Now it was just Arch and I, keeping up the noise at the table in the living room of the lodge, and we became congenial, no doubt from the liquor as much as from the sensing that someday, disparate though we were, we might be the only two whose asses were not blown to powder, the only two left alive, as we now were alive on this night.
"I'll tell you something," Arch said. "You're not such a bad fellow. I could learn to live around you, and I could even get used to your hair. But there's one thing I've got to admit. I hope you won't get mad at me for saying this."
"Let's hear it," I said, having begun to be fond of the old man and finding it unimaginable that he could anger me.
"Well, like I said. I could get used to your hair. But there's no way in the world I could ever make myself like your wife's hair."
My wife's hair! So that was part of it too! I had assumed the hostility we had encountered in the last few days of driving through East Texas in our convertible was directed at me. But my wife had been receiving her share of it, and maybe more, all along. My wife's hair! My wife Doatsy is young and pretty and her hair is the color of caramel; it is soft, it shines, it smells like baby soap, and it is long, hanging to the middle of her back, a glorious drop of hair that my grandmother would have been proud of, that young girls of today strive for, and that Arch could never make himself appreciate!
"I'm amazed there is a man in America who objects to long hair on a woman," I said.
I don't know what Arch thought I was calling him, but he got up and went to bed, and I could tell he had been insulted. But as I thought of the way we had been treated for the past week, I understood what Arch was telling me. As the beatniks long ago learned, out there in America hair matters, and here we were in the land of the permanent wave. The shellacked bouffants and beehives, sprayed hard as a real hornets' nest, had become acceptable at last, along with high-heeled shoes, in East Texas, where information does not readily penetrate, but the thing for a real lady still to have was a permanent wave like my mother used to come home with twenty years ago. In East Texas, long-haired women went out of mode with long-haired men, about the time McKinley was shot, and in my big-city naïveté I had thought I was the only one being scorned by the natives for disregard of custom in a place where custom means everything.
My hair was not really all that long; it was just rather shaggy, somewhat in the manner of an old-fashioned country lawyer or editor or judge. If I had worn a white cotton suit and black string tie, we probably would have had no trouble at all. In East Texas, the older ones would recognize that character. I would have smelled of the courthouse to them, and they would have been no more curious about me than about the rows of slave shacks that had stood in the fields all their lives, or about the black people who lived in those shacks and worked in those fields as if there had never been a Civil War, or about the black children who still went to black schools as though there were no Supreme Court in this country. To the younger ones, I could have pointed out that my hair was no longer than, say, Pat Moynihan's in a photograph in the New York Times, but then I would have had to explain who Moynihan was, and in the process I would have bored and annoyed them.