Monday, November 01, 2004

On Greek Gods, Noah and Manhattan Hairdressers

Hairdressers must rank amongst the top ten in strange, in the long list of New York professions. Which is probably why I enjoy visiting them.

I've had a long list during my eleven years in Manhattan. At first I despaired of ever finding one. I'd heard on the Australian bush telegraph that a good hairdresser - as we know them in Australia - was almost impossible to find.

"Darhhhling", my gay friend Robin explained, "You just HAVE to lower your standards - you're in America now!".

My (Australian) boss in those early years of Manhattan living, recommended a very short lady hairdresser in an Upper East Side salon. I've repressed not only the hairdresser's name, but the name of the salon, although I went there regularly for almost two years. The human mind sensibly puts mental survival ahead of memory, and all I can remember - apart from the fact that the hairdresser was so short that she didn't have to bend down to cut (also read 'chop' my hair) - is her strange co-worker.

The co-worker was a blonde and obvious transvestite, who I never saw cut one head of hair. She'd just stare admiringly into the mirror at her station for hours and hours. She was made-up and coiffured to look (well, from a distance) like Kim Novak in 1955. I stared too. It was amazing.

After I'd settled into New York life, I felt that I was independent enough to change hairdressers. As if on cue in an Off Off Off Broadway production, Robin announced that he'd found one.

"Darhhhling, I've found a hairdresser JUST LIKE an Australian one. Well she isn't Australian but she's NORMAL!!" he announced one day as we roamed around the Union Square farmers' market in search of aubergines that would coordinate with his lounge chairs. "NEVER forget the fruit when decorating," he intoned.

'Normal' coming from Robin, was a bit disconcerting, but I had faith. And so I booked in at Madison's (the hairdresser's name, not the avenue).
Madison lived in a poor area of Manhattan. Her building didn't have a doorman, and when I arrived for my appointment, men from the local halfway house were asleep on the steps leading up to the front door. I carefully avoided stepping on the brown paper bags lying around, knowing that they concealed empty bottles of plonk or metho or whatever was the latest Manhattan cocktail of the time.

The door bell didn't work, so, being a shy person at the time (god, THAT'S been knocked out of me) I didn't want to call out. Madison was on the third floor and there was not a sign of life around except for the gurgling sounds coming from the open mouths of the surrounding drunks.
Eventually Madison came down looking for me. "It's OK", she explained with true New York hootzpah, "all my clients get confused". And she took me upstairs.

Madison had a husband. His name was John and he collected antique cameras. Thousands lined the walls on especially made little shelves. The bed (it was a 'studio' apartment) was unmade. No coffee ("We're health freaks", she explained as she lit a cigarette).
I was starting to wonder WHERE she'd wash and cut my hair, when she drew aside an old velvet curtain to reveal a one meter square recess that housed a sink and a chair. Things were looking up!

She told me to sit and as I did so she started to 'cuss' as they say here. "I forgot I broke the expletive deleted scissors on my last client!" she yelled. That SHOULD have been enough! I was beginning to HATE my good friend Robin.

She used the kitchen scissors (though I can't imagine a kitchen existed in this camera-land - was it cunningly hidden behind the sofa?) and gave my hair a quick wash in cold water whilst telling me horror stories about her landlord.
When it was blow-wave time, she discovered that her dryer was broken. Like a psychiatrist unsuccessfully administering ECT she tried to jolt it into action.

"Oh well, there weren't ALWAYS dryers and we managed didn't we Hon?" Speak for yourself I thought, but acquiesced and with my hair badly towel-dried, paid, said goodbye to camera-man, and left. The drunks were still asleep. The world was normal after all. How comforting I thought as I caught the subway home thinking of what I'd say to Robin at work next Monday.

"She's wonderful!" I told him 36 hours later. "A real find!". And indeed she was. I was a client of Madison for the next few years until she moved to Queens to enjoy as she so quaintly and impossibly put it, 'a more rural life'.

You see dear reader, I REMEMBER Madison. My mind has not obliterated her as it did her predecessor - so I KNOW that Madison was OK and that Robin was impeccably right again.

