Monday, April 29, 2013

Stylist-less in Seattle

Thanks to Michele Genthon for contributing this month's hairpisode.

The worst part of moving is finding a new hair stylist, but I have developed a failsafe method. Whenever I relocate (something I have done often in adulthood), I search my new community for a woman with a fantastic haircut that matches my style. As soon as I find her, whether in a restaurant, supermarket, department store, or even on the street, I approach her and say, in my most non-threatening voice, “Excuse me, but you have a wonderful haircut. I just moved here and was wondering if you could tell me who cuts your hair?”

The other woman beams and gives me the name and number of her stylist.

This has always worked—until I moved to Seattle. Styles are different in the Northwest, a place conducive to rain, fog and wind, so my search did not yield anyone with a cut like mine. After a fruitless year of searching, I attended a charity auction. One of the items was a “free” haircut with an “acclaimed” hairstylist who would design my hair to suit my face. I bid first and often enough to win.

When I called to make the appointment, the first question the stylist asked was, “How did you hear about me?” I explained about the auction item. He wanted to know where I had purchased it as, “I have several of those floating around,” then proceeded to flaunt his credentials. “I’ve cut some very important people’s hair. I worked in New York and Hollywood. I did Tyra Banks’ hair.”

Why are you in Seattle? I wondered, but the possibility of finding a skilled stylist overcame my trepidation.

“Do you mind coming to my house?” he asked. “It’s easier for me.”

He gave me directions to a sub-basement apartment, where he had converted his kitchen into a “beauty parlor.” As I glanced furtively at the improvised setup, he hastened to show me a picture of himself with Tyra Banks, after he had cut her hair. Then he studied my face and proposed something straight. Straight? With my curls? Excited by the possibility, I agreed.

My new stylist went to work. As he cut, he asked me where I had gotten his name, and I reminded him of the auction item. He whittled, pruned, washed and blew me out, talking nonstop through the whole process, finishing up with a flattening iron.

“Feel it!” he said. “It feels like silk.”

I touched it gingerly. It felt like it was coated with Wesson Oil—but it was straight—and I was thrilled!

When I called for a second appointment, the stylist asked again, “Where did you hear about me?” I reminded him about the auction item and my previous visit. “Oh,” he said.

I returned to the make-shift setup in his apartment, but this time it seemed a bit darker than before, and a woman who was not introduced to me sat on a couch silently watching the two of us. He talked incessantly and I wondered how he could concentrate when his mouth was moving so fast.

Though a bit uneasy about the locale, I was enjoying my new hairdo, so I called for a third appointment. “Where did you hear about me?” the stylist asked. I reminded him that he had cut my hair twice before.

“Oh,” he said. “Well, it would be better for me if you came to the salon where I’m working now. I only work there a few hours a week but I could fit you in.”

Relieved, I agreed. The salon had a big name in town, but the salon interior was disappointing. At one time it might have been as plush as a velvet settee, but now it had the air of a couch whose stuffing was leaking out.

“Where did you hear about me?” the stylist asked as I settled in.

I recounted the story as he began to cut. His movements were slow and he did not say a word. I wondered if his previous gregariousness was not appreciated in this fairly quiet salon. After a few moments, he set down his scissors.

“I’ll be right back,” he said. “I have to go to the restroom.”

My stylist was gone long enough for me to begin to fidget. Finally, he came back, sniffling and rubbing his nose.

“Allergies,” he said, and went back to work.

Now, though, he was as gregarious as ever, whizzing from one topic to another, as he sniffed and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.. Oh my God! I had seen this in the movies and on television. He was on something! I froze. As the scissors clipped around my head, I sat as motionless as possible, praying he would not cut a chunk out of my hair—or my ear! I didn’t breathe easily until I'd reached my car and locked myself inside.

“You’ve still got straight hair,” my husband noted when I arrived home.

“Yeah,” I said, “but I’m not going back.”

“Why not?”

“Because! The guy was doing coke while he was cutting my hair!”

I went back to the stores and streets of Seattle, searching for a woman with a fantastic haircut, something that would work with curly hair.

Thanks to Liz Clegg who checked my terminology and who gives me a “fantastic” haircut every time.

Michele Genthon writes historical fiction and maintains a blog called Connecting Women.