I have heard it said throughout my life that when one person steps down from a career there will always be another to step in to take their place. I have pondered that thought many times and have wondered who stepped away to make my place in the chain of future T"HAIR"APISTS. My first awareness of the fascination with hair came quite early in my life. I would always recognize the different hairstyles that the women wore and would constantly comment to my Mother about it and she would calmly explain which would bring about so many other inquisitions. The constant questions must have been annoying to her yet she would always explain the best she could. I was not the “normal” boy who wanted to play sports and wear dirty clothes, as a matter of fact, it was quite the contrary. The facts, as they stood out, made for a difficult fit into the group of boys who lived around our neighborhood. Not only did I have to fend off their pressure to fit in, but my oldest sibling was the complete all American boy jock who loved anything that had to do with sports activities. I would run the other way and wanted absolutely nothing to do with the games that would entail bodily harm or any injury or would get my clothes dirty. I learned very early to stand up for myself and would rip apart any person who tried to make me do otherwise. The early bullying only led me to be aware and defend the person that I knew to be. In the early years the term “GAY” had not been established and “HOMO and QUEER” were derogatory slangs for being different. My brother used to tell me that drinking the “HOMO (short for homogenized) milk” was responsible for making me queer. It was painful at times trying to be my own person but I truly believe that the universe had a plan and unbeknownst to me I was following the beat of my own drum which would make me the person I am today. Always being aware of people would lead me to pay attention to the detail that surrounds any situation and to have a plan for the entrance as well as the exit.
My Mother would be my advocate on many occasions that needed parental support, but my Father would ultimately lead me down the path to self-respect and to never do anything that felt uncomfortable inside my gut. He taught me the meaning of trusting instincts and to stand up to whoever tried to put me down. Mother was very responsible for showing me the way toward the future that became my destiny in life. As my very first recollection of a salon experience appears in my mind I know that “Miss Beatrice” was my predecessor. At age seven, for a boy, it would normally seem to be a very dreaded experience having to go to a beauty salon with your mother, but for me it was the epitome of my week, besides my weekend jaunt to the local record store. It seems like only yesterday that I waltzed into my first beauty salon and thought I had found my own little hair garden of Eden. My first look around was overwhelming. There were many styling chairs and at least a dozen hair dryers with ash trays. In each of those styling chairs sat women who were totally engaged in conversations with their stylist and the women who sat in their dryer chairs puffed furiously on their cigarettes as they read the latest and greatest Hollywood trash. I had never seen so many magazines all splashed with pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher and Rock Hudson. Each magazine held within its pages a life that each of those women reading wanted to know. As they sat in their rollers waiting for their chance to have the latest hairstyle combed out, those forty minutes of drying time would magically transport them to a place where they could fantasize of a life that did not exist in their current world.
I watched in wild anticipation completely in awe of everything that was happening around me. I sat mesmerized at their ability to read, smoke a cigarette, drink coffee and turn the pages of those magazines. Occasionally one would stick their head out of the dryer to speak to another recognized face and then quickly resume their private trip into the Movieland, National Enquirer or Movie Mirror magazine. My continual gaze into the styling area where the actual hair transformations took place drew me into a world where I lost myself completely. That first time having to go with Mother to the salon seemed to be something that I truly had not wanted to do, yet when she explained, that in the big department store there was a record department where I could browse while she was having her appointment, the annoyance of having to go quickly disappeared, yet I never made it to the record department that evening.
I decided to take the courage and take a deeper look around the salon surroundings beyond what I had previously been introduced to and I soon found the shampooing area. There were eight shampoo bowls all in turquoise and pink lined up on one wall with lounge chairs where women were being shampooed by black women in white uniforms. I located my Mother in one of the chairs and watched as the lady pumped out liquid and wet the hair again and soon the lather rose from her head in big fluffy white bubbles. The woman who was doing the shampoo was named “Miss Niecey” as I had read her name on the badge she wore and then my Mother politely introduced me to her telling me that she worked with Miss Beatrice who coiffed my Mother’s hair. Not being shy I asked many questions as to what she was using to make the lather and what was the scent, why this and what about that came out in a continual stream until my Mother asked me to stop asking all the questions and to let her answer the few that I had already asked. Miss Niecey was ever so kind and took her time trying to explain each answer and before she could finish there were a dozen more that spewed out. When she was done she gave me the sweetest hug and said she didn’t have enough time to answer everything right now but I could ask her more the next time I came back in. Believe me I did not forget her offer and when I returned she made good on her promise.
