The 90%

Chapter 26

 

“You did this on purpose didn’t you?” Kaleb asks while inspecting the gruesome bald spot I’d managed to cut into Trevor’s hair while attempting to do the scissor over comb technique.

“Why would I do that?”

“Same reason the mom from A Christmas Story used up all the glue.”

“So the Old Man couldn’t put the leg lamp back together?”

“So you’ve seen that movie?”

“Who the fuck hasn’t? And what does that have to do with this?”

“Just like the mom didn’t want the lamp around, you didn’t wanna do scissor over comb, you wanted to use clippers and so you decided to sabotage the whole thing by going and doing…this.” he says, poking his finger at the hairless patch on Trevor’s head.

“Do you really think I’d wanna do something like this on purpose?”

“No, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how you did this because the comb should’ve guarded against him being scalped.”

“I amaze even myself sometimes.”

“No shit. You’re like a magician that performs demented tricks on people’s heads. Anyway, like I was saying, because of this little mishap we now have to use the clippers.”    

“But I thought you said clippers were tools for the unskilled and incompetent.”

“They are but there’s no way I, or you, and I especially mean you, will be able to fix this by doing scissor over comb.” he gripes. “How do you feel about going super short on the sides?” he asks Trevor.

“I’m good with it but lemme ask Stickman.” he says then nods his head to an imaginary voice. “Stickman is good with it too.” he informs us, making me relieved that both he and Stickman were easy going clients.  

“Kaleb, babe, can you come over here and check my cut please?” Dusti yells to him.

“Babe?” he says to me with a scrunched up face. “That just made me feel like I did when I saw my parents 69ing, blech.” he utters then schleps over to Dusti.     

“Your boy’s a little salty isn’t he?” Trevor asks once Kaleb is out of earshot.

“You get used to the sodium.”

“I feel sorry for his girlfriend…if he even has one.”

“Oh he does, and she’s a pornstar.”

“What really? That guy?”

“Hard to believe huh?”

“I mean not if she was one of those fetish pornstars like a burn victim or an amputee.”

“She’s actually legit, her name is **** ******.”

“THAT’S HIS GIRLFRIEND?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s fucking hot, and that moan of hers…god damn!”

“Don’t I know it, Trev.”

Kaleb returns and assess the tattered landscape I’ve left on Trevor’s head then devises a plan. 

“Ok, we’re gonna start off with no guard and blend it up using a 1 and then a 2. That’ll erase the bald spot and give a nice gradient look. Then we’ll take some off the top and texturize it. That good with you, dude?” he asks Trevor.

“Hey, man, anything is good from the person banging **** ******.  That shit is prime-time, yo!”

“Gee, I wonder how he found out that piece of information.” Kaleb says, looking at me.

“What’s it like having sex with her?” Trevor asks with excitement.  

“I don’t talk about my sex life.”

“Aww c’mon, man, ya gotta tell me! I gotta know! Besides, you cut my ear, doesn’t that deserve some kind of compensation?”

“He’s got a point.” I tell Kaleb.

“Fine, it’s good. Now can we move on?”

“That’s it? After every mind-bending thing I’ve seen her do on camera and all you’ve gotta say is ‘it’s good’?”

“Everything she does on camera is acting, it’s not real life. Sorry to burst your boner.”

“It doesn’t look like she’s acting, it looks like she’s loving it.”

“That’s the trademark of a good actor, to pretend. Besides, they have to do re-takes, get different shots, adjust the lighting and then edit it all. It’s no different than anything that goes into a regular movie.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“She ever take you to work with her?”

“No because I’m too busy working this job where I have to answer questions like this because some people are chatty Kathy’s right, Stuke?”

“So we’re gonna start off with no guard then work our way up to a 2?” I say in a bid to take the focus off of me and my double XL mouth, realizing I’d be a horrible employee if I worked for The Mob.     

“Yeah.” Kaleb says, firing up the barbaric clippers and fixing the side with the bald patch on it and making it look crisp and clean.

“Now do the other side just like this.”  

“Ok.” I tell him, believing that using the clippers will reduce my ability to make mistakes only to find out that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Cementing once and for all my belief that there was no hope for me when it came to doing any hair of any type in any way on any person.   

“Holy hose-hound.” Kaleb says when he sees the Texas Chainsaw Massacre I’d performed.

“How’s it lookin’?” Trevor asks.

“Like Ray Charles did it right after shooting up.” Kaleb tells him.

“But you’re able to fix it, right?” he asks Kaleb as I look out the window and stare at the silhouette of the Santa Monica mountain range in the distance, wanting to flee from here to its highest peak and hoping some kind, understanding soul will bludgeon me over the head with a rock and then leave my corpse to be ravaged by birds and wild animals as if I was given a traditional Tibetan Sky Burial.     

“Of course I can fix it.” Kaleb says, grabbing the clippers once again and turning my mess into a masterpiece as the call goes out for our lunch break.

“You wanna finish the rest of the cut so we can get outta here before we all turn to dust?” I ask full of dejection and self-loathing.

“Sure, just watch me so you’ll know what to do next time.” he says, chopping into the hair on the top of Trevor’s head with a calculated frenzy.

As he cuts I look down the row and see the great shag that Bode did on his client which he’s finishing off with hairspray and the flawless A-line Dusti did on hers that she’s flat-ironing.

In fact everyone in my row has done an awesome job on their client with the exception of me who’s standing off to the side with his dick in his hand like some useless cuckold while his teacher finishes the job he couldn’t do.       

“Alright you’re good to go.” Kaleb tells Trevor, putting a dab of paste in his hair and styling it.

“Fucking rad.” Trevor says, admiring his reflection. “Stickman is gonna be off the chain this Friday, thanks dude!” he tells Kaleb as he white boy dances with his bandaged ear over to the front desk.

“I know you weren’t able to do the last part of the cut but do you still feel like you learned something?”

“Oh yeah, I learned that I’m a total fuck-up and shouldn’t be allowed to touch people’s hair because when I do it’s a crime against humanity.” I tell him as I throw my gear into my kit.

“Hey man, it was your fist men’s cut, of course you were gonna make mistakes.”

“Yeah? What about all the women’s cuts I’ve done? And how many times have I done a blow dry that looked even half-way passable?”

“Well you-“

“The answer is none, Kaleb. NONE. I feel like life is giving me a great big sign that says I should fucking quit and count my losses while they’re still countable.”

“You don’t wanna do that.”

“Pretty sure I do.”

“Pretty sure you don’t.”

“Yes I do! When I was in Core it bothered me that I wasn’t any good but I thought I’d eventually outgrow it, get better over time and improve the quality of work I did and the way I felt about it.”

“Stu-“

“But none of that has happened and I’m fucking sick and tired of it to the point that I’m ready to quit and go deliver pizzas or something lame like that that that doesn’t kick me in the balls on the daily.”

“STUKE!”

“What, motherfucker?”

“If you quit you’ll never get to where you’re supposed to go.”

“And where’s that? A hair salon for the blind?”

“No, although that is funny.”

“It’s funny because you said something like that to me before.”

“That makes sense. But besides that, listen, you have the passion to wanna do good which is why you’re so hard on yourself but you need to ease up, man.”

“That’s hard to do when I see everybody else creating phenomenal work and all I’m making is garbage.”

“Fuck what everybody else is doing.” he says as my fellow students stroll past us towards the front door. “If you stick with this you’re gonna be more successful than all these people.”

“How do you figure?”

“The Law of Percentages.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Do you know how many of these students will actually make a career out of doing hair?”

“No idea, I’m not in charge of statistics.”

“Ten percent is your answer. At most, ten percent will go on to do hair after they graduate.”

“Doesn’t seem like much.”

“It isn’t.”

“Why won’t they?”

“Any number of reasons. They might decide they don’t like it, can’t handle the assistant phase, they get married or knocked up, die in a car crash…who knows, the factors are endless. But if you keep with it that puts you at an advantage.”

“How?”

“Because ninety percent of your competition won’t even show up for the game. They’ll forfeit their career in hair which will give you more room on the field to flourish.”

“Flourish is the farthest fucking word to describe where I’m at right now.”

“I know but the right now doesn’t last forever. You’ll get better as long as you don’t quit. Plus, here’s a secret no one else will tell you…”

“What’s that?” I ask, thinking of Jan’s Dead Men Tell No Tales tattoo and wondering if Kaleb and I will find ourselves at the bottom of the Pacific once he reveals this secret to me.  

“You’re not really here to learn how to do hair.”

What was that?

“Dude, like the Virgin Mary said to God, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“What I’m talking about is that all you’re really here to do is get the 1600 hours you need to take your board exam and pass it so you can get your license. Everything else is just lipstick on a cop. The real learning comes when you start assisting at an actual salon.”

Kaleb dropping this revelation made me feel like I wasn’t allowed a choice between taking the blue pill or the red pill but instead had the red one shoved down my throat and was forced to swallow.

And upon swallowing it came to the realization that the reality I’d thought I’d been living in had been a lie and in its place a new and unsettling truth lay bare that I now had to contend with and accept.

All my notions about school had been an illusion like set pieces on a Hollywood sound stage that appeared to be 3 dimensional but were nothing more than cheap plywood propped up by a few beams and some brackets.  

What a fucking asshole this Kaleb guy was.

“You know if this was meant to make me feel better it doesn’t.”

“No?”

“No! I already feel like I’ve been drowning in a sea of sorrow and instead of giving me your hand you use it to push me further down.”

“Well that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to help you see things for how they really are so you’ll quit stabbing yourself in the heart. I want you to know that you don’t need to know everything about hair when you finish school, you just need to finish it and all that takes is just showing up every day.”     

“So you’re saying just come here every day, get the shit kicked out of me and eventually everything will work out?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying and doing that doesn’t take any skill or talent, just determination.”

I finish packing up my shit and notice Bode and Dusti are waiting for me by the door.

“Stuke, more than anything else hair is a mind game. It’s a mind game between you and yourself and you and your clients and I know you’ve got the making of becoming a true Jedi so stick with it, ok?”

“That’s very Obi-Wan of you but I seriously doubt school was as hard for you as it is for me.”

“Trust me, it was a fucking nightmare.” he says, taking me by surprise. “And Sassoon doesn’t have the whole kumbaya culture they do here because Vidal was English and there’s two things the English pride themselves on.”

“What’s that?”

“Perfection and being cunts to those who can’t achieve it. And in their eyes I could never achieve it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. There were so many days I’d go home and cry because I’d done something the wrong way and the teachers had humiliated me in front of everyone because of it.”

“Wow, I was always under the impression you’d been this god-like magi from the minute you picked up a pair of shears. I mean, what about that year you spent in London? Didn’t you go there because you were so good?”

“No, I went there so I could get good, and it was the hardest year of my life. But I became who I am because of it and you wanna know why?’

“Because you didn’t quit?”

“Doesn’t happen often but you’re right. And if I can do it so can you. So from now on the only thing you should worry about is not comparing yourself to others, not kicking the shit out of yourself and above all else, don’t become a part of the 90%.”

“Okay.” I say, coming down off the ledge of career suicide I was about to fling myself from.

“It won’t always feel good but that’s temporary and anyone can recover from temporary.”

“I understand and…thanks for the talk, it means a lot, especially from you.”

“Don’t mention it.” he says, pulling from his back pocket a smashed up pack of Marlboro lights that he digs a cigarette out of. “And by that I mean don’t mention what I said to anyone because I can’t afford to look like I care, got it?”

“Got it.”

“Good, now go to lunch while I kill myself softly with this cigarette.”

Not Waving but Drowning

Chapter 25

“I don’t know how to do a style and set.” I tell Dreama as I begrudgingly fasten a cape around the elderly woman he’d forced me into taking. 

“Best way to learn is by making mistakes.” he says walking away.

“Yeah but I don’t’ even know where to start. Could you at least give me some pointers?”

“God damn it does Dreama have to do everything?” he complains, stomping back to my station and scribbling down a list of products in the penmanship of a 1st grader on the back of my client’s ticket. “Throw this in her hair and curl it.” 

“Curl it how? Can you do the first one for me so I understand?”

“No! Just fake it ‘til you make it.”

“Or just watch a YouTube video on how to do it.” Kaleb’s nasally voice says from behind us. 

“Dude! What are you doing here?” I say, happier than a priest in an all boys orphanage to see him.

“What are you doing here?” Dreama snarls.

“Well, Jermaine, I work here despite your best efforts to change that.” Kaleb says while Dreama looks at him like a cockroach that won’t die.  

“Oh my god! Kaleb, you’re back!” Dusti screams, jumping up and wrapping an arm and leg around him as if he were a stripper pole, a move she’ll later come to master when she relocates to Vegas, takes up pole-dancing and gets crowned 2019’s Miss Exotic Pole Dancer of the Year. 

“Could you please not do that?” Kaleb asks, peeling Dusti off his body. “I’ve got a herniated disc.”

“Oh, my bad.” she says, running her hands down his backside until he squirms out of her reach. 

“By the way, Jermaine, Rene would like a word with you.” Kaleb tells him.   

“It’s DREAMA!” he barks back like a petulant child. “And why’s she wanna see ME?” he asks, rightfully confused since he’s normally the one sending people to Rene, not the one being sent.  

