I walked into Discount Hair for my haircut. After they called my name, I plopped into a chair. Carla sat in the next chair, taking the last drags off her Marlboro Red, the final pull burning into the filter. Her slightly graying brown hair framed her tired face. Smoke rings filled the stagnant air. She studied me through the haze.
“How would you like your hair cut today?” she asked, stubbing the cigarette in a Hard Rock Las Vegas ashtray she apparently borrowed on her last gambling junket.
“Oh, this time I would like you to cut it in a sort of upsweeping swirl that makes my head look like an ice cream cone,” I said.
No response. She didn’t care what I said. She cut it the same way every time.
I had only two choices for a haircut in LA. Discount Hair, or the high-end Beverly Hills salon Hair International. Nothing in between. For some reason, LA has no middle class in hair salons.
She took a comb out of a clear plastic canister of what looked like blue formaldehyde. Her other hand held a water bottle. She wetted down my hair- my face and shoulders getting doused in the process. Putting down the water bottle, she grabbed a pair of scissors.
They looked like scissors you see in an office. She combed some hair down in front of my face. Without looking, she made a big swiping cut, the hair falling away en masse. Was it straight? I couldn’t tell from all the spray mist in my eyes.
In a few more whacks with the office scissors, she was done. Carla cuts hair faster than people leaving Sunday Mass at my church. She handed me a purple plastic mirror shaped like a TV screen. I held it up as she spun me around in the chair.
“I’m a new man!” I said.
She said nothing. I hoped a good wash would help straighten out the hair in back which sloped downhill from left to right about half an inch.
A few weeks later it was time for a Hair International visit. When a “Carla Cut” is brand new and short, it looks halfway OK. After it grows out, it looks like it was cut with a weed-whacker. To re-establish a decent haircut, every so often I make a trip to Hair International. I’d go there all the time if I could afford it.
Their name sounds important: Hair INTERNATIONAL. It’s better than “Hair Near West Side” or “Hair Next To Denny’s.” The word “international” lends an air of class. The Columbus, Ohio airport is called Port Columbus International Airport. Not only is it international, it is a port! The only port in America surrounded on all sides by pre-fab condos and a golf course.
The receptionist checked me in and asked me if I wanted a latte or cappuccino. I declined and sat on the leather couch in the foyer, taking in the art on the walls- a catalog of the hottest young artists in town- Huertas, Meadows, Owens. I was glad none of it was covered in cow dung.
“Mr. Ditzel, Brianna will see you now,” the receptionist said into a microphone on her desk, the announcement booming over the techno music filling the room. I looked up from my perch four feet away and nodded my head.
She handed me a nylon robe and gestured toward a dressing room, which was actually a closet with some cleaning supplies on the upper shelf. I doffed my blue button-down shirt and put on the robe. There is no fabric more uncomfortable against your skin than nylon.
As I opened the door, I looked for Brianna. Standing there instead was a tall, goth-looking woman wearing nothing but black. Everyone in the place was wearing black. Her face was pale with Alice Cooper eye make-up. She gestured to a line of sinks. Speaking slowly in a haunting tone she said, “Hello, I’m Karma. I’ll be your hair-washer today. Please sit.”
Her hair cascaded over my head as she worked. It smelled like clove cigarettes. Her beaded necklace bumped against my chin as she lathered me up. After a thorough sudsing, she began to rinse. Suddenly she decided to add more hot water to the mix.
“Yeeeoowwww,” I yelled.
“Too hot?” she asked.
No, I boil my hair every day. I prefer it al dente.
She toweled off my head as I sat up. As the searing pain left my scalp, I focused my eyes. There stood Brianna. Shimmering shoulder length blonde hair, black shoes, black capri pants, a white top with black tiger stripes.
Native Southern Californian. Natural blonde. No elective surgery. Rare.
After graduating from UCLA with an accounting degree, she decided she was more of a “people person”, and began her career in the hair styling industry. Ernst and Young’s loss is our gain.
“Where the hell have you been?” she demanded loudly, trying to be heard over Nine Inch Nails.
I couldn’t admit I was seeing Carla at Discount Hair.
“Gosh, I’m on the road so much, I’ve been getting my hair cut in airports. Terrible. I need you to bring it back to life,” I lied, sliding into the chair. I detected the slight scent of her Dolce and Gabbana perfume, masked by the room’s dominant smell of Paul Mitchell Awapuhi shampoo.
She took my hair between two fingers of one hand, cutting the excess with razor sharp scissors. She worked intently, with little small talk. I relaxed and started to drift off.
“There you go,” she said sweetly, snapping me back to reality. How long have I been sitting here? I looked in the mirror. She had shaped it perfectly, parting it at the exact spot that minimized my male pattern baldness.
“Perfect,” I said.
$100 plus a $30 tip. $130 for a decent haircut?