Knot My Fault, Really

Based on a True Story, Shamelessly Embellished

At Lice Happens, our image and our brand is differentiated by our highly professional manner, and I’m all for it. After all, I pick nits for a living, so I’m going to grab any straw that helps bolster my self-image, and hold on to it–tight. I know it’s true that clients make a quick judgment about us when they open the door—after all, what kind of person actually CHOOSES to be in this business, doing work that sends sane people into fits of face-scrunching and head-scratching? Some luckless soul who is otherwise unemployable? No wonder they are always visibly relieved to see an appropriately attired adult arriving at their home. Recently, a client threw open her door, took one look at me, and in a perfect Linda Richman “Cawfee Tawk” accent blurted out, “Oh! You’re perfect!” I took it as a compliment. It is nice to know that I’m the embodiment of nitpicking perfection. I realize that it’s equally likely she was just relieved that I didn’t show up in a pickup with “Lice Happens” emblazoned on the doors, or a giant head louse riding atop the cab, but I prefer to think the former is true.

Alas, there are days when perfection fails, and though my mind tells me, “You are professional and strong and compassionate (not to mention hot) like Michelle Pfeiffer in ‘I am Sam,’” my body says, “How about Steve Martin in ‘A Wild and Crazy Guy?’” Nothing like a reality check from The Voices That Live in My Head to keep a nitpicker humble.

Picture one such day, when I visited the exquisite home of a Philadelphia-area client. I, too, have certain expectations about what a treatment call will be like, and based on the zip code, have developed a reasonably good sense for what it might look like from my own perspective when the door opens.

I am sometimes very wrong.

Picture another Steve Martin movie, Parenthood—the associated chaos of multiple kids (six, in this case) with the wild energy of lab puppies who have in fact just returned from a raucous sledding outing, bantering adults (two sisters and a husband) in full-on head lice freak-out mode, and now, one professional nitpicker at the door gazing, stunned, into the madness, my expectation of a certain level of decorum shattered.

Unchecked Pandemonium

It might have been the unchecked pandemonium that led to the distraction that led to the enormous knot on my head that is the actual subject of this post, but I prefer to think that it was my singular focus on the job at hand. Supporting this contention, I followed the Lice Happens protocol that dictates creating an atmosphere of gentle calmness and light humor before beginning the tedious work of picking lice and nits from a fidgety child. (This isn’t an insult; try getting any child to sit still for an hour while a stranger combs her hair repeatedly.) The adults set the tone, and getting them to release their anxiety is an art which we can talk about in detail some other time, but it sometimes involves encouraging said adults to have a cocktail in another room.

After a while, my efforts to set the stage for a successful head lice removal treatment paid off, and the ornate dining room where I was to work now exuded the serenity of a yoga studio. A few minutes into the treatment, I turned, my head still bent over from nitpicking, to clear the comb of its ghastly bounty onto a paper towel laid out on the dining room table. As I straightened my back to stand upright, I felt the sledgehammer connect with the back of my head. Wham! I had whacked my head on the huge, heavy, yet somehow invisible metal chandelier that graced the dining room. The magnifying goggles I wear had turned from indispensable tool to evil prankster, blocking my view of the metallic behemoth. I felt the top of my head for what I was sure would be a gusher of blood, based on what I read in the stars that now flickered before my eyes. Nothing but a goose egg, and a bruise to the “professional” component of my job description. “Oh!” exclaimed the wife, “my husband does that all the time!” which should have been my first clue that more peril loomed ahead.

The Peril That Loomed Ahead

Twenty minutes later, the comb again brought forth a treasure trove of lice, nymphs, and nits. Once again, I cleared the comb onto the paper towel and to my horror, stood up and slammed my head into the chandelier, this time hard enough to send it into a jaunty dance, like a 200-pound skeleton at a Halloween party. Certainly, there would be blood this time!

Happy me, just an ostrich egg adorning the goose egg. My eyes stung with tears and my magnifying goggles began to fog. But, being the professional that I am, I continued my work, confident that the righteousness of my nit removal mission would stand me in good stead at the Pearly Gates, should I drop dead any moment from internal swelling. So engrossed was I in the performance of our 100% quality guarantee, that twenty minutes later, I triumphantly cleared the last of the beastly abundance from the nit comb and stood up to declare victory.

The chandelier rocked as if an earthquake had hit, and I hit the deck. From my graceless position, prone on my client’s handsome tapestry rug, I asked, in a small voice, “Do you think we could move the table over a bit?”