Saturday, 24 April 2010

Confessions at Scissor-point

by Miss Justine Brown

People often ask me how I get my striking and interesting hairdos. Here's the secret. Just like anybody else-- except when I'm in a maverick, DIY phase-- I go to the hairdresser. In other words, I succumb to intimidation. For who does not quail in the face of the hairdresser's fearsome array of weaponry: sarcasm, thinly veiled threats ("wouldn't your bangs look good just a little bit shorter?" or "I think eggplant is the shade for you!"), a gang of black-clad "assistants", various explosive chemical substances, and sharp objects galore.
And hairdressers are notoriously thin-skinned folk. You don't want to toy with them. From the moment you present yourself at the salon and set yourself down in front of the horribly accurate florescent-lit mirrors, you're on perilously thin ice. A glum seventeen-year-old with a broom will ask if you'd like a magazine, then go off to choose a suitable one. As you thumb through the pages of Longevity and  Plastic Surgery News, you wonder if there's still time to run away. Too late-- the Great One has arrived, blades glinting.

It starts with the hairdresser's careful examination of the state of your locks. "Who cut your hair last time?" Answer this query very carefully, paying special attention to the tone of the question. "You did!" is seldom the correct response. Go with drunken pranksters. You were passed out cold, and drunken pranksters did your hair. Hairdressers have delusions of grandeur. They like to think they are setting the world to rights. And that they are fine artists. By no means try to dissuade them. Remember, your hair is at stake. Your hair. Or maybe an eye.

Hairdressers have their little whims. I am afraid of these. To take a mild example, I had one who loved to introduce grease into my hair as a final touch, along with a zigzag parting (it was "grunge"). Now, my hair doesn't need additional oiling, let us say. When, during my third appointment, I finally gathered the courage to turn down the goo. "Oh," he replied blithely, "I mixed it into the shampoo this time." Too late. Once again I scuttled back to my apartment with a plastic bag on my head and spent an hour in the shower.

To take a more disturbing example, consider the case of the Goth Hairdresser. (They manufacture these beings in Toronto, by the way.) Garnet was a hairdresser among hairdressers. He was short and wiry, with spike-heeled boots. His hair was black, his skin a deathly white. He was dressed in head to toe skin-tight black vinyl, bristling with studs. He wore his nails an inch long, pointed, and polished midnight blue. And Garrett was angry: angry at the drunken pranksters who had made a laughing stock out of me, to be sure. But he was really angry at all his former clients.

Stabbing the air with his pointiest scissors, Garnet re-enacted the series of dramatic hairdresser/client conflicts that had led up to this moment. The clients were unappreciative (stab).They were unbelievably ignorant (stab). They lacked respect for Garnet as an artist (stab stab stab). Not me! I knew an artist when I saw one. I stayed rigid, a smile fixed on my face. "And then," shouted the man with the scissors, sweeping them millimeters from my wide eyes, "She made a suggestion. I ordered her out. Out! Out of the salon! I don't care if your hair is half done!"

Some of these people have a weakness, though, and that weakness is money. They want paying; they want tips; they want you to return (the peons!). Try to play this card wisely. Without this one thing to dangle, you are nothing-- the merest lab rat. Don't push it, or you'll bring out the latent artist and your money will be as dust. Oh, and never, EVER agree to become a hair model.
A typical victim

I was lucky-- when I asked, they dismissed me, eyes rolling. (I had specified highlights and long layers. Bo-ring!) It was a lucky escape. My friend Christine, who had naturally curly hair and a flexible attitude, wound up with something called a "channel cut" in fire engine red: they cut her hair to about two inches in length and shaved a diagonal canal across her scalp. Two big asymmetrical poufs adorned her head. The whole effect was very poodle-esque. Aesthetic heaven-- and free of cost!

Sometimes these hysterical hair hackers can be distracted. Lull them with tales of home hair adventures. "Did I ever tell you about my friend Terry and his home colouring kit?" I interrupted Garnet, just as his sweat was beginning to form on his brow. Terry is a drummer. He liked to dye things-- his Kraft Dinner, for example. He liked to dye it green. Well, one Hallowe'en Terry had a gig to play, and he decided to dress up as a Zulu warrior. It wasn't going to be easy, since Terry is fair, blond and blue-eyed. All he had to work with was a leopard skin loincloth and two bottles of Clairol's blue-black hair dye. If it would work on his hair it would work on his skin, reasoned Terry, and with the help of a bandmate he set to work covering his body in dye.

Imagine, those of you who have any familiarity with hair dye, the discomfort of this. He sweated hard at the gig, but woke up with largely blue-black skin and hair. It took about ten days for the dye to rub off. As his blond hair grew out from below, the black stuff looked as if it was levitating above his head. The final kicker: the whiter his skin became, the more it was apparent that the dye had blackened every single tiny hair on his body. Look at your arm and picture this.

By this point in the story I had backed my way as far as the cash register, where I paid handsomely for Garnet's artistry, tipping something like fifty percent to placate him. As I write, I am acutely aware that I need a haircut. I can barely see the screen. My ends feel like straw. Haircuts in London cost at least $80-- and then there's the added expense. Someone to abduct me and tie me to a chair at the hair salon.

All this suffering at the hands of hairdressers may derive from some cosmic payback for the hair misery I myself have created. Take the case of my poor step-sister, Sophie. When we were sixteen I convinced her to bleach her hair. She looked cool at The Clash concert, I decided-- but she wanted her old hair back. Choosing Clairol's Light Ash Brown, I confidently applied it to her hair. It came out green-- not the green of punk rock girls, the kind you choose. Not a statement green, but a sort of swamp green-- a colour that loudly howls "mistake." Turns out taking bleached blond back to brown is one of the trickier feats in hair colouring. I know what you're thinking. Don't think at me like that! How dare you! There are special rules for us-- the hair artists.

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