“I dunno. Once we were finished she told me to get back on The Floor and send you up.” 

“You tell her some bullshit about me? Cuz if you did…” Dreama boils while clenching his fists and teeth. 

“You better get going, you know how short she is on patience.” Kaleb says with a grin.

“Fuck you, faggot, this ain’t over.” Dreama hisses before turning and trudging back up the stairs to Rene’s office while Bode, Dusti and I stand there stunned at the reversal of fates that had taken place.

“What the fuck just happened?” Dusti asks.

“And how did you manage to keep your job? Dreama made it sound like you were toast.” I say.    

“As usual Dreama didn’t know what he was talking about.” Kaleb tells us as he tidies his porno-creep mustache in a station mirror.” And once he left, Rene and I were able to come to a nice little agreement.”

“I didn’t know the words ‘nice’ and ‘agreement’ could be in the same sentence as ‘Rene’”. Dusti says.

“Or the word ‘little’” I add.

“Seriously, trying to reason with her is like trying to negotiate with Genghis Kahn.” Dusti giggles.

“I know, and at first she wasn’t interested in talking because she was too busy yelling about firing me. But once I explained why that wasn’t in her best interest she decided to keep me around.”

“Really?” Bode asks perplexed. What’d you say to make her act so…unlike herself?” 

“I told her if she fired me then I’d have a lot of time on my hands, enough time to call corporate and tell them about the Learning Leader she’d hired who not only lacked industry experience but was also fucking students on her watch. Once she saw the severity in this she thought it was best I stay.”     

“So you blackmailed her?” I ask.

“I don’t think that’s the right word to use since she’s black, it comes across as racially insensitive.”

“Bribed?” Bode asks.

“There was no exchange of money.”

“Then how does the word ‘extorted’ make you feel?” I say, prompting Kaleb to think on it for a second.

“It makes me feel like Tony Soprano. I like it.” 

“So you knew about Dreama hooking-up with Natalia then?” I ask.

THAT’S who he’s been fucking? Jesus Christ he has NO respect for himself, that’s just awful.”

“If you didn’t know it was Natalia who’d you think it was?”

“I wasn’t sure, I just threw a broad allegation out there, put on my poker face and hoped for the best. But seriously, Natalia? Gross. Just visualizing that makes me wanna lobotomize myself.”

“What do you think’ll happen to Dreama?” Dusti asks.

“I dunno. But whatever it is he’s gonna blame me for it and have a giant hard-on for trying to fuck me as a result of it so you know what that means.”

“What?” we ask bewildered.

“I need to start using a little more caution and constraint in the way I handle myself at school.”

Kaleb giving a shit about the way he handled himself in general let alone at school could only mean one thing: They were breaking out the snow-blowers in Hell because it had officially frozen over.  

“Well we’re glad you were able to escape the noose.” Bode says.

“Thanks.” he replies then looks at the elderly woman in my chair. “What’s this?” 

“This is what Dreama said I had to do, a style and set.”

“Do you plan on doing hair in a nursing home when you graduate?”

“It wasn’t in the cards.”

“Excuse me, miss?” Kaleb says into her hearing aid equipped ear. “My name is Kaleb, I’m a teacher here and I think there’s been a mistake with the student you’ve been given.”

“Mistake? What kind of mistake? Is he gonna make me look like the Bride of Frankenstein?”

“There’s a good chance that could happen but besides that he’s also super slow, slower than two turtles copulating.”

“Copu-what?” she asks, craning her neck towards him in an attempt to hear better. 

“Forget it. You want a style and set correct?”

“Yes. I don’t want my hair cut or colored and I don’t wanna end up looking like Ellen DeGeneres, that squawky woman resembles a 12yr old boy.”

“Ok, well Stuke here is not the person to do that for you because he takes forever.”

She glances over at me for confirmation of this.

“He’s not lying.” I tell her. 

“And by the looks of it time isn’t something you have so I’m gonna hand you over to a student that can get the job done before God calls you from his waiting room into his office, ok?”

So much for caution and constraint.   

“I have a bridge game in two hours you know.” she tells him.

“You’ll be out of here before then. Plus, we have a complimentary defibrillator if you need it so don’t hesitate to ask.” he says, removing her cape and interlocking his arm with hers and walking her back to the front desk.

“He’s such a gentleman.” Dusti says, running her tongue along the top of her teeth. 

“A true nobleman.” I say. “Total aristocrat.” Bode follows up.

“Shut up, the both of you.” she chides, adjusting her boobs to be front and center.       

Minutes later Kaleb comes back leading a procession of clients.

“Bode, here’s your shag cut, Dusti, this lady would like a triangular bob and Stuke, here’s your men’s cut.” he says, then goes on to dole out the remainder of the clients to the other students in the row.   

 “Hi, I’m Stuke.” I tell the scrawny 20 yr. old white kid in my chair.     

“I’m Trevor.” he says with an impish smile. “I need a haircut before this rave I’m goin’ to on Friday”.

“Yeah? Is this rave like Monster Massive?” 

“Yeah, only more massive. I like to take X and glue glow sticks to my clothes so I look like a stick figure, I do it every time I go to one of these things.”

“Is that your costume?”

“It’s more than a costume, it’s an identity…I even have a name for it.”

“Which is?”

“Stickman.”

“Makes sense. Do you dance at these things?”

“I don’t know how to dance…”

“Well not everyone dan-“

“But Stickman does and he’s a maniac on the floor.”

“He sounds like a real rager.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” he says taking a deep breath. “One night Stickman was so out of control that I woke up in Tempe.”

“Arizona?”

“Is there more than one Tempe in the country?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then Arizona it was.”

Kaleb returns and stands behind Trevor, running his hands through his messy mop of hair. “Ok, so like I said earlier, we’re gonna do this men’s cut employing the scissor over comb technique…”

Scissor over comb is one of the most graceful and precise methods a stylist can employ. It’s also one of the hardest to learn and execute because the comb and the scissors have to work in unison while moving along the head as if they were dancing, all the while maintaining consistency and accuracy with the length that’s being cut.

The end result (if done right) is a soft, beautiful style which tapers in at the sides and the nape giving the client a more customized look as opposed to just having their hair mowed over with clippers. 

Some in the industry swear by this system while others swear at it. But regardless of where a stylist falls with loving or hating it, it’s respected by all and truly mastered by few.      

“…and since we’re doing that technique I need you to wash him out and blow dry him first.” Kaleb says.   

“Hold on, I thought one of the reasons you wanted me to do a men’s cut was because you didn’t wanna suffer through another blow-dry with me.”

“I know, but to do this his hair has to be in a uniform direction and to achieve that you’ll need to wash and blow dry it before starting.”

“Ugh.”

“Quit your bitchin’, it’ll take all of five minutes and make sure to use your comb when blowing him out because the back and the sides need to be in a downward direction and the top needs to be combed towards the front. Got it?” 

I do what I’m told and when I’m finished he looks it over. 

“Wow, even blowing out short hair is a challenge for you.”

“Can’t we just use clippers on him?”

“No, that’s barbaric.” he says, wetting Trevor’s hair with a spray bottle then re-drying it again.

“There, see how it’s all nice and neat?”

“A real work of art.”

“I know, plus, it’ll make it easier for you to follow your guide.” he says as he takes my shears in his hand.

“Now, you’re gonna start behind the ear at the mastoid process, placing the comb against his head and the shears against the comb. Then you’re gonna move both of them upwards at the same time while cutting, like this.” he says, demonstrating on Trevor and then…

“ARGH!!!! MY FUCKING EAR!!!”

Accidentally cuts him. 

“Oh my god!” Kaleb squeals. “I think I got blood on me!”

“You? What about HIM!?” I ask as a crimson stream races down the side of Trevor’s baby white face.

“Blood makes me nauseous and I’m a germaphobe!” Kaleb cries as if he’s been bitten by a rabid dog.

“Well go grab him a towel or something.” I yell. 

“That’d be nice.” Trevor says unfazed while holding his ear as his fingers turn red.

“Ok.” Kaleb says, holding his stomach and hobbling over to the towels while Trevor’s head bobs around as he inspects the floor.   

“Lose something?” I ask.

“Just wondering if any part of my ear is down there.” he replies casually.

Kaleb comes back and thrusts the towel at me with his head turned to avoid seeing more blood. I grab it and press it against Trevor’s ear, maybe pressing it a little too hard because he yelps out again.  

“Sorry, I wanna make sure it has enough pressure to stop.” I tell him in my best fake surgeon voice.

“I’ll go find a Band-Aid and some Neosporin.” Kaleb says then flees the scene, leaving me alone with this hair cutting causality in my chair and wondering if said causality had signed a release form that would relinquish us from the culpability of maiming him.

Kaleb is gone for what seems like an eternity which makes me wonder if he’s actually looking for first-aid supplies or just puking his guts out in the bathroom, it could be either so in the meantime I try to make small talk with Trevor in an attempt to break the long, awkward bleeding silence.         

“Soooooo…. have you been here before?”   

“A couple times but I think I’ll remember this one the most.” he says, pulling my hand and the towel from his ear so he can survey the damage. 

“Oh would you look at that!” I say surprised. “It’s just a little nick. By the way you were gushing I thought for sure it was a van Gogh.” I tell him as the flow has slowed down to a trickle due in no small part to all the pressure I’d applied like a fucking pro. 

“Yeah it isn’t that bad.” he says, dabbing at it with the towel then wiping the blood off his hand as Kaleb finally returns with the provisions he’d set out for.

“Here.” he says, handing them to Trevor then turning around while he bandages himself up.

“Wanna keep going?” Kaleb asks hesitantly once all signs of blood and injury are out of sight.

“Hell yeah!” Trevor replies with excitement. “Stickman needs to look sharper than those scissors that just cut me.”

“Stickman?” Kaleb asks.

“Forget about it.” I say. “Just get on with the cut…without cutting him again…please.”

Kaleb carefully shows me the technique again and then leaves me to do the entire left side of Trevor’s head. After 20 minutes he comes back to check on me.

“That looks like a lawn that’s been mowed by an epileptic having a seizure.” he says, taking my shears and evening out all the disproportionate lengths riddling the side of Trevor’s head. “Try it again on the other side.” 

“I’m gonna do just as bad on that side too, can I please just use the clippers instead?”

“Forget it, clippers are tools for the unskilled and incompetent.”

“I reside in both those categories.”

“And the only way to get out of them is to keep trying.” he says, leaving me to do what I don’t wanna do while he goes to check on an Asian student at the end of the row named Jan.

After a few minutes and a few tries I stop to look at my work and wonder how it is that I’ve done what I’ve done. It wasn’t anything good, mind you, but the level of bad that it was had astounded even me.

“How the fuck?” I whisper to myself while gazing at this epic fail with equal parts distaste and intrigue because it was something so awful it pained me to look at it but so bizarre I couldn’t not look at it.

And speaking of looking at it, I thanked my walking upright God that this mistake of magnificent proportions had taken place on the side of Trevor’s head making it nearly impossible for him to see.         

“How’s your ear doing?” I ask as I frantically wave to Kaleb in a futile attempt to get his attention. 

“It’s pulsating.” he says while tapping his foot. “Like the beat that makes Stickman move.” he adds, pumping his shoulders up and down as I continue to flail my arm at Kaleb to no avail.

“Cool, I’ll be right back.” I say then run over to Kaleb who’s talking with Jan who has an agitated look on her face.    

“I just don’t get the point behind it.” Kaleb quips at her while rubbing his scruffy chin.

“What’s not to understand? It’s pretty straightforward if you ask me.” she bites back. 

“Well let’s ask Stuke since he’s covered in tattoos.”

“What are we asking Stuke since he’s covered in tattoos?”

“Show it to him.” he orders Jan.

“Fine.” she says with a roll of her auburn colored eyes, pulling up her sleeve to reveal a script tattoo she’d recently got on the inside of her bicep.

Dead Men Tell No TalesI read aloud. “Is that your first tattoo?”

“Yeah, I just got it and I was excited about it until…”

And I already knew the rest…

In all her excitement she’d had a momentary lapse of reason and had made the cardinal mistake of showing it to Kaleb and now found herself and her tattoo the target of his snark-filled scrutiny.

“Isn’t that that the silliest thing for her to get?” Kaleb asks me.

“I’m not the tattoo police but my clie-“

“I mean I’d understand it if she was a pirate but she’s not, she’s an Asian from…where was it again?”

“Simi Valley, Kaleb. And I happen to like what it means which is why I got it. Duh.” 

“And what does it mean? That you’ve been watching too much Johnny Depp in a funny hat and eyeliner?”

“It means that secrets can kill you and I think that’s poetic.”

“So are you saying you’d kill anyone that knows a secret about you?”

“I’m saying I’d kill you and I wouldn’t even try to keep it a secret.”

“Sheesh, only your fist tattoo and you’re already acting like a hardened criminal.”

“And I’m not sure what you’re acting like; an asshole or a moron.” she says, then turns back to blow drying her client.    

“Girls are so weird.” he says as if he’s genuinely puzzled by Jan’s hostility towards him. “What do you need?”

