Tuesday, January 11, 2005

That mirror is sooooo crack'd

Once upon a time, in a land across The Bay, I had extremely long hair. Rapunzel hair. Godiva hair. Sit-down-upon hair. Ma Ingalls. Cousin Itt. Long, long, long hair.

Light brown, wavy and as thick as a camellia bush, my locks were usually to be found in a sleek bun (which I liked to think of as "sexy librarian"), as it was impractical to walk around every day with a full-length hair curtain. Especially when one's boyfriend rode a motorcycle, and the resulting wind-induced snarls had enough tensile strength to suspend the Bay Bridge's future eastern span. No, the hair could not be at liberty--bus doors and heavy machinery were enough of a challenge to preclude setting it loose on a regular basis, not to mention the cautionary tale of Isadora Duncan, her scarf and the convertible. So, a bun it was, though I mixed it up on weekends with a looped-up ponytail.

But, on some rare days--those infrequent sunny, placid days that do not seem like San Francisco--I would feel physically compelled to let it down to breathe in the warm city air. I would just let it hang, a sort of commando coiffure. Those days felt glorious, and I would revel in the freedom. And, to be honest, I thought that I looked as good as I felt, my mane cascading and pooling around me.

With my hair down, however, I noticed an odd thing: men, young and old, and the occasional woman, would come up and say, "Why do you look so sad?" I would be minding my own business, enjoying myself, drinking a cider and working a crossword, and strangers would feel moved to ask if I was lonely, unhappy, troubled, having a bad day. One woman asked "if he beat me."

It didn't make much sense to me till one fine September day when I went--hair a-flapping--to buy a picture frame at Z Gallerie on Haight Street. While I was digging through the piles, I happened upon a print of Waterhouse's "The Lady of Shallot." (You know the one, right? The painfully romanticized girl in the white tunic, looking forlorn as she gides in a little boat toward her doom, which she brought about by looking upon Lancelot instead of sticking to her weaving, or some such rot? The mirror crack'd from side to side and all that?)

Anyway, I realized that, with my hair at liberty, I looked remarkably like this maudlin, helpless Shallot character. And if there was one thing I did not want to be thought, on the eve of my twenty-sixth birthday, it was helpless. Or maudlin, for that matter.

It was a shock, realizing that I might look this way to the world, and, after immediately tying my hair up in a self-supported knot, I did what any girl would do: called some friends and asked for advice.

Since giving advice about a friend's personal appearance can be a bit dicey, and I was getting nothing but polite drivel about how what was important was whether I liked my hair, I figured my best bet was to get them shitfaced and then revisit the subject. (Vodka, my friend the legal truth serum!)

After a few hours at a bar drinking pitchers and then a couple of Absolut greyhounds at one friend's apartment, I tried again. This time, I got what I came for. From my most meek and gentle friend, I heard that I had so much hair, it took over my whole small person and made me look like The Little Match Girl or one of the waifs from a Zola novel. From my most brazen and straightforward friend, I was told that I could keep the hair, but only if I joined Fleetwood Mac, and they'd probably demand at least a trim. (She said the Allman Brothers might have me, but only if I added a beard.)

Oh. God. I had no idea. What was I to do? As I lay in bed, unable to sleep despite the abundant alcohol consumption, I thought it over and came up with two options:

1) Never again leave the house without the librarian bun
2) Cut it off and be free

Next morning, around 6:30 a.m., I rolled gingerly out of bed and got out the phone book. I looked at every salon listing, trying as best my throbbing, fuzzy head could muster to intuit which one might be the place for me. Eventually, I settled on one of the most upscale-looking ads--simple, elegant, tasteful: these people were too good to fuck up my hair, weren't they?--and bided my time till they opened. At 9:00 a.m., I called and begged--not asked, not pleaded, but truly begged--the receptionist to slip me in. Looking for sympathy, I even told her that I had been ignominiously compared to Stevie Nicks the night before, and that I was profoundly, utterly desperate.

This may be a good time to fill you in on why my hair had gotten so long in the first place. To start with, in the late 1980's, I had a great little bob, in ever-changing hues, masterfully cut by an L.A. stylist who had the patience and foresight to recognize the problematic nature of my hair. First, there's the vast, heavy, dense thickness of it. Second, there's the hair's deep desire to spring forth in all directions, a la Robert Smith but without the Aquanet. Third, it's that kind of wavy that's not curly enough to look good without a daily thirty minute tussle with the blow dryer. Fourth, there are the cowlicks: one on each side of my small, pointy face, right at the hairline. So, when I moved to the Bay Area and lost the stylist's services, I didn't know where to go to find someone who could fight and tame The Hair Beast.

