I recall the first time I went into Manhattan to get my hair cut. I was 27 and terrified.
Getting a haircut is scary in and of itself in that you never know what the hairdresser is going to do, even if you’ve been going to them for years and even if you tell them specifically what you do and don’t want done. The fact is you’re trapped, with sopping wet hair and a person (sometimes a stranger) standing behind and above you with a pair of sharp scissors. The deed is done with the first cut, and all they can say after that, if the cut is crooked or too short, is “trust me.” If they make a mistake your only recourse is to lie and say you like it or throw a fit and not pay them. Either way, you’re stuck with an unfortunate “do” until the hair grows out.
The possibility of a coiffeur mistake was not, however, why I was terrified during my first Manhattan salon appointment. Fear bloomed because 1) I was getting my hair cut in what many consider to be the fashion capital of the world; 2) I was moved from station to station, first to the colorist, then to the shampoo girl, and finally to the stylist; and 3) the salon was high tech, with glitzy aluminum countertops, dozens of outer space-looking hairdressers, and blaring unrecognizable music with a stomach-thudding beat. Worse still, the stylist assigned to me was a guy named Hector. A good-looking guy named Hector. A good-looking guy named Hector who admitted before I was five minutes in the chair that he was a recovering crack addict. Back in those days people still smoked cigarettes in public places. I was so freaked out by Hector the good-looking crack addict that when I waved my hands airily as though good-looking crack addicts cut my hair every day I upended a huge plastic ashtray sitting on Hector’s station and sent the whole mess flying. The crackhead stylist, my lap, and countless scowling wet-haired Manhattanites were immediately showered with a potpourri of ashes and cigarette butts. To Hector’s credit he shrugged, brushed himself off, and signaled for the broom boy. My fellow hair-do customers weren’t so nice, causing me to sit mortified for 45 minutes before paying my exorbitant bill and skulking out, never to return.
I’ve gotten hundreds of metro haircuts since then and over the years no longer felt like a small-town mouse in the big city. “This is what I want,” I’d inform spike-haired stylists, my New York attitude finely (and finally) honed. No waving of hands. No skulking about. “Mess it up, I don’t pay, capisce?
These days I have left the posh Manhattan salons behind. My hair stylist now and forever (until she decides to hang up her scissors) is a girl named Pam who works at a local salon called Chi-Chi’s. I know Pam from high school. She was a rifle in color guard. I was a banner. She’s lived in Sherburne all her life. We know all the same people. Pam is calm and lovely with non-spiked hair. There are no Narcotics Anonymous guides lying around Pam’s station, and certainly no ashtrays full of stubbed-out Marlboros. I was there the other day and Pam’s niece arrived to show off a new kitten. On most days soft music gurgles in the background and sun streams through the big window out front. Pam’s sister is usually styling someone’s hair at a nearby chair, and it isn’t uncommon to see Chi Chi (Pam’s semi-retired hair stylist mom) snipping the hair of a hometown lady who is then transferred to the big drop-down hairdryer that gives off a comforting purr. Gentle gossip swirls: who’s getting married, who’s had a new baby, news about the chicken-and-biscuits supper over at the church. In this ambiance I am relaxed. I am serene. There is no colorist, no shampoo girl, no stylist, no broom boy. Pam does it all, and for a third of the price of so-called “posh” city salons.
A few months back I arrived at Chi-Chi’s ten minutes after my appointment time. When I walked in Pam glared at me and, hands on hips, announced, “You’re late!” Such admonishment is never heard in New York City. Downstate they don’t yell when you’re tardy: they murmur “No problem” and charge you more, and maybe for good measure cut your hair too short.
Scolded or not, hair day in my new incarnation draws a sigh of relief. My hairdresser isn’t a chain-smoking ex-crackhead. At Pam’s salon I can wear what I want, say what I want, and put my feet up for a nice long chat with someone whose skills are just as good as any stylist I ever trusted in New York City. Nowadays, my hairdresser is also my friend. For that, and for this homespun beauty parlor respite, Pam can yell at me all day long.
There’s something truly wonderful about living in a small town.