Shaving My Head

A recollection by Cordelia (Cory Beach Levy) Becker Synanon 1967-1990

I once overheard someone telling another person about Synanon they responded, “Oh those bald people who drive with their lights on”.

Yes, that was us, me. 

I shaved my head. I had thick waist-length hair.  I had always wanted long hair; my mother had always kept it short when I was young.  “It’s too thick and hard to keep up”  As soon as I left home, I let it grow and grow and grow. I wish I’d known about donating hair for wigs for cancer patients.  At least my efforts wouldn’t have been wasted.  I know growing hair may not seem like an effort, but it was always on my to-do list right after Lose Weight and right before Exercise More.

Leon and I were running the Synanon high school in Badger, California.  The facility consisted of about a dozen adults and the rest of the population were the teen-aged offspring of Synanon residents who lived in other facilities.                                           

Leon came to me with a mournful countenance and informed me that all the women (at the other facilities) were shaving their heads and “I think you have to do it too”.

This is how I was in Synanon…I didn’t protest or indicated in any way that this was something I was not completely on board with.  “Get me the clippers.”    My thoughts “Fuck it – It’s only hair”

I can hear Zoë’s voice now “Mom, you were so brainwashed!”

I bound my hair into to two fat braids, cut them off, and set them aside.  I think Leon helped to shave my head.

Then, I think we got another call.  We were told that girls over a certain age were expected to join in. (I don’t remember when we started clipping all the kids’ hair short) Leon called the girls together.  I had tucked the tops of the braids into a knit cap.  When the girls were assembled before me, I yanked off the cap to reveal my shaved head to their hysterical shrieks. 

The rest of the day was tears and some laughing (mostly hysterical in nature) and chaos.  I remember one incident.  One girl. with lovely strawberry blond hair, who we had determined was too young to take part was sitting in the dining room crying.   I went over to her assuming that the chaos of the day was upsetting her.  As it turned out she was crying because she felt left out!

I can only think now that parental taunt:  “Well if they decided to jump off a bridge would you do it? I guess the answer is yes. 

In the insanity of the day and the bizarre activities that would follow in the era of the kooky cult,  someone had the sense to have her call her mother.  With her mother’s approval, she bravely submitted to the clippers.

I have more stuff too, like the time I accidentally shaved Zoë’s hair with the wrong guard, skinning her wee noggin and subjecting myself to Leon’s wrath.  In penance, I shaved my head down to match, but it didn’t help.  I don’t know why she still talks to me.

Re: Driving with lights on…see (coming soon) Drivers’ Council. 

2 replies »

  1. My response was similar, although I don’t believe my initial reaction was as chipper as yours. I had just let my hair grow out. I thought the only part of me that was really good was my thick, wavy hair. Inside I said, ‘oh shit..well it’ll grow back.’ At the time I didn’t realize it was to be my new hairstyle forevermore. I can’t say I was a good sport about it – it was one of those times when it was act as if. I’m sure I was probably grim.

  2. We were cultists, weren’t we. That was one of those memories that definitely hit part of the pop sheet a lot harder than the other…but hit everyone, nonetheless.

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