A succession of hairdressing failures followed. Clay in 'Bumble and Bumbles' wasn't too bad. (Was it Bumble and Bumbles that started the trend of having your roots dyed to show you'd been to your hairdresser?) But it was hard to schedule Clay in, as he was bi-coastal as well as plain bi. This means that he worked on the West coast of the US some days and the East on others. I'd forget where Clay WAS on the planet, and so eventually moved on.

Then there was the aromatic hairdressing salon in Hoboken - one of the many sad experiences during my exile there. I'd have to scrub my hair for weeks to get rid of the smell of avocados after my visits. Tiffany just plain refused to cut any hair that she hadn't drenched in a flavour of vegetable oil. Of course you could CHOOSE your flavour. I once seriously considered celery, which only goes to show what Hoboken can do to an otherwise normal human being.
Now my search is over. No longer under the influence of Robin, who has long since left Manhattan and his aubergine-tinted apartment, I found my own hairdresser. Her name is Glamour and I've written about her before.

Not only can Glamour cut hair, but she doesn't babble on. She ALWAYS has scissors that work and her dryers ... sheer perfection - true engineering miracles.
Not that I'd call Glamour normal. She is half French, half Italian, and commutes to Manhattan from Philadelphia. She once cut the hair of the rich and famous, but they didn't tip well enough. The logic of this escapes me. The price of a haircut at her previous place of work must have been about $500. Now it's $30.

But I suppose if they don't tip, what does money matter? Or something like that. I'm learning to suspend reality when it comes to Manhattan hairdressers.
I've been a client of Glamour for over a year now. Kept the same hairstyle; always go on a Thursday after work; always tip well... everything was starting to seem - NORMAL! Till last Thursday. I should have known it couldn't last.

There is a new hairdresser in the station adjacent to Glamour's. She has a normal name, Monica, but that is the most normal thing about her.

When I was there last week, I watched in stunned silence, as she kept forgetting to cut her client's hair, in order to entertain the whole salon with some story about a rabbi, a red dress with a long slit up the side, and what happened at a wedding. I could not follow a single word of it.

Glamour kept hissing at me, "She's ALWAYS like this!" as Monica jumped around, illustrating various parts of her story with actions and gestures that made the mind boggle.
I stopped looking at her, as every time she noticed me looking, she'd elaborate and explain again, some part of the incomprehensible story for my benefit.

Just as I blanked her out of my mind and was drifting into that dream-like state you get when you feel safe and comfortable, she yelled at Glamour - "Who was that man in the fairy story where there is long hair?" "You mean the Rapunzel story?" Glamour suggested. "No No NO!!!" Monica was jumping up and down. Her client was just sitting, her wet hair hardly touched.

"No no - the one not in a story, in the Bible" - Madison was REALLY excited. She started suggesting answers to her own question.

"Hercules!!! That's it!!!" Glamour sighed. Now MY hair wasn't being cut. "He wasn't in the bible. Do you mean a Greek?" I was forced to join in, against my better judgment. Anything to stop the prancing and to get this show on the road
"Sampson!" I screamed above the din. "BLOODY Samson! Read yer bloody Bible! See yer rabbi! Ha Ha"

Monica was happy. "YES YES YES. And I LIKE you!" she yelled back.
I remembered reading somewhere how Americans confused Joan of Arc with Noah. "Do you know who Joan of Arc was?" I asked them both. "YES YES YES!" Monica screamed. "And her animals that went up the ramp two by two?" She looked puzzled and then started shrieking again.

Eventually things began to calm down. Hair was cut. Hairdressers were tipped. On my way out I approached Monica and tapped her on the shoulder. "Don't forget to go home and read your Bible" I told her. She smiled. And as I was going through the door I heard her ask Glamour what country was I from was I was so funny. "Australia" Monica told her. "I wanna go there!" said Monica. And the prancing began again.

My only regret is that Robin is back in OZ. I'd just LOVE to recommend him to my new find.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Real sad that people do not know Joan of Arc's true history as it is amazing. Try

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