Saturday, December 11, 2010


I'll never forget the first time I heard the word 'funky' shortly after I emigrated to the US with my little dog, on a chartered flight from Amsterdam in August of 1971. I was a young 17 years old.

Within a week, my mother took me to visit a young friend, a co-worker, who had just moved to a small rental at the top of Bernal Heights in San Francisco, just a few blocks from where we lived. This she shared with another young woman and more beads than I had ever seen in my life: strings of beads served as a partition in doorways, they were strung in macrame for hanging pots, together with yards of fabric they hung on the walls and furniture, and of course, this being 1971 San Francisco, they were sewn onto clothes, bonnets and purses, strung around necks, wrapped around wrists and dangling from ears. I soon got in the act myself.

I cannot remember the roommate's name. She was blond, late 20's, perhaps early 30's. To me anyone over 25 was old. In those days, cool men wore long hair. News reporters, most TV personalities and the general workforce had joined in, albeit with a cleaned up version, their hair carefully trimmed halfway down their ears. Young folks and students had it hanging down their shoulders with abandon. Long hair was in.

I realize now that for those with curly hair, long hair became bouffant, it exploded out sideways from the head. The curlier the hair of course, the bigger the mass and properly layered, it could actually form a globe: those were the days of Afros, tie-dye, Santana and everything ethnic.

Back to the roommate. She was blond as I said, petite, very fair, very white and informed us that she had just gotten herself a permanent: a host of tiny ringlets testified to this as she shook her head, they settled back quickly around her slender face and pale blue eyes. She was terribly excited about her perm and proceeded to extol its virtues: you don't have to do anything to it, just wash it and let dry naturally, you can use this special comb to unsnarl it she assured us, producing a three pronged object, but otherwise it's carefree, she gushed. Then, before we could respond, she bounced away behind the beads and soon returned brandishing a common hairbrush. This she would now demonstrate: throwing her head down over her knees, she began brushing her hair upside down with gusto. It actually grew in volume under our very eyes until I thought it could not possibly grow anymore. I do this for a different look, she commented as she worked away, nose to her knees. When she was satisfied, she suddenly stood upright and, with a firm toss of her now substantial head, her arms stretched out as if she had just jumped off the High Wire Act, she beamed at us as we took in the sight: there she was with a full-blown enormous blond Afro. Welcome to America.

She was the first person to use the word "funky" in my presence. Her apartment was funky she said and she liked it. I had not the slightest clue what she meant. It took years before I could actually wrap my head around that one.

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