Haircuts from Hell – The Trilogy (The Final Cut)

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.

The Mullet family

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.

bad hair day

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.

beating cancer

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!

Haircuts from Hell – Part 2

Stories of haircuts and hairstyles gone wrong – Part Two

In my whole life I’ve had only two to whom I committed my heart and hair. It’s a scary world when you bounce around from one hairdresser to the next, wondering if this may be The One, never knowing who to trust, never knowing where you’ll get your next cut.

I’ll never forget Derrick (not his real name). A sweet little guy with soft hands and soft voice and a biting kick to his humor. We were together from the mid-80’s to the early 90’s. Derrick didn’t just listen to my woes, but he shared his own futile search for the right man. I advised him that strip bars (gay or straight) may not bring out the best in a guy, and he should consider widening his search area. Derrick was able to follow my descriptions when I came in with references like, “I want to go for that cute hairstyle Holly Hunter wore in “Broadcast News”. Derrick would always tell me if my hair was too thin for some style or if it would make my face look fat. It was an honesty I relied on.

Haircut from Hell II

One day I entered the shop in a deep funk. Kid problems, health issues, not enough sex, dog messes, yaddayaddayadda…all had me worn down and vulnerable. Derrick could see my misery and asked how he could help. At last, someone who could actually do something. A perky new look would be a wonderful morale booster. I’d see a different woman in the mirror, confident, in control of her life, attractive even! So I put myself in his hands. I uttered these fateful words, “Just do whatever you want. I’m ready for a new look.” Do not ever say these words to your hairdresser!!!! I beg of you! You may think you know him and he knows you. But you do not know what creative ideas may lurk in that mind! And you probably don’t want to be the blank canvas on which they’ll be released!

A bad barbershop haircut

His first thought was to make my dark hair a shade of burgundy. Not that there haven’t been times I’ve been open to experimentation. But as a forty-ish woman who ran her own day care home, I thought the timing was off. Bad career move. Maybe that idea should have put me on alert, but I sank into a comfortable haze listening to Derrick’s home decorating plans for his new house and envying his freedom to make choices.

It should be noted that this occurred before the cataract surgery, which traded my myopic lenses for better ones. When I sat in Derrick’s salon chair with my glasses off, my vision extended about six inches from my face. The mirror was a blur of lights and colors. I could feel my shoulder-length hair falling around me, but I was getting psyched to see the new look. After all, Derrick knew my cardinal rule: No Short Bangs! I liked them fringy and touching my eyebrows. The rest was up for grabs. Or so I thought in my innocence.

My mood was improving with each snip, aided by Derrick’s cheerful demeanor. (Of course he was cheerful… a client who gives carte blanche is a hairdresser’s wet dream!) When he finally whipped the drape from my shoulders and handed me my glasses with a big Ta-DA, all the lights and colors in the mirror took on shape. I saw my own face fall from gleeful anticipation to horror. I can barely describe what I saw on my head, but it could have been road kill. Totally asymmetric. That’s no offense in itself. But short spiky little irregular-length hairs poked every which way on one side, and a mish-mash of oddly arranged lengths dangled and argued for space on the other, while a thin strand came to an angled point on one cheek! Where my bangs used to be stood a spiky crewcut. I have seen three-year olds take scissors to themselves and end up with a style that made more sense!

“Breathe. Breathe. Oh… My…God!” That’s what went through my mind right before the dam burst. Not silent embarrassed hidden tears. There was no holding this flood back. I cried openly and hard. At least the shop had emptied by then, but it would have made no difference. I was sobbing words about just wanting to look better and being so worn out and now…this. Poor confused Derrick. He lay his hand on my shoulder, and his brown eyes softened into empathetic sadness. In the gentlest tone, he crooned, “Hon… I don’t mean to pry… but are you on your period?” Aaaaarrrgghhh!

I chanted the Bad Haircut Mantra all the way home, “It’ll grow back.It’ll grow back.It’ll grow back.” When I went to my mother’s house to plead for help, she stood dumbfounded, studying the challenge. We were both used to my sister returning from her stylist in tears. She, too, would enter full of hope and anticipation with a wild mane of hair to be tamed, only to leave with a blonde Afro and the conviction that there is indeed a secret code among hairdressers that states, “Whatever the customer asks you to do, it’s wrong. Customers are basically idiots who don’t know what’s best for them. So whatever they tell you, ignore it and go with something you’ve been dying to try. If possible, take secret photos, so we can all have a good laugh at the next convention.” I now accepted her premise.

