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The Essay
Show #414
Saint Blanche
David Gunn

Last week, before a crowd of a million madcap Madridians, Pope John Paul Jones, former bass guitarist for the rock band Led Zeppelin, proclaimed five new saints. The two priests and three nuns were all 20th-century figures who worked with the fiscally challenged. The service raised to 469 the number of saints John Paul Jones has proclaimed during his post-Led Zep papacy. In truth, the number is actually 470, for he also canonized a fourth woman who didn't fit the normal "Servant of God" criteria. In a private ceremony, the Pope declared Blanche Bengaze, a beautician on the Navajo Indian Reservation in northeasternmost Arizona, Patron Saint of Cosmetology. It was an event without precedent: not only is Blanche not of good Catholic stock, she isn't even dead yet. Furthermore, of the seven theological and cardinal virtues your everyday saint typically sports--faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude--Blanche ranked below the bar in six of the categories. But because of her unwavering faith in the cosmetic tools of her trade, she was able to perform thousands of miracles on the hair of her clientele, a fact that caused the Holy See's Hair Club for God to sit up and take notice.

Blanche began her journey towards sainthood in 1982 as a henna specialist in the Purple Martin Beauty Shoppe on the campus of the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire. While auditing a class in the practical application of spawning, she spotted an ad in the campus newspaper for a "beautician, 5'5" tall, whose name has no fewer than five vowels." Except for the beautician part, the description fit her to a tee, and she applied for the job. She was led into a dimly lit room that was furnished with a task chair, a large wall mirror, a scissors and a comb. A furrowed old woman who was borderline bald sat in the chair. She held a 3x5 card on which were scrawled the words "fix me." A lesser person would have been daunted over the near impossibility of the task, but Blanche's veins brimmed with Bengaze blood, a shamanic ichor whose mystical powers were legend, if not apocryphal. Within fifteen minutes, she had fashioned the haggard hair into beauteously bouffant bangs; within sixteen minutes, she had the job.

Fortunately, the spawning class had been serendipitously comprehensive, delving into the vagaries of electrolysis, the art of manicure vs the craft of pedicure, sebaceous and sudoriferous gland malfunction, and the history of wrinkles. One entire week had been spent determining that no appreciable difference existed between the cosmic and the cosmetic; a different week revealed that sternutatories and depilatories were more closely akin than rational people dared think. It all made Blanche's on-the-job training that much easier.

Right away, her clients sensed something special about her. She was one of those people who simply had "a way with hair." Patrons and spectators alike gasped in amazement as she blithely turned the most mousy of hairdos into luxurious follicle art. Her permanents were so meticulously done that many claimed that she employed a third hand--a contention she never denied outright. Her true genius, however, was in henna. A reddish-orange dyestuff in use since the days of the Egyptian pharaohs and pharaohettes, it became in Blanche's hands a cosmetic wonder drug with which she cured the ills of the southwesternmost Lincolnshire community. By altering the ratio of ingredients in the dye, she turned the hair of her clients crimson, cadmium, cinnabar, carmine, carrot and claret; maroon, magenta, marigold, primrose, pink, puce and peach; apricot, annatto, ocher, rose, scarlet, tangerine, umber and vermilion. The whole upper wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum was on display atop the Purple Martin Beauty Shoppe customers!

Then, at the height of her fame, Blanche moved to Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, where, in 1908, her ancestor, Beanette Bengaze, had opened the first hairdressing salon on the Navajo Reservation. Sooner or later, it seems, all Bengazes go back to the Big Rez, like salmonella returning to their spawning grounds. Beano alone has yet to make the pilgrimage, but he will; he will.

Unused for decades, Beanette’s hair salon was in a state of disrepair. But Blanche was not deterred. Within a week, she had cleared out the debris, reupholstered the task chair, mixed up a bubbly batch of henna, and satisfied her first customer--who happened to be a member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Even without the sophisticated accouterments of the Purple Martin Beauty Shoppe, she worked a miracle on the man's hair, a wonder that was duly reported when he returned to the Vatican. Other cardinals and bishops proselytizing in the area regularly stopped in, and always departed awed by her miraculous work. So impressed was the Holy Father after his own pompadour and pedicure combo that he offered her a job at the prestigious Vatican Hair. She declined, citing a conflict of religious interest. Still, Pope John Paul Jones beatified Blanche on the spot, then, challenging tradition, returned to Rome to begin proceedings for her sainthood--which, as previously noted, came to fruition last week.

While she was a mite uncomfortable when her Catholic customers addressed her as "the Blessed Blanche," she rather enjoyed her life as a saint. The Vatican Five & Dime had shipped her a box of miniature plastic statues of herself holding a shampoo bottle in one hand and a curling iron in the other. She applied double-back tape to the bottoms and distributed them to her customers, who placed them on their cars' dashboards, then swore that, even under the harsh conditions of the desert southwest, the statues helped keep their hair clean and neat. And, as the only living patron saint of cosmetology, she qualified for countless hair salon product discounts.

Blanche remains mostly unfazed by her new celebrity. True, reservations are usually needed now for some of the more complex beauty work, but walk-ins still stand a good chance of a facial or cream rinse. In these days of frenzied time management crises, that in itself is a miracle.

Surely another miracle is this 414th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, for it is coming to you without the succor of or interaction with Kalvos. Details and music follow.