I reclined in the chair, hair suspended over the deep sink as Tiffany finished the process of “washing that gray right out of my hair.” Eyes closed, I prepared for the next phase of my precisely scheduled trip to her cheerful salon. As she carefully applied the wax to my eyebrows, I heard the door open and she greeted her two sons. My reverie was broken as a deep voice responded to her inquiries about their trip to the swimming pool. I forced my eyes open to catch a glimpse of a lanky thirteen-year-old standing near my head and quickly moved a near-sighted gaze to a miniature version of the adolescent who inquired about my “eyebrows.”
With a quick, head-clearing shake of my head, I mentally counted back the years since I first entrusted the most sacred ritual of hair care to an attractive, dark-haired young woman. Was it possible that the years had passed so quickly? I was a client before her now teenaged son was even born. A memory of the events that landed me in a chair in a well-know chain of salons where Tiffany started her career flashed before my eyes.
In my twenties and early thirties, I sporadically visited number of hair care professionals who gave me obligatory haircuts and even, at my request, gave my naturally curly, wavy hair a perm so tight I had to use a pitchfork to separate the tiny ringlets. But the appearance of the first gray hairs and the observation from my young son who announced, “Mom, you have a moustache,” changed the course of history.
I was visiting my two sisters in Atlanta for a few days. I had been battling several months of unexplained and unexpected depression and, in desperation, booked a flight for some intense “female bonding.” In their nurturing care, I ate, laughed, shopped, and enjoyed a respite from the heaviness my soul had encountered. On the final day of my visit, my sister Vaunda decided a makeover was in order.
“I think that highlights would be the perfect solution,” she announced. Meekly, I presented myself as the sacrificial lamb to her well-intentioned idea. Since birth, I had served as a combination crash-test dummy and lab rat to my siblings, why bother to change now?
We made a quick trip to the drug store, where she selected a do-it-yourself highlighting kit. I bought a candy bar and a trashy magazine for the plane ride home. Driving back to her house, I opened the box and examined the contents. Somewhere in the far regions of my brain, alarm bells clanged ominously but I quickly silenced them and chose to focus on the face of the youthful, perfectly coiffed female on the cover of the box. Everything was going to be just fine.
The latex skullcap looked like a cheap version of the swim cap worn by the elderly women at the swimming pool. I tried just pulling it over my head, but it snapped off and flew across the room. So I began a painstaking process of slowing working it down over my large head, gently tucking in my hair as I went. My face bulged from the constriction on my scalp. Using an instrument that looked like a combination of a crochet hook and dental scraper, Vaunda followed a grid pattern embedded in the cap and pulled tufts of hair through the tiny openings. I occupied my mind with fond thoughts of the ease of natural childbirth.
Given the difficulty encountered so far, it only made sense to be sure we had extracted the optimum amount of hair to receive the “gentle highlighting” so she pulled a few extra strands for good measure and applied the processing solution. The timer went off and I bent over the kitchen sink as Vaunda used the spray attachment to rinse my hair. I heard her mutter the immortal words of the first telegraphic message, “What hath God wrought!” and forced my eyes open long enough to see the sink filled with bright purple foam.
When the purple foam subsided and the rinse water ran clear, the time had come to remove the cap of torture and revel in my new-found beauty. That was when it became apparent that we had perhaps been overly zealous in our pursuit of a maximum outcome. The effect was startling.
I had been transformed into a platinum blond with mousy brown highlights.
We made another trip back to the drugstore to purchase another product made to “tone down” the highlights. Just the fact that such a product exists should be enough to deter the legions of do-it-yourselfers but, obviously, this is not the case.
While the second treatment was processing and the time to leave for the airport was approaching, Vaunda suggested that she still had time to heat up the wax to do my “upper lip” (translation: moustache) and eyebrows. At this point, I didn’t even bother to voice an objection. The hot, tar-like substance hardened quickly and I was not prepared for the searing pain as she tore the strips off my tender skin. She rinsed and shampooed my hair but I was unable to see the final result through my still tear-filled eyes.
I boarded the plane at the last minute and took my seat next to a distinguished looking businessman. We engaged in a pleasant conversation that made the two-hour flight pass quickly. Before I knew it, we were landing in Minneapolis.
Sam greeted me at the gate with a kiss and a rather surprised expression. I needed to use the restroom and as I stood at the sink, I finally was able to take in the full effect of new appearance. To my horror, my hair had morphed into a fawn-colored frizzy mop. Flames nearly leaped off my upper lip and my eyebrows formed angry red arches. I could have easily been mistaken for a homicidal hooker.
From this experience came a profound appreciation of the extensive training and experience of cosmetology practitioners and a firm resolve to leave all matters of hair care and removal where they belong—in the skilled hands of a professional.