“What I always need; help.”

Showdown at the PM Corral

Chapter 24

Every Tuesday morning before we began the business of learning how to do hair students were required to attend a general assembly in the Theory Room called POW WOW which focused on the business of the business of learning how to do hair.

The first half of POW WOW consisted of staff telling us what we should be doing, buying and selling while the second half was reserved for industry guests to come in and tell us what we should be doing, buying and selling.    

Today’s POW was no different than any other; Make sure you’re at school on time, smoking is allowed in certain areas only and sell as much Paul Mitchell product to clients as you possibly can so the brand can expand its billion dollar empire, you fucking serfs.

After the POW portion was over we were allowed a ten minute break to have a smoke, take a leak or for the very expedient, run to the car and get high and then return back in time for the WOW portion.

But today instead of having someone from the industry come in and WOW us with a demo, their product or their wisdom, one of the school’s Learning Leaders, Jermaine Parker, was going to be giving a presentation.

Jermaine was Rene’s nephew and although they shared the same last name he insisted everyone call him by his “professional” name which was J.P. Dreama.  

J.P. Dreama had been hired as a Learning Leader the day after he acquired his cosmetologist license which was unheard of due to the fact that the school had a firm policy requiring all Learning Leaders to have a minimum two years experience behind the chair before they could be eligible for the gig. 

But when your aunt is the Head Motherfucker In Charge and you don’t want to put in the time it takes to acquire the skills you need for the position you’d like, then nepotism is the road to take in getting the job you want but aren’t qualified to have. And the way Dreama saw it was why bother paying to climb the ladder when he could take the elevator for free.

And so as a result of this family favoritism mixed with Dreama’s complete lack of experience, J.P. earned himself the reputation as being someone who had no idea what the fuck he was doing 100% of the time when it came to teaching. 

But what he lacked in knowledge he overcompensated for in bold-faced bragging because in addition to being a shoddy Learning Leader he was also an actor, director, producer and rapper, a real 21st Century Renaissance man.  

And while he couldn’t tell you how to give a simple one-length haircut he could tell you about all the auditions he was going on, music he was making and headshots he was posting to his Facebook page.

But his list of accomplishments didn’t stop there because J.P. Dreama also held the position as school sheriff, deputized by Aunt Rene and given full jurisdiction to question, harass and penalize Future Professionals at will.

This meant you would often see Deputy Dreama out patrolling The Galleria and arresting students who’d left school without permission to grab a quick coffee, soda or snack and escorting them back to Rene’s office for disciplinary action.

And if he wasn’t busy chasing down AWOL fugitives then he was hard at work handing out citations to Future Professionals who weren’t in total compliance with the school’s all black dress code, writing students up for petty crimes such as having white shoelaces in their black shoes or red trim on their black jacket.

But his policing didn’t stop at the Future Professional level because Dreama was also notorious for threatening the jobs of his fellow Learning Leaders for an array of charges that spanned from arriving at work a couple minutes late to not using the official Paul Mitchell vernacular while out on The Floor.

And while he derived great satisfaction in holding the fate of people’s employment over their heads what Deputy Dreama truly reveled in was culling the student rumor mill in search of solid gold gossip about other Learning Leaders that he could later use as leverage or blackmail.     

Oddly enough, the biggest dirt being shoveled around the scandal circle was in regard to Dreama himself and the allegations that he was sexually involved with a chubby Armenian student named Natalia which was a crime punishable by swift and vengeful termination.

But as is always the case with those who have connections to power and are belligerent from its effects, Dreama was afforded the luxury of never being held accountable to the very laws he took such sadistic pleasure in enforcing.

So because of this unfair advantage that he had over everyone else, everyone else saw it in their best interest to avoid engaging with or talking about this Gangsta Gestapo at all costs.

Everyone else except for of course…

“Dreama’s presentation is gonna suck the balls right off a donkey.”

Kaleb.   

He’d taken a seat next to Bode and I and was pissed at the fact that Dreama had been allowed to give a presentation when he himself had made the request to do so a few weeks prior and was shot-down by Rene.

“My idea was awesome too.” he went on griping. “It was fun, interactive and full of knowledge that the students could use but in the end I was told that Learning Leaders aren’t allowed to sit in as industry guests. Yet here we are, about to watch a Learning Leader give a presentation who hasn’t spent a day of his life in the industry. Go fucking figure.”

“We live in a world of hurt don’t we, buddy.” Bode says with a smirk as he pats Kaleb on the back.     

“Okay, listen up.” Dreama yells out as he takes the stage dressed in a pair of black jeans, white Jordans, a grey button down and a black clip-on bowtie. “My presentation today is about THE MOST important thing done in a service, can anyone tell me what that is?”

“I don’t think he knows which is why he’s asking.” Kaleb whispers loud enough for those in our row to hear and chuckle at.

“The client consultation.” Natalia says, shimmying her shoulders at Dreama from the front row.  

“That’s right.” he tells her with a cat ate the canary grin. “And y’all ain’t doin’ ‘em good enough before starting your services and when things go south y’all come cryin’ to Dreama and Dreama ain’t got time for it.” he says, swaggering over to the side of the stage and pecking his fingers on a laptop.

“So today we’re gonna watch a video on how to perform a consultation called…How to Perform a Consultation.”

He says this with the utmost seriousness as he tries (and fails) to link the laptop up with the Theory Room’s multi-media presentation screen that hangs above the stage.

After 10 minutes of fumbling around and with the assistance from a fellow Learning Leader, Dreama is able to connect to the screen and play the video.  

Now you’d think that for someone who’s constantly touting their talents about being an actor, director and producer that it’d be well within their capacity to create a quality video utilizing a real set, real people and real dialogue.

But, no, that didn’t happen.

And instead what we were given was a video Dreama had stumbled upon in the deepest, darkest depths of YouTube that was crudely animated and accompanied by a creepy, monotone robot voice that mechanically talked about the consultation process.

And as we watch this grotesque oddity with complete dumbfoundedness Kaleb continues to fume more and more with bitter indignation, driving him to make typical Kaleb remarks that get louder and louder until he finally blurts out something the entire room can hear.          

“I once had such horrible diarrhea that I thought my toilet was the shittiest thing I’d ever seen but this turd takes the fucking urinal cake.”

This is met with out-loud laughs from everyone except Dreama who stops the video so he can admonish the crowd and put Kaleb squarely in his cross-hairs.   

“HEY!!!! Dreama is up here trying to be a daymaker and create some magic and all y’all can do is sit there and be resisters.” he shouts, using Paul Mitchell terminology that shows that he’s punch drunk on the school’s Culture Kool-Aid. “So I’d appreciate it if you’d show Dreama some respect for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do this for you!”

Dreama scans the room with his best mad dogging look then resumes the video, glaring over at Kaleb intermittently until the video concludes 20 minutes later.

Once it’s over everyone looks at everyone else because none of us are sure what it is we just witnessed or how it is we should respond to it, even Natalia has a WTF look on her round, plumpy face. So we sit there, paralyzed with ambiguity until Dreama breaks the uncomfortable silence by applauding himself.    

“Yeah, y’all are welcome for that knowledge Dreama just dropped on you.” he says while clapping. “Make sure you use it out on The Floor today. Now get the steppin’.”

This is our cue that this week’s POW WOW has officially come to an end and we’re now free to exit the Theory room and head onto The Floor to start taking clients.

“I want you to try scissor over comb for your men’s cut so I can get a feel for how bad you are at it.” Kaleb tells me while I set myself up in his row.

“I assure you that however bad you think it may be, it’ll be a lot worse.”

“That’s what I’m counting on. Bode, how do you feel about doing a shag today?” Kaleb asks as he and Dusti also set-up in his row.

“I’d LOVE to get a shag from you.” Dusti says, batting her thick eyelashes at him.

“Uh, how about we find you a man.” Kaleb counters.

“Like in a men’s cut?” she asks.

“Like in general.” he replies, causing her to clutch her pearls and laugh aloud at his jest because she’s carrying around the world’s biggest record-breaking boner for him.

“I’d like to do a fun rock-n-roll shag.” Bode says with his usual upbeat enthusiasm.

“Cool, and Dusti, we’ll find something for you today, just not a shag.”

“Fine, but you owe me one.” she says with a big smile and a shift in her hips.

“Riiiiiiiiiight.” Kaleb tells her. “Now before we get started I wanna make sure everyone-“

“Yo, Kaleb.” Dreama shouts, prancing towards him with his chest puffed out like an angry rooster. “Dreama needs a word with you.”  

“Can it wait? I’m kinda in the middle of-“

“I’m tired of you and your bullshit attitude.” he says seething. “You think I didn’t hear every one of your little remarks during my presentation?”   

“It’s obvious you did, are you wanting an apology?”

“You’re damn straight I do unless you wanna find yourself-“

“Because I think you should be the one apologizing.”

“ME? For what?”      

 “That abhorrent presentation you gave.”

“Abhorrent?”

“Yeah, it means awful.”

“I know what it means! And fuck you cuz my shit was insightful and inspiring.”

“No, it was insulting and infuriating.”

“You’re just mad cuz Dreama was up onstage and you weren’t.”

“I’m mad because these students paid a lot of money to come here and learn something of value and all you had to offer them is a YouTube video made by a 3rd grader and narrated by Stephen Hawking. Don’t you think they deserve more?”    

“Deserve more? What more could they want? They’re already attending the Harvard of hair schools!”

“The Harvard of hair schools?” Kaleb says laughing. “That doesn’t even make sense.”  

“What are you talkin’ about?” Dreama says, getting more agitated by the second.

“There’s over a hundred Paul Mitchell schools in the country but only one Harvard. Harvard is a highly respected institute of learning, Paul Mitchell is a franchise. If anything Paul Mitchell is the McDonald’s of hair schools.”

“So now you’re not only talkin’ shit on me, you’re talkin’ shit on where you work.”  

“No, I’m just aware of where it is I work and it’s nothing comparable to Harvard, especially when students are given what you gave them today. That was just…embarrassing.”  

This comment turns Dreama’s mocha colored face to a deep shade of pissed-off purple.  

“That’s it! I’ve had enough of you and your mouth!’ Dreama spits. “Get yo ass up to Rene’s…NOW!” he screams, channeling the spirit of Ike Turner.

“I’ll be back in a sec.” Kaleb tells us as Dreama escorts him up to Rene’s office.

“That’s doubtful.” Dreama says back to us. 

Seconds later screaming can be heard coming from both Rene and Dreama as they take turns verbally assaulting Kaleb.  

“You think he’s gonna get fired?” Bode asks.   

“If not fired then at least 3rd degree burns all over his body.” I tell him.

“That’s such a crock of shit.” Dusti adds. “He had every right to call Dreama out on his bullshit, that guy’s as useless as a spoon in a knife fight.”  

After a few tense minutes Dreama strides down the steps alone and parades out onto The Floor like a prize-fighter who’d just won his bout.

“Alright y’all let’s take some clients.” he says, strutting over to the front desk and grabbing the client roster so he can assign guests to students.

“Yo, tattoo boy.” Dreama says, walking towards Bode and I with an elderly lady trailing behind him.  

“Which one?” Bode asks as we look at each other puzzled.

“Either of you, I have a client that needs a style and set so one of you-“

“We can’t take her.” I tell him.

“What was that?” Dreama says, looking at me with contempt in his black, angry eyes.

“I said we can’t take her, we’re-“

“You take what I give you. You don’t have a say in it.”

“Well we were supposed to do haircuts with Kaleb today so if it’s all the same we’d like to wait on him.” I say as I prepare to incur his wrath.

But instead of screaming he just laughs to himself while shaking his head, looking at me as if I was someone too stupid to get the punchline to a joke he just told.

“I hate to burst your bubble, kid, but Kaleb isn’t coming back. Not today, not tomorrow…not ever.” he says with a menacing grin. “Now take the god-damn client before you really piss me off.”     

Because your girlfriend is ****fucking******!

Chapter 23

“So yesterday at four a.m. I’m sound asleep because of course I am and from out of nowhere someone starts pounding on my door like the cops, BAM! BAM! BAM!” Bode says, hitting his hand on the table in cadence with his BAMS and almost knocking our coffee cups off the table.     

“Did it scare the shit outta you?”

“You bet it did, I bolted right outta bed butt-ass-naked and as soon as my feet hit the floor I tripped over a pair of shoes and fell flat on my dick…you ever fall on your dick before?”

“No, which is surprising given all the other things I’ve done to it.”  

“Well let me tell ya, it fuckin’ hurts. Anyway, I’m stumbling around in the dark like Stevie Wonder, trying to find something to wear while the banging continues. I finally find a pair of shorts, put ‘em on…backwards…and then answer the door ready to punch whoever the fuck is on the other side.” he says, grabbing his cup and finishing off the last of his coffee. “You need a refill?”

“No, if I have any more caffeine I’ll be shaking like Michael J. Fox.”

“Ok, I’ll be right back.”

“Wait! Who was at your door?”

“Tell you in a sec.” he says, getting up and wading his way through a herd of black clad Future Professionals until he reaches the counter.