When she finished the shampoo, she then walked Mother over to the styling area where Miss Beatrice stood waiting having a last drag on her cigarette. Miss Beatrice was the epitome of hair styling, with her “FLAME” red coiffured hair teased to the max, and her wing flip that gave Ann Landers wing a run for the money. She held out her hand to say hello and I noticed the long nails and the glossy bright red nail polish that adorned them. She stood quite tall and was bordering on appearing just a bit trashy with her matching red lips and the shadows that heavily graced her eye lids. I loved her the moment she mentioned Brenda Lee. Mother had mentioned to her on several occasions how much I adored Brenda, and Miss Beatrice gave Brenda the best hair style compliment of which I readily agreed. It seems that Brenda, Beatrice and a bottle of Lady Clairol would play a huge role in changing my life that day.
Mother sat down at her styling station and In front of the chair was a huge fleur-de-lis sculpted mirror and sitting under the mirror was a wall vanity that had a unit sitting on the top that contained many colored cylindrical rollers and a large vat of silver clips and waving clamps. There were different bottles of colored styling gels and numerous cans of hairsprays and a jar with combs immersed in a liquid. Hanging under the vanity station were nets with ties on each end and a container that held a stack of round white elastic banded cotton balls. As my Mother tried to talk to Miss Beatrice, my mouth cannon began firing questions once again before any conversation had a chance to be made. I anxiously wanted answers as to what all the things that lay before me were for and why did you need them. How did you use the items and what was the stuff in all the bottles.
Miss Beatrice responded with such a sonic laugh and then proceeded to explain as she began to set my Mothers hair in the rollers that were on the vanity unit. With each slice of the rattail comb there stood a section of Mother’s hair ready to be rolled on the next roller. With quick repeated action she continued her work and soon my Mother’s hair was completely set and the black net was tied in place and the cotton balls placed on top of the ears and then she was directed to the dryer area. Warm air blowing out of that dryer would bring a solitude of peace would that reign for the next forty minutes. I soon realized that it was my time to go further exploring, and without asking permission I soon found myself in the back room that beheld the magical liquids and potions that would recreate each individual client. The large Lady Clairol color poster hung on the wall and beside each swatch of hair color that was pictured held a coordinated name that would coincide with the actual color. There were blonde, brunette, and red colors of all varying shades and each name matched. I studied furiously the names of the color and was interrupted when Miss Beatrice stepped through the door, making sure I was not up to something. I would have to say that she was happily surprised when all I could ask were questions about the names of the colors and what they would do, how they would make a person’s hair color change and what the results would be when used. She took my hand and then proceeded to open the cabinet doors to the world of Miss Clairol and showed me all the brown bottles all neatly lined up in proper numerical order.
She explained that her next client was going to have a color process and that I would be able to watch her mix the color and get to watch the application of the product when her client arrived. Her instruction included to not get in her way and to hold all questions until she was finished. She then asked me to sit in the waiting area and she would get me when she was ready. A bit disappointed, I trudged unhappily to the waiting room assured that I would miss out and sat down and opened my first gossip magazine to which I quickly dissolved my pending disappointment into those pages and learned about Liz Taylor, Mike Todd and Debbie Reynolds and how Eddie Fisher had ruined Debbie Reynolds life by running off to marry Liz Taylor. (Ugh the bastard!) Totally engrossed in how she stole him from Debbie, I was tapped on the shoulder and was told to follow Miss Beatrice back to the “special” room. Upon entry I noticed the smell of ammonia and my first scent of freshly mixed Lady Clairol. (Note: to this day that Clairol scent still permeates my memory like the scent of good cologne can ignite a precious memory). I watched as she reached into the cabinet and withdrew the bottle named “Sparkling Sherry”. She asked me if I knew what Sherry was and what the color looked like, and I replied no I did not know what it was, and she then pointed me to the poster on the wall and without reading the names on the sides of the swatches I was asked to point out the color I thought it was located on the poster. If fate had anything to do with that moment, I pointed out on the first try what I thought the color would be, and as her mouth opened she was dumfounded that I had guessed correctly. I was pleased to get such a happy reply and then she explained in great detail what she was doing while she mixed the liquid into the bottle that held what looked like a bit of water, which of course was the peroxide that would activate the color ingredients that would transform the hair to the color the client had requested. I could hardly contain myself as I watched her apply the mixture and then comb the product throughout the client’s hair. Sadly I was informed that there would be a forty five minute delay until the process was finished and was once again banished to the waiting room, where I eagerly awaited to hate Eddie Fisher the way Debbie Reynolds had. That tramp Liz Taylor did have great hair though, so she was halfway forgiven for her trashy deed, but not that Eddie… (Bastard!)
It was not long before I saw that my Mother’s dryer had finished and was in great fear that we would leave before the “color” client was finished. The fear quickly vanished as Mother had to wait while three clients had to have their tresses teased and combed out, which would lead to the most amazing discovery of the evening.
