The $20 Project: Head Lice, CGI Monsters and Guilt-Free Pizza

lice1.jpgSo last night, I spent $7.50 on pizza at Universal Theaters where we went to a free 3D IMAX screening of Beowulf (four thumbs up). That way, we could escape the reason we had spent the other $12.50 of our $20 that day:

Our kids have lice.

No, we don’t keep them chained in a a closet eating only table scraps. We have a nice home in a well-kept part of Silver Lake, they go to a great LAUSD school, and yes, they take showers every day thank you very much.

But after the past couple weeks, I have to give it up for the common head louse. It’s a persistent, highly evolved and virtually unstoppable pest. Nothing else – with the exception of crack cocaine or Vegas slots – can suck the same $20 out of your wallet, over and over and over and over and over – like lice.

That’s right, my kids have lice. Head crabs. Pediculus humanus capitis. Cooties.


I’m not ashamed of it. It’s an equal-opportunity problem. Your kids may get ’em too some day soon, if they haven’t already. Lice are going around L.A., you know. Just be sure you know what you’re doing the first time you try to get rid of them.

Let me explain …

So – nice neighborhood, nice schools, nice parents, nice kids.

And at some point, some kid walked into school with lice – or maybe even late last summer at that awesome camp – and began playing with our kids. And that was that.
Lice with a dime for scale.
(image via Iowa State)

They don’t leap or spring or fly – lice. They just crawl (all casual-like) from one head to another in the rough-and-tumble playground world. And soon you’re wondering why your kid’s scratching his head all the time.

And before long you either find out the ugly truth (as we did, when a barber booted my daughter out of the chair and her shop within seconds of picking up the comb) or you’re told by an anxious school administrator to COME GET YOUR CHILD BECAUSE SHE HAS LICE.

And thus begins the grim task of self-education. Someone says blithely, “It’s okay, just go get that RID shampoo, and it’ll get rid of them fast. Make sure you shampoo them twice.”

So you buy the stuff – it’s frickin’ $13.00 for 2 ounces. But you figure , crap, I gotta spend the money so I can get my kids back into school because I gotta work and can’t say home with them all day.

You give ’em both a little shampoo – hmm, the instructions say put it on dry for 10 minutes and then lather it up good – but you ignore the rest of the fine print – and you send them off to school.

And then you get a call from the Anxious School Administrator, “I’m sorry, you have to come get your child because she has lice.”

“But … we used the shampoo!”

“I’m sorry, you have to come get her, she can’t stay here. School rules.”

By now, it’s clear this isn’t a cold, or the flu, or even the dreadedly infectious pinkeye – all of which can be eradicated with drugs and bed rest. This is something truly evil.

Grumble grumble – you pick up the kid, and then do another shampoo and this time you actually read the shampoo instructions closely:

  • Remove lice and their eggs (nits).
  • Use a fine-tooth or special lice/nit comb.
  • Remove any remaining nits by hand.
  • Hair should remain slightly damp while removing nits.
  • If hair dries during combing, dampen slightly with water.
  • For head lice, part hair into sections.
  • Do one section at a time starting on top of the head.
  • Longer hair may take 1 to 2 hours … I(etc. etc.) check daily for any lice/neits that you misssed.
  • A second treament must be done in 7 to 10 days to kill any newly hatched lice.
  • If infestation continues, see a doctor for other treatments.

Oh. Nits. Okay.

lice2.jpgSo when the boy gets home that night, you comb through both their hair with the “special lice/nit comb” and you wind up hauling out clusters of eggs and live bugs from BOTH of them – and then you go shell out another $13.00 for the shampoo because 2 ounces didn’t go very far.

Right next to it at Rite-Aid is a much bigger box – for $20.00, which purports to contain 4 ounces of shampoo, plus a “comb-out gel” and an aerosol spray for bedding and other objects that you can’t wash.

Wash? Well, okay – we don’t need to spend the $20, let’s just do a better job of inspecting their heads and picking nits.

And we’ll start the wash cycles.

And we’ll deal with the whole “comb-out gel” thing later.

And so, you start picking nits.

The phrase “picking nits” doesn’t begin to describe the incredible tedium of actually doing it. You can’t just comb them out by hand. They’re actually attached to individual hairs.

You’re hunched over your kid’s head with a strong light, a nit comb and a magnifying glass – looking at literally millions of hairs, one by one, trying to spot just a few hair-colored eggs that are quite literally smaller than the head of a pin.

For, like hours.
Aw, nits.
(image via National Institutes of Health)

Once you do find them, evolution has made damn sure the lice secreted a special glue to stick the eggs in your kids’ hair, which means you have to scrape each one off – and if you’re smart, you slice ’em in half with your thumbnail so they’ll never hatch.

Meanwhile, your 6-year-old daughter or your 8-year-old son is fidgeting, squirming and bitching about having her or his hair pulled – even breathing can move the infested strand hair you’re trying to pick out of a whole fistful of clean hair – and suddenly the egg you were about to eradicate has moved and the hunt continues.

It takes an hour to scrape through your son’s awesomely shaggy skater-dude mop, and almost two hours to do your daughter’s long, flossy red shoulder-length hair.

And you have to do this daily. For a week. Or more.

Meanwhile, you’ve shampooed the bugs out – you’re not finding any fresh ones – and you send them back to school for a very close bit of scrutiny from Anxious School Administrator. And sweet hallelujah, they’re cleared to return to class and your workday returns to normal.

