Beach (we came across some PETA protestors screaming at the Neiman Marcus store “Neiman Carcass, No More Fur!” until they realized the store was closed that day) Our biggest event, the day before Thanksgiving, was to go see David Copperfield, who was performing at the Kravis Center downtown. I was reviewing it, and had a plus one, but since there were three of us, I think we all split the third ticket. I don’t recall anybody being a particularly avid magic or Copperfield fan, but it was an excuse to be cute for almost free, and we all liked a flourish.
To prepare, Lynne decided that she was going to get her hair blown out. Both she and I had been wearing our hair natural for about three years, meaning that we no longer chemically straightened it because we were sick of causing damage to adhere to ridiculous and racist beauty standards. Nobody needs that. Also, we were delighted to find that we loved our hair the way it grew out of our heads, because it’s so versatile, meaning it wasn’t hard to make an occasional temporary change. Again, flourish!
Lynne spent hours and lots of money having her hair blown out, an arduous process involving a blow dryer, a stylist with a strong wrist and having to hold your neck straight and tell yourself it was all gonna be worth it when you were cute later. I remember it being at a JC Penney, but she swears it was somewhere else. Memory is weird and it’s almost 20 years ago, and also it’s her money so I’m gonna go with what she said. Anyway, after all that, wherever we were, she looked really cute.
Blowouts, in case you’re unaware, have rules, similar to raising Mogwai so that they don’t become evil gremlins that kill poor Flo from “Alice.” It’s pretty simple – Don’t get them wet. Wet hair reverts back to its natural state faster, meaning your blowout becomes a fro-out. And we like our fros. (I still have one – Lynne wears her hair in locs now) But she paid not to have one for a few days. And it would have worked, too! If it wasn’t for that meddling magician! (Insert evil Scooby Doo villain here.) But she was trying to live that blowout life for at least a few days.
I don’t recall a lot of the illusions and whatnot before the big finale. I know we had pretty good seats, sort of in the middle of the theater, and I know that we were in the middle of the row, meaning it would be hard to run out of the door to protect your fresh ‘do in case, say, water fell out the sky on it. But that would never happen, right? We were sitting in a fancy concert hall on Thanksgiving Eve with a lot of rich old people, inside, enjoying a pleasant evening of magic with a famous dude making mysterious hand and eyebrow gestures.
But I do remember that finale. There was, David Copperfield said, a man in the audience…let’s call him Floyd. Come on up, Floyd! I don’t believe his name was really Floyd, but it’s a fun name to type. Floyd. Floyd. Floyyyyd.. I think there was a dude named Floyd in Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem in the “Muppet Movie.” Different dude. I’d have remembered him. Anyway, Concert Floyd was apparently a nice guy who had been estranged from his father for years. I don’t recall why. I don’t think David Copperfield said. It didn’t seem to be important.
The point was that Concert Floyd and his dad hadn’t spoken in years, but somehow, they knew that his dad was on a certain beach in Phuket, Thailand. And obviously it would be nice for them to be together for Thanksgiving, but that’s not possible because there’s Dad there on the screen in Thailand and here’s Concert Floyd here with us in West Palm Beach! How would that even work? Does anyone know a magician with a big finale coming, like, right now, who might be able to help?
Whatever the story, we were all invested now, and the people who paid for their seats were close to getting their money’s worth. We all leaned forward in our fancy velvet chairs as David Copperfield promised to send Concert Floyd to Thailand. The music started swelling, and Concert Floyd looked excited, and we were like “We don’t know how the hell he’s gonna pull this thing off, but this is gonna be good!!! Send that man to Thailand! Celebrate him home! Where’s Kenny Loggins? Let’s goooooo!”
And then came the whooosh .
Said whoosh was both audible and tactile, which is to say we heard it with the dramatic music, and also felt it with the dramatic actual cascade of water that somehow swept over our heads as Presto-Change-o, Concert Floyd was swept in a wave of magic and emotion out of the Kravis Center and onto that screen to greet his dad in Thailand. There was hugging on the beach, and cheers in the audience. And a wild panicked shriek from the seat next to me.
“NOOOOOOOOO!” Lynne screamed, as she simultaneously tried in vain to shield her fresh blowout from the water and wedge herself under her seat. “My HAIR! Dagone David Copperfield! That’s why Black people don’t come see you!” To be honest, I have never heard that Black people, by consensus, feel one way or the other about Dude – I’ve interviewed him and he’s very pleasant, and he puts on a nice show.
But imagine my poor sister, who had never gotten a blowout before and splurged on a fun thing. And she had stayed out of the pool, and out of the ocean. Who would imagine that some magician would bring the actual beach inside a fancy concert hall where you’d imagine, at the very least, that you were safe from spontaneous rain? Also she was in the middle of the row and there’s nowhere to go unless she wanted to run over some old rich people delightedly watching a family reunite magically onscreen. We can’t be going to jail for assault over a blowout.
All I remember is Sonali and I trying not to laugh at her distress, because it was funny and also we are horrid people, as Lynne clasped her hands over her hair until she could make a beeline to the bathroom and try to smooth it down. It didn’t look bad, but it was never as straight or sleek as it was before Concert Floyd and his dad reunited in the most exciting and most moisture-rich way imaginable.
To this day, if you mention David Copperfield in front of my sister, she will say “Did I ever tell you about the time he ruined my hair?” She may not have.
But I just did.