Mom had only one solution, “Well, Allene, all I know to do is cut it evenly all over and give you a home perm.” Oh, God, not the old Toni home perm from my childhood! It made me shudder to recall those tight hairdos to which every girl in the 50’s got subjected. But what recourse did I have? Skinhead isn’t my look. So I gave my hair once again into my mother’s hands. She did her level best, and I no longer resembled an aging punk who’d pulled an Edward Scissorhands on her own head during a bad trip. For the next few weeks I looked like those old pictures of the 1930’s schoolmarm with tight little pincurls plastered against her head and a look of constipation on her face. I count the Derrick-Do as Haircut from Hell II. (Mom’s Toni Solution was an improvement, or it could vie for III.)

And yes, I stuck with Derrick until he moved away, but I kept my glasses on whenever he cut my hair! Besides hair, Derrick had other valuable skills. For my sister’s naughty bridal shower, we hired Derrick to be the stripper. And he was superb! Who knew his time at the strip bars had practical application? After watching him shake his fine booty, I had to forgive his Haircut from Hell!

I will post Part Three soon.

Haircuts from Hell

Stories of haircuts and hairstyles gone wrong – Part One

Why on God’s green earth are there no songs dedicated to the impossible pursuit of a good hairdresser?! The search for a good man is the stuff of legend and song. Women kvetch in bars and beauty salons about the frogs they have kissed trying to find the prince hidden inside. Many have the warts to prove it. But for millions of women, a good hairdresser trumps the hardships of finding a good man! Sure, we know the general hangouts. And we have recommendations from trusted friends. But unlike dating a guy, you really have to “jump into bed” with a hairdresser to know if you’ve found a good match. Go out with a man and you get a feel for how he may act in a relationship. Not always, but a few more dates and you know pretty well if he’s a control freak, a braggart, a stinge, a romantic or just too needy. The final phase can be delayed until you’re ready, but if this guy has real potential as a mate, the bedroom is less likely to be a deal-breaker. And you can allow a little leeway for the learning curve!

hairstyles from hell

Not so a hairdresser. Say you like the ambiance of the salon. The cost is right. You find this person pleasant and understanding about your needs. And three close friends swear this hairdresser is God’s gift to women. But until you put your trust in those powerful hands and commit to the cutting, you don’t know squat, sister! I know whereof I speak.

Recently I received the third Haircut from Hell of my life. It got me all worked up about this issue with hairdressers and who can we trust, and how many women have been traumatized at the hands of professionals? Almost every woman I know has Haircut from Hell stories. It often starts in childhood with mothers who always cut the bangs too short. Though, when I was growing up, they revolutionized hairstyling with the Toni Home Perm. Oh, God. I remember those noxious fumes and the hard little curlers. Followed by a long period of overly-tight hair that you could barely get a comb through, and adults oozing, “Don’t worry. It’ll loosen up soon, and you’ll look really pretty!” Gee, my mom said I was really pretty before she gave me that hideous perm.

Haircut from Hell I

My first real Haircut from Hell will probably hold the title of #1 Worst Ever for the rest of my life. It was a dreary winter day in 1982. The fifth month of my fifth pregnancy. I needed a pick-me-up. Having no favorite hairdresser yet, I ventured into a salon at Lazarus, because we had a charge card there, and they were having a sale on perms. Big hair was in, and unlike my sister’s, my hair was never big without help. Confident and hopeful, I pointed to a picture of a slutty model with black hair and Brooke Shields eyebrows and asked if my hair could poof out like that with a perm. No problem, she assured me. Two hours later I emerged resembling the Bride of Frankenstein, minus the white streak. I had not gone in and said, “Can you make me look like that hot wench who married the Frankenstein Monster?” Yet somehow my stylist must have interpreted my request that way. Strangers sidled away, fearing I may have escaped after an aggressive round of shock therapy. My friends and family could not look at me without choking back laughter. Followed by lame apologies, “I’m sorry… (snicker)…. It’s not really that bad.” (suppressed giggles) When I went to pick up my husband in the lab where he worked, one of his co-workers later asked, “So, Doug… your wife stick her finger in a light socket?”

These science geeks aren’t known for their suave social skills. Only my sissy was totally sympathetic, “You should sue their asses!” She has anger issues with hairdressers. Weeks later, when it had calmed down and returned to its own color, my picture was taken at our daughter’s fifth birthday party. So I do have photographic evidence, but I suspect the statute of limitations for a lawsuit has expired on Haircut from Hell I.

To be continued…