It was Tuesday morning and since Bode and I had gotten to school early we (like the rest of the student body) decided to hit the Starbucks inside The Galleria for a cup of coffee, in Bode’s case two cups of coffee which would no doubt have him and his delicate digestive system on the can in no time flat.   

“So who was it!?” I ask as he sits back down with a fresh cup of brew.

“Fucking Shay.”

“Shay?”

“Yeah, fucking Shay.”

Shay was this tall, slender, model looking Latina girl from school who Bode had been hooking-up with over the past couple of weeks.

However, judging by the tone in his voice, the look on his face and the fact that he kept referring to her as fucking Shay, it was clear that he was regretting his decision to do so and I’m sure it had less to do with him violating his Purity Contract and more to do with her pounding on his door in the early a.m. like some cracked-out Jehovah’s Witness.

“Why would she do something like that?” I ask.

“Because she was drunk…and pissed off. The perfect combination to make you think it’s ok to show up at someone’s place in the wee hours of the morning and harass them.”

“What was she pissed-off about?”

“Well, Sunday afternoon she sent me a text saying that she loved me and wanted to be my girlfriend.”

“Wow.”   

“Yeah, that’s what I thought; wow.”

Before Bode shared his bodily fluids with Shay he made sure to share with her the fact that he was neither in the headspace nor the heartspace to be in a relationship and that anything that happened between them would be nothing more than a friendly tryst amongst two mature adults. 

See also: fuck buddies

Shay said she had no problem with this arrangement because she had just gotten out of a relationship filled with lies and infidelity and the last thing she wanted was anything serious. So it had appeared that they were both on the same page in regard to their casual sexcapades. 

But given the content of the text she’d sent him on Sunday it now appeared that she had decided to jump off that page and rip it into a million pieces.     

“So how did you respond?”

“I told her I thought she was a great person whose company I enjoyed but like I’d said from the get-go, I didn’t want a relationship.”

“How’d that go over?”

“She called me a fuckboy and said I’d taken advantage of her.”

“How can she accuse you of that if you both agreed it wasn’t gonna be anything serious?”

“Trust me, I brought that up but it didn’t matter, anything I had to say was met with insults and accusations.”

“So did you finally just tell her to fuck the fuck off like I would’ve done?”

“No because I didn’t wanna take the chance of it turning into more drama at school.”

“Yet another example of how you’re not as skilled at self-sabotage as I am. What happened after that?”

“I said I’d be happy to have a civil conversation with her but I wasn’t gonna continue talking to her if she was gonna keep being mean, especially when all I’ve been is honest.”   

“How’d that fly?”

“She said I could honestly go fuck myself and to never talk to her again.”

“That Latina temper is no joke.”

“Sure isn’t and it’s not how I wanted things to end but by that point I was just glad it was over.”

“But it wasn’t over because at four a.m. crazytown is bangin’ on your door like a cop.”

“Exactly.”

“So did you let her in?”

“It was that or let her keep making noise until she woke up the neighbors and the real cops showed up.”

“Did that at least calm her down?”

“Fuck no, the tirade continued with her pacing around my living room like a tiger in a cage while telling me I was nothing but a selfish bastard that only cared about himself, his dick and killing the spirits of innocent women.”

“Were you afraid that this innocent woman might try to kill you?”

“How?”

“Oh I don’t know, bash your head in with the wooden heel of her Jeffery Campbells.”

“No, not really. The only thing I was afraid of was that if I disagreed with her it could make things worse so I just let her rage on in the hopes that she’d feel like she was being heard and eventually chill out.”

“That do the trick?”

“Nope, it just allowed the insanity to reach a boiling point where she was yelling and flailing her arms all over the place…and that’s when she knocked over my favorite bass and broke its neck.”

“Your vintage Fender?”

“Yeah.”

“Holy shit, did she do that on purpose?”

“No, but still.”

“So was that the proverbial record skip where all the bullshit came to a halt?”

“Yeah, we both just stood there looking at the guitar in shock and then she threw herself on my couch and started crying.”  

“For the death of your guitar?”

“Hardly. She went into this story about her ex and how their relationship and break-up had not only put her in therapy but also on a cocktail of antidepressants that kept fucking with her emotions and that all she wanted was for someone to tell her she was ok and worthy of being loved.”

“You know, not that what she did was cool because it totally wasn’t, but, I think we both know how bad a break-up can fuck with you. In fact, I’m not even sure why they’re called break-ups because what happens is you break the fuck down, like completely, until you don’t know who you are or what it is you’re doin’ anymore.”

“I know and even though I was super pissed I knew that acting out wouldn’t make anything better so I figured a little compassion would go a long way.”

“What’d you do?”

“Sat down next to her and explained that we hadn’t known each other long enough for her to actually be in love with me and that maybe her thinking she was in love with me was her way of trying to fill a void that had been left from her last relationship ending.”    

“That’s some pretty impressive psycho-analysis, Dr. Freud, how’d she take that diagnosis?”

“She said I was right and that it was unfair of her to throw her sense of worth on me by saying she loved me and expecting me to say it in return or make her my girlfriend…and then she tried to make out with me.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, and when I turned away telling her it wasn’t a good idea she-“

“Went back to going coo-coo for Cocoa-Puffs?”

“You got it. Jumped right off the couch and started calling me every name she could think of. By the way, do you know what a cockwomble* is?”

“I do not.”

“Me either but she called me one of those too.”

“Kids these days. So how did it all end up ending?”

“I told her I’d been patient and cool with her given the circumstances but that it was time for her to go and she could do that by way of cab or cop but either way she was leaving.”

“Which one did she choose?”

“Neither, she called a friend to come get her but when her friend got there she just stood in the doorway pouting.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me, so then what?”

“I told her I wasn’t doing this anymore and to call me when she was sober, then I shut the door on her and thankfully she ended up leaving.”  

“Have you heard from her since?”

“She texted me last night saying she was embarrassed about her behavior and that it wouldn’t happen again. Oh, and that she’d also pay for the guitar.”

“I guess that ended on a good note…no pun. Are you gonna hang out with her again?”

“Hell no. I told her it was best that we just be friends. She said she understood and promised that things would be cool so let’s hope she keeps her word. All I can say is that I definitely learned my lesson.”

“Don’t answer the door at 4 a.m. unless you’re expecting pizza or sex?”

“Don’t shit where you sleep. From now on I refuse to get involved with another student because the last thing I need is a bunch of drama at school from a woman scorned.”

This pledge, while admirable, would end up being short lived because in a few weeks Bode would meet an elegant English / Egyptian girl named Zahra who was hired to work at the front desk and in time decide to become a student herself.

Bode and Zahra would date, fall in love and in three years’ time move to a sleepy surf town up the coast where they’d buy a house, get married, have a baby and at the risk of sounding cliché, live happily ever after.

As for me you’d think I would’ve taken Bode’s experience with Shay as a warning to refrain from getting involved with any more fellow students myself, but no, I didn’t.

And within a short time I’d find myself neck deep in a situation that was ten times worse than someone showing up at my place at 4 o’clock in the morning drunk and wanting to call me a cockwomble.          

“Anyway, enough about me, how’d things go at Kaleb’s this weekend?” he asks, finishing off his second cup.

“Interesting to say the least, he had his girlfriend come over to be my blow-dry model.”

“Kaleb has a girlfriend?”

“He does, and get this…” I say, leaning in. “She’s-“

“Hey, how y’all doin’?” a voice full of Southern drawl booms throughout the store as we look up and see Dusti and Denise walking towards us.

“Hey ladies!” Bode says as we get up and take turns giving Denise a hug then step back to admire how incredible  she looks.

The last time we’d seen her she was decomposing before our very eyes. Her hair was matted up, her skin translucent and littered with sores and track marks and her glassy eyes kept rolling to the back of her head as she faded in and out of consciousness.

But now she looked fresh and crisp. Her hair was bouncy and buoyant, her skin healthy and radiant and her eyes alert and glowing.    

“You look so beautiful.” I tell her, relieved to see that this was how her story with addiction had ended instead of it ending by way of heart wrenching tragedy.     

“Thank you, Stuke. It’s amazing how great you can look and feel once you cut toxic drugs and toxic people out of your life.” she says with her signature girl next door smile.  

“I’d say so!” Bode tells her as I continue to gawk at how golden she appears.

“After my relapse my parents helped get me into rehab and out of my living situation with that psychopath I was dumb enough to have as a boyfriend. So now I’m clean AND have my own place and I can’t tell you how happy, healthy and grateful I feel because of it.” 

“We’re SOOOOO happy for you.” I tell her. “What’s going on with school?”

“I talked to Rene and I’m gonna be studying with one of the Learning Leaders this week and then take my Core exams next Monday and then spend the rest of the week doing my cutting classes and once those are finished I’ll be on The Floor with you guys.”

“I’m so proud of you, baby girl.” Dusti says, throwing her arms around her.

“We’re all proud of you.” Bode says. “You girls wanna sit with us?”

“Nah, we just popped in cuz we saw y’all and Denise wanted to say hi.” Dusti says.

“Yeah I have a meeting with Rene to finalize my study schedule and exam times so we’ll see you at school.” Denise says with a wink as her and Dusti turn and strut out of the store.

“I can’t believe how great she looks.” Bode says as I watch them leave, remembering the last time I’d seen them together was when they were hobbling out of school after Denise had gotten dope sick and thrown up all over the place. 

“Anyway you were saying?” Bode says as we sit back down.  

“Saying what?” I tell him, still dazed from the surprise of Denise.  

“About Kaleb’s girlfriend?”

“Oh yeah! Take a wild guess what she does.”

“Sheesh, anyone that’d wanna be with Kaleb would have to be into some pretty weird shit.”

“You have no idea.”

“Is she a circus clown?”

“No.”

“A mortician?”

“Huh-uh.”

“Dominatrix?”

“Close, but no cigar. Although I’m sure she’s not afraid of pulling a Lewinsky with one.”

“Wait! Is she a…pornstar?”          

“Bingo.”

“NO FUCKING WAY!!! HOW? WHO?”

“I’m still trying to figure out the ‘how’ but as far as the ‘who’ it’s **** ******, you know of her?”

“Do I!” he says with beaming eyes. ”Did you recognize her right away?”

“No, probably because she had her clothes on. It wasn’t until she started moaning that-“

“Wait, why was she moaning?’

“Kaleb told me to yank on her hair as hard as I could while blowing her out so when I did she started making that trademark moan of hers which is when I had my light bulb moment…or moan it if you will.”    

“She does have a memorable moan.” 

“Yeah, it’s like hearing the voice of god…if god were a woman getting railed.”

“So what happened once you figured out who she was?”

“I lost all focus and the blow dry turned to shit. And the one after that, and the one after that…and still, the one after that. I couldn’t think about anything I was supposed to be doing because my mind was too busy thinking about everything I’d seen her do.”

“Oh man that had to suck! Why do you think Kaleb didn’t tell you about her in the first place?”

“I dunno, I mean he did say she was an actress, he just failed to say she was an adult film actress.” 

“You think he did that outta shame?”

“C’mon this is Kaleb we’re talkin’ about, do you think he even understands the concept of shame?”

“True. So how did everything end up?”

“Ugh, after my fourth failed attempt he took over because he said he couldn’t bear to watch another shitty blow dry.”

“Did you ever say anything to him about it? Like how you knew who she was?”

“No, I wasn’t sure what the proper etiquette for something like that was, you know? Like how do you tell someone you’ve seen their girlfriend having sex with men, women and mechanical devices all over Pornhub?” 

“That is a thorny one. So is he still gonna help you outside of school?”

“Surprisingly, yes. Although next time we’re using a doll head…thank god.

“Kaleb.”

“Uh, yeah, Kaleb, that’s who we’ve been talking about.”  

“No, I mean Kaleb just walked in.”

I spin around and see Kaleb in all his grumpy, grubby, grungy glory waiting in line. He looks over at us and gives his usual “couldn’t care less” head nod then shambles up to the counter and orders. 

“You should say something to him about it.” Bode says with the excitement of a teenage girl.

“Like what? I really applaud your girlfriend’s flexibility when it comes to double penetration?”

“No, nothing like that but maybe something like-“

“Why do you two look like you’re over here talking about me?” Kaleb says, surprising us.

“Hey man.” I tell him as Bode and I straighten up.

“Stuke was just telling me about the blow-drys he did on your girlfriend.” Bode says with a grin.

“Yeah? Did he tell you how each one got progressively worse until it made me wanna barf?”

“I sure did!” 

“Now that almost sounds like you’re proud of it.” he says looking at me with suspicion.

“I think he’s just glad he was able to find out what his problem was.” Bode chirps with a look on his face that says here we go!

“Really? And what’s that?” Kaleb asks, peering at me with his icy-blue eyes through the hazy lenses of his dirty glasses.  

“Well…” I say, trying to muster up my courage. “Because your girlfriend is-“

“Is what?” he says, slurping on his venti Frappuccino.

“Is…”

“Any day now, Simpleton.”

“Because your girlfriend is **** fucking ******!” I say, forcing the words out of my mouth as if they were a rock-hard turd that was causing severe constipation.  

“And?” he says matter of factly with whip cream hanging from his mustache.

