Haircuts and hairstyles that didn’t go as planned
From the time Derrick abandoned me in the mid-90’s, I wandered without direction again, bouncing from one hairdresser’s chair to another. I took needless risks with perms, unflattering lengths and unnatural shades of red. Until one day I noticed signs of thinning hair, especially at the crown. God help me, not male-pattern baldness!! At this pivotal point in my hair’s life, it fell into benign neglect. I would go as far as scouting the internet or even browse mens hairstyles and haircuts websites to try to get some short haircuts inspiration by looking at unisex hairstyle pictures and what not (wrong move as it did make me feel stupid). However I just let it grow long and resorted to the old bun on top. Not the tightly controlled ballet bun, but a sleazier top-knot cousin with dangling strands and long fringed bangs. That was fine until I couldn’t fake it anymore. So commenced the hat phase.
Most days I wore a beret (as seen in my AC photo). My collection of berets rivaled the colors of a floral bouquet. In summer there were brimmed cotton hats and flowery straw hats. At my job, the young man with Down Syndrome I assisted coined my new nickname. He dubbed me Hat Lady. Luckily for me, my New York City genes are imbedded with a love of hats. When my sissy and I were younger, a favorite activity was to go to a clothing store and try on dozens of hats. The sillier, the better. In fact, the whole point was to laugh ourselves into snorting hysteria until we were nearly thrown out or had to race out before we peed on the floor! So wearing a hat is fun for me. But having to wear a hat is not. Fearing the wind will whip off my cover and leave me exposed is a drag! So a few years ago I made a bold move. Go short.
From a lucky “fling” with a young hairdresser was born my new pixie cut. It magically de-emphasized the thinning parts, and as long as she didn’t cut my bangs too short, it looked pretty good. The freedom from worrying about whether my hat might blow off was exhilarating! But the fatal flaw was her persistence in blow-drying and rounding until it looked like a helmet. I wasn’t trading hats for helmets. Before leaving her chair, I’d rough up my helmet and make it more edgy right in front of her. It felt like a test of wills over my hair. Screw that.
And then Lexi (not her real name) came into my life. A down-to-earth, holistic, organic, laid-back lady about 30 who threw in a little chair-massage with a hair cut. She seemed to come up with prices based on how she was feeling that day. If it was her feeling that the trim she gave was no work at all and you’d been in a few weeks ago, Lexi might say, “Oh that was so easy, there’s no charge.” The same cut on another day might go for twelve or sixteen dollars, but it was always reasonable. Lexi’s real passion was teaching Pilates. When she styled hair, she never let people give in to that sudden impulse to just cut it all off or “Do what you want. I’m ready for a new look.” Haircut from Hell II would never have happened at Lexi’s.
When I brought my sister there to take eight inches and seven layers off her mane, Lexi couldn’t bring herself to do it all at once. She wanted to be sure the customer didn’t leave crying the Bad Hair Mantra (It’ll grow back.It’ll grow back.) My sister had to go back three times begging Lexi to take more off before she got it short enough! And unlike many hairdressers, Lexi had no ego about this style being her creation, and how dare that customer not behold it as sacred art. I had become a very wary customer who kept a constant eye on proceedings. If it looked like the next snip might cross the No Short Bangs rule, I had no qualms about covering my head with my hands and saying, “Whoa… what are you planning next?” And when Lexi thought she was done, she’d let me examine sides and back and suggest any changes needed for the look I wanted. Lexi was basically my dream hairdresser. And then out of blue, she was gone. Shop closed. No phone. It is rumored she’s still around teaching Pilates full-time. I hope it’s true. I hope she’s happy. But once more I was left to wander the salons, taking risks with strangers, again wondering if this might be The One. Then in October of 2008, when the excitement of politics was at a crescendo, the anticipation of monumental change was in the air, I dived back into the hairdressing pool and took my chances.
