“So as I bring the back section up to this elevation I’m gonna connect it with the front part of her head and use that as my guide moving forward. Is everybody with me so far on what I’m doing and why?” Kaleb asks the group of us huddled around the station where he’s giving an impromptu cutting class with Myday as his model.
“Yeah.” everyone murmurs, present company included even though I have no idea what he’s doing or why.
“What’s it look like?” Myday asks, unable to see what’s going-on because Kaleb has her turned away from the mirror.
“Mairena, there’s awesome and then there’s whatever this is which is a thousand times more awesome than the most awesomeness of awesome.” Kaleb tells her as he cuts away.
“Ok!” she says reassured. “Con-tin-ue!”
“What’s goin’ on over here?” a stern voice asks in my ear.
“Kaleb is teaching a cutting class.” I tell the voice as I turn and see it belonging to Captain Ron.
“Dreama told him since it was slow today that he needed to do something to keep us all from just standing around.”
“Dreama.” he says with a shake of his head. “That boy would be sellin’ fruit on freeway exits if it weren’t for his auntie Rene keeping him employed here…where the only thing he’s skilled at is annoying the rest of us.”
“So it’s not just Kaleb that he fucks with?”
“Lord no, but I wouldn’t be upset if it was, nothing against Kaleb, mind you. I’m just too old to be takin’ grief from someone like Dreama who’s so dumb that he couldn’t do something as simple as kick a tire down a hill without fucking it up somehow.”
“It’s good to know I’m not alone in that opinion about him.”
“Not an opinion, son, fact. The same way gravity is a fact. You getting’ anything from what Kaleb is doin’?”
“Not really. I get confused sometimes because it’s like he’s explaining trigonometry while I’m still trying to remember my multiplication tables.”
“His methods can be somewhat…”
“That’s a diplomatic word for it.”
“Yeah but all that being said, working with him has made me feel more comfortable behind the chair than when I started…even if my work still looks like I just started.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’ve got promise.”
“How do you know? I mean, I’m not questioning your authority-”
“That’s wise of you.”
“It’s just that I’m wondering how you know about students out here when you’re always up there.” I say, motioning towards the segregated area of Phase 2.
“Just because I’m up there don’t mean I’m not paying attention to what’s going on over here. I’m always keeping an eye out for those that show potential for Phase 2 and I know your performance has improved and that you aren’t the type to give up or give in which is crucial to learning new skills. Where you at on your hours?”
“A little over 700.”
“So you’re about halfway through the program and a hundred hours shy of being eligible for Phase 2.”
“Yeah, I guess I am. I’ve been so caught-up with just trying to learn that I didn’t realize half my learning is done.”
“Boy, if you smart you know that your learning is never done. Have you given any thought to working up there with me once you hit 800?”
Bode had mentioned us doing this way back when he was an aspiring hairstylist and not a certified rockstar. But I felt, at least in regard to me, that it was a pipe dream because every client I touched could potentially end up looking like the victim of a pipe bomb. Plus, Captain Ron was intimidating and I was enjoying the fact that my intimidation levels out on The Floor had waned since starting.
Now I know a person is always supposed to be putting themselves outside of their comfort zone in order to grow but whatever person said that was clearly a person who didn’t know how comfortable being comfortable truly is.
“The only thought I’ve given Phase 2 is that I shouldn’t do it.”
“Because I don’t feel like I’m good enough and I know you expect nothing less than the best and I’m certain I couldn’t deliver that to you on the daily.”
“Listen, while I do expect the students in my crew to do their best I don’t expect them to be the best. They’ve just gotta have the willingness to learn, take direction and keep their ego in-check, I handle the rest. Also, when you’re in Phase 2 you’re treated like an adult, not some high school kid like you are out here on The Floor.”
I’m not gonna lie, the thought of being treated like the immature 38yr old that I was instead of the immature 17yr old that I wasn’t did sound appealing.
“And I promise that the more clients you take the better you’ll get. You can watch cutting videos, do your classes and talk about the ins and outs of hair all day long but none of that’ll give you the experience you’ll gain from constant, real-world repetition which is what you’ll get from doing hair 7hrs a day 5 days a week. Think about it.” he says, patting me on the shoulder before turning to leave.
Ron’s words had dispelled some of my preconceived notions about Phase 2 and planted a tiny seed but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to water that seed because it could potentially grow into a nasty weed that would only serve to trip me up and the low stress flow I’d grown accustomed to while working out on The Floor with Kaleb.
If I were to take The Captain up on his offer and join P2 then I’d be leaving my comfy lo-pro position in exchange for one that’d be filled with pressure, expectations and scrutiny. And not just from The Captain and the clients but from fellow students as well, both the ones in P2 and everyone else in Gen-pop out on The Floor.
