Adventures of a Hair Stylist
Moving to a new town seemed my only option after a disastrous relationship ended. It was a pattern for me over the years: leave the past behind and start over in a brand new place. This time was different since I had previously lived in this town and still had a few friends who remained after I booked the last time.
Starting over is never easy but I had the process down to a science. Following my going out of business sale of most of my personal items like household furniture, tables, lamps, chairs and anything not essential, what was left fit in my little Datsun hatchback. Ready to begin a new adventure, I headed out for new territory in a town where, despite some history of living there with my first love, things would once again be fresh.
When You're Strange...
My long-time friend, Kathy, who I remembered from early teen years when we worked as bookkeepers a bank, also had sought out a brand new life with her new Pakistani husband. I spent the first few nights on a pallet on their living room floor while I scoped out the job situation in town.
She was no longer working for the bank where we'd met and turned twenty-one within days of each other. Instead, she was one of four receptionists at a fashionable hair salon in a mall near the university. The salon was looking for another body to fill their seven day schedule, so I applied and got the job.
Little did I know this would open up a whole new world of possibilities as well as strange happenings.
Doctor Bloodgood's Photographic Emporium
The shop was located in a high-traffic mall that drew a variety of customers from the nearby area including college students, professors, bankers, homemakers, and professionals.
It wouldn't be exaggerating to say that I met more unusual people at the salon than I ever had in my first two decades of life. The place drew their talent from a set of artistic people; some would call them prima donnas, folks totally absorbed by high fashion and style with little attention to the social graces. Their flair for the bizarre and the unusual incorporated styles like Pyramid hair, spiky Mohawks and rainbow hair coloring, now rather commonplace, not so in the era of the seventies. Pink hair was considered a statement of non-conformity and unusual.
In the Barber Shop
There were the heavy set stylists, and by that I mean those who had grown to the enormous size that they broke the Lucite styling chairs when relaxing between clients. Three of these in particular were also residents of a nudist camp, which painted a lurid mental picture of them to someone with a conservative background like me.
A few of the male stylists were gay, in fact, one who later became my friend and dance partner when we would go out on the town was a shoe-in for Elton John, one of the hottest singers of the time. He introduced me to the night life as his life partner was not inclined to dance. We frequented the hot night spots of the area: El Goya, Mr. Robiconti's and other disco palaces after hours swaying to the disco beat.
"I packed my bags last night..."
Kathy and I remained friends, but on a different level than we had before, due primarily to her new family's strict guidelines about socializing and women being out of the house unaccompanied by their husband. He often picked her up at the salon, taking her home to cook a meal (beans and rice) for him and his mother who shared their small apartment.
I remained with them only a couple of nights before finding my own place. With my limited funds, I managed to rent a one-bedroom apartment a short distance from the mall and my new minimum wage job. Furnishings were sparse. Other than the new bed, which was essential, the living room held only one garage sale chair and a thrift store lamp without a shade. After my first paycheck, I planned to purchase one, but for the moment, it served its purpose.
Turn the Beat Around
It seemed as if everyone had a peculiar story, as if a magnet that attracted strangeness resided within the beauty salon. Even the other receptionist demonstrated signs of OCD with her continual realigning of the pens in the cup, her color coordinated entry of clients (purple for return customers; red for transient first-timers; orange for the barber shop guests) and other habitual idiosyncrasies. I didn't mind the order she brought to the messy front desk, (They called it that, as if there were a rear desk!) I later found out she organized her clothes closet in much the same way, all colors grouped together, shoes aligned by specific requirements that only she understood.
The fourth receptionist, Susan, became a close friend. We ventured across the state on a mini-vacation together, staying at the infamous Driftwood Inn on the Atlantic Coast. Even she had her particular habits that demonstrated an obsessive nature, such as a continuous flossing of her teeth for hours after any type of meal no matter how small. Sometime later she began to shun me after a few months of fun and friendship. She'd had enough of the night life and partying, tired of waking up wondering where she was.
It took only a few months before I was promoted (more or less without a pay increase) to handle the register closeout and calculating payroll for the stylists and staff. Looking at the amounts of the checks opened my eyes to an avenue for a huge increase in salary with a little training.
With the encouragement of my new stylist friend Anne, I enrolled in cosmetology school, making the payments over time. I arranged for a schedule where I would come into work at one in the afternoon and work until the salon closed at nine pm.
Mornings I attended class at the local beauty college where, after the first few hours of training we were put on the floor to work on actual customers. Thankfully, I had seen hundreds of haircuts done by the seventeen stylists at the salon, although, cutting hair and watching the process was worlds apart. I at least had the advantage over some of the beginning students who had no exposure at all.
Have You Never Been Mellow
Beauty school was like living on another planet. Our location with its proximity to the unemployment and welfare office drew in a range of unwashed and unkempt customers looking to improve their chances at job seeking or by the rock bottom prices the school charged its patrons.
Every morning, the line of chairs at the front of the school was filled with prospective clients who had paid their two dollars for a haircut. They eyeballed us as we arrived for our first half hour of theory, our required classroom education on history of cosmetology, before we were turned loose on the unsuspecting public.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Once we got the lay of the land, those of us who worked full time jobs would call Dibbs on a particular customer who paid for a permanent wave, thus ensuring we would have our time and few hours filled with a decent sort with adequate hair and a seemingly clean exterior.
Those students who were new to the school were left with the dirty, drunk and homeless types who came in for a quick nap in the shampoo sinks or to get in out of the heat or cold. For a couple of dollars, they could enjoy the comfort of air conditioning, a cleansing hair shower and the friendly voice of someone learning the trade.
If they were unable to pay the extra fifty cents required for a shampoo, the students were expected to spray down the greasy hair with a water bottle and perform a haircut on dirty hair. Many students brought their own shampoo and washed the patron's hair to avoid the foul odor and the gummy, unsatisfactory results of our efforts.
Orlando Convention Center
Traveling to hair conventions in Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, St. Petersburg and other cities, drama came to life surrounded in a sea of artistic talent. At the time I earned my cosmetology license and started working as a stylist, I had no idea how far this profession would take me.
Four decades later, I remain a licensed cosmetologist, having used that set of skills to put myself through college and later travel around the globe. The stories are what I cling to now, fervently wishing I had taken many more photos along the way to remind me of those days.
© 2016 Peg Cole
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