My long-standing, complicated relationship with my hair began with a power struggle. I wanted to grow my hair long. My mother wanted it short. We decided that when I was 10 years old I could have my hair however I wanted it--that was the age when she figured I could take care of it on my own. So when I was 10, I grew my hair out long and got a perm. A tight, curly, Little Orphan Annie perm that gave me the biggest hair I have ever had. I think my mother has pictures somewhere, but you will just have to imagine.
A few years later, in an attempt to shock the world, I had a buzz cut, and spiked my one-inch locks with purple hair gel. My mother calmly paid for the hair cut and said, "I've always liked you with short hair."
For 15 years I went to the same stylist in Santa Barbara. Her name was Kim, and she worked for a tiny shop in the local student community. When she moved to a fancy salon downtown, I followed her there. A salon professional who knows your hair, who knows you, is hard to find. When you find one, you stick with her, that's just plain sense. Kim saw me through my last perm (after I figured out my hair is straight, even after a perm) and my first color treatment. I got married, then she got married. We had kids. Her dog died, my cat died. We both found Jesus about the same time--she in a Harvest Christian Fellowship, me in my quiet Presbyterian church. We knew each other across seasons and life changes. She was my Jayber Crow.*
And then I moved across the country where I didn't know anybody, and I jumped into grad school where I have been too busy to care much about my hair. Every now and then I get a trim to deal with the split ends, and now and then I've played with color again, but mostly I just don't have time. And a little bit, I don't have the self-esteem. Because the salon is a place where beautiful people reside. Gorgeous hair, piercings in the right places, the occasional tattoo perfectly formed, makeup beautifully done. When I walk into a salon, imperfections and insecurities rise to the surface. And when the beautifully coiffed salon artiste fluffs my hair and asks, "what are we going to do with this today?" I'm usually lost for words. There are suggestions for color or a daring cut or what have you, and I'm frankly too busy to deal with that. And besides the time and the self-esteem, fancy hair cuts and color cost money--a lot of money.
So today, as I noticed the badly split ends breaking off, I finally made a call to the salon to see if they had an open spot. It was 2:30 and the salon closes at 4:00 on Sundays, so I halfway figured they were all booked and done for the day. But the receptionist said, "The only person open is Bob." (Name changed to protect the innocent.) So I braced myself for the perfect piercings and coiffed hair, the well cared for skin and thin, hard bodies. I braced myself for the envy I have for those things.
When I got there, Bob squinted at my hair. Bob is no spring chicken. Bob has very little hair and a crooked smile. A very nice man, and when he fluffed my hair he said, "We need to get rid of the ends, but we don't have to cut it all off." And then he went to work on it. As he worked he lectured me on hair care--how trimming the ends will make my hair grow longer faster. How it's a good color without color--and he squinted at me again when he said that. I didn't have the heart to tell him that the last time I colored my hair was two years ago when my friend Candasu handed me a glass of wine and pulled out the home dye kit. We did a nice bright red that faded fast. Bob cut the last of that color job today. (I miss you, Candasu!) He told me that in the summer my hair would streak blonde, and I should just leave it alone. With a sly look on his face he said that the other ladies would be envious of my hair color and ask where I had it done and what number dyes we mixed, but only if I left it alone.
It was a funny visit to the salon, devoid of the usual flirtatious overtones. For the most part I think Bob has male clients--he didn't have the usual frills I usually see lying around. And it was perfectly, exactly what I was in the mood for today. And Bob didn't try to sell me extra products I don't need, and I didn't have to say no. "Just leave it alone," he said, about 22 times. Every now and then it's nice to hear that who you are and what you have are just fine.
*Jayber Crow is a novel by Wendell Berry. Jayber is the barber of a fictional town called Port William, Kentucky, and the novel is his autobiographical musings of his life as part of that town. It's beautifully written; here's an excerpt about being a barber:
Among the other perquisites of my office, I might as well say, were all my customers..I liked them varyingly; some I didn't like at all. But all of them have been interesting to me; some I have liked and some I have loved. I have raked my comb over scalps that were dirty both above and beneath. i have lowered the ears of good men and bad, smart and stupid, young and old, kind and mean; of men who have killed other men (think of that) and of men who have been killed (think of that). I cut the hair of Tom Coulter and Virgil Feltner and Jimmy Chatham and a good many more who went away to the various wars and never came back, or came back dead.
I became, over the years, a pretty good student of family traits: the shapes of heads, ears, noses, hands, and so forth. This was sometimes funny, as when I would get a suspicion of a kinship that was, you might say, unauthorized. But it was moving too, after a while, to realize that under my very hands a generation had grown up and another passed away...
...I came to feel a tenderness for them all. This was something new to me. It gave me a curious pleasure to touch them, to help them in and out of the chair, to shave their weather-toughened old faces. They had known hard use, nearly all of them. You could tell it by the way they held themselves and moved. Most of all you could tell it by their hands, which were shaped by wear and often by the twists and swellings of arthritis. They had used their hands forgetfully, as hooks and pliers and hammers, and in every kind of weather. The backs of their hands showed a network of little scars where they had been cut, nicked, thornstuck, pinched, punctured, scraped, and burned. Their faces told that they had suffered things they did not talk about...