When a student was in Gen-pop it afforded them a certain amount of anonymity and invisibility which bred a feeling of safety and security. Out on The Floor if a student fucked up it usually went unnoticed because everyone else was so concerned with trying not to fuck-up themselves that they never paid attention to the mistakes others might be making.
But in P2 you were under a microscope and a spotlight. If you were there it meant you were the most advanced, competent and proficient of everyone else at school which meant everyone paid attention to you.
This is why the clients paid more for services done by Phase 2 students and why the rest of Gen-pop either revered you out of admiration or sneered at you out of jealous insecurity.
Either way, you were 100 percent exposed and vulnerable which meant that if I fucked up I’d be gang-banged by criticism in every orifice imaginable from every angle possible, netting me with more pain, embarrassment and humiliation than I had any interest in dealing with.
Now would I like to improve my skills by doing hair all day long instead of the usual one client diet I’d been fed on?
Would I like to be treated like an adult and be considered an “untouchable” like all the P2 students were? Free from all the typical rules, regulations and rituals the rest of us in Gen-pop were beholden to?
Without a doubt.
But did I want those things at the cost of feeling like I was walking a tightrope every day that had a clan of bloodthirsty hyenas beneath it that were waiting for me to fall so they could rip me apart limb from limb in between mania
I didn’t need that kind of stress in my life and until I did, Phase 2 would be a hard fucking pass.
Speaking of stress…
“Hey sexy.” Justine says, coming up behind me and pinching me on the ass, causing my eyes to dart over to Myday who thankfully didn’t witness this transaction because her back was to us as Kaleb blew her out.”
“Hey! Don’t do shit like that where people can see. I don’t want the entire school talking.”
“Relax, daddy, nobody saw.”
“You finished with your client?”
“Yeah, I can’t tell you how pissed I was that I chose to work in the only row that had people in it today. But he was nice…and wouldn’t stop flirting with me.”
“Oh yeah?” I ask with minimal interest. “Was his pick-up game on point?”
“Puh-lease. He was some young kid that probably pisses his pants every time he gets a boner, not an experienced man like you are.” she purrs as she runs a finger along my neck and down to my shoulder.
“Will you stop?!” I tell her in a hushed but strict whisper. “Don’t make shit so obvious.”
“Fine, I won’t touch you and I’ll just touch myself instead.” she says with a laugh. “What did Kaleb do to Hot Cheeto?”
“Yeah, the girl he’s blowing out.”
“You mean Myday?”
“That’s her name?”
“I never knew what it was but since she’s always eating Hot Cheetos that’s what Leslie and I decided to call her.”
“Adorable. Kaleb was using her as a model for his cutting class.”
“That’s like the ONLY time you can put the words ‘Kaleb’ and ‘class’ in the same sentence.
“Why? He’s never nice to me, in fact, I don’t think he’s ever nice to ANYBODY.”
I turn and give her a disapproving look.
“I’m sorry. I promise to be nice, the same way last night was nice on your couch.”
“You mean until your mom called?”
“Oh my god, so embarrassing. She can be a real cunt sometimes.”
“Harsh words for the woman that pushed you out of her uterus.”
“Who’s been making me pay for it everyday since then. But let’s not talk about her, let’s talk about how I’m gonna make it up to you.”
“You think I deserve compensation because of your sudden departure last night?”
“Ugh, I know, I know, and yes, you do. And if the rest of your skills are as good as your tongue’s then trust me, it’ll be my pleasure. Are you free Saturday night? You know, to see the rest of me.” she asks, running her hand from her hip to her tummy and then up to her round, plump breasts.
“I uh…” I stammer, my brain momentarily short-circuited due to her not-so-subtle allusion to having me fuck her brains out.
“You wanna fuck this pussy hard don’t’ you, daddy?” she whispers in my ear.
“I really want you to too.”
“And there you have it boys and girls, a long triangular shape with round concave layers in the back to tame the density and square layers up front to give it some movement and shake.” Kaleb yells as he spins Myday around where she’s facing Justine and I dead-on.
“How’s it look???” She asks, straining her eyes upward in a useless attempt to see her own hair.
“Fantastic.” I tell her while clapping my hands.
“So Saturday?” Justine asks.
“I can’t Saturday because of a prior commitment. Can I get a rain check?”
“I guess. But don’t keep me waiting. I hate waiting for things that I want.”
“Alright mongrels, if you have any questions on what I did then you’re SOL because it’s officially my lunch break.” Kaleb tells the group as he walks towards me, his oncoming presence being a natural repellent to Justine.
“Talk later.” she says with a bat of her eyes and then saunters off.
“You’re welcome.” Kaleb tells me.
“Making Mairena’s hair look top-notch for your date.”
