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.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Change of A Dress

One recent Friday, Mary Katherine wore Emma’s favorite dress from last summer to her out-of-uniform day at school. The next day, Angie wore Mary’s new black-and-white dress to her graduation and all-night party. Also that night, Mary Katherine’s friend Sulia wore Angie’s dress from homecoming to her prom. The next day, Emma wore Mary Katherine’s new flowered dress to a graduation party, then drove home by 6:15 so Mary Katherine could change immediately into the dress for a party she was attending that evening. Emma changed clothes, handed over the frock, and went back to her party, having dropped by home just for the garment hand-off.

This sort of activity is a fairly regular occurrence here in the People’s Republic of Womenswear, a classless and stateless society with free access to all articles of wearable consumption. Marx would be so proud, although he would probably disapprove of the amount of leg these girls display as somehow not in keeping with proletarian standards.

Perhaps Marx would observe that it’s because these girls have ready access to cheap goods (thanks to Everyday People and Savers), but it’s certainly true that they don’t engage in a capitalistic insistence upon private ownership. Clothes, accessories and shoes are freely offered up to siblings and visitors; and I often come upon a guest preparing to leave our house in an entirely different ensemble than the one in which she arrived. Olivia, who is frequently the recipient of largesse from the Mary Katherine Lending Library of Fashion Finds, will often show up for a visit with a large sack of previously borrowed items that she’s returning. Mary Katherine loves this, since she’s usually forgotten about the stuff by then, and says it feels just like Christmas.

My children's friends, I find, have a much better working knowledge of their possessions than I do. I was recently working at home when I received a phone call from Olivia, on her way to school.  “I need a bowler hat and a silver glove for a Michael Jackson skit at the talent show today,” she informed me. “They’re in Mary Katherine’s closet, top shelf, left side. Leave them in a bag on the front porch.”  (The make it snappy was implied, not actually spoken). Doubtful, I rummaged around where she’d told me to look, and sure enough, there was the stuff. I would have sworn an oath that we didn’t own any silver gloves, so it’s a good thing that the People’s Republic of Minneapolis doesn’t require inventory-related oaths from citizens, especially where matters of costuming are concerned.

Angela is departing for Rome in just a few weeks. Emma will be spending next year studying in Beijing. I wonder what next year will bring, when the pool of borrowables shrinks dramatically. When I find Mary Katherine schlepping around the house in my oft-mended and way-too-big-for-her yoga pants, I’ll know she’s truly desperate to wear something, anything, that doesn’t belong to her. Power to the people, Comrade Mary Katherine.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My Year of Linking In: 415 Connections and Counting

Last spring, I attended a social media presentation whose topic was “Making the Most of LinkedIn.”  The speaker insisted that anyone who had fewer than 200 connections in their network was not even close to using the service appropriately.  

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit, I thought. Here I was, feeling way ahead of the game, because I had posted an updated resume and a business-appropriate photo (taken by my daughter, but still). But with only about a hundred contacts (give or take a few relatives and some old bosses who might, I feared, be dead), I felt inadequately linked and utterly underachieving.

While I remain unmoved by the charms of Facebook, which I’ve joined only to spy on my teenagers, I am appreciative of the promise of LinkedIn. The no-nonsense format delivers updates on the stuff I care about, and the data that is delivered – schools attended, places worked – can be just as informative in a shorter span of time than 700 profile pictures on someone’s Facebook page.

LinkedIn reminds me of my hometown, a place where the first question asked upon meeting someone socially was, “Where did you go to school?” In this case, it always meant high school, and the answer, most of the time, could peg someone geographically, socially and demographically, all with one short answer.

After learning from that presentation that I was a woefully underperforming LinkedIn-er, I decided to challenge myself. I vowed to become a LinkedIn Samurai within one year, with at least 200 contacts, if not more. The challenge was not an easily conquered one. First, I worked for myself (co-workers: one). Also, I had moved to a new city from my hometown, which was also the home of my alma mater and original places of employment. 

Worse, while my freelance business was doing well, I had put all excess social energy these past few years into mommy-dearest activities, not social media breakfasts and hip happening happy hours. While everyone else had been drinking cosmopolitans and exchanging business cards, I’d been draining the dregs of leftover Capri Sun pouches at the Girl Scout picnic and trying to poach other women’s best babysitters.

The first step in the challenge was to begin to pay attention whenever I met someone new. I surprised myself with how many customer meetings I attended where at least one person was previously unknown to me. When I heard myself saying, “Hi, I’m Julie Kendrick, I don’t think we’ve met,” I would scribble the new person’s name in the corner of my notepad. Once a week or so, I’d invite all the new people I’d met to become part of my network. Most of them accepted – I figured they were trying to pad their contact lists, too.

