I have had a lot of bad hair cuts in my life. Perhaps this comes from living in east central Illinois where the stylists practice on cows. Maybe it was my parent’s discount philosophy (“Forty dollars for a hair cut?!”). In any case, I’m no stranger to bad hair. In fact, I almost preferred the bad hair cuts; when you look like one of the Monkees, people assume you’re in your early twenties (or lost in the sixties).
Cast your mind back to the end of 1996. Jose Aznar became prime minister of Spain, Australia’s Northern Territory authorized euthanasia, and the last Magdalen Asylum was closed in Ireland. Don’t remember any of that? Tsk, tsk. *Sigh* The American school system has a lot to answer for.
I was living in the lower half of someone’s house (but that’s another story) in Belmont. My soon-to-be-ex-wife (also another story) was still in Wisconsin (still another story) leaving me alone in California. After a few months of neglect, I realized I desperately needed a haircut (another st- Oh, wait, that is this story).
Back then, I used what I called the “proximity method” of finding the things I needed. Later, I called it the “Yahoo Maps method” and now it’s the “GPS method.” It’s a pretty simple system, really, you just pick the place that’s closest to you. I found a lot of things that way and they’ve worked out great: my tax preparer, the store where I bought my pet, my children’s preschool, the place I dump my toxic waste, etc. So, I opened my yellow pages (remember yellow pages?) and looked for nearby barbers.
A large, square ad jumped out at me. The VIP Salon was only a few blocks away. It seemed they also did massages, manicures, and pedicures, but I figured it was just a fancy-shmancy salon. I called to make an appointment. A few minutes later, they called me back. Did I want a haircut? Yes I did. There was a pause and they confirmed they could do that. That should have been my first warning.
A few nights later, I entered the VIP Salon. It was a narrow space, with a long row of barber’s stations taking up one whole side, a wooden screen created a small entry area and there were closed doors in the back to private rooms. Boxes were stacked in the barber’s chairs; that should have been my second warning. A small African-American woman appeared wearing a shimmering red sarong, piles of gold jewelry, and enough makeup to paint a wall That should have been my third warning.
“Are you here for a massage?” she asked with a disturbing amount of enthusiasm.
I explained that I was there for a haircut. Undaunted, she told me that the stylist hadn’t arrived yet. (The stylist wasn’t hadn’t arrived yet; that’s warning four for those of you keeping track at home.) I waited while the two women busied themselves around the place. The woman who greeted me explained to the other woman, a sullen Russian, that I was “the one who wanted a hair cut.” Another client came in and was greeted as I was. He asked if he could “see who else was available” and went in one of the back rooms with the Russian.
Finally, my barber arrived, carrying a leather bag of equipment with her. She quickly set up and asked me the standard questions: how long did I want it, on or off the ears, which way did I part my hair, etc. I tried to make the standard jokes: I just want a cut that will make women love me and men fear me, can you give me horns, how much to shave it all off, etc. Unfortunately, I was thrown off my delivery by the Russian woman returning from the back and grabbing something from a nearby drawer. It was in a flat square wrapper. Okay, it could have been lotion but it looked exactly like a condom.
Suddenly, it all hit me at once. I was having my hair cut in a brothel. (I just searched through the available synonyms for “brothel” and didn’t find a better word. What do you like better? The choices are: brothel, bordello, bagnio, house of ill repute, bawdyhouse, or cat house.) My face flushed. My heart began to pound. All the blood rushed up to my ears. My stomach turned. I had a sudden desire to listen to Enya CDs. What to do? What to do? Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do, but continue to pretend that there was nothing unusual going on. Hey, people get their hair cut by prostitutes all the time, don’t they? To be fair, the stylist was probably one of the prostitutes’ friends they called in to cut my hair and not a working girl herself. Still, it kept my mind busy through the whole hour of the hair cut to think about it and not what was going on in the back room.
When it was finally over, the woman who greeted me (and whom I had decided was the madam) thanked me for coming and encouraged me to come again.
“We do massages!” she said.
“I know,” I replied, about sixteen octaves too high and thirty decibels too loud.
Needless to say, I didn’t go back. Soon after that night, I moved to a new apartment and did the proximity method again. This time I found a more reputable (but still terrible) place near a Chevy’s that I stayed with for a couple of years. The woman who cut my hair was quite definitely not a prostitute and we talked mostly about what cheeses went best on burritos (Monterey Jack). Later, my girlfriend (soon-to-be-wife-but that’s-another-story) convinced me to go to a good (expensive) place and people starting thinking I was really old.
Every now and then I would drive by the VIP Salon. I was strangely relieved when it closed down (or moved away or whatever happened).
I honestly couldn’t tell you if it was the worst hair style I ever got. It was, however, the worst hair cut I ever had.