Haircut from Hell III
The poster stood outside the little shop in the mall. For weeks I studied it every time I passed. My hair had been growing out for nearly three months since Lexi disappeared. I’d resorted to my old hat habits again. But this slightly asymmetric cut could be just the new look I needed. A hint of the short pixie cut on one side, but the rest swooped from the part on the left over to the right, somewhat covering the other ear. It angled down toward the cheek, and the bangs were part of the whole fringe swoop. It had an air of sophistication without the stuffiness. A respectable style with a touch of mischief and rebellion. Maybe I read too much into the model’s expression, but I psyched myself for weeks. On that fateful day I went in when it wasn’t crowded. A matronly woman and a very young slender waif of a woman were chatting. Both worked there.
I pointed to the poster, then took a breath before removing my hat. I pointed out my problem areas, especially the thinning crown. I described what I was hoping out of this hairstyle and why I thought the one on the poster might work for me. “Do I have the type of hair that can have that hairstyle?” I asked in good faith. They both poked around on my head, like shoppers on a ripe melon, and seemed to nod and “hmmm” agreement. The consensus was yes. I hoped the older woman would do my hair, but she was the manager and assigned young Sweet Pea (not her real name) to take care of me. Sweet pea was a darling. She enthused that they had the “instructions” for that style and pulled out the glossy card with step by step sketches, just like a recipe. I relaxed a bit. How could she go wrong with the precise instructions? I took off my glasses and let down my guard. Note: I’m no longer profoundly nearsighted, but I wasn’t paying close attention, either.
The snipping seemed to go on longer than I expected while Sweet Pea told me about her new puppy, her new roommate and the new apartment they were getting when she moved out on her own for the first time. It occurred to me to ask how long she’d been doing this. “Two months!” she answered with pride. Ok, but she had the instructions and consulted them a lot. Still, I felt my blood pressure rise a few points. By the time I thought to focus on the mirror, I was actually afraid to. All that hair I’d been growing out the past few months seemed to be lying on the floor. I had expected it to be swooping across my head and draping long thick fringed bangs at an angle across my forehead. When Sweet Pea turned to get something, I quickly ran my hand across my too-smooth head. I forestalled panic with denial. “OK,” I thought, “It feels really, really short, but I’m sure in those instructions she’s following so closely, there’s a part where she magically makes it all stand up and look longer. Please, God.” But I just had to put on my glasses.
It was gone. All the hair I brought in to create a longer style was gone. It was gone faster than any short cut I’d ever worn in my life. Gone faster than the worst break-up haircut I ever gave myself when barely a fourth inch of hair stood defiantly on my head. Was this a horrible joke? Was I being trolled? Cause this time I would sue their asses! Sweet Pea seemed oblivious at first as she dabbed a little finishing product in the rubble of my hair. I had entered deep shock. My hands gripped my cheeks and nose, almost like hands folded in prayer. Or cupped for hyperventilation. Only my eyes were showing, and they could not hide the growing horror. My breathing grew shallow, and as if witnessing another person in the mirror, I saw the tears welling up. My heart pounded with fear, and I began to mutter words into my hands. Muffled “Omygodomygodomygod,no,no,no” must have reached Sweet Pea’s ears. She stopped suddenly and gave me a very worried look. I tried to snap back to reality with real tragedies, but my brain could barely handle a hair tragedy in this moment.
I groped the remnants on my head, trying not to burst into full fledged hysteria. I rose to get a closer look and held the hand mirror to see the back and sides. But I was obviously a woman on the verge. Sweet Pea started to study the instructions like her life depended on it. She, too, was fighting tears and nearly pleading, “I don’t understand what’s wrong. I was doing everything it says. I just don’t understand….” Being a nurturing sort, I almost fell into my comfort-the-child mode. I told her it’s not the end of world, it’ll grow back. Then I looked in the mirror again and was back to “Omygodomygod (hyperventilating) I don’t know how I can live with this!” New realization: “Oh, my God!! I’m starting a new job next week!” Then trying to talk down the woman on the ledge, “Ok. Ok. I can wear a hat till it grows out…” And poor Sweet Pea, probably fearing she’d lose her new job, new career, maybe her new apartment, was near panic herself.
