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Starting Over - A True Story
Some years ago, despondent with the way things were going in my life, I took the first steps toward making a fresh start. Moving to a strange town can be intimidating so I returned to a city where I'd lived years before.
I sold all the things that tied me down like my house full of furniture, the TV set, washer and dryer, stereo equipment, lamps, and anything else that wouldn't fit in my compact car. Freeing myself of the excess baggage felt incredibly invigorating. With nothing to tie me down, I headed out with my few remaining possessions and drove to a familiar city ready for a new beginning.
Kathy was a friend from when we worked as bookkeepers in a local bank. She was all too familiar with the process of starting over after an abusive relationship that began with a teen marriage. Her new life with her second husband served as inspiration as I began anew. My first few nights in town were spent sleeping on their living room floor while I looked for a job.
She worked at a trendy hair salon in a shopping mall near the University of South Florida. It was a thriving business open seven days a week from nine in the morning until nine at night. The salon was hiring and with Kathy's help, I got a job as one of their four receptionists.
Kathy and Me
The salon employed talented and artistic people that lived in a world of high fashion and style during the seventies. It was a time of long hair for men and women and lots of permanent waves for curly styles. Even men were willing to sit through the lengthy and smelly process of getting a permanent wave. The Farrah Fawcett woman's hair style or the Rod Stewart cut for men, bi-level and wedge cuts, pyramid hair, spiky Mohawks, and pink or rainbow colored hair wasn't unusual.
Have you ever worked in a hair salon?
There were several stylists who were considered heavy-weights in terms of their experience and their size. One woman weighed close to four-hundred pounds and accidentally broke the plastic styling chair by sitting in it.Three of these stylists lived in a nudist camp which painted a vivid mental picture, at least for me, who'd come from a conservative background.
Grant, my hair stylist and friend included me as his hair model when he taught night classes at the local high school. He might have been the twin of Elton John in appearance and talent. Grant's life partner wasn't into dancing but he would come along for the music and fun.
We frequented the hot spots in town like the popular Fannie's and Mr. Robiconti's a popular hangout with a live band that played disco. We also liked a place called El Goya where we would dance the night away.
Kathy and I remained friends but on a different level than when she was single and we worked at the bank. This was mostly because of her husband's strict rules about socializing. He felt women shouldn't be out of the house unless accompanied by their husband. He dropped her off for work and picked her up at the salon, taking her home to cook for him and his mother who shared their tiny apartment.
I stayed with them a few nights before finding a one-bedroom apartment not far from the mall. My new minimum wage job paid $2.30 per hour which gave me little extra to spend on furnishing the place. I bought a new bed but the living room had only one chair from the thrift store and a lamp missing the shade. After my first paycheck, I planned to purchase one, but for the moment, it was fine. The light bulb was about the only thing in the refrigerator.
Anne and Me
It seemed like everyone had a unique story as if the salon was a magnet that attracted the bizarre and unusual. One of the other receptionists had a need to constantly align the pens in their container on the desk, grouping them by color. She enforced her orderly listing of clients in the scheduling book with purple for return customers with a big circled R for return client, red for transient first-timers, and orange for barber shop clients. The order she brought to the messy front desk was fine with me.
She organized her clothes closet the same way with colors grouped together in shades ranging from light to dark. left to right, and her shoes aligned by requirements that only she understood. Her husband fell for one of the other receptionists causing a bit of friction at work.
And then there was Gordon who blew dry and styled his excessive chest hair, putting it on display with shirt buttons undone. We all enjoyed giggling at Marcus who used a handheld massager on his patron's necks.
The fourth receptionist, Susan, became a close friend who shared vacation adventures with me, staying at the famous Driftwood Inn on the Atlantic coast. She had a habit of flossing her teeth excessively after eating anything no matter what it was. As time passed we drifted apart. She'd had enough partying and was tired of waking up wondering where she was.
Friendships ebbed and flowed in the fast-paced environment of the salon.
Working as a Platform Artist
A few months later I was promoted and started doing the payroll for stylists and staff. Writing out those checks told me where the real earnings could be found. With the encouragement of friend Anne who was a licensed stylist, I enrolled in cosmetology school and managed to get a student loan to pay for tuition.
The salon manager adjusted my schedule to work afternoons until closing at nine pm so I could attend beauty school in the morning. At school we did salon services for paying customers of the school. To my benefit, I'd seen hundreds of haircuts while working in the salon. Although that was a slight advantage, I soon found out that cutting hair was a world apart from watching someone else do it.
Beauty school was like living on another planet. Our location near the unemployment and welfare office drew in a range of customers trying to improve their employability or by the rock bottom prices the school charged.
Every morning, the chairs were filled with beauty school customers waiting for services having paid their two dollars for a haircut. They eyeballed us as students arrived for our first half hour of theory, our required classroom instruction on the science of cosmetology, before we were turned loose on the unsuspecting public.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
My friend David and I would scope out the customers and select our favorite of those who paid for a perm. That would fill most of our morning and ensure we were assigned someone with adequate hair and a clean appearance.
New students often found themselves assigned to the unwashed, drunken customers who sometimes sought a quick nap in the shampoo sinks or a haven from the weather. For a couple of dollars, they could enjoy a haircut and the friendly voice of a new apprentice.
Some couldn't afford the extra fifty cents for a shampoo. Students were told to spray the greasy hair with a water bottle and do the haircut anyway. Students learned to bring in their own shampoo to use in that case. One experience with the foul odor and the gummy, unsatisfactory results of styling dirty hair was enough.
Have You Never Been Mellow
Working hair conventions in Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, and all over Florida brought drama to life in a sea of artistic talent. My biggest regret is not taking more photos of those days and times that I'll never forget. I learned skills that I continue to use these four decades later and keep my Cosmetology License active through bi-annual training.
I would never have guessed that a chance meeting with a friend would lead to an entirely new career. Had I decided to stay elsewhere my entire life might have been different.
© 2016 Peg Cole