Doing hair involves a good share of prostitution-ism: you have to service whoever happens into your chair be they smelly or delusional. Hopefully the Hairburner becomes successful enough to be able to choose who is paying their rent, yet we still must work on people you’d never talk to in real life. While making a living washing and cutting people’s hair is actually a business, it includes physical and thus emotional contact. As Allen Edwards once pointed out at a hair seminar: “You may be the only person actually touching your client that day.” People get attached to their stylists and while this is fun and rewarding, it can also turn south.
The first client I fired was in the Palisades on a rare Tuesday that Maurice was not working. That was when I grabbed the opportunity to cut off a John that gave me conniptions.
His name really was John and he had much less than average looks: a long and bulbous nose and pea-sized brown eyes. I worked on him for three months before THE INCIDENT. His forgettable appearance and easy-going manner, combined with an accountant haircut, meant one more no-stress guy was added to my growing cache of clients. I loved the majority of men who I serviced in the Palisades. Those khaki and polo shirt wearing dudes were a snap and paid well--John was one more paycheck-padding Daddy.
When John got cut he was very happy to paw over issues of Cosmopolitan and Vogue, practically drooling over the underwear ads and growling low to himself like Billy Bob Thronton in Slingblade.
“Mmmmm hmmm, wow, looksie here, yeah.”
I pretended not to hear and while I was grossed out, still thought this was vanilla enough. I didn’t care as long as I didn’t have to talk to the dork too much while he got little stiffies over Carol Alt. The second time I cut his hair he returned from the changing room and asked me if his sideburns were even. I checked and they were. He then asked if there was maybe a little more hair over one ear than the other, this too I checked, found two hairs cresting his ear and snipped them off. He thanked me, paid and left.
The next time John came in all went as before. He drooled looking over the girl magazines, more small talk, asked about the sideburns and paid. He used the restroom before he left and on his way out asked me if I thought it might be a little too long on top.
“It could go a little shorter if you like, but I think it looks fine.” I said, meaning it.
“It’s your call Mike, just asking while I’m here really.” He said, smiling buttermilk-colored teeth.
“Sure, lets cut a little bit more, no worries.” I cut a snip off his milk-white dome and Mr. Pleated Dockers left.
The next time he came out of the bathroom and asked if it was his imagination or was it longer on one side. I told him to sit down and we’d have a good look at it. Looking at him head on in the mirror I combed and combed and showed him that his stupid, insipid, lame-ass head was even on both sides. He laughed morning-breath at me and said how sorry he was:
“It must have been the mirror or the lighting in the bathroom.”
I falsely laughed back at him, wishing he’d get creamed on the Pacific Coast Highway on his way to work.
“I guess I’m just neurotic, huh? He offered, those piggy little eyes of his glued to my face.
“Not at all, you’re just detail oriented!” I said.
“I appreciate it, see you in three weeks.”
“Terrific!” Twenty-one days till another round of chuckles.
When he returned I was ready. I had all the magazines with the skimpiest layouts on my station and I was revved up to give him the most even, consistent and technologically perfect haircut of his life. I cut each side with focus and matched each side repeatedly; the fuck-wad was not going to have anything to complain about. I spun him around like a Lazy Susan making sure that shit was on. His elongated nostrils pulsated as I whirled him around. I smugly finished and he detached his moistened fingers from the magazine to survey his dorky image.
“Hey Mike, looks really good, thanks man!”
“Pleasure John, thank you.”
“I’ll just make a pit stop and then get out of here.” And off to the can he dashed. I shook out the cape and cleaned up my station, knowing he would be pulling at his oily little nubs to find one long hair. While I knew he couldn’t, I braced for the worst. He came out, smiled as he passed, paid, waved goodbye and was gone. My next client, a weekly blow dry arrived and was getting washed when John came back in, all smiles.
“Oh hi Mike, I hope this isn’t a problem, but can you check my hair in the back, it feels long, here in the back.”
“Uh lets see, sit down.”
I turned him around to look at the back of his hemorrhoid-like head in the mirror. It was even. My lady was out of the shampoo chair and making her way to my station. I shoved a mirror in his pedophile hand.
“Here John, hold this and look, it’s even to my eye.”
He looked and looked and looked and pulled his hair with his other hand. He pushed the hair up and over and yanked it down.
“Huh, it doesn’t look long to you?”
“Not really, no.”
“What about here?” He dug his finger into the middle of his neckline.”
“No, looks good, really, looks perfect.”
“Okay if you’re sure.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Great, sorry I’m so picky.”
“Not at all, see you in three!”
He left and I got busy on my blow dry. Five minutes later, he was standing next to me.
“Hey, sorry, what about here?” He held a sprig of hair on his crown. I turned my drier off, excused myself from my client and walked John over to the reception area, feeling vaguely feverish.
“Look, I appreciate your business and I think you’re a nice guy, but I obviously cannot make you happy and I have to suggest you find another stylist.”
“Oh no, it’s not that, it’s just this feels out of balance and I know it’ll take two seconds to fix it.” He held onto the hairs so tight his fingers were white.
“Your haircut is perfect. I’m sorry but you need to go, NOW, thanks again!” I ran back to my client and started back on he blow dry praying he’d leave and take his mental illness elsewhere.
“DON’T YOU DARE WALK AWAY FROM ME!” Mild mannered beige-clad John barked and the whole salon, three other stylists and three clients, were now his audience.
“Please don’t.” I pleaded.
“I WILL NOT BE DISMISSED!” he growled still tightly holding the top of his head. Jill the receptionist came out from behind the desk and tried to take charge.
“I’m sorry you’re not happy, but can we handle this in a civilized manner?”
“Yes, he can FIX MY HAIRCUT!” he yelled. Now everyone was really getting a show. I thanked Christ that Maurice was in Laguna with her visiting sister.
“Please leave, there’s no way I’m touching your hair ever again, just go!” I shrilled.
“THIS ISN’T OVER, I’M TELLING YOU IT’S NOT OVER!” He pathetically ranted cinching up his pants giving himself a fine wedgie before storming out. We all watched the door, waiting for the return of the beast but he had finally vanished.
My client Sybil, who had watched the exchange with wide-eyed amusement, picked up a magazine and sarcastically said: “Couldn’t you just have fixed the poor man’s hair, he seemed so reasonable”
I was quivering and mortified but got into styling her, one whacko down and more to come. I loud-whispered over the blow-drier:
“That was my first client firing, don’t make me do it again!”