On The Fringe

Third Eye
January 9, 2011, 2:20 pm
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Friday was a crazy , busy day for the salon. I am training a new hairdresser. Robyn delighted in the idea of the industry, being influenced by a friend who was eager to do hair in london. Her friend left for europe and robyn stayed in moon township. She tired quickly of the Q-tips entering one by one in her new place of employment for shampoo and sets, and decided the business wasn’t for her. Friday she arrived with her model, I was doing my own client, so as she worked, my third eye was watching intently as her hands weaved there way through this mass of  long dark hair to be transformed into a hip layered bob.


Hair Peace is a reality
January 7, 2011, 12:46 pm
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Ok the book is finished, they are selling like hot cakes in the salon, but what happens after The last client has a copy? I asked my client paige yesterday how to promote this book . She teaches new age business tactics in one of the universities in the city, and is wicked smart about techno twitters and other marketing smart techniques to make noise. Her suggestion is to begin to blog about the salon on a daily basis, so you cyber space peeps are interested in me and my book. So, I will do my best to keep you all informed by  you guys and gals being the fly on the wall of the salon. What do you think?

Eyebrows be gone!
January 12, 2010, 6:10 pm
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Although, I must say, of all the cosmetology nightmares, my favorite horror story is that of Mary’s eyebrows.  It was the week we were learning about eyebrow shaping, facial hair removal, and of course, make-up styles of the 1930’s.  There were two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  I was in the afternoon class that took me from school just before math, but somehow I wasn’t too upset. The students from the morning had mistakenly left the wax machine on, so it was practically boiling by the time we arrived.  When our eyebrow models showed up, the wax was hotter than any of us realized. Mary, our unfortunate student model, was about to have a once in a lifetime experience. The wax would remove her unwanted eyebrow hair without a problem, along with her hair follicle and a little skin as well.  The strip of muslin was dipped into the scorching wax and carefully placed on Mary’s already thin 1970’s style brow.  She cringed.  There was no turning back now.  Mary watched with a hand held mirror as the muslin was ripped from her brow.  With the strip, gone were the eyebrows forever.

I hadn’t realized how funny people looked without eyebrows until that day. They really are the frames for your eyes. Mary observed her new look with what I thought was utter astonishment…she seemed surprised, but how would we know?  After all, we’d just literally ripped the expression right off of her face.  She longingly searched for some hair, any hair, but there was none to be found. The wax had done its job a little too well. Eyebrows have a way of forecasting your emotions and, from that day on, I never could tell if she was scared, happy, or sad. I continue to this day to trim Mary’s bangs, and can be trusted never to forget the mistake we made so many years ago. They are never cut above her eyelids.

My First Time.
December 4, 2009, 7:50 pm
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Chapter 4

A year had gone by.  It was time to put my fingers into my own personality of hairdressing.   I had watched all of the best; it was now up to me to make my hands do what the other hairdressers did so effortlessly.  I had my own station…and would soon have my first client. The loud speaker called me to the reception desk to greet my first paying patron.

“Susan, would you come to the front of the salon please.”

Oh shit.  Here I go.  My first client in this salon with all of these seasoned hairdressers around me who are going to watch me deliver or choke. I have so much to remember.  I introduced myself with a big smile, making her feel as comfortable as possible, a disguise my mother taught me when I was a youngster, moving from city to city. Hide your freezing fear no matter how terrified you may be.  I would be cutting this woman’s hair for money ,and this was going to be great if my hands could remember what was inside my head.  I could pull this off; I was the great pretender. It was easy to look like I knew what I was doing. I began to go to work, trying to create some interesting conversation while concentrating on the hair cutting system, and my mind did what it always does when I panic – forget everything I know.

Right before a test I would memorize all of the answers and then – bam!  It was as if my brain was a toilet and someone gave it a good flush.  I was fumbling around on her head – lost and swept into an unfathomable situation. I was a feeling as if I was in front of the chalkboard in grade school, not knowing  the answer and  praying for the light to go off in my head. Hoping she was unable to see the perspiration developing under my arms and on the top of my lip, I turned the chair away from the mirror. Where were Stefan’s fingers I had so diligently watched over and over?  I realized I had no picture in my head of the end result and a catastrophe was about to take place. The system. The system? My thoughts w ere spinning out of control and I was lost in my first haircut! All of my insecurities moved across my face flashing like a neon light: failure, stupidity, embarrassment.  I continued cutting. A chunk came and fell to the floor while I moved to the other side of her head and lopped off a hunk by her ear.  I thought  maybe it should be one length.  No…I’ ll give her a bang.  I fumbled to the front then to the back, back to the front , maybe the top should be shorter?  How could this be happening to me? My eyes began to fill with tears that were ready to spill onto her hair.  I retreated.  I walked over to Dee, a fellow hairdresser with a lot of experience.  I begged her to go back and fix this poor girl’s hair.  It was sticking out in places that hair should never stick out.  Remember, this was the 70s. Punk hair wasn’t invented  until the early 80’s. Meg Ryan was still in diapers.

