Why do my beauticians like everything but hair?
Scowling from the hydraulic chair, I was too young to say, “This is some bulls — t.” But my 5-year-old mind knew beauticians weren’t supposed to eat chocolate chip cookies and smoke cigarettes while they did your hair. And my grandmother, the same woman who corrected everyone’s grammar at all times, wouldn’t even bother to correct the Cookie Lady. All I had to do was say “brung,” and my grandmother would hop over the dividing table and lecture me for 30 minutes. But Cigarette Cookie Monster was getting away with second-hand smoke exposure and spilling cookie crumbs while curling my hair. I shook my head and hoped for the best. This was my introduction to beauticians.
While women in social isolation have complained about how they need their hair dyed, permed, snipped for split ends, curled, washed, deep conditioned and pressed, I can do all of the above well. I’m not here to brag about it. I just realized it was the only way to survive my bad luck with beauticians. Some women are loyal to their hair salons for decades, but my worst dates come with better options than my hair tales. I’m not exaggerating, and I’ll prove it.
At some point, my grandmother felt sorry for me with the Cigarette Cookie Lady and took me to slow-as-molasses Anne, a hairstylist around the corner. She was a prettier woman than the smoker, but I was pissed that I was missing Saturday meetings at Girl Scouts to get curly ponytails. I wanted to hang out with my friends and have beat-up hair. My grandmother thought otherwise.
She also wouldn’t admit what I knew: sometimes pretty women are evil and Anne was a sadist. She clearly saw an open scratch on the back of my head and put relaxer on my hair anyway. (Black women everywhere know that it’s an absolute no-no to perm hair with an open scratch. And if you’ve seen the 1992 film “Malcolm X,” you know how much wrestling it took to keep me from dumping my head in a toilet bowl or the nearest sink. Yeah, it was that bad.) Not only was Anne a sociopath who didn’t mind small children’s eyes watering up “to get hair straighter,” but a sloth could walk around all of Chicago before she was done with my hair. And she didn’t have any cookies to share with me either. Hard pass.
By high school, I put my foot down and decided I would find my own beautician. I started off small, testing out a beauty salon three blocks away from my childhood home. No cigarettes. No cookies. And I’d mastered the art of beating my head to death instead of scratching it. I was all set. Then I found out that my new beautician was allergic to clocks. If there were six women who could all be there by 2 p.m., she booked us at 2:01 p.m., 2:02 p.m., 2:03 p.m., 2:04 p.m., 2:05 p.m. and — no, not 2:06 p.m. because that’s when she decided to bail on all of us and take a lunch break. Jeezus. I had homework to do and could not deal with this one. Time to go.
I thought I was onto something with the next beautician, who I found in the Yellow Pages. She was almost always late for our appointments and had something smart to say if I was ever late, too, but she worked magic on my hair in approximately two hours, no matter what I asked for — relaxer, deep conditioner, wash, full haircut, whatever. I could deal with her being a few minutes late. I was loyal to her all through high school. I went to senior prom, and shortly after that, she decided to become a school bus driver. Just packed up all of her curling irons and shampoo, and went straight to busing kids to school. WTF?
It’s usually considered the ultimate disrespect to go to another beautician in the same salon, but what else was I supposed to do? I liked that salon, and the whole crew of ladies (six or so) could all do hairstyles I liked. I spied the one I liked the most and asked her to take over where the Bus Driver drove off. To my surprise, I liked the way the replacement stylist did hair even more. Well, well, well, I thought I had a winner there. I went off to college and tried to stay in touch with her whenever I drove home from Michigan or Missouri to get my hair done again. Although I’d gotten a reputation as the college hairstylist who could perm, curl and style my peers’ hair, it was nice to sit back, relax and let someone else do mine.
But by the time I graduated, I strutted into the shop, all set to get my favorite new ‘do and the salon owner told me my beautician decided to quit and become a full-time Ford Mechanic. What is up with these beauticians leaving me for cars?
I gave my hairstylist hunting one more go with a male beautician who wouldn’t stop tapping on my shoulders like I was a piano. I asked for one hairstyle, and he “um hmmed” me to death and did something so horrid to my hair that I still scowl at it when I see pictures. I pondered on how long it would take me to find the next auto-body shop. I’m sure some woman changing somebody’s oil could fix whatever he did to my hair. But I sighed, shook my head at him smiling at the nightmare haircut and never ever went back.
From that point on, I decided I was going to be my own beautician. I knew the basics. I knew I wasn’t going to let Chips Ahoy distract me. No car mechanics with common sense would ever try to recruit me. I’d given up my smoking days my sophomore year of college. And best of all, I knew that there would be no double-bookings. I may not have the cosmetology license behind me, but there will be no schoolchildren to snatch me away from my own hair needs. I’m pretty proud of my healthy, happy hair. But the next time you’re getting your car fixed, check out what the mechanic’s hair looks like. If it’s way too neat for someone fixing an engine, tell that lady “Shamontiel misses you.”
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