“Well, and…it was just hard…wait, IT wasn’t hard, as in my dick but the situation was hard, you know, being in close proximity to someone who-“

“You’ve jerked-off to before?”

“Look, I will neither confirm nor deny that but let’s just say it was a challenge to be around someone who has so much sexual prowess and notoriety, especially when they start moaning.”  

“I really hate it when she does that because it’s so embarrassing and it happens all the time. It’s like a bear rubbing its itchy back up against a tree for relief and groaning loud enough for the whole forest to hear.”

“Why didn’t you tell me who she was before she got there?”

“Because once people find out you’re dating a pornstar they wanna know what the sex is like.”

“So what’s it like?” Bode asks.

“Yeah, what he said.”

“See what I mean? Listen, I didn’t wanna make it a big deal so I just didn’t mention it.”

“Do your parents know?” I ask, totally enthralled by all of this now that it was out in the open.

“That I have a girlfriend?”

“Who does porn.”

“No, they don’t know.”

“What are the chances your dad has seen her in action and has no idea that his son is the one hitting it. Don’t you think he’d be proud of you?”

“Jesus jerking-off in a jack-o-lantern, do you see why I don’t ever mention it now?” Kaleb complains to Bode. “It just opens up one giant can of gonorrhea.”

“Well I for one am proud of you.” Bode says back. 

“Do you think she would’ve felt uncomfortable had I known who she was?” I ask.

“Are you serious? Millions of people watch her have sex every day in every way, I doubt she’d be self-conscious if she knew that you knew who she was.”  

“Makes sense.” Bode says.

“Whatever, is this conversation over now?”

“I don’t think this conversation can ever really be over due to its sheer epicness.” I proclaim.

 “Epicness isn’t even a fucking word. Anyway, let’s talk about what I’m gonna have you do on The Floor today.” Kaleb says in a desperate attempt to steer the conversation away from the oncoming gang-bang of questions and comments.   

“More blow-drys?”

“Without the moaning?” Bode adds.

“No. I’ve seen you do enough of those and can’t handle any more disappointment. I want you to take a men’s haircut today.”

“But I’ve never done a men’s cut.”

“I know, maybe you’ll be good at it.” Kaleb says then pauses. “Wow, I can’t believe I was able to say that with a straight face.”

“Whooooaaaa shit, make way.” Bode blurts as he jets up out of his chair and hobbles towards the bathroom.

“What’s that all about?” Kaleb asks as he takes another loud slurp of his drink.  

“Duty calls, quite literally.” I tell him. “So you think I’ll do ok on a men’s cut?”

“Let me put it to you this way, you can’t do any worse than what you’ve been doing on women. Plus, men have less hair and they don’t need to be finished off with a blow-dry so that’s less grief on my end.”

“Fine. But can you at least assure me one thing?”

“What’s that?”

“That the sex with your girlfriend is mind-boggling.”  

“I wouldn’t know, I’m still a virgin and that’s why she’s with me, because I’m untainted and pure.”  

*A cockwomble is a completely useless person (male or female) who spouts constant bullshit. Prime examples of a cockwomble are:

Gavin Newsom

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Kanye West

Gwyneth Paltrow

David Miscavige

Elizabeth Holmes

PC Nazis, Anti-vaxxers & Q-anon supporters.

        

You’re Here to Learn how to do a Blow-job.

Chapter 22

Sunday – 12:30pm

I’m standing at the security gate outside of Kaleb’s apartment complex waiting for him to let me in. He’d told me to be here at exactly 12pm because he hates waiting on people. So when I rolled up at noon on the dot I texted him to let him know I’d arrived.

He texted back saying he’d be right out which clearly was not the case because thirty minutes later I was still waiting on him with my hands full of gear and two giant bags of food from Casa Vega.      

Casa Vega was a Mexican restaurant / cultural staple of The Valley famous for its dim-lit environment, sadistic bartenders and overpriced food made in a kitchen where rodents were known to congregate. Its patrons were a mish-mash of C-list actors, masochistic day drinkers and up and coming pornstars (no pun).

Still, for all its pock-marks and public health hazards the establishment held a certain amount of charm and allure and I’d spent many an afternoon drinking myself stupid at the bar which is what I wished I was doing now instead of waiting around on a person who detests waiting around on other people.    

I text him again in ALL CAPS reminding him I was still at the front gate and had food that was getting colder by the second.  

As I continue to wait I take stock of the immense amount of cuisine he insisted I bring for his girlfriend in exchange for her allowing me to practice blow drys on her all day.  

Taking it all in I begin to wonder just how obese this woman must be because there was enough food here to feed an entire zoo for a week.        

Two burrito dinners, a Mexican pizza, a lobster quesadilla, 3 orders of taquitos, a shrimp enchilada, a chicken enchilada, a cheese enchilada, 2 orders of chips and guac, a nacho supreme, 3 chicken tacos, 3 beef tacos, 2 orders of chicken mole’, 5 churros and a large horchata.

There was no doubt in my mind that this girl had to be the size of a two-ton truck because there was at least one ton of food in my possession.

“Dude, what the fuck?” I ask as he finally waddles out wearing a dirty t-shirt, crusty jeans and socks.  

“What?” he asks in total aloofness, opening the gate to let me in.   

 “I’ve been out here for a half-hour.”

“Oh, I got side-tracked.” he says, leading me through the courtyard.

“Doing what?”

“I can’t remember.”

“How can you not remember, you were just doing it!”

“My brain gets foggy when I don’t take my meds.”

“Then why didn’t you take them?”

“Don’t worry, I just did.”

“Well a lot of good that does me now.”

“Did you bring the food from Casa Vega?”

“What do you think are in these bags with the words ‘Casa Vega’ on them?”

“Did you order everything I told you to?”

“It was a king’s ransom but yeah.”  

“Good, because when my girlfriend doesn’t get everything she wants it can be an explosive situation.”

“I think eating this much food from Casa Vega can be an explosive situation.” I say as we get to his door and he ushers me in.

“Take your shoes off so the carpet doesn’t get dirty.”

I look at his carpet and wonder why he’s worried about getting something dirty that’s already the color of chimney soot. Then I look around the rest of his place and realize the carpet should be the least of his concerns.

Strewn throughout his living room are piles of clothes, boots and shoes. On his warped coffee table sits a dirty bong, crumbled up fast-food bags, used dental floss, an overflowing ashtray and a dead plant.  

A show about World War II is playing on his big screen TV and on his oversized, soiled couch lay a pair of chewed-on PS3 controllers, scattered tools, snowboarding gear and a cat that looks over at me and meows.

“That’s Calvin.” he says, grabbing the food and steering his way through the living room and up two steps that lead into his kitchen / dining area where a motorcycle rests on a stand with half its mechanical guts spilled out beneath it.  

Every light is on exposing all the dents, scuffs and smoke stains on the walls and the entire unit smells like a musky army surplus store.   

I reluctantly take my shoes off and with great apprehension ask him where the bathroom is so I can pee.

“First door on the right.” he says, nodding towards the hallway behind him.  

I carefully walk to the bathroom making sure I don’t step on anything that could infect me with tetanus or hepatitis.

Since its door is closed I prepare myself for whatever terrors lie beyond it thinking that everything I’ve just experienced has primed me for what’s about to come next.

I say my prayers, hold my breath and then fling the door open.

My eyes can’t believe what they’re seeing.

The bathroom is immaculate.

Where I expected to see a mirror splattered with toothpaste there’s instead a crisp, unsullied reflection in it.   

The sink is spotless and free of any debris or random shit piled on its countertop.

The walls are a bright white as are the towels that hang from a polished towel bar. 

The glass doors on the shower are crystal clear and its inside is cleaner than a nun’s thoughts, no sign of rot or decay.

Unbelievable.

I stand here feeling like I’ve come across a pristine island after floating in a sea of garbage and wonder how someone as grimy as Kaleb can have a bathroom as spotless as this.  

And then it hits me…he must not ever use it which is why it looks so sanitary and he looks like he crawled out of a dumpster.

That was the only explanation.

That or there was a secondary bathroom he used which was the real horror show.

I walk over to the toilet recalling a rumor I’d heard at school about Kaleb being the one responsible for leaving disgusting, unflushed dumps in the men’s bathroom as some sort of vile joke.    

So as I lift the lid I brace myself to see a glob of human waste sitting in the bowl like a pile of wet mud surrounded by a rim speckled with urine and pube flakes.  

But to my surprise it’s empty, the toilet bowl and its water look fresh enough to wash my face in and its rim is a cool, sparkling ivory.  

“One question…actually two.” I say coming out. “Why is your bathroom so clean?”

“What’s your other question?” he asks, taking out the last of the food and hunting for a place to put it as Calvin leaps up on the counter to inspect it all with his nose.  

“Where’s your girlfriend?”

“On her way.” he says, taking a bite out of one of the churros and then tossing it back in its bag. “And the bathroom is clean because I bathe in it and anything I bathe in has to be as sterile as a hospital.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I’m a germaphobe.”

He’s a germaphobe.

I look at him and wonder if he has any idea just how much of a walking contradiction he is as he chomps into the hard shell of a taco and its contents free-fall onto his gummy floor.     

“Whatever you say, man. Where would you like me to set-up?”

“Here.” he says, shuffling over to the motorcycle and kicking its discarded parts to the side, remembering the hard way that he’s not wearing shoes.  

“Motherfucker!” he yells, jumping around on his uninjured foot with his taco still in hand.  

He jumps down the hall then jumps back with a folded up lawn chair and hands it to me. I set it up along with my gear while he continues to eat.

“I still can’t believe Charlie never showed you how to do a proper blow dry.”

“I mean, she showed us how, maybe it just didn’t click with me you know?”

“Don’t make excuses for her. As a Core instructor she should’ve made sure everyone could do something as rudimentary as a blow dry and it’s a disgrace that she didn’t. She should be ashamed of herself but she’s too high and mighty to do that.”

“Wow man you’ve really got a grudge against her.”

“No. I just think she’s a phony. She puts on this goody-two shoes act at school and everyone loves her but I know she’s not like that.”

“And how do you know that?”

He stares at me, chewing his food with his mouth open. 

“You guys dated didn’t you?”

“If you even wanna call it that.” he says in between crunches.

“I fucking knew it!”

“Yeah, well, keep it to yourself or I’ll deny I ever told you.”

“Fine, fine. So what happened?”

“Hardly anything. She was dating some guy and they broke-up right before I started working at Paul Mitchell. We started hooking-up and then one day she just quit talking to me. I found out later she’d gotten back with her ex who’s just one big mountain of a man-child.”

As he wipes his hands on his grubby t-shirt the way a toddler would I wonder if he sees the irony in referring to another person as a man-child.

And while picturing someone as elegant and sophisticated as Charlie being with someone as crass and foul as Kaleb was unsettling it also wasn’t that surprising because I could attest firsthand that Charlie had a soft-spot for damaged men.

Remember, she could have failed me on my Practical Exam in Core for being shitfaced but instead allowed me to pass, putting faith in me that I’d get myself straightened out before going onto The Floor.

So I thought her penchant for tending to wounded puppies was an admirable trait, albeit sooner or later one of those puppies was bound to bite her, but still, it’s good to know there’s people like Charlie in the world who will take care of those of us who aren’t always good at taking care of ourselves.  

And regardless of Kaleb’s opinion of her, which no doubt stemmed from his ego being bruised, I still held her in high regard thinking she was a kind and authentic person.  

That being said, there was still one question burning in my mind like a California wildfire.

“What was she like in bed?”

“HA! She was-“

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

“She’s here.” Kaleb says limping towards the door.  

“Who’s here? And what about Charlie?”

“My girlfriend is here. And forget about Charlie.”

“How can I forget about what it’s like to have sex with Charlie?”

“Easy, I did until you just asked me.” he says as he gets to the door and something more important than Charlie’s bedroom performance crosses my mind.  

“HEY!!!” I scream.

“Jesus, what?”

“How’d your girlfriend get to the door without having to wait at the gate?”

“She has the code to open it.”

“Why didn’t you give me the code so I didn’t have to stand out there all day?”

“You didn’t ask.”

As he opens the door in walks a very tall, very attractive, slender lady with long, auburn red hair, milk white skin and emerald eyes that twinkle, a far cry from the sloppy, behemoth, beast of a woman I was expecting to see judging by all the food I was told to bring here on her behalf.  

Upon looking at her one question gnaws at my brain:   

How is Kaleb able to attract such hot women?

First Charlie and now this girl? Seriously, what was his fucking secret?

A filthy home?

Filthy clothes?

Filthy attitude?

If I wasn’t so dumbfounded I’d be crying at the injustice of it all. 

Clad in a sports bra that shows off her hourglass tummy and a pair of yoga pants that accentuate her lean legs, she hops her way around Kaleb’s wrecked apartment like a gazelle leaping on the plains of the Serengeti.

And as she springs into the kitchen and moves around in a slinky and seductive way I ask myself how it is I know this girl because there’s an eerie familiarity about her but I can’t quite put my finger on it.  

Meanwhile she’s putting her fingers on every piece of food by picking and nibbling at it much to Kaleb’s dismay because he is a germaphobe after all.      