“Dee, please help me”, I begged. “I have ruined an unsuspecting young girl’s hair, I’ll never be able to fix this mess.”

She looked at me with a sternness in her eyes and said, “ Go back out there and finish cutting her hair and then curl it with a curling iron and tell her she looks great .”  She wasn’t going to save me? Some friend she turned out to be, I thought. I would have walked out that night and never came back. Instead, I did what she told me to do. I sauntered  back to the chair,  wiping a few remaining  tears on my sleeve. I followed  Dee’s  instructions, curling her hair  and snipping the sticking out pieces  that refused to lie down.   She inspected it with a hand held mirror, not even noticing the overly-layered mess, and smiled approvingly. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t going to march to the manager and complain to have me fired!

Six weeks later she was back…requesting me to cut her hair. This was the moment I realized that it wasn’t all about the talent – it was about the way I treated her. This was a huge lesson for me – a “light bulb” moment as Oprah would say, a lesson that taught me to abandon the fear I carried of not being good enough, and understanding that I  was going to have to develop a lot of patience.  That was also a first, learning to be patient…with myself.

“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
December 1, 2009, 6:44 pm
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As I have said, my clientele is a very eclectic group of artists, academics, and crazy people. In which order…I am not sure. My salon is very close to the local public radio station’s studios and offices. At one point my salon served all of Mr. Rogers staff, the famous public television show we all grew up with in the sixties and seventies, Mister Rogers neighborhood. One brilliant art director for the show who visits my salon is named kathy. Her hair is similar to my Aunt Betty’s. When I first cut her hair and suggested a shampoo called pure abundance, she was willing and able to maximize any kind of body she could get.  I explained to her that there was clay in the shampoo to make the hair follicle feel thicker. Her response was,

“Are you sure I couldn’t just dip my head into one of the litter boxes at home?”

Kathy loves cats. The last time she counted she had close to 20. I visited her home once. As I sat down in her kitchen she asked me if I preferred wet or dry food. You would have to see the refuge cat camp to believe it. Everyone knew she had the heart to save any abandoned cat in the city. And she took them all — the mother Theresa of city cats.  Kathy always said I was able to make her hair look French and that I was able to work with “her lifeless hairs better than any hairdresser she had ever worked with”. Kathy is one of the most creative women I know. She was always looking for help with the props on Fred’s set – she had the demanding job of setting the stage for the taping of the show each day. One day she came to me and asked me if I could take care of Lady Elaine’s wigs. They needed to be combed and dusted.

“Sure, “ I said. “Bring them by.” Lady Elaine and the other famous clients I’m about to name drop are some of the most famous clients I have worked on in the salon to this day — the puppets of mister Rogers neighborhood. Lady Elaine’s up-do was combed and cleaned for the following day’s shoot.

Not only did I get Lady Elaine, she also brought Danielle the Tiger and X the Owl. They stayed in the salon for a couple of days. Everyone loved seeing their old friends from The Mister Roger’s Show.

Knowing Kathy is one of the highlights of my career. I always enjoy our visits. She helped a friend of mine, Karen, who was an out of work artist and needed some cash.Kathy informed her how Mr. Rogers  wanted sketches of  Mr. Mcfeely and many Modes of Transportation from A-Z including  airplanes, buses, and trains cars . Once Karen had  completed  the sketches Mr. Rogers told Kathy that all the sketches were very good but he had some issues with the shading on Mr. McFeely’s pants. My friend Karen had decided to make Mr McFeely anatomically correct – a definite no-no according to Kathy. She told Karen to make sure that his genitalia was not even implied. We all got a great laugh over those sketches. At one point Karen gave Mr. McFeely an erection standing by one of the modes of transportation. Kathy and I laughed but it never made it to the neighborhood!