As devastated as I was, it wasn’t my wish that this teen-age girl commit hara-kiri over a bad haircut that wasn’t even her own. So I tried hard to squelch the worst of my self-indulgent rant. My dismay was still apparent, I’m sure, but I tried to define the areas where expectation didn’t mesh with reality. “Sweet Pea, I look at this picture and wonder what happened to my bangs.” Her face started to crumple, “Oh, no, I forgot about that! I’m so sorry!” My quivery voice went on, “And in the picture, she has full hair on top…” whereas I had flat smooth hair through which the scalp was clearly visible in patches. “Well,” Sweet Pea struggled, “her hair is a lot thicker than yours.” “Which is why I asked before we started if my hair could do this!” Sweet Pea was shaking her sweet confounded head again in total lack of understanding as to how this happened. “And”, I had to point out, “what about the hair that falls at an angle along her cheek? Obviously she didn’t have it cut like this.” Sweet Pea was trying hard to sound knowledgeable, “Oh, it’s cut like yours, but it’s layered in a way that it gives the illusion of being longer.” Right. And Niagara gives the illusion of being a waterfall…
It was too late to change anything. No matter what I pointed out, it was not going to make the hairstyle on the poster appear on my little round pinhead. And belaboring this young girl’s mistake and inexperience wouldn’t make her a better stylist. I suspect she’ll never forget our encounter. So we carried the tears and the tension up to the register, and I paid her the cost plus tip. (On principle, I fight the reputation I heard as a young waitress that women are terrible tippers. So no matter how abominable the service, I will not give in to that stereotype. But damn those stingy bitches who put me in this position!) I refrained from saying a word to her boss, though I was pissed at her for leaving me and not checking on my stylist’s progress. However, when that woman peeked out and called, “Oh, that looks real cute!” I responded with a glare. Then I put my hat back on. At least Sweet Pea didn’t ask if I was on my period.
For the next several days, there was not one time I passed a mirror without having my shock renewed. Throughout our home, my husband heard the periodic cry, “Oh my God, my hair!” I tried to find something positive in it. But she had left me with virtually no bangs. And where it’s thinnest at the crown, she managed to cut it in a pattern that left the center entirely exposed. All the hairs around it lay flat, bowing away, as if mooning the crown, making it impossible to cover the center with anything, except perhaps a yarmulke. And wherever the thinning areas were, scalp was visible, reminiscent of mange. The closest style I could identify with was cancer survivors whose wispy hair is beginning to grow back. I have deep respect for anyone going through that, but I think it’s safe to assume most would not go out and pay to get that look. When I showed my son, who never studied it, but is quite good at styling short hair, he played down my trauma by noting how well she cut that pattern, and, “Wow, she sure fixed it so it can’t be made to stand more upright, even with product. Hmm. Looks like it’s just gonna have to grow out.” Thanks for your diagnostics, buddy.
He did acknowledge her complete lack of respect for my wishes, and he offered to do it himself next time and not even charge me. I plan to take him up on that. But my favorite was his roommate’s response. Before removing my hat, I drew a sketch of the general look I’d gone in to get. And when I made the big reveal, there was one of those silences that begs a cricket soundtrack in the background. But when he spoke, this kid spoke true. “They really fucked you up, dude!” I blurted out a totally sincere, “Thank-you!” Finally, someone who understands what I’m feeling…
It occurred to me that I’d seen something similar in a family album. Digging around, I found the old tintype of Granny as a child with her brother and sister in the late-1800’s. They had all been near death with some illness, and I guess when kids had high fever, it was common to cut their hair very short. As soon as they recovered, their father took them to a studio in Manhattan to have their photo taken. There stood three very solemn little children in haircuts they probably hated. I thought I might resemble my granny or her sister in that photo. But as I studied it, I realized, no, with this hair, I looked more like my great-uncle Billy. Except he had a lot more hair!
Now that a month or so has passed, I’ve made some measure of peace with this look. In fact, it’s grown out enough that I think I resemble Paul Simon in that short plastered down style. Same color, similar height. If there’s a celebrity look-alike contest around here, I’m good to go!
But the day will come when my son will tire of trimming his mother’s hair, or I’ll be ready to venture into a new look. When that dreaded day comes, I’ll haunt the salons, afraid to trust, leery of strangers, fearing the risks, wondering if this will be The One. And when I find you, when I’m finally seated and draped in your chair, be you man or be you woman, you can count on this: I’ll be your Customer from Hell!