“OH MY GOD! She’s so pretty!” Myday says giggling while she admires her hair in the mirror and makes faces at herself.
“What was Justine talking to you about?”
“Getting together on Saturday.”
“Like together together?” he asks as he makes the universal fuck sign with his fingers.
“Too bad, so sad. You’ve got better plans.”
“Do you like my hairs?” Myday asks as she trots over to me.
“It looks really good.”
“I know! Thank you, Kaleb!” she exclaims as she goes in to give him a hug and he sidesteps it.
“Sorry, physical contact makes me ill.” he tells her.
“Ok, by-EEE.” she says as she half dances, half walks over to a friend of hers.
“She’s such a fucking weirdo. But she’s a million times cooler than Justine.” Kaleb says as he hands me back my sheers.
“I know how you feel about it all.”
“I don’t feel anything. It’s what I know. You got plans for lunch?”
“I assume you’re gonna say that I owe you food since you did Myday’s hair ‘for me’.”
“I am appalled by that assumption but far be it from me to argue about how you wanna spend your money.” he tells me as I pocket my sheers and we walk out into The Galleria. “Let’s get some Pollo Loco.”
“Tell me something…”
“What’s that?” he asks as he lights up a cigarette.
“What are your thoughts on Phase 2?” I ask with the ulterior motive of hoping to receive some pure, unadulterated confirmation bias that will make solidify my decision to not want to join.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for students.” he quips without missing a beat.
“You do?” I say with total surprise.
“Absolutely. I can’t think of a better place for one to go…”
I’m both dumbfounded and concerned by his response because if he thinks P2 is worth doing then that means I have to reconsider which is something I don’t wanna do because I want my time behind the chair at school to be comfortable not complicated.
“…if they wanna have an illustrious career at Supercuts.”
There it is.
That was the kind of Kaleb answer I was looking for.
An answer that relinquished me from all personal accountability in regard to my education and allowed me to feel OK about wanting to do nothing more than just be an OK student. No pushing myself. No walking the scissors edge everyday. Just plain, run-of-the-mill, mediocre OK.
“That’s what I figured.” I say as we step onto an escalator to take us to the street level.
“Why? Do you wanna go up there?”
“Not at all.”
“Good, you’ll learn more from me. And why the fuck are you doing that?” he asks with disgust.
“Putting your hand on the rail!”
“I don’t know, habit I guess.”
“That’s a dangerous habit.”
“Haven’t you seen the movie Contagion* that just came out?”
“The one about the plague?”
“Not a plague but a killer virus.”
“No, should I have seen it?”
“Well if you want to survive the coming apocalypse you should. Or at the very least take some pointers from it by not putting your hands where millions of other dirty, filthy, virus transmitting hands have been, like on this rail.”
“Relax. There’s no apocalypse coming and I’m not gonna get sick by putting my hands on something that’s here for my safety. Besides, that’s just a movie.”
“It’s more than ‘just a movie’ It’s a god-damn public service announcement! A warning of what’s to come! You’ll see, oh you shall see.” he quips as he takes a drag off his cigarette.
“It amazes me how you’re so worried about some fictitious virus while simultaneously inhaling some very real toxic chemicals.”
“They keep me calm in the face of a looming disaster. And when that disaster does come and society does crumble you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be riding the whole thing out in my germ-free bunker that you won’t be allowed into because you use escalator rails.”
“If it takes a global pandemic for you to lock yourself away from the rest of the world then the only thing I have to say about it is that it can’t come soon enough.”
“Be careful what you wish for.”
*Contagion is a 2011 film that accidentally predicted the COVID-19 pandemic with striking accuracy.
And even though the virus in the movie was over sensationalized with a much higher mortality rate it did share some eerie similarities to the real-life virus that would consume the world 8 years later.
For instance, the movie’s virus originated in the Far East (Hong Kong) and was of a bat-borne illness. It was transmissible among humans by both respiratory droplets and by way of any inanimate objects that when contaminated or exposed to infectious agents could transfer the disease to a new host.
The film also foreshadowed cities being locked-down, people sheltering in place and widespread panic-buying, looting and violence.
The only thing the movie fell short on was not including the murder of a black man by police officers that would spark weeks of nationwide race riots, but then including something like that would way too realistic for even Hollywood’s standards.
The movie starred an aloof and immune Matt Damon who was married to Patient Zero which was an unfaithful Gwyneth Paltrow. It also co-starred the always elegant Kate Winslet who was killed off WAY too early and a sleazy Jude Law who’s character paved the way for the real-life Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli.
And although the movie inadvertently got so many things right, the one thing it really hit the nail on the head was that the end of the world was brought about by Gwyneth Paltrow which, lets face it, isn’t hard to believe at all.