Full Circle
November 3, 2009, 8:16 pm
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(Page 99) One of my favorite aunts died yesterday.  She was a pioneer. She was the only woman in my family who educated herself and had a career. My aunt wasn’t as pretty as her sister Alice, my mother. Aunt  Betty had a rather large nose average size body and beautiful hands that she manicured every evening.  I think she knew she was behind the eight ball having to live in the shadow of my mother’s beauty. She often would comment to other people that Alice got the looks but she got the brains. She was the first person to handle me after my mother delivered me. She was there when I took my first breath.

Aunt Betty was the head nurse in South Side hospital in Pittsburgh. She told some amazing stories including abortion night. This was the evening women would go to back alley abortionists. My aunt was the one who would care for them after they had almost bled to death, or infections that were beyond antibiotics. She opened a lot of clients eyes to the horror of women’s lives prior to Roe vs. Wade.

I was with her the weekend before she left this world. We laughed and had a good visit. I was sure I’d be seeing her one more time…pulling up in front of the salon , climbing the steps wearing her martini sunglasses. It didn’t happen that way.

I loved doing her hair because she knew how hard her hair was to do.

She would say, “What  are you going to do with these baby eagle feathers?”

I would blow on her head lightly and then say, “Ok you’re finished”.

When I first opened my salon I told her “No smoking in the salon”. She would head down to the basement and soon I would smell cigarette smoke.

I’d yell to her, “Aunt Betty are you smoking down there?

She would come upstairs and under her breath she would say “Be quiet !”

When I received the phone call from my mother that she had died, I wanted to make sure her hair was done. I felt honored to do the last comb-out for her.  I felt as if I had gone full circle with her.  She was the first to touch my head. I was the last to touch hers.

“Well”, I said, “Lets see what we can do with these feathers.”

“Make it look good toots,” I thought I heard her reply.

I never enjoyed school.
October 21, 2009, 7:02 pm
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I wasn’t a good student. I had anxiety about everything. I’m sure that if I had been a student in this day and age I would have been diagnosed with some kind of learning disability that would have forced me to ride on a small yellow bus .I had never made it through elementary math, as soon as the fractions inverted I was lost all the way to algebra. Luckily a kind hearted  teacher advised me to give up on math so I did.

The day Cindy Johnson and I skipped a class (to smoke in the girls room) we ducked into a dark auditorium to avoid a teacher roaming the bathroom looking for snuffed out butts and their owners. We were hard to catch and no one had seen us sneak in, so we slithered to the back of the auditorium where we quietly sat down. I guess you could say this encounter was divinely inspired, because the end of the sentence that I  heard  was leaving high school at 12:30 to attend Vo-tech.

“Hmmmm, Vo Tech”, I wondered.  “What is that?”

“Who cares?”, Cyndi said, “ We get out of school!”

Yes, there is a god and my first blessing had arrived! I would have had any excuse to get out of school. In the 70’s, everyone was getting high, smoking pot and skipping classes.  I tended to be bored with the high school curriculum.  It may have been the marijuana first thing in the morning that created most of my confusion, but typing first period high and looking forward to lunch was not preparing me for an academic carrier.

The next thing I knew I was on a bus heading for Steel Valley Vo-tech School. Cindy and I decided that it would be much cooler to learn to cut hair than to cut class.

My family members and friends came from the white ghetto, in the south part of the city.  My dad was smarter than most and he became a plant manager for a can company. Uncles and aunts worked for the steel industry or  Heinz, the other big Pittsburgh employer. Back in the day, the Heinz Company used to hand out “pickle pins”. Young kids adored them, and they stayed in jewelry boxes for years. My friend Joyce Stacks had quite the collection.  I met Joyce on the Vo-Tech bus along with all the other kids who were trying to get out of high school. Joyce thought she could use the pickle pin to get a huge laugh. Her plan:  all the girls in our cosmetology class would wear a plastic green pickle pin on their lapels.  Mrs. Kova, our junior cosmetology instructor, bore more than a small resemblance to a pickle; she was a mirror image. The girls nicknamed her “Mrs. Pickle”. She was short-legged, wider through the middle and had sprouts for arms that were set a little too high. Her head and her hair came to a strange pickle-like point that was the perfect shade of green. Her bark was loud, but she was fair and she liked me. I respected her, but I must  admit, I was part of the pickle pin club . My membership to the club lasted until I took beauty school more seriously.  After all, this was the first time in my academic career I passed with straight A’s. Joyce was a beauty school drop-out, placing herself in a real  pickle, and  Mrs. Kova ended her beauty career respectively.