After 10 entire days, you can be confident the kids are nit-free. You’re a free man now. Your shoulders start unkinking. You laugh it all off: “Hah! Hah-hah-haaah. Nits. The very idea.

Then you’re cranking through your workday one morning on a heavy deadline, and the phone rings. It’s the Anxious School Administrator again.

“Mr. Reed?” She’s almost breathing hard into the phone, she’s trying to talk discreetly and quietly in order not to be overheard: “Mr. Reed, you’re going to have to come get your daughter again. She has lice. ”

This time, it turns out, the entire class is itchin’ and scratchin’ – some other kid brought it in and it wasn’t discovered until two late. Eight more kids have been sent home. And as soon as you get both your kids home, they’re already clearly crawling with the little fuckers.

You check out Hair Fairies which is a professional nit-picking hair salon that you’ve heard costs more than $200, and you decide – fuck it – let’s just get the kids done and have done with it.

And they can’t give you an appointment until mid-next-week.

So you drag the kids back home, and this time you shell out $20 for the entire nit-kit, and you shampoo and you use the comb-out gel and you spray the piss out of their bedding and finally in sheer frustration you shell out $45 more for a good set of barber clippers and chop off almost all your son’s awesome/lousy hair and knuckle under to your daughter’s tears and hand-check her hair again and again and again and promise if she can just hold still you won’t have to cut it and soon you’re scratching your own head and wondering WTF and you and your wife check each other and you’re fine just fine and you doublecheck and you’re really fine and then you re-check your son and he’s almost clean and finally he seems totally clean and then you discover ANOTHER TWO DOZEN NITS on one side of his head because it looks like you FUCKING MISSED ONE and it HATCHED and meanwhile your daughter has another two dozen nits herself when she looked clean the day before so you go ahead and take her to Rudy’s and have them CUT OFF NEARLY ALL HER HAIR so that now she looks like a boy and she cries when you send her off to school and …

Anyway – long story not short enough – the kids have been looking pretty nit-free for the past couple days.

But if the lice come back again – whether on their own or by shared infestation from some other kid – if we can’t get a Hair Fairies appointment and we decide shaving their heads would be just too damn cruel, we’ll probably start working our way through all the folk remedies (tea tree oil, vinegar, kerosene, peanut butter, beanie-full-of-olive-oil, mayonnaise), because RID is CRAP, even when used exactly as directed.

And somehow, I think it’ll cost a lot more than $20 before we’re done. hey: Beowulf is awesome.

Just $20 will get you a nice seat at the Arclight and a medium popcorn and a cup of ice.

And you can sit there in the cool, air-conditioned 5.1 Dolby-surround 4-story-high 3D IMAX darkness and think to yourself, “Man. Crispin Glover should really have his hair checked.

(See more of the $20 Project here.)

16 thoughts on “The $20 Project: Head Lice, CGI Monsters and Guilt-Free Pizza”

  1. When my daughter had lice several years back in elementary school we used a cocktail of Tea Tree Oil and Apple Cider Vinegar (which completely worked for us). Mainly because the drugstore stuff is a lot of pesticide to be putting in direct contact with a kids scalp and that kind of freaked me out.

  2. Years ago, I was a reporter covering education in a small town in Kentucky. Head lice topped the school board meeting agenda one night, and by the end of the meeting, EVERYONE in the room was scratching. Just the mention of lice still makes me itchy.

  3. Welcome to parenthood and kids in school. It is amazing the things they come home with. We had it make a run through the house once. It was easier to rid off with the boys, buzz cuts and coal tar shampoo from Kaiser. My daughter was more difficult simply because she would not cut her hair. Washing all the bedding and jackets is just a lot of extra work. In the end we wiped it out.

    The bugs happen. Just smile and move along.

  4. Urgh. I suggest you shave your kid’s hair, it’ll make the nit-finding easier, if they’re okay with being semi-bald for a week, depending on how fast the hair grows back.

    Most things don’t work, even if instructions are followed.

    Where the Hell do lice come from when they’re not in someone’s hair?

  5. Yep, lice are a pain in the ass and they cost you a hell of a lot more than $20 in time and grief. I’m completely shaving the kids’ heads if they ever get them again. It’ll grow back.

  6. Thanks for the heads up on lice in Silver Lake (I haven’t heard a thing about it in our Silver Lake school yet, but I am sure it is coming).
    I remember from my own childhood that keeping a girls hair in braid and giving the boys buss cuts will help keep lice away and swimming in chlorinated pools or the ocean (I grow up by the beach) will kill lice. This may not be true, but we keep our daughter hair braided all the time just in case (she is seven, be in school and/or daycare from age 6 months and so far has avoided the lice problem)

  7. Chlorine! Makes total sense! Hmm. Now I have to find a chlorinated pool to huck ’em into every day.

    I know we’ll get through this. It just sucks. Both my kids loved having long hair, and while the new haircuts are cute, they both feel like they lost something.

  8. my senior year at pepperdine there was an outbreak on campus of lice in the dorms. oh the joy of seeing juicy couture and gucci-clad skanks itching their heads like wild animals until they damn near bled…

  9. Don’t shave! Use a shampoo-in hair color, (not a permanent one) which will suffocate the little buggers. Pick a color close to the kid’s hair–the color lasts through maybe a week of shampoos, and kills the lice and the nits and the eggs.

  10. I read that prell works. Get the kind without the conditioner. It’s a stripping shampoo, whatever that means.

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