Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hair Salon

I was rather shocked when I walked into my husband-and-wife owned and operated hair salon this evening. It smelled of incense. There was classical music playing. My girl, Ximena (pronounced Him-ee-nah) wasn't there. Something was very "off".

She's always there on Wednesdays. Her days off are Tuesday and Thursday, and they always have been. I've always been able to come in without an appointment any day of the week or weekend except Tuesday and Thursday and get my hair cut or highlights done by Ximena. But rather than seeing her and the usual faces of Mr and Mrs Aponte, the owners, there were 3 Vietnamese folks just waiting for a customer to sit in their hydraulic chairs.

At first I thought the Apontes had hired some new stylists. After all, the shelves of neatly arranged hair care products were in the same place, the 1960s-looking vending machine was in the same place, and all the furniture and hairstyle posters on the walls (from 1994) were the same. But as "Danny" (not his real name, I'm sure) began cutting my hair I noticed this enormous, beautiful bamboo plant on the reception desk and I began to fear the worst.

"Danny" said that he had just taken over the lease on the shop. Mr Aponte had turned 65 and decided not to renew the lease. Instead he apparently sold his business to "Danny" and he and Mrs Aponte had gone back to Puerto Rico for an extended vacation. They will come back and sell their house and move to Puerto Rico. "Danny" signed a new lease.

I began to wonder if any of the stylists who worked for the Apontes were still around so I waited for the right time to ask. No, Ximena had quit, Mario Aponte (the son of the former owners) had quit, and the older Japanese lady Shumiko wanted to stay on but couldn't because she did color treatments, or something, and they couldn't do colors now, or something. "Danny's" English was broken to the point that I probably only understood about half of what he said.

He went on to tell me that upon coming to America he had worked in one barbershop for 3 years, but had to move on when the owner retired. He was at his next position for 11 years, until that owner died, or moved, or something. He's been in this country for 14 years and this is only the 3rd place he's worked. When he came over from Vietnam it was his "dream" to one day have his own shop. "My dream has finally come true" he told me. And for a second or two I was genuinely happy for him. But my thoughts turned quickly back to myself and my need to find another salon now where I could have a regular hairdresser every time, without an appointment, who gave a decent haircut, could do highlights the way I like them, and didn't charge an arm and a leg.

You see, I don't like the way my hair looks when they put that cap on my head and pull the hair threw and highlight it. It's painful that way, too. Since my hair is so short to begin with, they wind up cutting off all of the highlights immediately after putting them in! Plus, the cap method gives me 'spotty' highlights. I had trained Ximena to use a comb and a paint brush to do my highlights. With the paint brush you transfer the color from the bowl to the comb, then you lightly comb the color threw the hair. Since there's no cap in your way, the color goes down closer to the roots so they don't cut off all the highlights right away. I think I invented that technique myself. For me, it's the only way.

"Danny" chatted on for awhile, asking me all kinds of questions in an attempt to keep my business. "Are you married?" "How are your parents doing?" "How was the traffic tonight?" "It was warm enough to melt the snow today, huh?" I hope I gave the right canned answers, as I really wasn't paying sufficient attention to be sure. Instead I was trying to figure out where I was going to get my highlights done before my next social outing.

As we were wrapping up, "Danny" gave me the pitch: "I'm sure you have friends. I'd appreciate it if you'd tell them about my new business here. I'm planning on a promotion soon, maybe next week. You'll be able to drop your business card in a box and once a month I'll pull one out and that person will get a free haircut..." all in his broken English. At least that's what I think he said. I shook my head and said "Oh, that sounds like a good idea", all the while knowing I wouldn't be back because they don't do color treatments. And I need my highlights.

The lose of my convenient, dependable, and affordable hair salon brought back the memory of another tragic lose: that of the lose of my favorite family-owned Mexican restaurant, The Taco House, that went out of business last April. I returned to my car with a lighter head, but a heavier heart.

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