Saturday, June 25, 2011

Beauty School Dropout, or Why I Look Like I Took a Bullet in the Temple

“Here’s the thing you have to remember,” Emma said to Mary Katherine, poised with her applicator of bleach over my waiting-to-be-highlighted head. “You need to run it down each little strand, not just glop it on like – oops.

Oops” is not what you want to hear from your hairstylist, even if said stylist is your 16-year-old daughter, and you’re sitting in a plastic lawn chair on the front porch, wearing a Disneyland poncho instead of a swanky salon cape. Still, I remained calm on Monday night when I heard the dreaded word. 

At our house, hair care is a family event, and Emma is the Stylist in Chief. She shaves her Dad’s pate, trims up Mary Katherine's ponytail, tends to Angie’s split ends and provides highlighting services for me.  Since the services rendered involve incredible hand-eye coordination and unflagging precision, her technique is flawless and artistic. (Yes, I know she’d be a great surgeon, and don’t think I haven’t mentioned it, but for now, she’s still determined to be a globe-trotting and evil-doer-thwarting CIA operative.)

Every member of the family manages to look our personal best, thanks to her. Booking appointments can be an issue, but she’s usually happy to oblige if she’s home (rare) and awake (even rarer).

She moved from cuts to color a few years ago, when I decided that $100+ highlighting jobs were not a part of my New Economic Reality. And let me just explain that I don’t persist with the highlights because I’m in denial about my dishwater-with-flecks-of-grey hair color; I’m doing it to fit in with the accepted standards for female appearance that I encounter among my customers and colleagues. Heaps of highlights are de rigueur for the women I work for and with in corporate life. I’d be happy to go natural (heck, I’d be happy to wear pajamas to business meetings), but I figure that until Hillary Clinton ditches her highlights, I’m sticking with mine. 

When I was growing up, everybody’s mom and older sister colored her own hair. I remember my sister’s friend Janice, the one who had worked for one blessed week driving a Mr. Softee truck, and who had been fired because she gave away too much inventory to my hunky older brother and his neighborhood whiffle ball teammates. Janice had a different hair color every time I saw her. Her enthusiastic experiments often turned out with strangely greenish or pinkish hues. This was way before the punk trend glamorized unnatural hair colors, but Janice didn’t seem to mind. The next time she dropped by, she might be a platinum blonde, or a stunning redhead. I wonder how Janice is now, and how her tresses stood up to all that long-term stress. I imagine a bald Baby Boomer, handing out free dreamsicles and smiling broadly, and I hope that at least part of that story is true.

The only hitch in my current hair color regimen is that my stylist will be in Beijing for nine months, starting in September. Good for her education, bad for my follicles. So, during our recent session with the $6 box of Garnier Nutrisse Multilights, the Disneyland rain poncho and the plastic gloves, I asked her to provide a tutorial to Mary Katherine, who would, I hoped, be a worthy substitute. And that, my friends, takes us back to the “oops,” which, when I washed and dried my hair, turned out to be an overbleached, nickel-sized spot right by my temple, a result of showing Mary Katherine what not to do with the applicator. Given its location, it looks like an aborted suicide attempt with a very small gun, or an outcropping of  female-pattern baldness.  

Somehow, even though I look pretty awful, I can’t bring myself to blame Emma. She’s been doing a good job for many years now, so I think she’s entitled to an occasional slipup. Plus, when I showed it to her, she laughed, and I always love to see her laugh.

Eventually, it will grow out, and I’m considering a brown eyebrow pencil to cover it up the worst of it. But all is not entirely forgiven. We’re leaving tomorrow on a trip, and I told her that, whenever possible, I plan to seat myself directly to her right on the airplane, at meals, etc. Every time she looks at me, she'll see my bullet-wound / bleach accident.  Even the best hair stylist ought to look at her own blunders, every now and then.

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