Within a couple of months of my arrival in the Bay Area, my hair was long enough to put up in a ponytail, and since I was working a 7:00 a.m. shift at a mail order catalog, couldn't afford to go out and was sleeping on a friend's couch, my excuses for not doing anything about it were myriad. Every morning, into the ponytail it went. Eventually, when the ponytail got long enough to start slapping its just-washed wetness against my back, I moved on to the bun. And that's how it stood for about six years, with the occasional three-inch trim.

So, back to the understanding salon receptionist. Though she still couldn't find an opening for me, she agreed to put me at the top of the cancellation list, and not ten minutes later, she called back and asked if I could be there at 9:45. Could I? Could! I! Ever!

I threw on clothes, wound up my bun, dashed to the bus and made it downtown without a minute to spare. I ran down Pine Street, found the address, and tore in the door at 9:45 exactly, just as the stylist was bidding his previous client goodbye.

The stylist, a very hip man but with a thick, long mane of his own (WARNING! WARNING! DANGER! DANGER!), was very kind to me, asked if I was sure about cutting it off, and then, after taking down the bun and putting it in a loose ponytail, told me to close my eyes. I did, and took a deep, steeling breath, trying not to hear the little cutting noises. When I looked up, my eighteen-inch-long ponytail, corralled by the ponytail band, was dangling loosely in his hand.

Gulp. Breathe. Gulp.

Before I could completely freak the fuck out, I was whisked off for the requisite shampoo, conditioner and neck massage; when I was returned to the chair, little rivulets dripping down my exposed neck, I saw my bedraggled head--wet hair hanging unevenly to my nape--and decided that I might as well go all the way. I asked him to take it "really short." He demurred. I insisted.

As the stylist was clearly not a lover of short hair himself, I should probably have realized that he was not the man for the job, but the WARNING!, WARNING! sirens in my grossly hungover head were malfunctioning. So the scissors snicked around my head, and I tried not to watch, staring instead at my lap. When the blowdryer started up, I just closed my eyes entirely, and hoped he was making it look good. And when all was done, I opened them again and saw...

A pompadour.

A puffy, parted-in-the-middle, duck-tailed pompadour.

I began to tear up, but as I didn't want to insult the stylist, I said I liked it and quickly thanked him, before my voice started to crack and choke. I silently paid the $100 to the receptionist, and strode briskly out the door.

I continued my purposeful pace up Pine Street, but the tears began to stream. And I began to cuss.

Fucking. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

One for each step.

Fucking. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.


The sidewalks were full of busy pedestrians, most of whom took me to be another San Francisco lunatic--they are legion--and so ignored me completely. I wasn't nearly as exciting as, say, the tranny prostitute crackhead picking invisible lint off his/her purple fishnets while singing God Bless America in a rich baritone. Some onlookers, I would imagine, simply thought I had Tourette's. One or two glanced up in sympathy, though I'm not sure they immediately identified the problem as stemming from my GODDAMNED POMPADOUR.

What in the fucking fuck had I done to myself?! Before, maybe I had looked like the forlorn Lady of Shallot; now, I was weeping, miserable and felt utterly doomed--I was, in fact, behaving like her. Over a haircut. This was clearly a step in the wrong direction.

Filled with wretchedness and self-loathing for both my haircut and my vanity, I cuss-walked to a friend's house--one who had been there providing opinions the night before--and cried on her sofa for a few minutes. She, still sleeping off the hangover, introduced me to hair gel, gave me a comb and several incoherent compliments on my "courage", then sent me out to face the world again.

I ended up in a shoe store on Hayes, trying to drown my sorrows with the magic elixir of shopping. As I was browsing some kick-ass boots that I couldn't afford, and imagining how ridiculous I would look in them with my motherfucking haircut, I was approached by a tall, well-dressed man of about thirty, and he handed me his card: Mr. Fabulous Man, Stylist!

It is not pleasing to the ego to have such a bad haircut that a strange stylist is impelled to give you his card that very day. But when you're handed the possibility of fixing a glaring error on top of your head, who would turn it down? Plus, the haircut would be free--he wanted to use me as a hair model, to demonstrate a new, all-the-rage ultra-ultra-short cut. I figured it couldn't possibly be worse than what I was currently sporting, so, with indelicate haste, I answered a resounding, Yes! and signed on immediately

A few days later, Mr. Fabulous lived up to his billing, turning my pompadour into a chic, feline thing that hugged my head without looking butch. (Mr. Fab later said he chose me because I had the three things he needed: 1) thick, short hair, 2) a bad existing haircut, and 3) very small ears.)

