Around this time, every year, I start thinking of new things to do to myself. I begin dieting on Monday and usually end it by Wednesday. I get up at 6:30 to exercise and by 7:30 I've finished a stack of hotcakes and sausages. Recently, my thoughts turned to my hair. I wanted to do something different. My short bush was uneven, dry and lifeless. I figured if I could get my head together, my body would follow, but the thought of spending $55 to $75 at the hairdresser to get a permanent made me shudder. I decided to invest $7.50 in a do-it-yourself curling kit.

After dinner, I sent the kids to the basement to play, cleared off the table and spread out all the ingredients of the curling kit. Once I read the simple step-by-step instructions, I was anxious to have tiny little dangling curls, blowing gently in the breeze. I had already picked out a dress that flairs out when you turn and new shoes to complement my new hair.

The first step was to wash my hair in the special shampoo and towel pat dry. Easy. Then I put on the thin plastic gloves and spread the greasy stuff around my hairline to prevent irritation. When I applied the curling gel it started to burn my scalp. I rushed to the sink and rinsed it off. I wasn't going to be discouraged, I'd just have be make sure it didn't touch my skin.

Back at the table I carefully applied the gel and began the long process of putting 42 small rod curlers in my hair. Drops of water mixed with gel started working their way down my face, toward my eyes, and I envisioned being blinded by the stuff. I kept frantically reaching for the towel and wiping my face to ward off disaster.

The instructions said to use curling papers on each roller but it was impossible to pick up one paper at a time since all the goop on my gloves made the papers stick together. I called my daughter for help. When she came upstairs, the funky odor of the gel prompted her to say, "Whew! Smells like a rotten egg!" I told her to shut up and separate all those little pieces of paper.

Halfway through the rolling process my index fingers began to poke out of the thin gloves. I certainly did not want to take a chance on having the perm melt them away, so I awkwardly finished the rolling job without using them.

Once that was done, I was instructed to place the enclosed plastic bag over my head (not my face!) and sit under the dryer for 40 minutes. Well, I wasn't about to go through all that for nothing, so I sat for 50 minutes to make sure all was perfect.

With the rollers still in place, I was supposed to rinse hair in warm water for five minutes. I did. I was beginning to feel more and more beautiful. Apply neutralizing solution and wait 15 minutes. It had been three hours since I started the whole process, so 15 more minutes wouldn't hurt me. Any price for vanity.

At the end of the 15 minutes, I had to rinse in cool water. I didn't want to keep getting in and out of the shower, so I knelt by the bathtub and used the sprayer. Water splattered everywhere, but somehow it didn't bother me--I gave no thought to the mess I would have to clean later.

All right, add more neutralizing solution and wait five minutes. At that point I started getting a little anxious. Nervously, I lit a cigarette and paced the bathroom. Three minutes to go. Two. I watched the second hand count down the last minute.

Spray hair with curl activator and gently remove each roller. Rinse again in cool water, towel dry and spray more curl activator.

Then came the uncovered check. You know, like when you're driving behind a big truck and suddenly he changes lanes and you discover a parked car two feet away and you slam on the brakes.

I looked in the mirror, prepared to meet to the new me. Staring back was a familiar face--surrounded by familiar hair. Nothing had changed. My hair looked exactly as it had three and a half hours before! I couldn't believe it. It wasn't softer, livelier, flowing. No curls for the breeze to shake gently. Nothing.

Next day I wore my usual blue jeans, baggy shirt and tennis shoes to work. Nobody said anything about my hair.