Monday, October 13, 2008

As a man matures and gradually becomes enured to the resolute pace of his impending fate, there comes a time when he realizes he absolutely has to do something about his hair.

When you're twenty-something, nobody gives a damn about your hair. Wander around with lettuce on your head and it still won't overshadow that fresh-faced complexion, that firm body, that energetic spirit. Once you turn forty, though, everything's sliding downhill. That bad hair isn't an anomaly: it's icing on a wrinkly cake. Just sit there and passively watch the process and the next thing you know kids are calling you "Sir" on the street.

Every time I noticed another sign of age I took a drastic measure to balance it out. My crow's feet made me buy stylish sunglasses. Love handles prompted me to buy expensive shirts. Gray hair? Adios SuperCuts, hello hairdresser.

I soon learned, though, that like the tech bubble and the real estate bubble, we have a hairstyling bubble in New York. What other explanation can there be for haircuts that cost three hundred bucks? Did people really pay this? I wondered. I mean, it isn't rent. It doesn't keep you alive, or a roof over your head. This is somebody moving SCISSORS around your head for half an hour. This is somebody who took like ONE FREAKIN' COURSE, and all of a sudden they turned into OPRAH.

Calling the salons for estimates I finally understood how my dad felt in restaurants. Before he ate anything, he'd scream about the price disparity. "TEN BUCKS FOR THIS LASAGNA?" he yelled. "It's five cents worth of noodles and a quarter's worth of cheese!" Three hundred bucks, half an hour, snip snip snip. Unless I was going home with a hot tub or without my gallbladder, I was being ripped off.

So, I hit the internet, where desperate folks dodge reality. Much to my surprise I found literally dozens of salons offering free haircuts to "models." I emailed all of them, initially reluctant to call myself a model but soon warming to the word. I whittled through the replies -- did I think would be a competent stylist? did I want getting anywhere near me? -- before deciding on the Wella salon at Rockefeller Center.

The instructor explained the process to a roomful of models bright and early Friday. They taught haircoloring courses to professional stylists who flew in from all over the country. Each model was assigned two stylists, and together they'd decide on the new look. Haircut, hair color, the whole package. A total makeover for free.

When the stylists descended on the models, it was like being picked for teams in gym class. I wasn't the best of the bunch, obviously, as the attractive stylists ran for the attractive women. Eventually two young women wandered over and introduced themselves as Lisa and Julie. They wouldn't have been my first pick, the only ones in the crowd with perms and Juicy sweats. Still, they were excited, which reassured me. "You're cute!" one announced. "This is gonna be fun!" the other chirped.

"You're professionals?" I asked. "You do this for a living?"

They giggled. "Only for years," Lisa bubbled. "We only work at Jean Philippe!" Julie added. I smiled confidently, but every detail I noticed added to my wariness. The pancake makeup. The Indian dreamcatcher earrings. If they were competent stylists, wouldn't there be evidence in their clothes? Lisa noticed my facade cracking. "You'll look twenty years younger when we're done!" she announced, making me wonder if puppies and lollipops were part of the plan.

The rest of the morning flew by in a blur. I think we discussed hair color. I probably agreed to golden highlights, maybe some darker strands for contrast. I'm positive I told them I wanted it to look natural. But gradually, over the course of two hours, I began to lose hope. They were twenty. The Jean Philippe salon was owned by a guy named Carl. It was in Milwaukee. Still, it came as a surprise when they spun me around after blowdrying and I saw a full hair of sassy black and gold hair.

Black. Pitch black. Satin black. Middle-of-the-night black, penguin fur black. Interspersed at regular intervals with shiny metallic streaks, like gold pinstripes on a black Camaro.

I didn't want to be a downer, so I tried to think of compliments. I looked like a goth girl after a surfing holiday, the Bronx's version of Morticia Adams, a gay Scottish terrier. So I just smiled and said "Wow!"

"You look so young!" Julie exclaimed. I checked my reflection again. On the contrary: the blackness made my skin look paler and wrinklier, like an eighty-year-old Italian man thinking shoe polish on his hair made the years slide away. I looked like Dirk Bogarde at the end of Death in Venice, like the second seawater hit me it'd bleed black dye down my face.

At the end of the class, the students led the models one by one onto a small stage. "What did you do for her?" the instructor asked, prompting the students to explain their techniques. When I got onstage, the room went quiet. "What did you do to him?" the instructor asked, like a policeman spotting O. J. hovering over a body.

Julie and Lisa bubbled their methods while the crowd sat stunned. Yup, that confirmed it. Who knew the power of hair? I wondered. I went in as just another regular Joe; emerged as Schneider from One Day at a Time.

I didn't want to disappoint Julie and Lisa, since they'd obviously done their best. I pretended I was excited. I pretended I loved it. They believed me. Maybe I'd be a better actor than model, I decided, because as I walked out they were high-fiving each other. "And that's why we work at the best salon in the mall!" one declared.


Yet Another Steve said...

Oh man, I feel your pain. After my haircutter Sadie ran off to join the airlines, I was cast adrift and had to find a new haircut in the Yellow Pages. The place wasn't too far away, the salon looked professional (like I would know) and an ancient queen with delusions of grandeur ended up cutting my hair. When he was finished and I put my glasses on, I was appalled to see a sort of swooping gilded pompadour. Stammering my thanks, I hastened to my car, where I found to my horror that I couldn't even get a comb through it. Had to drive around until dark so I could sneak back into my house and furiously wash, wash, wash it into something that didn't look like a one-piece plastic Halloween "wig." So here is my tip: until it grows out (or you get a buzz cut), wear a head scarf. If anyone asks, tell them you've converted to Islam. If they point out that only Islamic women wear head scarves, accuse them of religious insensitivity. This too shall pass.

Dan G said...

Oh dear. Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience.

I had a painful flashback while reading. It was 1998 and my then girlfriend asked if she could use me as a guinea pig. She was graduating from hairdressing academy or whatever they call it. She gave me blonde highlights, too, although they don't sound as painful as yours. I just looked like I was a surfer dude who came from the beach. Still, I was mortified. My mortification eventually ended the relationship. I made the mistake of telling another female friend how I didn't much like how my hair came out. That friend told my then girlfriend. Then girlfriend called me an asshole and split up with me.

I figured in the end it all saved time. I mean, how could I have had a long term relationship with a girl who was going to borrow me for practice sessions all the time?

Anyway, thank you for sharing.


R J Keefe said...

Query: Do you get what you pay for or not?

vivek said...

I think the best solution for you would be to return to Supercuts. They offer a color camo service which "adds more pepper to salt and pepper hair" so it is extremely natural looking. Its a 10 minute service and only costs around $25-30. I guarantee you will like it and it will definately knock some years off without it being obvious. Good Luck!

RomanHans said...

R J, contrary to the old maxim, sometimes there is such a thing as a free lunch. Unfortunately, in my experience, it's usually cabbage-based.

My sad little hair freebie is, I'm pleased to report, already fading. They used a "demi-permanent" hair color, which means it fades with every wash, and after eight hundred showers I'm now closer to an off-black.

David said...

Actually I paid a lot more for haircuts when I was in college and after graduation then I do now. Even with inflation.

Of course, there actually was hair to cut back then so it kind of mattered how it looked.