Encounter #2: The Place Where She Can Be Herself

Photo by Jason Schwartzman

“Is this day over yet?” the customer asks.

It is 1:30 PM.

No one knows what to say. Not the owner. Not the stylist. Not me, as the owner is cutting away my hair. Vague sadnesses leak out of her. She can’t find her center, she says.

But the customer is calmed by the salon. She feels comfortable, like when she is here, she can really be herself. The way she can talk, she just can’t in other places. She refers often to a surgery and later it is clear she is talking about a breast enhancement. Before the surgery, I learn, she had a dress with a very slim fit. It looked great on her. After the surgery it didn’t fit anymore. She’d bought it for $2500, sold it for $1500. How she phrased it, it was as though she’d made $1500.

“No,” the owner says, “you lost $1000.”

The customer more or less ignores this. She is in the salon, the place where she can be herself, where she can boast about her $1500 profit. I understand. There is a Before and there is an After — we are in the After. Anyway, it is the stylist she comes for, not the owner. The stylist, who laughs with her, makes her hair look nice, asks her questions, keeps the fragile momentum going.

After she leaves, returned once again to a world of cars and strangers, the stylist starts with the remarks. It takes less than a minute—the silhouette of the departed has just barely moved across the glass window. The stylist cleans up the hair, these last parts of her, and begins disinfecting the equipment. She brings up things about the customer as she cleans a pair of shears. She starts with the surgery and then moves on to her expenditures and her attitudes. One by one, she attacks them, as though challenging ridiculous items on a grocery list.

“I just don’t get that,” she keeps saying.

If the customer had overheard, though, I would have told her not to worry about it. We all have to sell for a loss sometimes.


This piece is part of a collection of stories about strangers, No One You Know.