This “meet one, invite one” philosophy only got me so far, however, and I decided to take a more aggressive approach. I began to troll the contact lists of the people who had just accepted my invitations, figuring that they might know someone I knew, too.

This method yielded results, but also some truly disturbing finds. As I spread my nets wider, the catches contained some specimens I couldn’t quite recognize as actual members of the working class. There were the e. e. cummings-ites, who displayed their names in lower case and discussed their accomplishments in free verse. There were the CAPITAL FIRSTERS, who shouted their entire resumes in upper case. I found typos everywhere, such as the woman who boasted of her work in “immerging” markets, or the event planner who listed her field of endeavor as “entertaimnent.”

The photographs, especially, got weirder and weirder, the farther I ventured away from my home base. These associates-of-associates had made some interesting choices when they clicked “upload” on their profile page, I’m just saying. I ran across several people wearing dark sunglasses. At least two had selected pictures of themselves with their boyfriends, and one sad sack displayed herself with her dog licking her face. There were the pictures taken from so far away that I wondered what the person was trying to hide. On the other hand, there were several photographs of such a close-up-and-personal nature that I felt qualified to offer a dermatological assessment. And more than one person seemed to have decided “Hey, that thoughtful-hand-on-chin-pose looked great in my high school graduation photo, so I might as well give it a shot here.”

Many of the profile photos were clearly taken on vacation, on the theory that the sunburn and off-the-shoulder cocktail dress would impress a prospective customer or employer, right?  (Also, your husband's shoulder that you cropped out and thought I wouldn't notice?  I see it.) I wondered if calling attention to the quality and quantity of free time one enjoyed was really the best business tactic. I remember a former boss (who, aptly, looked just like Mr. Spacely from The Jetsons) who told me, "The minute the candidate mentions 'balance' in a job interview, I cross 'em off my list."

Back in my slowly expanding universe of contacts, I soldiered on.  I found some colleagues from a few jobs ago with whom it was truly a pleasure to reconnect. I was able to introduce some friends who were starting projects that required each other’s unique talents. And, I’m happy to say that, one year later, I have 415 connections ... and no plans to include that picture from Disney World as my profile shot.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Voyez mes epinards

When the kitchen starts to sound more like a translation booth at the U.N. General Assembly than a humble domicile, then I know that finals season is in full swing. In addition to the melodious soundtrack provided by the oft-Skyping Italian exchange student, Mary Katherine has been slamming the books for a seventh-grade Spanish final, and Emma has been tossing in a Chinese phrase or two, just to keep things lively.

I discovered in high school that I have a limited facility for languages, especially for speaking them. It turns out the same tone deafness which renders me unable to detect if the cellos are out of tune is also a contributing factor in my hopelessness at accents and dialects. I remember trying to get through a recitation of Middle English from The Canterbury Tales in graduate school, and I swear I could hear Chaucer spinning in his grave, all the way from the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey to my claustrophobic lecture hall.

Mary Katherine, undeterred by a lack of contributed genetic vigor, is undeterred, and she spent a large chunk of Memorial Day weekend practicing vocabulary that would allow her to order someone to cut the grass (cutar el cesped) or take out the garbage (sacar la basura).

I refrained from wondering aloud what good any of this would ever do her, short of managing a household staff in Southern California. Questioning the usefulness of any school-based activity has caused me to become hoisted with my own petard, so I'm naturally skittish. After I made a comment along the lines of “what earthly use is this knowledge” to Emma, when she was showing me some impossible math problem, she pointed out that, a week earlier, I had been happy to dissect the finer points of the witches’ speeches in Macbeth, with no comments at all about how useful such information would be someday. (Well, of course not.  Everyone knows how handy Shakespeare is for daily living.  See that petard reference at the start of this paragraph, for example. Thanks, Hamlet.)

During this study season, I’ve found myself learning some Spanish in spite of myself, and I’ve also found quite a bit of high school French resurfacing from deep in my brain. I keep saying “deh” instead of “day,” for example, and I try to drop all the “s” sounds from the end of words. I haven’t begun acting haughty, or surrendering quickly, but it’s only a matter of time.

Even with my limited recollection, I still recall one line from The Little Prince, which we had to read in French, “vous n'ĂȘtes pas un home, vous ĂȘtes un champignon.” (You’re not a man, you’re a mushroom).  And, most memorably, I recall this gem from some "At the Market" lesson :  “Allons, Mesdames, voyez mes epinards,” which translates to, “Hey ladies, look at my spinach.”

I’ve yet to find occasion to use this sparkling bon mot, but perhaps if I start acting haughty enough, or running away from gunfire, it will come to me.