“Don’t touch the food with your hands, they could be dirty!” he yells, shuffling into the kitchen.

“My hands are the cleanest thing in this landfill.” she says, grabbing the quesadilla and biting into it.

“And why didn’t you take your shoes off?”   

“Because I don’t wanna get gangrene.” she says with a mouthful of tortilla, cheese and lobster.

“You know I hate it when you don’t follow the rules.”

“Your rules are goofier than a clown on acid.”

Kaleb gives her a plate and fork and she dishes a pile of food onto it commenting how happy she is that everything she loves has been ordered for her.

And as she shovels it all in her mouth like she’s a contestant in an eating contest I wonder how she’s able to keep such a lean and striking figure.

I tell myself it has to be the result of either bulimia, cocaine or obsessive exercise…or a combination of all three, commonly referred to as the L.A. diet.     

“Who’re you?” she asks me while cramming half an enchilada in her mouth.

“I’m-“

“This is Stuke, the guy from school I told you about.”

“Oh right, you’re here to learn how to do a blow-job.”

Blow dry.” Kaleb says correcting her.

“Same difference.” she tells him.

“Huge difference, you should know.” he says, dipping a chip in guac.

“You don’t have to be rude, Hobbit.”

“Hobbit?” I ask.

“Yeah, that’s his nickname cuz he’s always hobblin’ around like one of those poorly dressed midgets in that movie about the rings.”

I burst out laughing at the pure accuracy of this.

“Fuckin’ funny isn’t it?” she chortles with a mouthful of food while Kaleb shakes his head and loads another chip with guac.

It was becoming clear that the reason these two were together had less to do with their opposite exteriors and everything to do with their synonymous interiors. Two peas in a pod gleefully pissing on one another.      

“Hurry up and finish so you can wash your hair and we can get started.” he tells her.

“Fine.” she says with a roll of her eyes.  

She finishes her food and then goes to the bathroom to wash her hair.

“And don’t forget to clean your hair out of the drain!” he screams.

“Blah blah fucking blah.” she yells back from behind the door.

“What a malcontent.” he complains.

“She looks really familiar.” I tell him.

“She’s an actress.”

“Yeah? Anything I would’ve seen her in?”

“Depends on what you watch.”

I tell myself I must’ve seen her in some random show on one of those worthless channels like Syfy, Lifetime or CNN.

Yet I still have that unshakable feeling I know her from somewhere else.  

She comes back with a towel wrapped around her head and sits in the lawn chair. Kaleb has me take the towel off and comb through her hair while Calvin jumps up on her lap and purrs.

“Aww, Calvin, you purr as pretty as my own pussy.”

“Did you bring product?” Kaleb asks me.

“No.”

“Why not? You can’t do a good blow dry without product.” he says and then goes to his hall closet.

“You didn’t tell me to bring product. You told me to bring my gear and food.”

“Thanks for doing that by the way.” his girlfriend says. “Although it’s gonna keep Kaleb on the shitter all night cuz he’s got irritable bowel syndrome.”

“Babe! What the fuck?” Kaleb says while digging around in his closet until he finds a couple bottles and tosses them at me. “You know I don’t like you talking about that to people!”

“Ugh, the big speech.” she says to Calvin as she pets him.

“Seriously, keep that shit to yourself.” he says scolding her.

“Uh that’s something you should work on doing, isn’t that right Calvin? Yeah, daddy with all his poopie problems might have to start using your litter box.”

“I’d kill myself if I didn’t have a crippling fear of pain.” he tells me. “Now put both products in her hair and make sure you disperse them evenly.”  

I do what I’m told while his girlfriend continues to stroke Calvin’s back.

“Next you wanna section her hair into quadrants so whatever you’re not working on stays out of your way.” he shows me how to section the hair properly and then moves to the next part.

“Now you’re gonna take a sub-section from the quadrant you’re working on and make sure it’s no wider than the width of your brush.”

I do this and wait to hear what follows.   

“Start at the root and use maximum tension because if you don’t it’ll fuck everything up, leaving you with a ball of frizz. Also make sure you keep your dryer and your brush parallel at all times.”

I place my round brush at her root and my dryer parallel to it and then start blow drying.

“That’s not enough tension. Seriously, yank the shit out of it, if it hurts the client, trust me, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, pull as hard as you can and make sure she keeps her neck stiff for resistance, that’s the key to a successful blow dry.”

“I don’t mind if you pull my hair, Stewie.” she says.

“It’s Stuke.”

“Snoopy?”

“Stuke!”

“Sure, sure. Like I said, I don’t mind, it feels good. Isn’t that right, Calvin? Yes! I love having my hair pulled.”  

I pull and tug on her hair making sure I’m employing maximum tension.

“Keep spinning the brush for shine.” he says.

While keeping tension, pulling and spinning are hard to do all at the same time, I manage.

“Okay, now when you get to the ends twirl the brush away from her face.”

As I do this I have no doubt that I look as awkward as a baby horse trying to walk its first steps but I’m able to pull it off.  

“Perfect.” he says as my body fills up with the joy of accomplishment and the feeling that I can be taught to do something and do it good.

“Now take another sub-section and do it all again.”

I repeat what I did, pulling, yanking, spinning and twirling, section after section, all the while trying to remember where it is I’ve seen his girlfriend before.

And as I finish the last sub-section of my first quadrant I’ve become more confident in applying tension and yanking, doing it with an almost barbaric sort of strength.

This in turn makes her head bob and as she stiffens her neck up to maintain resistance little moans escape her mouth, not ones of discomfort but as if she’s enjoying it.

And the more I pull, and yank the more she resists and moans and squiggles around in her chair.

And then…it hits me all at once.

I know how I know her. I know why she looks so familiar.  

And from this point on I lose all sense of concentration and focus on the task at hand.    

Fear & Loathing in the Valley of the Doll-heads

Chapter 21

Tuesday

“Do you know what a game reserve is?” Kaleb asks as I put a cape around my 30-something yr. old client named Tiffany who I just washed out.

“A place where animals are kept so people can pay money to hunt them.”

“Exactly.”

“What about ‘em?” I ask, combing through Tiffany’s long, thick hair. 

“That’s how you need to start looking at all of this…” he says, pointing out towards The Floor “As a game reserve. But instead of paying money to fuck-up animals, you’re paying money to fuck-up people’s hair.”

“Excuse me?” Tiffany says, turning to give Kaleb the stink eye as I try to section her hair out.

“Sit still unless you’re told otherwise.” he tells her as he turns her head back to face the mirror.

“Correct me if I’m wrong but shouldn’t I be worried about not fucking-up people’s hair?” I ask.

“I mean, you shouldn’t be intentionally tryingto fuck-up their hair, ahem, Madison, but you also shouldn’t be afraid to accidentally fuck-up their hair from making mistakes.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. And do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Yeah, I’m dying to know why.” Tiffany says full of sarcasm as she turns to look at Kaleb again.     

“I just told it to sit still but it keeps moving.” Kaleb tells me as he forces her head back towards the mirror. 

“I have a name you know.”

Kaleb shrugs his shoulders at her then continues.     

“ANYWAY, what I was gonna say is there’s a huge space between where you’re at and where you wanna be and mistakes are what fill that space…like lots of them…in your case, an obscene amount.”

“Okaaaaaay.” I tell him as I clip up Tiffany’s hair.  

“So give yourself permission to make all the mistakes you need to learn and let the clients worry about themselves because at the end of the day they’re just doll-heads.”

“I don’t agree with anything you just said.” Tiffany weighs in with an angry voice.  

“Not that I care but why?” Kaleb asks.

“Because I don’t want the person doing my hair to think it’s ok to make a mistake. I want them to do a good job! I’m not some doll-head!  I’m a paying customer!”

“You realize it costs more money to park here than it does to get a haircut.” Kaleb says with a snicker.

“So? That doesn’t mean I’m ok with someone messing my hair up.”

“Actually you signed a waiver saying you’re totally ok with someone messing your hair up.”

This statement weakens Tiffany’s argument because it’s 100% true and she knows it.

Every client that comes into the school is required to sign a waiver that says if they’re not happy with the service or incur bodily harm during the service that they can’t hold the school, its teachers or its students liable.

“Yeah, but-“

“But nothing.” Kaleb says, cutting her off as he digs in his pocket and pulls out a squished up piece of gum, dusts the lint off it then plops it in his mouth.    

“Skydiving, bungee jumping, running with the bulls, all of those require you to sign a waiver because they’re risky activities and here at Paul Mitchell getting your hair done is a risky activity. Hence; the waiver.”

“That shouldn’t be a reason for a teacher to encourage their student to screw-up.”  

“Here’s the thing, he’s a student who’s learning and you’ve agreed to let him learn on you because, well, you’re a cheapskate.” Kaleb says while smacking his gum.

“I am not a cheapskate!” Tiffany yells while bobbing her head back and forth.  

“Yes you are but that’s ok because whatever he messes up I’ll fix and I promise you you’ll walk outta here looking like a Chanel model even though you’re a Walmart shopper. Now if you’re finished I’d like to get him started because he takes for-ever.”

“It’s true, I do.”

Tiffany looks at Kaleb with an expression that says this guy is the biggest asshole to ever walk the face of the Earth…and he’s also spot-on with what he just said.         

“FINE.” she eventually says and settles into the chair as Kaleb goes over the first part of the cut with me which is her perimeter length.  

After making me repeat his instructions back to him verbatim he has me start.

Thirty minutes later he comes back to check on my progress.

“Well?”

“I just finished, give it a look.”

He goes through it then looks at me like he’s just been diagnosed with a terminal disease.  

“What?”  

“I never knew so many mistakes could be made in regard to one task.”

“I thought you said I could make an obscene amount of mistakes and it’d be ok!”

“Obscene yeah, but this is beyond obscene. This is like…a snuff film.”

“Oh my god, seriously!?” Tiffany says with panic.

“Quiet.” Kaleb tells her.

“Well what did I do wrong?” I ask.

“If I went over everything that’s wrong we’d be here for a month.”   

“UGH!” I yell out while looking up at the ceiling wishing it would come crashing down on top of me.

“Relax. I’ll just go over the three major mistakes you made so we can get outta here before the sun burns out.”   

He goes over my mistakes while at the same time effortlessly fixing everything.  

Next he instructs me on how I’m supposed to do her layers by cutting a small section as my guide and then leaving me to it.      

45 minutes later he comes back.

“You’re not finished? I even gave you EXTRA time! What’s taking so long?” he asks.

“Me and my guide keep getting lost in all this hair, I feel like I’m trapped inside that maze from The Shinning.” I say, backing away from Tiffany’s mane like it’s some sort of insidious entity.

“Okay.” he says, yanking my sheers and comb from me and finishing up the entire cut to keep us running on time so I don’t miss my first Theory Class which starts in 30 minutes.

“Now go ahead and give her a blow-out and make sure it’s smooth, shiny and silky.”

“Ok.”

20 minutes later he comes back and finds me tangled up in her hair as if it were an octopus attacking its prey.

“I told you to blow her hair out not try to crawl inside of it!”

“It keeps getting caught up in the brush and somehow I keep getting caught up with it!”

He helps free me and my brush from the bondage of her locks and then looks over the one section of hair I was able to blow-out before getting snared up in it.

“There’s nothing smooth, silky or shiny about this.”  

“No?”

“God no. Didn’t Charlie teach you guys how to blow-dry in Core?”

“Maybe, but I was drunk 90% of the time so who knows.”

“Are you drunk now?”

“No. I told myself I’d stay sober…god knows why though.”

“Then you really have no reason for this looking like a stool sample.”

“HEY!!!” Tiffany protests.

“Watch…” he says as he grabs my round brush and dryer. “It’s all about clean sections, proper elevation and maximum tension.” he yells over the din of the dryer as he takes control of her hair.  

A few minutes later he’s finished and it’s smooth, silky, shiny and Chanel catwalk ready.  

“Oh my god it looks AMAZING!” Tiffany says in astonishment.  

“Told you so.” Kaleb brags, tearing the cutting cape away from her and sashaying it like a matador with his muleta.   

“This is the best it’s ever looked.” she says, admiring it in the mirror and then turning to Kaleb with the doey-eyed adoration of a groupie in the company of her favorite rockstar.

“I know.” he tells her, taking his gum out of his mouth and sticking it under the station.

“You think maybe I could get your number?” she says, twirling a finger in her hair.

“Why?”  

“To do my hair again…or other things.” she says with a smirk.

“Hahahahahahahaha-NO. You’re excused.” Kaleb says, brushing away her and her advances.

“Asshole.” she says under her breath as she grabs her purse and heads to the front desk to pay.

“Ok…” Kaleb says turning to me. “It looks like the first thing we need to focus on is the last thing that’s done in a cut which are your blow-drying skills…or lack thereof.”

“What good are blow-drying skills if I don’t even know how to cut?”

“They’re good because even if you give a flawless cut but the blow-dry sucks then it all looks like shit. AND, if you do a shitty cut…which I foresee a lot of those happening in your future, then a good blow-dry can at least cover it up.”

“Really?”

“No, I’m just saying that to hear the sound of my own voice.”

“I believe that.”  