Luck played her hand for me and I stood in astonishment at the shampoo bowl as the water washed the color from the lady’s hair, the obvious color change began to appear and gleamed with a “Sparkling Sherry red illumination” which was contrary to the mousy brown color she possessed when she arrived. At that moment I took my first communion and became a Clairol Christian, and made myself a promise to seek out the pleasure that each of the little brown bottles held inside. I vowed to make it my duty to memorize the names of each color and begged “Miss Beatrice” for my own personal poster. She hugged me sweetly and said next week when I returned she would have one for me, and that she could tell that I had all the makings of a future stylist. Gee little did she know....and well, little did I know what fate would hold in store for me. Entering through those gates of the Clairol kingdom, I innocently vowed to never to look at another person’s hair the same way again. I have never broken that vow to this date.
Taking my first “color” communion would take me to another level that I had yet to know about and it created an exciting buzz inside my head that continues to resonate whenever there is a possibility of giving someone a new hair renovation. I am truly happy that I was born into the baby boomer generation that would have an amazing impact on the world. This generation would create an amazing path into modes of fashion, style and hair. Not to mention the space age, technology and science and incredible music. Everything moved fast and television brought it immediately into our homes. I would stay glued to the television and drink in all the information on the newest trends in hair and hair coloring products. I looked forward to the visits to the salon, as each week would bring more and more information that I processed and planned to use on someone as soon as possible. Year after year I made those treks with Mother to the salon and before I was ten I began to apply the things that I had learned. Mother became my first client as Miss Beatrice was out on sick leave and she needed an appointment and could not get one. After trying to arrange an appointment for herself she was going to have to wait a week till she returned, which to Mother’s chagrin was not a happy thought. I nervously told her that I could do it for her and she smiled as if to say NO WAY. It took a while to convince her, after all what did she have to lose? With extreme trepidation she acquiesced and let me do it. She was shocked to find that I had all the right things with which to do it and quickly realized that I had spent my own allowance for the tools needed to play beauty salon. Shocked and surprised she stood up from the table in less than fifteen minutes with her hair precisely set and ready for that bonnet hair dryer to be plugged in.
I had observed so many times how Miss Beatrice would dip the rattail comb in the pink gel jar and pull it out ready for the next section of hair to be rolled. I learned that each color of gel was for different kinds of hair types. The gel was needed for a crisp set and helped to give texture to the hair so that the teasing would stay for a week. The firmer the set that better the curl hold and lasting a week was an absolute
requirement. What the outcome of that set would be was going to be anybody’s guess as I had never actually teased any person’s hair before. However I did take the metal comb that I bought and did what Miss Beatrice told me to do with it and soak it in Clorox to make the metal pit and rough as that would help pack the teasing in and create the solid base for the bouffant hair. In those days “the higher the hair, the closer to
GOD” was the anthem to follow. I could only hope that I would replicate that beautiful style that Mother would wear every week. I gave my soul over to the hair gods and my prayers were answered graciously. I brushed unmercifully and vigorously as I had seen done in the salon and picked up my trusty metal teasing comb and went to town.
Quickly I teased every follicle until it looked like a rat’s nest, and then I knew that I had used the proper amount of setting gel and my teasing did not move. So far, so good, but I still had to finish the mess that I created. I went to town mimicking the actions I had seen Beatrice do. There was a necessary way to leave the teasing and easily comb out the ends and stack as you go. I felt like I was having an out of body childhood experience and within minutes I was finishing her frontal bang area….and VOILA! it was finished. I will never forget the look my Mother had on her face when I told her I was through with the comb-out. She certainly expected the worst and I am sure had prepared for the pending dismal results she assumed would take place. I remember not having any fear about what I could do, but to please Mother was moving a mountain that no one could move, not even me.
As with all young people the need to please a parent is an utmost desire, unfortunately for me waiting for happy comments was time consuming and I was off to the next distraction as soon as possible. Even though I was young, impetuous, and arrogant I did have enough confidence to feel I had done my very best and there would always be another chance to do better. I began putting away the things I had used when my Father turned the corner into the kitchen to find rollers and hair clips strewn across the table. He asked where Mother was and I told him she was in the bathroom checking her hair to see if it was ok. The only question he came up with was “What’s wrong with it?”
