Flash back to when I was seven years old.
We were getting ready to go on an extended vacation to visit my mother’s relatives and the day before we left on our journey, my mother decided to take my sister and me to the salon for matching haircuts. Something cool and chic that would be easy to maintain during our travels. Our regular stylist wasn’t there, so we saw someone new, someone unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of our fine, limp hair. We walked out with the shortest pixies on the planet. Exposed cowlicks made it look like we had constant bedheads. My mother was in tears. It was the first time I realized how important finding the right stylist is.
Twenty years later.
I was working in Newport Beach, very happy with my stylist on Balboa Island, when I was transferred to the company’s San Francisco office. I had been there only two weeks when I decided I needed a haircut. I went to the most stylishly coiffed person in our office for a stylist referral. She suggested I try someone located on trendy Lombard Street, where Cow Hollow meets the Marina district. He sounded trés cool. I made an appointment to see him after work, later that week.
He was bald. I don’t say this because I’m biased — after all, my father is bald and I trust him and his judgment. Then again, I don’t ask my father to cut my hair. The stylist wore all black, sported uber chic glasses with thick, black, rectangular frames, and shuffled around the shop in short footsteps where his shoes seemed to constantly maintain contact with the floor. My only instruction to him when he asked me what I wanted to do with my hair was, “I’d like to keep the length.”
I learned two very important lessons that evening. First, if you’re seeing a new stylist, never be the last appointment at the end of the day, at the end of the week. Second, never trust a bald, egocentric stylist to empathize with you when you say you want to “keep the length.”
I was his last appointment on a Friday night. Maybe he was tired, maybe he had plans, but he certainly wasn’t happy about having a new customer sitting in his swivel chair at the end of the day. He didn’t speak much, but he frowned a lot. Never a good sign. And then he started snipping long locks of hair about three inches below the top of my head, and he wasn’t layering it. I casually tried to strain my eyeballs to one side (without moving my head) so I could see just how much hair he didn’t consider to be long. Uh oh. We definitely had a communication problem.
I swear I never said a word to him that would indicate my displeasure in anything he was doing. That said, however, every bone in my body was tense. Then, as if cutting off huge chunks of hair wasn’t bad enough, he started doing some asymmetrical thing which made me very nervous. I am not an asymmetrical girl. I like things even and balanced.
All of a sudden, without warning, Mr. Fancy Pants stylist suddenly said to me, “Let’s just call it even and I don’t want to see you again.”
Huh? Did my new stylist just fire me?
My haircut wasn’t even finished yet. It was partially, short, partially long and uneven on the sides. He wasn’t even close to being finished with the cut. Now hysteria was raising it’s ugly head and I worked hard to keep myself under control. The jagged, unfinished cut he gave me brought back memories of the pixie, and I have to tell you the pixie was looking pretty good.
I called my friend from the office, at that point officially hysterical. She made arrangements for me to see a stylist at Sak’s. She must have tipped them off about my wobbly condition because I was met with two extra strength Excedrin and a glass of wine. And I needed that wine while I listened to the new stylist murmur to her co-worker as she examined my hair, “What was he trying to do?”
The Sak’s stylist managed to save as much length as she could and evened out the cut on the sides. And for the next two to three months, I had minor trims weekly as my new stylist continued to repair the damage done while keeping the length, and eventually give me a valid style again.
I have a terrific stylist now in Austin, a woman with long hair and lots of empathy, and she would have to die before I would see anyone else. But I must admit that every time I tell her I want to “keep the length” I shudder quickly as I think about that fateful day when my hair was butchered and my stylist fired me.