The Texas State Fair opened for the season the week after my futon collapsed. It gave way with a sudden, loud metallic screech similar to the noise the Titanic must have made when it hit the iceberg. One moment my boyfriend, Andrew, and I were watching a Cheers episode on Netflix, and the next we were studying the spackling on the ceiling.
“We’ll keep an eye out on Craig’s List. I bet we can find something reasonable to replace it,” Andrew reassured me.
“Is seventy-five dollars reasonable?”
We looked through the used furniture ads, but every piece of furniture seemed designed to seat an entire basketball team, and cost more than season tickets. I scrolled past huge hunks of leather big as a herd of cows, acid-trip nightmares in plaids and stripes, and floral prints loud enough to attract bees. Every morning the sight of my futon, folded into a permanent “V” shape, greeted me, a sad symbol of my furniture failure.
“Here is a late-middle-aged woman,” it declared, “who can’t even afford a decent place to sit.”
The Texas State Fair was a welcome distraction from shopping for a used sofa. I love the fair. The smell of old cooking oil, animal manure, and cotton candy fills me with a slight bit of nausea and a large sense of optimism. When my friend Kristy and I arrived at the fairgrounds, the clouds that had been gathering all morning like a bad mood, finally turned to drizzle.
We stumbled on a vendor selling rubber rain suits, the type worn by construction workers and emergency evacuation personnel. I made do with the jacket, but Kristy dressed herself in the entire fluorescent yellow set — bib overalls, jacket, and detachable hood. If the midway flooded, she would be easy to spot as our bodies bobbed along.
To escape the rain, we ducked into the closest large building. There we discovered a huge marketplace, a live version of the Home Shopping Channel with vendors hawking mattresses, pet food, kitchen appliances, and instant soup. We wandered down the aisles, hoping we’d find someone giving out free samples.
“Hello ladies! Can I show you something?” A slender young man, armed with a comb and a wand with a cord waved us over to a grouping of mirrors and stools.
“Can I flat iron your hair?” he asked as I walked up within grabbing distance. “It’s free,” he added. I sat down and took off my rain jacket. I noted his name, Raul, written in black marker on a white plastic nametag.
Raul lifted a section of my hair and let it drop. After an hour of misting rain, my hair resembled a topiary designed by an alcoholic gardener on a three-day bender. Raul began sectioning off strands in big plastic clips while Kristy studied the display of flat irons in stacked boxes next to us.
“I will show you how lovely your hair can be with this. You have such nice, thick hair. This will make it so soft and straight, you will not believe it.”
He described the features of the flat iron — the ceramic plates that floated across the top of the hair, never scorching, only warming and relaxing to the tip of each strand. He pointed out the colors available. “Which one do you like best?” he asked Kristy.
“Oh, I think the pink one,” she said, hugging the box to her chest.
Raul finished half my hair. I admired my reflection in the hand-held mirror he held up. My hair fell in soft, straight and neat layers around my face.
“You like the flat iron?” he asked.
“Well, yes.” I admitted.
“I will make you a special deal today. For your lovely hair, you should have one. Don’t you think you should have one?”
I nodded agreement, and he leaned close to whisper the price, as though he might start a stampede toward the supply of flat irons stacked behind us.
“Today only, for the Texas State Fair and your lovely hair — one hundred dollars.”
My dream of beautiful, soft hair drifted away like the steam off the flat iron. Raul stared at me, his big, sad, brown eyes on the verge of tears at my predicament. How could I explain to him that one hundred dollars was more than I had budgeted for a new couch? Unless I could sit on it to watch television, I would have to give up on owning a flat iron.
“Okay.” He sniffed a little and started in on the second half of my hair. After straightening a few more sections, he sighed and put down the iron.
“I can’t stand it, you need this flat iron. I’ll see what I can do for you.” He marched over to another salesperson to hold a whispered conversation. As he passed my friend, he gave her a little pat on the shoulder.
“I have permission to do a special price.” Raul announced when he returned. He gestured Kristy over to where I sat on the stool and the three of us huddled together. “Today only, I will sell you and your friend two flat irons for the very low price of $160!”
“I’ll take one!” Kristy exclaimed, waving the box with the pink flat iron.
“Yes!” Raul turned to me as Kristy counted out four crisp twenties.
“Well, I guess that’s a good price, but I can’t afford that either.”
Raul looked so disappointed I thought he might chase me from the chair without finishing the second half of my head, but he gave a little sigh and kept working. As I admired my straight hair in the mirror, he spoke up once more.
“You know, I can do something for you and your friend. Just because you are such a nice lady, and you deserve nice hair.” Kristy and I both leaned in to hear this last, special offer.
“I’ll sell you the flat iron for $70,” he whispered and glanced over his shoulder.
“But I paid you $80 for mine!” Kristy protested. I expected Raul to recover and tell Kristy he would refund her the $10 difference, but he had another plan.
“Oh, your friend buys one for $70, then she gives you $5 and so then you each pay $75 for the flat iron.”
“Okay, that’s fair,” Kristy said as I shook my head.
I was now not just someone who was too cheap to buy a wonderful flat iron, I was also someone who refused to share her tremendous good fortune with her friend.
“I can’t do it,” I admitted. I hopped out of the chair, grabbed my rain jacket, and backed away from the booth like Cinderella leaving the ball.
“Sorry!” I called as I scooted off for the next exhibit, an older woman dressed in pioneer clothing and selling an assortment of roasted nuts. She was offering free samples with no commitment.
We left the fair, and I went home to enjoy my lovely hair for the next two days until it was time to wash and dry it back into its normal frazzled state. I threw down an air mattress and some cushions on the floor in front of the TV until I could save up for a nice sofa, something that would be cozy yet not take up too much space in my living room. Youth is fleeting and loveliness fades, but a well-made couch will last a lifetime.