In the end my mother relented and drove me to the Regis Hair Salon in the Orange Mall, one of the worst malls in Southern California where everyone is obese and has a cousin/brother/uncle in jail and where the best department store is JC Penney (I had turned my nose down on JC Penney for the longest time until my dad said, “That’s where I get all my pants.”)
I was still at the age where I associated price with quality and shunned the thought of going to a cheaper Asian salon (now I only go to Korean salons where they know how to layer Asian hair, as opposed to “white” salons where, in my experience, the stylists are so enamored by thick Asian hair that they’re almost always reluctant to thin it out, which is usually what Asian girls want so we don’t look like we’re walking around with cloaks on our heads. Anyway.) My secret hope was if I paid more than $60 for a haircut I would walk out of the salon NOT looking like Jackie Chan. Anyone but Jackie Chan. Well, anyone female.
The salon was about to close but I begged the bored-looking girl at reception (has anyone ever encountered an enthusiastic salon receptionist?) to squeeze me in.
“Louis,” she called towards the back of the salon. A tall, barrel-chested gay man squeezed into a too-tight black t-shirt and sporting a finely trimmed goatee looked up from chatting with his colleague, a shorter but equally sassy-looking gay man. Louis gave the receptionist a look, “This had better be good. Mikey here was just about to tell me how big so-and-so’s cock was.”
“Can you take one more?”
He sighed and uncrossed his arms. He shrugged at Mikey and languidly waved me over.
I did so and stood awkwardly by the chair.
I looked at his reflection in the mirror and shook my head. What did I do?
“I cut my own hair.”
His eyes widened and then he shook his head again. He sighed heavily. Then, as though he were touching something he wasn’t sure was dirty or clean, he flipped the sawed off edges of my hair.
“Cut it or hacked it off? Were you angry?”
“I was tired of my hair.”
“My dear, my dear. You don’t do it yourself. You don’t ever do it yourself. You come to a professional.” He placed his fleshy hands on his chest, referring to himself, and stared hard at my hair.
I looked at him in the mirror and we could both sense my desperation. It was perhaps the most feminine feeling I’d felt in a long while: the fear of not just a bad hair day, but a bad hair year.
He nodded sagely, like an old master who was retired but agreed to help out a struggling student one last time. Like Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black III.
“You’re in good hands,” he said. I nearly cried in relief. I straightened up in the chair and took a deep breath. I was ready for a miracle.
“But first,” he sighed again and looked at his watch, “I’m gonna need a cigarette.”
An hour and a half later, I emerged from the salon looking not like Jackie Chan, but Rosie O’Donnell. After she came out of the closet.
It wasn’t a chic bob – or perhaps on some slender, sylph-like girl with a swan’s neck it might have been – but on my rather thick neck, broad shoulders and round face it was, as a classmate would inform me the next day, “a butch cut,” not much better than the Jackie Chan haircut I’d given myself.
“But,” my friends told me soothingly, “you can tell the guy had skills. It’ll grow out really well.”
I never cried about it. I took deep breaths and repeated my father’s (and soon, everyone else’s wise words): hair grew. It does and it did. I spent the rest of the year wearing headbands and tried to see the silver lining: shorter showers and practically no hair drying time.