As I was explaining the situation, I did not get to finish as Mother returned and was shaking her head in disbelief. It seems that I had proven my point and obviously had surprised her beyond her expectations. My Father still had not caught on as to what had transpired and as she told him he broke a grin of suspicion as if to silently express the fear of what could happen to a boy who did feminine things like hair. While he never said it to me I could sense his mounting uncertainty. He rubbed my head and told me that I did a great job and how nice it looked, but I could still feel the insecurity of it all. The beginning of what was about to come had begun, it was as if I had thrown the rock over the mountain and there was no point of return. I had innocently stepped into the Clairolite zone and became one with a set of rollers, scissors and my trusty pitted teasing comb. Those items would be my E-ticket to the ride of my life. My connection with the opposite sex would take on new meanings and boys would never get it. Thank God for divine interventions and never letting anything stand in my way of progress. I really had no idea how amazing it would all turn out. I would never have to mow a lawn or do hard work for an allowance, money flowed to me as if the magic Aqua net hairspray mesmerized the people. If I was going to be called a sissy, then I decided I would be a rich one. My girls protected me and the boys became envious. I knew more than I should have about their inner most teenage secrets. It would serve me well in the future to have those conversed candies of information at my disposal. I stood at the forefront of my future and my beauty communion was something to celebrate.
I always presented my self-assured attitude often and even though it drew frustration from my parents and friends I knew that I was knocking upon the door of my tomorrow. Fate stepped in and kept prodding me to keep moving in the direction that felt right. Unfortunately for my sibling he just could not understand my thinking and my foreign demeanor. I was thrust upon him against his preference and he had the awful task of having his little brother tag along to places and events that he would rather I was not at. On one occasion I went with him to his girlfriend’s house.
Even though she and I got along fairly well, I suppose she would rather I not be there also. Teenage love reigned supreme on this occasion, and there I sat diluting any amour that they may have had planned. When we arrived she had just finished washing her hair and was planning to set her hair for their date later that evening. As she began the task of rolling her hair I stepped up to the table and told her I could do that for her and get it done quickly, and as they both laughed in unison, she handed me the comb and a few minutes later it was all done. That had established firmly in my brother’s eyes that I definitely had received the “Homo” gene and how weird it was that I did that for her. As for her, she was thrilled at not having to do it herself. I quickly stated that after she had it dried that I could come back later and comb it out for her. Fearing the worst, but giving in to my aggressiveness, she relented and gave me a time to return to finish the deed. At that point it was obviously the time to leave and leave them alone despite what my Mother wanted I returned alone back to the house. I knew that if he ever was dastardly to me I had a bit of information that would become useful at another time, I never forgot anything.
I returned at the five o’clock hour and the proceeded to comb-out her hair into the desired stylish hair flip of her choice. Her father came into the room and disgustedly and rudely remarked that a boy should not be doing “girls” hair, and I stated in no uncertain terms, that if he took her to the salon she would not have to do this to herself. I took that verbal swing at him and he left the room and I finished my styling. If I could tell you how I was able to create those styles, I would, however it was as if magic took possession of my hands and just took control. It was over before I could realize that I had actually done a hairstyle from some kind of hidden memory. A memory that had absolutely no recollection in my private mind files, yet the completion sent a shock wave of surprise as she stood in front of the mirror and looked at what I had done. Suddenly there was not a five year difference in our ages and I was showered with an overwhelming response, from her as well as her disbelieving mother. I was then initiated into that family and soon became their neighborhood stylist.
Later that night, she went on her date with my brother and everyone commented on her hair and how great it was to not have to do it herself. The next morning, four other neighbor girls showed up and asked for my services. I remembered that I had made a vow to not do anything except for money and told them it would be five dollars each to do it, and it was not a problem for them as they ponied up their allowance quickly. Thus began my weekend beauty parlor and enough funds to do and buy whatever I wanted. I would never have to succumb to manual hot labor and enjoyed what I was getting the opportunity to do. I learned very quickly how easy it was to extract information that would serve me well in my future. I knew things ahead of time and was always on the forefront of the neighborhood Peyton Place. My Saturdays would be filled with rollers, conversation and many cans of Aqua-net hairspray. I would also be privy to previous night information and by the time the afternoon was over, I was grinning from ear to ear with a stash of money that graced my hair-sprayed hands. I didn’t mind giving up my Saturday mornings to set their hair, however it would serve to be nuisance to my Mother, as Saturdays would usually mean housecleaning and various other chores and all the girls did was talk too loud and make more of a mess that I would always clean up before being reminded to. It would prove to be quite the information center, and as they assumed that I was not paying much attention, spoke quite freely about things that would have gotten them into trouble from a parent’s point of view, yet now looking back, it was all so frivolous and naive and full of teenage angst.
While school moved forward and I continued my foray into the world of high styling, I began to see the pattern begin in the way girls would open up and speak about things they would never tell their best friends or their parents. I never had to begin any private conversation and always began my time with asking what they would like me to do and it always would be left up to me to make the hair decision. From that point on things would flow out of their cute little mouths as if the water main had broken and there was no way to turn it off. Silently I listened to every unimaginable detail, careful not to make any verbal judgments. I learned early that it would be a fatal mistake to insert your opinion when it came to the female point of view, besides I did not have much of a chance to speak as their words never stopped.
How little did I know such information would begin to shape my early training as a future master T"HAIR"APIST.