Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vocabulary Optional

It was time. I think it's been over a year since I got my hair cut. If you've seen me lately, that shouldn't surprise you. I was beginning to resemble Cousin It. My curls look silly if my hair is short, but it shouldn't be so long that I look like I'm trying to win a contest. Remember the fingernail guy in the Guinness Book of World Records? After a certain length, they just start to twist out of control. That's kinda' what happened with my locks.

Yesterday I found out that I'll be attending a seminar at work, and I'm expected to host part of it. That means standing up in front of a crowd of people. Not one of my favorite things to do, but at least they're college students. It shouldn't be too hard, but as soon as I found out I was going to be doing some public speaking, I scheduled a hair appointment.

Back in Iowa, I spent anywhere from $10-$25 on a haircut. I asked around and heard that in DC, even Supercuts would run about $25. So, I went to a place near my apartment that had a good reputation, a $45 haircut and an open spot tonight.

I walked into the salon, was guided to the shampoo station where a woman scrubbed my scalp like she was cleaning the kitchen floor with a hand-sponge. She said a few words, but I'm not sure if they were to me or if they were even in english. After that, she led me to the next room.

When I walked in, an older gentleman said, "Ah!" and popped up to lead me to the salon chair. Wordlessly, he draped the cape around me and began to brush my hair with as much vigor as the shampoo scrub-woman. He didn't say a word, just brushed my unbrushable curls and said nothing when my head bobbed and wiplashed with every tangle. When his hands were close to my face, I could smell a strong odor of stale cigarette smoke. At that point, I began to look around. It was hard to focus with all of the bobbing and thrashing going on around my noggin, but I didn't see any licenses or anything on the wall. I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. For all I know, this guy could be the janitor. I didn't even know his name. I wasn't even sure if he was going to ask how I wanted it cut or just start snipping. I had no idea what was going on.

Finally, he said, "How you want?" Obviously he didn't speak english very well, so I just said, "manageable." I'm pretty sure he had no clue what that word meant. He narrowed it down to, "Long? Short?" Oh boy. This could be scary hair by the time it was all over.

I realize this is another one of those trivial blog entries, but think about this situation - you're at a new hairstylist and you can only communicate with the person by using the most basic descriptive words. For me, it was difficult - my hair is part of my identity. If people meet me when my hair is down, they don't recognize me when I put it up in a ponytail. And, vice versa. It's already happened at both of my jobs - the first time my hair was down, people thought I was someone new they hadn't met. My hair is big and curly and it commands attention. It makes its own rules, there's nothing I can do but go with it.

But even if you don't have hair that steals the spotlight, how strange would it be to go to a stylist and sit quietly while they cut your hair? For the most part, stylists seem to stick with the same conversational formulas. They ask the probing questions - are you a student? does your family live here? blah blah blah and there's always chatter to fill in the silences. I have never had so many boring conversations in my life as I have in a salon chair. Any salon chair.

So, once we got going, I was starting to dig Mennan. (His name was on his business card.) He was concentrating on the cut while I watched, and every once in a while he brought the hair between his fingertips and said, "There?" and I answered, "Okay." We had that conversation about five times. The only real substantial exchange was when I threw him off with the "manageable" request. He asked me a question, it sounded like, "Model? You see model?" I answered, "Where?" (a nice way of saying, "What the hell are you talking about? What model?") He went and got some books so I could show him a picture of what I wanted. Most of the girls in the book had straight hair, I said, "Not many curls." That's when we had are longest exchange:

Him: You perm.
Me: No, it's natural curl.
Him: You perm.
Me: Uhh... no I've never had a perm. [b/c I don't know if he's trying to argue where the curls came from or try to sell me a perm.]

He looked a little flustered this time & grabbed a big roller from the next station. He said "Big curls" and made a wavy motion w/his hand. He seemed to be really into the idea of giving me a perm with big rollers. I'm more adventurous with my hair than you might think, but I answered that one honestly and succinctly, "Costs money." He walked away - still flustered - and came back dragging the guy from the front desk. They spoke to each other in Italian while they made hand gestures and pointed at my hair. The other guy said, "He thinks you would like a perm w/the big rollers to give you long wavy curls." "How much would that cost?" "$140" [I didn't respond in english that time, just sort of a grunt with a hand-to-heart motion as if I'd been shot.] Then they argued a little bit and I heard Mennan say, "Low! Low!" and the other guy was shaking his head now. Mennan was pointing to the ground and seemed to be telling the guy to charge me less. It was funny - he was really committed to this idea of giving me a perm w/the big rollers. Finally the other guy went away and I was going to explain that I just graduated, I paid a dentist $365 to poke around in my mouth today, and the $45 haircut alone was a huge splurge. It would've been futile, so I just watched and he finished my hair in silence interrupted by a few utterances of "Here?" and then, "I shear" before he pulled out the thinning shears and make a quick snip at the ends. Not a bad idea to keep it from getting bunched up.

When I walked out, I was thinking - this was great! No b.s. conversation about my life or Brittany Spears or the weather or whatever the hell stylists talk about just to keep some rapport. This guy was kinda' cool. He was an older guy, and he seemed more suited to be welcoming Frank Sinatra into an Italian restaurant than cutting my hair. He did look like a successful night-club owner in all the mafia films. He could be a movie extra for that genre. As long as there's no dialogue.

In the end, it turns out - no dialogue is a great thing. It was weird at first when I thought he was a custodian, but after he got so inspired with the perm idea and kept checking the length over and over, I think he's probably pretty good at his job. In fact, his other job may be a successful night club/Italian restaurant owner. If it is, I bet he's good at that, too.

I'm home now and I didn't shell out the extra scratch to get it styled or blow-dried, so I walked home looking a bit like Scary Spice (Pre-Eddie Murphy) I'm going to bed super early tonight, get a good night's rest, and see how this 'do works out tomorrow. Now that it's dry, it's pretty short but I think that's a good thing. It was all length and no style. Now, hopefully, it's got some style. I think Mennan does. I can't say for sure b/c I can't communicate in anything other than a 5-10 word vocabulary, but I like him. Maybe I should go get some Italian language tapes from the library (Yes, I already have my card!) and I can keep going back to Mennan and learn Italian at the same time. $45 haircut/language lessons? Seems like a money saver when you throw that in!

I hope you are all doing well and are not spending more than $25 on a haircut. I may have to do what I told Mennan I was going to do before I get a perm, "Piggy bank."

It's starting to rain and I'm getting sleepy. I'm skipping laundry night and putting it off a couple of days. I'm way too tired. G'night everyone and stay out of the rain! And remember my tale of how nice it can be when you don't have to share an obligatory conversation with someone else. Even if they do have your vanity in their hands.


Stephy said...

So where are the pictures for reference, crazy?!

Derek said...

All I can say about "repairs", whether it's to your body, car, hair, teeth, house, etc. . . . 'When it rains, it pours'. Good to hear your still keepin' keepin' on. Later.

Kathleen said...

I got a lot of flack from this post. Sorry, I didn't mean to build excitement about the hairdo. It actually looks just the same, only shorter. I staged an impromptu photo shoot for those of you who have asked to see the haircut. Really - it's no big deal.

Kathleen said... the way, most people at work didn't even notice my hair was 3 or 4 inches shorter.