For the next thirty minutes, cutting my hair became a secondary task. Occasionally, she would do some work, taking a small section off here and another small section off there. But her primary goal, it seemed, was to get to know me better. She often leaned against her counter, the clippers still buzzing through the air as she talked with her hands.
This type of unnecessary slowness usually pisses me off. But with Tracy, I loved it. Perhaps the pizza was still numbing the section of my brain that controls cynicism. But I think it was really her seemingly genuine interest in my admittedly boring life.
I explained to her that I had just moved to the area, no more than a week ago. We talked about the area. We talked about our mutual disdain for packing and unpacking. She told me about her plans to go to the shore for the weekend and how she and her girlfriends go to the shore every year for Memorial Day weekend. Then I told her about how I went to the shore every summer when I was a kid and about how I had lived at the beach for the past three years.
We covered a lot of topics, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my parents would be jealous as to how much I was opening up to a stranger, when they had to interrogate me to get even the smallest details about what was going on in my life.
Tracy had buzzed the bulk of my hair, and then she really went to work, putting the conversation on the backburner.
She pulled out a smaller, more precise set of clippers and worked on my sideburns as well as the rest of my hairlines. Through the mirror, I watched the concentration on her face as she bent over and brought it close to the side of mine. I imagine that the slow and careful movements of the clippers in her hands were similar to that of a chisel in Michelangelo’s hands. She was putting complete dedication and care into her task, though using my head as a canvas certainly seemed like a waste of such dedication and care.
When she was done, she used a blow-dryer.
A blow-dryer! On me!
She then pulled out another set of clippers and clipped away at the sides of my head. Aside from the blow-dryer, during each step of the cutting process she explained why she was doing what she was doing. “I am now using this so that your hair grows back in more evenly. I am now using the scissors to get some of those pesky hairs.”
After she was satisfied with what she had done, she showcased her work by holding a hand mirror behind my head and asking if it was acceptable. When I told her that it looked good, she brought me to the back, where she performed on me what I imagine to be the equivalent of a happy ending in the world of salons.
She washed my hair.
I sat down and leaned my head back into a sink. It felt uncomfortable to bend my head back in this fashion, and considering the fact that I barely had any hair to speak of, it seemed like a laughable waste.
But my God, was it was glorious.
Despite the weird pressure on the back of my neck, it felt nice to have someone (a woman, especially) spray warm water on my head and rub her fingers through my scalp.
It was over all too soon. Before I knew it, I was walking back to her station with a towel over my head.
She did a little more touching up and blow-drying. And then she asked it:
“Would you like me to trim your eyebrows?”
That dreaded question.
The question that implied that there was something wrong with my eyebrows. The question that made me self-conscious. The question that, only months before, had set me off into a state of rage that would make the Incredible Hulk seem timid.
“Okay,” I said, hesitantly. “Go for it, Tracy.”
Maybe it was a moment of weakness that made me say “yes.” Or maybe it was still the pizza. But I think what it really comes down to is the fact that Tracy had earned my trust in the past half hour. She had gone beyond what was required for a simple buzz cut, almost to a laughable degree. And in this devotion, as well as our conversation, I got the idea that Tracy actually cared about the way I looked.
I know. It is pathetic, really. That it only took a thirty minute tour of a salon to convert me into a woman.
But I think I now understand why women pay so much money at the salon.
It isn’t just about getting a haircut. And it isn’t about getting beautified.
It is an experience. It is about letting someone else pamper you. You let her make you feel good on the outside, but you know that she will also make you feel good on the inside. She might tell you a thing or two that is going on in her life, but that is only so that she can establish the fact that she is human as well. Because the most important part of a trip to the salon is the fact that you can vocalize the main bullet points of your life to another human. And in doing so, you have summarized your current situation, much like a television show does before the new episode airs. And after hitting this imaginary “reset” button, you step out into the world, looking and feeling wonderful, ready to take on the next episode.
In short, it is therapy.
I forked over $20 plus a decent tip (which I could have used to buy a new set of clippers), and in return Tracy handed me the Unisex Salon’s card, where she had written her name and personal hours on the back. She shook my hand again and wished me good luck on my new apartment and job. And I wished her good luck in not getting stuck in traffic on her drive to the shore for the weekend with her girlfriends. And then I left, saying goodbye to the super-friendly, super-bald, super-gay man who was standing and waving to me.
I imagine her routine wasn’t unlike that of a stripper.
She didn’t touch my pecs and tell me how strong I was. And she didn’t whisper in my ear and tell me how glad she was that I came walking in. But by giving me such specific attention, she offered those same feelings of forged flattery.
She did it so well, in fact, that I let her cut my beloved eyebrows.
But when she gave me her card and shook my hand, I couldn’t help but get that feeling that, despite the fact that she genuinely seemed interested in my life and despite the fact that she used a vast array of tools and time for a simple buzz cut, she was still only doing it for a big tip and a return visit.
To any hairdressers out there: don’t be offended. I am not really comparing you to a stripper. I work for tips, too. And trust me, I also work it (with friendliness and stupid jokes), even though 95% of the poker players to whom I deal are men. I am merely trying to illustrate that this woman was working it.
But at that moment, I didn’t care about her motivations.
I adjusted the rear-view mirror in my car so that I could look at my new eyebrows.
They honestly looked no different. As I’ve said before, I have some damn thick eyebrows. She would have needed to use a chainsaw to make any kind of noticeable impact.
But there was, indeed, a change.
It wasn’t the eyebrows that had changed, but rather something in my eyes. A certain twinkle that I had never noticed before. A twinkle that can only exist after a day of pampering at the unisex salon.
I winked at myself, put my mirror back into its usual position, started my ignition, and drove home so that I could get ready for work, where I had a feeling that I was going to make a ton of money.
So what if 95% of my customers were men?
I mean, unless they were blind, how could they not throw tons of money at someone who looked so fabulous?