Now, as many of you know, a women’s relationship with her hair stylist is a special one, and mine is no exception. It’s a bond born of loyalty, rooted in trust. Heck, no one knows your head like your hair stylist. The way I see it, you’re on a journey together, through the ever changing seas of style. Some storms you weather better than others, but you don’t just jump ship on a whim. Gynecologists come and go, but let’s face it: with hair dressers, you’re in for the long haul.
I’ve been going to Pasty since she graduated from Bangor School of Cosmetology and opened Hair Affair some twenty-five years ago. Always on Saturday morning. Always with the same group of women, reading the same magazines, under the same hairdryers, dishing about celebrities and locals alike. We are equal opportunity gossipers.
There’s Estelle Fournier and her sister Denise Ouellette. They’re already under the dryers when I arrive at 9:00. As I walk up the driveway, I can hear them talking and laughing like they haven’t seen each other in years. Truth is, they live two doors down from each other on Pleasant Street. Gladys Knight is in the chair before me. I’m not talking about Gladys Knight of the Pips fame. I’m referring to Gladys Knight, the Mahoosuc Mills town clerk. If Patsy’s running late it’s because of Gladys, who can be a little persnickety. On my heels comes Franny Ward. She’s a sweetheart. And flying in last minute is Harriet Johnson. I swear, Harriet is going to be late to her own funeral. Except for Estelle and Denise, none of us spend time together outside of Hair Affair, but still, we know each other pretty well. Did you see that movie “Steel Magnolias?” It’s kind of like that, only with snow or black flies. I call us the Sturdy Pinecones.
Patsy may not quite measure up to Dolly Parton in the movie (if you catch my drift), but we’ve been through a lot together. Fresh out of school, Patsy had that big, Joan Collins in “Dynasty” hair down pat. Truth be told, it didn’t quite look the same on me, but I stuck with her. We’ve done perms, asymmetrical, cutting layers, growing out layers, cutting layers again (not to mention repeated attempts at the Princess Diana). And the colors? We don’t have enough time to get into it!
We’re always “working towards something.” You know what I’m talking about. Patsy will say, “Ida, I think we should grow out this crown area a little, so I can really stack the back. It’s the latest thing.” And I’ll say, “Sounds good to me, Patsy.” Then we have our goal for the next couple of months.
Now, Patsy is a good solid hairdresser. We’ve had many more hits than misses, but every once in a while, she gets…oh, what’s the word? Diverted! She’ll get into a heated “who should be voted off Dancing With the Stars this week” debate with Gladys, and Estelle and Denise chime in with their two cents, and all of a sudden, I suspect I’m not getting 100% of her attention.
It’s worse when she’s having boyfriend trouble. And I can tell straight off, when she’s shampooing my hair. She zips through the scalp massage. Then I get in the chair, and she starts talking and snipping and gesticulating wildly with her scissors. She doesn’t look like she’s paying attention, because she’s not. And I’m sitting there, helpless in my plastic cape. It’s harrowing!
The end result of both these kind of visits are the same: a frustrated week of hair trauma. Every time I pass a mirror, I stop and pull and poke at my hair, trying to get it to look right, muttering to myself, “Patsy cut my sides way too short. This is practically a Mohawk!” Or, “I don’t know what Patsy did to my bangs this week, but I look like I’m married to the mob!”
“Why do you keep going to her, Ida?” Charlie asks. “She’s not the only game in town. Why don’t you try Claudette, down to Loose Ends?”
“I’m not going to Loose Ends, Charlie. What kind of name is that, Loose Ends? You don’t understand. I can’t just leave Patsy. I’ve got too much invested in our relationship to just walk away now. And what would I say to her when I’m ringing up her groceries at the A&P? Or when we run into her at the bean supper?”
“OK then, Ida. You know what you have to do.”
“You’re right, Charlie. It’s time for a hairdresser smack down!”
Now, like I said, a woman’s relationship with her hair stylist is a special one, and this kind of thing is delicate. I rehearse all week for Saturday’s smackdown. I need to build up my courage. If I don’t get it just right, it could be disastrous.
Thursday afternoon, I’m checking out Patsy at the A & P, pretending everything’s on the up and up. It’s nerve-wracking!
Saturday morning, the moment arrives. I walk into Hair Affair, and there’s Gladys, Estelle and Denise going on about something per usual.
“Sit down, Ida,” Patsy says. “You’re up.”
I’m there in the chair with my plastic apron on, sweating, when Patsy asks, like she always does, “So, Ida, how’d you make out with your hair this week?”
I take a deep breath and make my stand. “Well, Patsy, to tell you the truth, it was a little off this week. Kind of spiky on the side, here.”
Suddenly, silence! Not a peep out of the Sturdy Pinecones. I mean, I think even the hair dryers stopped to listen.
Finally, Patsy goes, “I’m sorry to hear that, Ida. Let’s see if we can’t do better this week.” Done, I’m thinking! That wasn’t too bad. I let out a quiet little sigh of relief.
There’s a bounce in my step as we walk over to the hair washing station. Patsy pulls the lever to recline the seat, and tips my head back in the sink. She looks at me, smiles and says, real nice, “Oh, Ida, let me pop the hot wax in the microwave. Your brows really look like they could use some help. You’re just a little Chia Pet, aren’t you?”
There you have it: customer smackdown!
That’s it for now. Catch you on the flipside!
June 10: The Moose in Me, The Moose in You!, Thomas Memorial Library, 6:30 p.m., Cape Elizabeth, ME