“Anyhow, starting tomorrow I’m gonna start picking your clients and will only give you those that come in for a blow-out.”

“You can do that?”

“Has it not become clear that I can do whatever I want?”

“I didn’t know you had so much executive power.” I say, throwing my gear in my kit.

“You have it by taking it and you take it by not asking.”

“Has that mantra always served you?”

“Thus far. Now get into your Theory class and hope you’re better in there than you are out here.”

Wednesday

Staying true to his word Kaleb brings me a blow-out client in her 60’s who wears her hair short and her muumuu dress long. After I wash her out he explains the technique that he wants me to employ.

“Now because her hair is shorter I want you to flat wrap it using your-“

“Flat wrap brush?”

“Bingo.”

“Okay, just one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I’ve never used it before and I don’t know how to flat wrap.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Did that sound like a joke?”

“I mean it sounds like your whole time in Core was a joke if Charlie never showed you something as basic as a flat wrap.”

“Like I said, I was drunk during most of Core but I absolutely, positively know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have never touched this brush before nor have I ever performed a flat wrap.”

“I have no idea how Charlie is able to maintain her position here…actually…I take that back. I know exactly how she’s able to.”

“You have my attention.”

“Mine too.” my client adds.

“Because she’s little Miss fucking Sunshine, that’s why.” he says with enough bitterness to knock over a horse.

“Whoa! Do I detect a hint of anger there?”

“I sure do.” my client says.

“Anything you wanna share with the group?” I ask him.

“No.” he says, shaking his disheveled hair. “Besides, it’s best she didn’t show you or else you’d have a litany of bad habits I’d have to correct anyway so you’re better off learning from a professional.”

“Oh la-la, a professional.” my client says as she shimmies her broad shoulders.   

Kaleb demonstrates the way I’m supposed to brush her hair upwards against the round of her head to create smoothness and volume while making sure my dryer stays parallel with my brush.

After he’s done with his demonstration he leaves me to my own devices.

After about 10 min into it I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realize I look like a chimpanzee painting a picture.

My arms are flailing, my back is hunched over and there’s no specific order to what it is I’m doing.

Just a monkey with his brush painting his picture and by the looks of my client’s hair, that picture is god awful.  

“What the hell is this?” Kaleb asks when he checks-in on me 15 min later, poking at her hair like it’s some sort of alien substance.  

“A flat wrap?”

“This isn’t a flat wrap, this is a crime scene.” he says looking petrified. “She looks like Nick Nolte’s mug shot.” 

“I don’t wanna be a victim at a crime scene and looking like Nick Nolte is just that.” My client says as she tries to get up to leave. 

“I can’t let you go looking like this.” Kaleb says, nudging her back in the seat. “Let’s spray you down and try it again.” he tells her, grabbing my spray bottle and drenching her before she can escape.   

Once he’s finished re-wetting her he positions himself up against me, putting his hands over mine like a marionette master and moving my body, the dryer and the brush in the direction he wants them all to go.

This gives me an opportunity to learn first-hand how a flat wrap is to be performed.

It also gives every Future Professional on The Floor a first-hand opportunity to get video of this and post it to Facebook with all sorts of really awesome captions attached to it.

“That was an exhilarating experience.” my client says after Kaleb and I are finished with our donkey dance and he’s spritzing her with hairspray. 

“Oh yeah?” he says, molding her hair with his fingers.   

“Yeah, it reminded me of a threesome I had at Studio 54 back in ’82…or was it ’83? I was on so many Quaaludes it’s hard to remember.” she says, getting up from the chair and winking at us both before heading to the front desk.  

“Well did you at least get a feel for how a flat wrap is supposed to be done?”

“The only thing I felt was like you were trying to mount me from behind. I’m 1000% traumatized.”

“Good. Trauma can be a great motivator.”

Thursday

Kaleb brings me a teenager with wavy, shoulder length hair who wants it blown out straight and smooth. It ends up being one big ball of frizz.

“Did you use any leave-in products?” he asks, looking at her hair like it’s an abomination to humanity.

“Just one.”

“Then you’re definitely not using enough products.” he says, spraying her down, throwing in a bunch of product and then having me start all over again, ending up with almost the same result after an hour and a half.

Friday

Kaleb has a woman with fine hair sit in my chair who wants a blow-dry with volume and lift.

“Why is her hair flat against her head?” he asks when he comes over to check on us.

“I don’t know, I used a shit-ton of product.”

“Oh my god.” he says, trying to run his hands through her sticky hair. “You’re using too much product.”

“Yesterday you said I wasn’t using enough!”

“It depends on each person’s hair type and texture!”

“Well you didn’t tell me that yesterday.”

“I thought you’d know!”

“How am I supposed to know all the nuances when I barely know the basics?”

“Ugh, take her back to the bowl and wash all this crap out then I’ll show you what to use and how to achieve the look she wants.”

Saturday

Kaleb drops a young lady off at my station with long hair who wants bounce and shine.

Two hours later neither of those things have happened but she has sworn to me that she will never come to the school again.

Kaleb intercedes and saves the day.

Before she leaves she advises me on seeking a career in a different field, preferably a field that needs ditches dug in it.

“It’s come to my attention that you need a lot more help than I’m able to give you at school.” he says as I take a seat in my chair and sink all the way into it.

“That’s what I told you last week.”

“I know and I was trying to be optimistically skeptical but I’ve since realized you’re in dire need of a lot of help.”

“So does that mean you’re gonna like, tutor me?”

“It does. But you can’t mention it to anyone because-“

“Paul Mitchell prohibits students and teachers co-mingling outside of school.”

“Precisely. What’s your number?”

I tell him and he texts me his home address.

“Come by at noon tomorrow with your dryer, round brush and some clips and we’ll spend all day working on your blow-drys if we have to but it won’t be free.” he says as he continues to type on his phone.

“No problem, how much?”

“I just sent you my price.” he says as my phone buzzes with a new text message. I open it up and look at it.

“This is a food order…from Casa Vega…and it’s enough to feed 10 people.”

“I know. Every Sunday my girlfriend likes to order a bunch of food from there.”

“You have a girlfriend?”

“Is that so hard to believe?”

“In a word; yes.”

“Well believe it because she’s gonna be your blow-dry model all day tomorrow and for as many Sundays as it’s going to take to teach you how to do it effectively and efficiently.”

“Cool. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. Be there at 12pm on the dot and don’t be late because I hate, hate, hate waiting around for people.”

The Maladaptive

Chapter 20

I stand over Madison, continuing to butcher her hair with the enraged fury of a homicidal maniac.   

From the moment she sat in my chair she’d been pouring insults on me like kerosene, her last incendiary remark shut your dick holster had been the spark to set me ablaze like a thousand burning suns.  

So in a brash move that was equal parts retribution and revenge I’d decided to retaliate by fucking her hair up to no end, giving zero shits about any ramifications that would follow.      

And as I hacked away in a mindless indulgence of payback and punishment a deep, stern voice cut through the euphoric haze of my malicious intentions.      

“Son, can I have a word with you?”

I freeze, recognizing the voice at once to be that of Ron, or Captain Ron as he’s known around school, the Denzel / Obama-esque Learning Leader who oversees the elite squad of Future Professionals known as Phase II.   

But beings that Phase II was located at the entrance of the school and The Floor was at the rear I wondered what he was doing here in the first place.     

“Can I have a word with you?” he repeats as I stand there with Madison’s hair in a death-grip and a look of lethal lunacy on my face.  

“Sure.” I tell him, releasing the strangle-hold I have on her mane and marching over to him.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

“Cutting hair.”

“What specifically are you cutting?”

“A little girl’s hair…if you wanna call her that.”

“I know it’s a little girl. I wanna know what technique it is you think you’re doing.”

“Layers.”

“Layers?”

“Yeah, layers.”

“I’ve been in this game since my ride had a cassette player in it and I ain’t ever seen someone cut layers like that before. It looks more like you’re just grabbin’ hair and whackin’ at it with no rhyme, reason or goal in mind.” 

“My goal is to get her outta my chair.”

“You don’t care about the type of job you’re doing?”

“I only care about finishing the job, I don’t care about how that job looks when it crosses the finish line.”

“You don’t think it’s important to hold yourself up to a higher standard?”

“At this point, I can barely hold myself up at all, so…”

“Who’s your Learning Leader?”

“Kaleb.”

“That explains a lot. Where is he?”

I look down the row and see him arguing with Bree.  

“There.” I say, nodding in his direction.

“Kaleb.” Ron’s voice booms throughout The Floor. “A quick word.”

Kaleb puts his palm in Bree’s face while she’s mid-sentence and trots over to us.

“What’s up?” Kaleb asks.

“This guy was just decimating his client’s hair. Don’t you think you should keep a better eye on the students in your row?”

“Well…” he says, taking off his glasses and cleaning them with his soiled flannel shirt. “I’ve got a bunch of new Adaptives giving their first haircuts today so things have been a little hectic.”

“That’s no excuse for leaving one of them unsupervised to the point that they’re cuttin’ carelessly.”

“Here’s the thing, Ron…” he says, putting his glasses back on. “I know in phase two you only have to supervise a small group of students who have 800 hours of experience under their belt but on this side of town it’s a little different, maybe if you spent some time over here you’d know that.”    

“I’ve been here lots of times to help out.”

“Really? The only time I remember you being here was that time you tried to fix a student’s mistake and just made it worse…and then I had to fix both your mistakes.”

Up until recently the majority of my time at school had been spent isolated in the Core Room yet I still knew, as did everyone, that a hierarchy existed among the Learning Leaders and that Ron was at the top of it and that no person in their right mind would ever challenge or call him out on anything.

Unless of course that person was Kaleb.

Which made sense because Kaleb was a natural-born antagonist who knew he could operate with impunity outside the laws of a pecking order that everyone else was shackled to.

Still, though, despite his attempt to dig at Ron, The Captain didn’t take the bait and retort.  

Instead he chose to stay quiet and maintain his statesman-like composure, rocking back and forth on his heels and allowing his silence to inflate the space between him and Kaleb until Kaleb grew uncomfortable and finally asked…

“So are we done here?”

Ron responded by raising an eyebrow at him and then turning his attention to me.

“When you keep your standards low your results will be just as low.” he says and then struts off.

“Jesus, man, what’d you do to give him such a hard-on?” Kaleb asks once Ron is out of earshot.

“I kinda went Charlie Manson on Madison’s hair. He saw it, asked me if I cared about the job I was doing and I told him I didn’t.”

“Was she complaining about it?”

“She’s been complaining the whole time.”

“I mean about the fact that you were trying to fuck her hair up, did she catch on to it?”

I glance over at Madison, she looks at me and puts her finger in her mouth like it’s a gun, pulls the trigger and then sprawls her body out in the chair.

“She’s been too busy emasculating me to notice anything else.” 

“Then no harm no foul.” he says, grabbing my sheers and comb from me. “Because there’s nothing anyone can fuck-up that I can’t un-fuck.”

And with that he walks over to Madison, has her sit upright and repairs all the damage I’d done in under two minutes flat, leaving me awe struck and envious that someone could possess so much skill and know-how.

“Being stuck here for this long has been the worst experience of my life.” Madison growls.

“Being stuck with you has been the worst experience of my life.” Kaleb says as he admires his work. “Go ahead and blow-dry this mongrel.” he tells me.      

“Hold on! How long is THAT gonna take?” the mongrel asks.

“It usually takes thirty minutes but with Stuke it’ll be at least an hour and some change.” he tells her.  

“That’s it, fuck this circus and the two clowns in it!” she says, tearing off the cutting cape and jumping down from the chair. “I need to get the fuck outta here now.”

And with that she runs to meet the person in the waiting area who’s most responsible for her malignant tumor-like existence; her mother.

“Someone needs to throw that kid in a pen with two pissed-off cats.” Kaleb says as he watches Madison yank and pull at her Mom’s arm to leave while she tries to pay.   

“Kaleb!!!!” Bree screams.

“Speaking of pissed-off felines.” Kaleb sighs. “Pack yourself up and then go to lunch. We’re having a recap in the theory room in an hour so be back by then.” he tells me and then hobbles over to Bree. 

Defeated, I pack up my gear and look out on The Floor at the other Future Professionals working on their clients, wishing I had the unshakable confidence and concentration they had on display.

And then the regret and remorse of my actions come flooding over me the same way the guilt does right after you cheat on your significant other.

Submitting like a slave to my passion had felt good in the moment, giving in to the volatility of my emotions and releasing everything that had been pent up and building.

But now as I stood in the moral fallout of my impulsive decision with all its shame, embarrassment and disappointment raining down on me I felt like a ten-fold fucking failure.         

Because not only had I allowed a 10yr old girl to rattle my resolve to the point of losing my concentration, focus and temper, but I’d also allowed myself to behave in a manner that was the complete opposite of who I was and why I was in hair school to begin with:

To learn how to make people feel good about themselves regardless of how bad they might try to make me feel about myself in the process.

My reckless reaction had caused me to lose across the board today, leaving nothing to be salvaged or feel good about.      