After the Fab Cut, I felt I'd been given a reprieve. I liked it, I liked it! And my head felt so light! And it was so new, and current, and hip! I looked better! I felt better! And I felt I owed a large measure of this new confidence and peace of mind to Mr. Fab. I booked appointments with him every six weeks, joined his gay literature book club, canned applesauce for him. He cut out hairstyle pictures for me, called on my birthday, sent witty emails. We would talk of the future, our desires--he wanted a Deco condo in the city, a new Saab and a nice boyfriend; I wanted a Craftsman bungalow, a new Honda and a nice boyfriend. We talked politics and philosophy, modern art and Baroque music. And after every appointment, I would feel a little cuter, a little more confident.

Eventually, when preparing for the wedding, I decided to let the cut grow out somewhat, but Mr. Fab and I kept in touch, and he would clean up the neck for me or trim bits here and there during the awkward transition. Later, he gave me a London Pageboy, a work of art and artifice involving the wholesale thinning of my exuberant mop for that slick, clean look I had always envied, and I kept coming back like an addict--those crisp lines, the way it fell just right!

Recently, though, my cuts have been more infrequent, as being unemployed removes much of the urgency in maintaining my appearance, and being unemployed also makes me more conscious of the $90 plus tip and product--reduced rate!--that I spend with each visit.

So I was unprepared a few weeks ago when, after four or five months away, I gleefully went in to see him, got a new cut for the holidays, touched briefly on our TTC situation (in response to, "Are you thinking of having babies soon?") and heard the following words come out of his mouth: "You know, you should really think hard about it. I've heard that if you wait too long--you're, what, thirty-five now? God, I can't believe it's been nine years already!--the babies are usually troubled, and a lot of them have to be in special ed, especially those IVF babies."

I looked up, aghast, on the verge of speaking words of anger to him for the first time ever, loudly and in front of clients, when I saw that I didn't have to: the woman in the next chair, clearly over forty and at least six months pregnant, gave him a look that stopped him cold. I just sat there, mute, and wondered how this person I've known and liked and respected all these years--the man who saved my pompadoured dignity--could be such a fucking asshole.

Guess the next question is, Anybody out there have a good stylist? If not, I guess the Lady of Shallot isn't quite the end of the world; who knows, maybe J. would kinda like that whole damsel in distress thing. No weaving, though; nix on the weaving.


Blogger Barren Mare said...

Firstly, this is a hilarious story. Secondly, I am the world's worst person to advise on hair stylists, because I cut my own hair, and have done for about nine years now. It helps that I opt for tousled shaggy as if hacked at with nail scissors crop.

Also, what a fucking ignorant asshole. Perhaps a gentle word, given your history?

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your posts...all of them...simply enthrall me...

I have the Lady of Shallot print...I shall take a closer look at it. I too have hair like yours, though have a roundish face that would not take well to a short fashionable cut...so I relate to the pain you went through for the brief moments you had the bad cut.

But I relate more to the pain you experienced when your stylist/friend of many years was so insensitive. What a disappointment. I'm so sorry.


8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry that you had to hear that. However, he is a gay man. He has no idea, and maybe never will. It's completely up to you to decide if that comment was unforgivable. And whether he's worth the effort of educating. He's good with your hair, but is he also a friend, one worthy or forgiveness? It kind of sounded like he wasn't? So you'll find another Mr. or Ms. Fabulous. In a city like yours, I'll bet it won't be hard. Look around for women with fabulous hair of your texture and then be shameless about asking them who does it. Good luck to you.


10:12 PM  
Blogger MsPrufrock said...

The Lady of Shallot is one of my favourite paintings as it happens...I cried at Tate Britain once because it was my first trip there and the painting was on loan. I have no excuse, as that was years prior to the influence of fertility medication. This post reminds me that I desperately need to get my hair cut as well. I'm a bit distrustful of stylists, though surely whatever they do would beat my current "elegant crack whore" look.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lady of Shallot makes me think of salad dressing - is it spelled the same way? I hesitate to comment because I don't want to offend anyone but frankly gay men are the worst (besides MILs and SILs) because I think it is actually a doubly troubling issue - they don't want to know about our slimy nether regions but they also are completely powerless if they want to have children. As a walking cliche some of my best friends are gay but they're really not that sympathetic about cervixes and mucus! So I think you should give him the benefit of the doubt or not - and give him a blow by blow gory account of your IUI - good stylists are very hard to find. When I lived in yr neck of the woods I was a hair model for short haircuts - they always want new victims. Love your blog - keep writing about reality!

5:59 PM  
Blogger stephanie said...

I would echo Kimm's comment, completely. Gay men (at least the ones in my life!) are well known for the thoughtless commnet here and there. If you've been seeing him for so long, and like his work, it may be worth a gentle discussion. Good hairdressers are hard to find!

11:55 AM  

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