Getting a haircut is about more than just getting a haircut. It’s also about feeling a little bit pampered, being the focus of someone’s attention, and feeling lovely, if only for a few minutes. The haircut I got today, though, was none of those things.
The Cadillac of Haircuts
Since I moved to Edmonton I have visited a different hair salon every six weeks or so, and each one has provided some degree of customer coddling and professional competence, but I can’t help comparing them all to the Cadillac of haircuts I once had in San Jose. I was given the hairdresser’s full attention for a full hour with no other clients on the premises. It was all about me. Interesting music played quietly in the background as my hair was cut and coloured, and everywhere I looked was pleasing to the eye; even the ceiling, which had fabric artfully draped around a chandelier. I was given a glass of wine while my hair colour was processing, and we chatted cheerily about families and travel experiences. That haircut cost me a fortune, but it was the most indulgent haircut of my life, and very memorable.
Most of my haircuts are of the “Can you take me without an appointment” type at a shopping mall. They are all adequate and satisfactory, but unremarkable. Hairdressers usually make a little small talk, their techniques are fast and efficient, and their premises are clean and tidy. It comes as a surprise, therefore, to find that other types of salon exist.
Today I decided to check out a salon that is only two blocks from my home and has been newly renovated. I live in a multicultural neighbourhood, and on the main street there are lots of hair salons to meet the needs of the various hair types. There are so many salons, in fact, that I have wondered if some of them might be fronts for less legitimate businesses. There are one or two on every block for the fifteen blocks that are in my usual walking zone, and that seems excessive. However, it has been pointed out to me that salons are not always only for cutting hair. They are also social gathering places, and at weekends some are packed with people who are often simply visiting with their neighbours.
Through The Maze of Products
The salon I chose today seemed to focus mainly on selling wigs, hairpieces, and hair products with the salon taking up less than a quarter of the available space. That should have been my first clue. When I walked in, I could not actually see the salon through the thicket of shelves and products. A woman, who was up a ladder and hanging long packaged hairpieces on to peg hooks in the wall, asked if she could help me. All the walls were covered to the ceiling with these hairpieces, and I hoped that they were not all natural hair. I was imagining poor women in desperate circumstances selling their hair to wig makers, but as I looked closer it seemed that they were made of a synthetic fibre.
I asked if I could get a haircut without an appointment and she directed me to a couch at the back of the store, next to the two barbers’ chairs and a single sink. To get there, I had to excuse myself for stepping over the boxes of lotions and hair products placed on the floor by a woman who was trying to sell her wares to the man who was the barber/hairdresser/store owner. He apologized to me for the delay and said he would be only a few minutes.
Waiting My Turn
As I waited for them to make a deal, I looked around and saw that, in addition to the woman placing the hairpieces, there was a man helping her to stock the products onto the peg hooks and taking them from two huge boxes marked “Made in China” that took up a lot of the minimal available floor space.
After making a purchase agreement, and after taking the saleswoman’s product boxes back out to her car for her, the man in charge turned his attention to me and invited me to sit in one of the barbers’ chairs. I thought that meant that I would be the focus of his attention from then on, but I was too optimistic. It seemed that everything and everybody was more demanding of his time.
Shortly after I sat down, and while the hairdresser was searching around his counter space and drawers for a suitable pair of scissors, a woman came in asking for a particular type of haircut and for a book of hairstyles to look through. He spent some time discussing her needs with her and explaining that he didn’t have a book. At the same time, the male store employee came through looking for something and unceremoniously threw my jacket aside to look on the couch. He was talking to the hairdresser in a language that was unfamiliar to me, and so I have no idea what he wanted. He looked a bit cross, though.
Chatting With the Neighbours
Then a man wandered in with a cup of coffee in his hand, and he began chatting with the hairdresser like an old friend. He sat down in one of the nearby chairs and struck up a conversation with me while the hairdresser was otherwise occupied. I don’t think he was there for a haircut. He just seemed to want to chat. In fact, he asked the sales woman if she had a product that would help him to quickly get rid of the bags under his eyes. He didn’t want plastic surgery or a long, drawn-out regimen. He just wanted them gone, now. She tried to sell him some lotion or other, but he wasn’t buying it. I suggested that perhaps he just needed more sleep, but that didn’t go over well.
The hairdresser found a pair of scissors that apparently would do the job of cutting my hair and made a start on it. His technique was much less assured than I expect from a hairdresser, and I wondered if it was because he wasn’t used to my hair type. But, he didn’t say anything, so I was left feeling a bit insecure about how this would all work out.
Taking a Closer Look Around
The female customer had, in the meantime, gone to look around the store and after she had chosen an item, the female clerk needed the hairdresser to go to the counter in order to ring the purchase through using the credit card machine. My chair had been swivelled around so that, while the hairdresser was gone, I was facing the only sink in the salon. Underneath it, I noticed two plastic hair dye bowls with dried up dye and brushes in them on the floor. I wondered how long they had been there. Also on the floor were some small boxes that once contained hair products and miscellaneous trash.
Above all this on the wall was a television that was not on, but which had a variety of cables hanging out from underneath it. It was all starting to look a bit insecure and unsanitary, but by then I didn’t feel I could leave. About a quarter of my hair had been cut, and I wanted my hair to be cut all over my head. Even if it was going to be a bad haircut, at least it would be a completely bad haircut.
Feeling Insecure in the Chair
When he came back, the hairdresser began hacking at my hair with those scissors that make scraping noises. I think they are for layering. He occasionally sprayed clumps of my hair with water, but not all the time. At one point he decided that the store was too quiet and spent five minutes trying in vain to persuade the TV to perform. Twice he used the blow dryer to send my hair flying in all directions and I laughed, saying that my hair looked like Donald Trump’s hair does on windy days. He cut most of the back and sides of my hair with those scraping scissors but didn’t do much with the top. When asked which side I part my hair, I took his comb and showed him how I normally arrange it. That’s when he realized I have bangs and set about trimming them.
I Suppose It Could Be Worse
Finally, he decided he’d done enough and took the cape off me. He didn’t ask if I was satisfied, and he didn’t use a mirror to show me the back. He didn’t even turn my chair around so that I could see the front. He just wanted to stop cutting my hair and get on with helping the next customer. I picked up my discarded jacket and purse, and he followed me to the cash register. “That’ll be $30,” he said. I gave him the cash and left. I didn’t leave a tip.
I wasn’t able to see my haircut until I got home and it was only half as bad as I had feared. I think I can live with it for a few weeks until the next haircut, but I’m going to play it safe next time and look for a salon where there is actually sanitizer in the comb jar.