Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Stranger in the Land of Beauty

These things happened during an early visit to the Land of Beauty, some time in the mid 80s. I have learned more of the language and have had many fine interpreters over the years. I am now more at home when I visit and my hair looks better.
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I was late. Thank goodness there was a bike rack next to the door. I parked my bike, slammed my bike lock shut, tore off my helmet, grabbed my water bottle and panniers, and burst inside.

The air conditioning turned sweat drops to ice crystals on the back of my shirt. I wiped sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand and pushed my hair out of my eyes. A woman in a pink synthetic blouse and frozen hair sat behind a tall counter, apparently in charge.

I lumbered to the desk and said, "I-have-an-appointment-with-Sherry-at-two-sorry-I'm-late."

I gasped to catch my breath. "My name's Cindy."

The woman looked at my coolly, then called Sherry on the overhead page system. I slapped down on the plastic couch in front of the desk and gulped water from my water bottle. My breathing was slowing to something like what it would be after finding a porcupine in my bathroom.

A young woman with a figure trying to escape from an outfit that resembled medical scrubs, but in a severe material derived from petroleum, appeared and asked if I was Cindy. Her hair was frozen into a corollary of the shape on the woman behind the desk.

I identified myself and apologized for being late: I'd picked up the phone as I was leaving my office. I detached my sweaty thighs from the couch, stuffed my water bottle into my panniers, and followed the struggle inside the scrubs, which showered me with third or fourth hand cigarette smoke as we walked.

I dropped my panniers next to the chair Sherry showed me to. It resembled a dentist's chair but was less comfortable.

My thighs attached themselves to the chair while the ice on the back of my shirt melted between me and the chair.

Sherry asked, "So what are we looking for today."

"Well, I dunno," I said. I'm thinking something shorter, and maybe poofier on the sides? Um, and see how it kinda sticks up here? Well, you know how Leslie Stahl does hers; it all sort of comes out from a point here? I'd like it to do that, maybe, so I'd have less of a part. Cuz I think I have a long face, kind of a horse face. If I didn't have a part then…it'd be different. Ya know what I mean?"

Sherry looked as though I'd asked her to derive the quadratic equation. Or shave it into my scalp.

"So are you thinking more of a bob? Or do you want it longer than that?"

I didn't know who Bob was, but I knew that when my boyfriend found out how much I was going to spend today he'd been shocked; he only spends $15. I knew I didn't want to look like him, as he was losing his hair, and I was afraid Bob might be also, so I said I wanted it longer than that.

She asked me to take my glasses off, so they wouldn't get in the way. My reflection in the mirror in front of us when fuzzy.

Sherry picked up a pair of naggle-toothed scissors with in one hand and a plastic comb in the other and went to work in silence. I didn't interrupt her.

After a few minutes of combing and snipping, Sherry asked, "So how's your day been?"

"Oh, same stuff. I was working in the lab for a while this morning and then I started packing for the field."

I wasn't sure if she wanted to know about the insects we'd be collecting later that week or not. I decided not, so asked her about her day.

"Oh, fine," she said, "I haven't been too busy today. Getting ready for a party this weekend at our place."

"Sounds like fun," I said.

Her identical twin, with her hair frozen into a second corollary of the first shape, brought a young man to sit in the dentist's chair next to us. Sherry's twin and the man seemed to know each other.

She used the same opening line, "So what are we looking for today."

He said, "I'd like about ¾ of an inch off top and just ½ inch of the sides this time. In back, keep it ½ inch above my collar, and could you touch up around my neckline?"

Sherry's twin went to work. She could work and talk at the same time. The young man was updating her on a friend of theirs; something about him and his PO.

PO? I wondered. I only used PO as an adjective; they were using is as a noun. Maybe they meant his ex-girlfriend, because she Ps him O. But wait, he was seeing his PO every couple of weeks. Why would he go on seeing her that often? Maybe they have a kid together, I thought.

The man and Sherry's twin kept me entertained for the rest of my appointment. I think they entertained Sherry, too. After two or three more dead end conversations, she finished with her implements and turned her blow drier on me. It drowned out the story next door and relieved me from fumbling for the dropped conversation.

"There! How does it look?" Sherry asked.

I put my glasses on, braced myself, and looked in the mirror. It was shorter than it had been when I arrived and I still had more hair than my boyfriend. But it was unlikely that anyone would confuse me with Leslie Stahl: rather than forming a cohesive, professional shape, my hair ran down the sides of my face then tried to escape by jumping off a skateboard ramp at my jaw line. I recognized Marlo Thomas in "That Girl," as I was old enough to have seen the show in the mid 60s.

I struggled to display enthusiasm for my new look and to thank Sherry, but was disappointed in my performance.

I didn't put my bike helmet back on until after I had paid the woman with the frozen hair at the tall counter.