I had no idea that cosmetology theory would be so much like the first year of nursing school. Learning about muscles and bones and memorizing all the nerves in the face, hands, neck and eyes.  Although, regardless of what I had to do, I wanted no part in bagging groceries or higher education. I wanted a career that would make some money fast so I could participate in the culture of consuming.  Our second year was the beginning of assaulting patrons. They were either too cheap to go to a real salon or they really didn’t care about their hair. They would line up on Friday afternoons after our theory class like lambs to the slaughter. They were assigned to students who had been cutting hair for less than a week; I hadn’t any clue on how to hold scissors, let alone how to cut someone’s hair!

The beauty school text was the same as it had been in the 1930’s. We had to learn finger waving roller sets, pancake makeup, eyebrow waxing, manicures and massage. Most of this was useless, but you needed it to pass your state board examinations and have a career. “Passing the boards” was the phrase that the instructors used to  intimidate the students into practicing in the  clinic . The boards, your license, your life. So we practiced and practiced…if not on human subjects, on dummies that we carried around the hallways under our arm pits looking like we where working for Henry the eighth.

Finger waving day was hard, and I may have been able to make them if I  had any idea what they looked like.  After all,  my grandmother wore this look  in the 1920s.  When I actually figured out how to create these waves I decided not to practice as much as Janice, who’s fingers locked up in a muscle spasm from dilengently  practicing longer than anyone.  She was unable to take the finger waving test because of it, but she had  perfected  a look that no one was ever going to wear in this century.

I preferred to concentrate on the “uni-perm”. I must have foreseen the afro that would be all the rage by 1978.  I placed the permanent wave rods in my patrons’ hair and applied the solution, which was stronger than battery acid and made the hair into chewing gum. Placing hot clamps from a  medieval  torture technique assured the patron of either having very curly hair or no hair at all. I was a witness to the destruction of these poor unsuspecting patrons. One woman’s  hair was left on the rods instead of her head. She was elderly and never noticed once I placed the remaining twenty or so hairs onto the rollers. As long as it came out looking like a fluffy Q-tip they were always pleased.  That machine destroyed more hair than all of the students in the two and a half years that I attended school. There was an abundance of devastating hair incidents happening in those formative baby beauty steps.

In fact, there were many hair and skin tragedies. One that stands in the forefront of my mind was the day we learned to frost hair. Isn’t that what happens to cake?  Is Betty Crocker teaching this class?  I wondered.  The word ‘highlight’ had not yet been uttered, so frosting, as in cake, was on the agenda for the day.  This was due to the resemblance of bleached hair to the white frosting on a dessert. The model (human of course) was placed in front of the mirrored station area.  Shirley was always willing to be a model for any new procedure that the class needed to learn. If you were lucky enough to be chosen as the model you received many benefits. The whole afternoon you were excused for participating in the hands-on events. Shirley  tended to be lazier than most of the gals. She was a heavy smoker who insisted on relieving herself quite frequently–and we all knew for what. She was a chain-smoker who had to have a hit of nicotine every twenty minutes. Shirley loved a good lazy afternoon. Volunteering to model was her idea of a perfect day in cosmetology clinic.  The first student began to prod at her from under the frosting cap while she winced and contorted her face into an obviously painful state. With each poke she grew more restless, and  continued twisting and  turning like a chicken on an electric floor–receiving jolts of electricity. The rubber cap with holes was placed over her head like a condom over a penis. Shirley looked ridiculous as she held on to the flimsy flaps that covered her eyes. Each student would step up to her head taking turns pushing the metal crochet hook through the hole fishing for a lock of hair. Getting the crochet hook through the rubber hat was hard enough, finding the scalp and the hair that had to be pulled through was often impossible. Students would take turns poking blindly until Shirley would cry out in pain. My turn came and amazingly it didn’t take me 4 or 5 tries, I was successful on my first  stab! Suddenly I heard a blood curdling shriek and Shirley nearly jumped to the ceiling before I could reveal my lock of hair. I held her to the chair, steadied her, then Carla exclaimed, “She’s bleeding!” Sure enough, blood trickled out from under the rubber hat, onto the side of Shirley’s creased face. Everyone gasped and we all laughed so hard we forgot Shirley was under the cap in need of an emergency room!

Haircutting class lasted a little longer than frosting class. The first brave group would be models. The next day, the models would have their revenge. You hoped to pair off with someone you liked, and who hopefully liked you. I remember girls crying for a long time about bang mistakes. One girl’s bang was so short she had to sport it through the winter until the following autumn.  Curly hair couldn’t be trusted. Just when you thought it was the right length wet, you realized you forgot the “shrink factor”. Curly hair looks one way wet and another way dry.