As I toss the last of my gear into my kit I realize there’s only three of us left on the row, Bree, Jimbo and myself, everyone else had already finished their clients without incident and gone to lunch while the three of us had continued to toil, slog and suck away.     

Bree and her unchecked tenacity was still operating under the delusion that it was more productive to argue with Kaleb instead of following his directions while Jimbo stopped blow-drying her client so she could lay down the law.        

“I’m not getting paid for this so you better leave me a big tip or else I’ll follow you to your car and set you both on fire.”

I grab my kit and walk off The Floor with the same dejection as a sports player whose bad decision making had cost his team a big win.

After I throw my kit in the Theory Room I drag myself over to the restaurant across the way where I find Bode and Dusti and join them at their table.        

“How’d it go, dude?” Bode asks.

“Fucking horrible.”

“Why?”

I give him and Dusti the lowdown and by the end of it they both insist I have a few drinks.  

“I’m good.” I tell them, ordering a soda water instead that I’ll pretend has vodka in it.

Bode and Dusti show me pics of their clients and they both look flawless, further rubbing sand in my wound of feeling like a high-ranked loser.  

“How was Kaleb with you today?” Bode asks.

“Same as he’s been all week, shit attitude, sharp tongue. You?”

“Same. But he definitely has a lot to offer even though he’s a little…different.”

“He’s different alright.” Dusti says with a smirk. “And I’d let him put that sharp tongue all the way down my throat, and whatever else he wanted to while he was at it because that boy is fine.”

Bode and I look at Dusti as if she just grew a third boob…on her forehead.

“You know we’re talking about Kaleb, right?” I ask her.

“Long, greasy hair…” Bode says.

“Filthy fucking clothes.” I add.

“Yes, yes, yes I know we’re talkin’ bout Kaleb and there’s just something about that scuzzy hipster look, his ‘ I don’t give a shit attitude’ and the way  he talks at you that just…phew…makes my kitty wet.”

Bode turns to me with a look of confusion then shrugs his shoulders.   

“Well I hope your kitty doesn’t end up drowning.” I tell her.

“Even if kitty did drown Kaleb is more than welcome to resuscitate her.” Dusti says while fanning her face. “Lord Almighty.”

After decompressing for an hour at the restaurant we make our way back to the Theory Room for Kaleb’s post-mortem report about everyone’s performance on The Floor today. 

“Overall you guys didn’t do nearly as bad as I thought you would…well, most of you anyway.” he says while slumping over the podium on the stage. “Still, none of you were able to remember some of the most basic things we covered this past week so for that I shun you all.” 

“Maybe if you had the professionalism to talk to us like people instead of idiots then we could concentrate better.” Bree shouts.

“Here we fuckin’ go.” Dusti says with a roll of her ocean blue eyes.

“Maybe if you listened to the person who knows what they’re talking about instead of the squawking of your own voice then you wouldn’t end up looking like an idiot.” Kaleb says back to her while keeping a carefree lean on the podium.  

“You know what, asshole? I’m gonna file a written complaint about you.” Bree says with a threatening tone.

“Ok.” Kaleb says as he takes a blank sheet of paper from the podium, staggers off the stage and then hands it to Bree. “Write your complaint and sign it along with your student ID number.  

Bree yanks the paper out of Kaleb’s hand and then angrily scribbles on it.

“Finished?” he asks.

“I am.”

He snaps his fingers at Bree to hand over the paper, she thrusts it at him as we watch in anticipation of how this will all play out.

“Thanks.” he says, then walks to the trash can, crumbles it up and throws it away. “Anyone else have any unsubstantiated complaints?”

“That was so hot.” Dusti whispers as the rest of us shake our heads no.

“I’ve had years of training so trust me when I say I know what it is I’m talking about. Now if you choose not to listen to me then you do that at the cost of stunting your own growth and at the cost of the money you paid to learn how to do hair in the first place. Everybody understand that equation?”

We all nod our heads with the exception of Bree who sits there fuming with her dainty arms crossed.

“Now I noticed a lot of you were having some trouble with layers so we’re gonna watch a video on layers for the thousandth time this week and hope it’s able to sink in.”

We watch the video and then Kaleb has us do head sheet diagrams to coincide with the video to show that we understand the concept of layers as well as the specific degrees they’re to be held at and cut.

When we’re finished he inspects everyone’s head sheet and makes us correct all our mistakes until the 5pm bell rings.

“Your schedule next week will be as follows…” he shouts from the center of the room as everyone grabs their kits and starts heading for the door.

“You’ll be taking clients from 9:30-12:30, having a 30min break then back in here for an hour of theory and then specialty classes for the rest of the day. You’ll be on that schedule for the next few hundred hours of your life so if you have a problem with it then I suggest you slit your wrists over the weekend because god knows I would.”

Everyone files out as I lag behind waiting for the room to clear.

“You coming, dude?” Bode asks as he wheels his kit behind him.

“In a minute, I wanted to talk to Kaleb for a sec.”

“Ok, I’ll meet you outside.”

“Are you hanging around to get my autograph?” Kaleb asks as he straightens up the empty room.

“I wanted to say thanks for fixing my client’s hair after I did my best to destroy it and for not throwing me under the bus for it.”

“No problem, I like fixing fuck-ups, it’s one of the few joys I get from this thankless job. But you probably don’t wanna make a habit of trying to kill your client’s hair on purpose otherwise you’ll be unsuccessful in this business.”

“After today I already feel that I am anyway.”

“Don’t beat yourself up, it was your first client ever, you’re supposed to suck harder than a hooker trying to make rent.”

“I guess so.” I said as he started turning the lights off in the room. “Do you think you’d be down to work with me outside of school?”

“Like tutor you?”

“Yeah.”

“Why would I wanna do that?”

“I dunno, because you like to show off your skills?”

“That I do.”

“I’d be happy to pay you. I just feel like I need more practice than everyone else and there’s not enough hours at school to do it.”

“Here’s the thing, Paul Mitchell has a strict policy about students and teachers co-mingling outside of school which can result in me losing my job. And while I hate it here I still appreciate all the benefits they offer so the answer is a hard NO because I’m more important to me than you are to me.”

“I get it.”

“But, since you’re such a maladaptive I’m happy to help you while you’re here. Beginning next week you’ll all be able to choose what row you’re on with it’s corresponding teacher so just put yourself on my row and I’ll pick what clients best suit what you need to work on…which is everything.”

“That’s better than nothing so thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet because I promise you, it’s not gonna be pretty.”

Club Kill Yourself

Chapter 19

“You’re gonna cut your fist section in the back, straight across, at the top of her shoulders and that’ll be your guide. After that you’re gonna drop a ¼” section over your guide, cut that and then so on until you reach the apex of her head.” My Learning Leader Kaleb yells at me over all the noise on The Floor.

 “When you’re finished with that, and I’m finished fixing all your mistakes, we’ll move to the next part of the cut, comprende?”

“Ok.” I say in a dazed stupor, feeling like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi, that semi being my first haircut ever on another human being.  

“Are you sure you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?” he asks with a scowl. “Because you look more confused than an armless guy watching porn.”

“I’m sure.”

“You sure you’re sure.” he says while sectioning and clipping up my client’s hair who was a 10yr old girl named Madison.     

“Yeah…I think.”

“You think?”

“I’m fine.” 

“Fine stands for F’d up, insecure, neurot-“

“I know what it stands for!” I yell at Jimbo who’s trying to heckle me from the next station over where she’s waiting on Kaleb to get her started with her own client.      

“I’m good.” I say, turning back to Kaleb.  

“Ok, because the last thing I wanna do is come back here in 5 minutes to help you because you’re ‘stuck’ or ‘forgot something’ or ‘retarded’.”

It was Saturday, the first day I and the rest of my class were official Adaptives, having been moved from the confines of the Core Room out into the gen-pop of The Floor and the differences couldn’t have been more striking.            

While the Core Room was comparable to a nursery of newborns peacefully sleeping, The Floor was comparable to a nursery of newborns being hacked apart by a buzz saw.       

It was loud, chaotic and fast-paced with blow dryers roaring, clients yelling and staff and students running around like an active shooter was on the loose.

In addition to that The Floor also had multiple Learning Leaders on it instead of one centralized leader like in Core.

This was because The Floor housed 50 stations, making it impossible for one person to oversee 50 different services happening simultaneously. 

So the stations were divided into 5 rows with 10 stations to a row, each row having its own Learning Leader. 

The Leader for the row my class was on was a guy named Kaleb, a 20-something malcontent who looked like Gerard Way circa 2004 if Way had bad posture, wore black hipster glasses and sported a child molester’s mustache. 

Kaleb was cranky, ill-behaved and had more snark than a squad of high school cheerleaders…he also happened to be the school’s most talented cutter.

Having been trained at Sassoon and then studying for a year in London under the world’s most prestigious stylists, Kaleb was a god when it came to cutting hair and he knew it. This is why the only thing that surpassed his talent was his ego, and his utter disdain for all mankind.     

But since Kaleb knew cutting inside and out the school not only gave him a pass for his acute sense of assholery but also put him in charge of preparing and overseeing each group of new Adaptives for their maiden voyage out on The Floor.

This meant I and the rest of my class had been stuck in a room with him for the past 4 days watching cutting videos and practicing on our doll heads in preparation for that voyage under his sneering and scornful tutelage.      

This also explains why he was the Learning Leader assigned to our row—so he could continue to supervise and terrorize us which only added fuel to my already burning fire of fear and distress in regard to giving my first haircut.    

Because even though I’d spent the past week watching videos and practicing on a doll head I still felt unprepared and insecure, like I wasn’t really sure what it was that I was supposed to be doing. 

Plus, there was a HUGE difference between cutting hair on a doll head and cutting hair on a person and that difference was this:   

Doll heads don’t have opinions. 

People do.

And people aren’t afraid to express those opinions when it comes to getting a shitty haircut by way of vicious verbal abuse.         

And while I didn’t think my 10yr old client Madison was capable of lashing me with her tongue that still didn’t do anything to lessen all the stress eating away at me as if I’d been thrown into a Cartel container full of flesh-dissolving acid.  

Because what I wanted more than anything was for my first haircut to be a positive experience.

Problem was, I had zero experience and that put a nail-biting fear in me that Madison’s haircut would end up looking like one big pile of dog shit and that I would end up looking like one big fucking idiot.     

Plus, if all that wasn’t enough to keep me twisted up in ten-thousand ways, I’d also decided to stop drinking so I could start this next chapter of school stone-cold-sober.

Charlie had warned me about the dangers of my substance abuse and that if I didn’t get a grip on it then it would get a grip on me, dragging me down to a place that I wouldn’t be able to get up from.         

So I decided moving forward that I’d refrain from diluting myself with alcohol despite how challenging it might be at times…this exact moment being one of those times.

And as Kaleb went on instructing me about Madison’s haircut all I could do was think about needing a drink to smooth out all the jagged edges of anxiety that were piercing me from the inside out and muzzle all the voices of panic and self-doubt that were screaming like banshees in between my ears.         

“So go ahead and start.” Kaleb says, snapping me back to reality.

“Ok.” I tell him as he hobbles over to Jimbo’s station, leaving me alone with my inescapable dread and Madison’s long, one-length hair that she wants cut at her shoulders with layers.  

“How’s it goin’?” I say as I nervously comb through her mousy-brown locks, trying to prepare myself to cut them.

“What was your name?” she asks in a sweet, squeaky voice.

“Stuke.”         

“Hey, Stuke?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you know what the fuck you’re doing?”

“What!?” I ask, taken aback by her use of a word that’s normally reserved for teens and beyond.    

“I said, do you know what the fuck you’re doing?”

“Uh yeah.” I say with a scoff, knowing full well that I don’t know what it is I’m doing.       

“You’re not gonna make me look like some ratched ass, dick-sucking street whore are you?”

“Uhhhh…” was all I could say while being showered with all the free-flowing filth from this girl’s gutter-mouth.

“Because I am an actress and I can’t go on auditions with shitty fucking hair.”

Oh fuck me in the neck. 

Of all the people I could’ve gotten I end up with a 10yr old with turrets who’s ALSO an actress.

Fucking L.A.

As if my nerves weren’t frayed enough already this kid has just grounded them down into a fine powder.

Because I knew if I so much as cut one hair on her head the wrong way then this little foul-mouth monstrosity would slice me apart limb from limp using words as her weapon.  

So much for thinking she lacked the ability to lacerate me with her tongue.      

“Look, nothing bad is gonna happen to your hair, ok?”

“You promise?”

“I promise. And do your parents know you’ve got a mouth dirtier than Nicki Minaj?”

“They say that’s ok because it allows me to express myself freely and that’s what makes a great actor.”

“How supportive.” I tell her as I position myself behind the chair, take a deep breath, hope for the best

AND…

…cut my very first section ever.   

I take a step back and look at it.

The guideline is sitting at the top of her shoulders where Kaleb said it should be. 

“Not bad.” I say to myself.  

I drop another ¼” section and then cut that over the previous section and again, it looks good, good enough to make me think that maybe I was over thinking this whole thing and that maybe all my dread, self-doubt and anxiety were for nothing.    

A sense of calm comes over me and I start to feel like maybe my first haircut will turn out to be a positive experience after all.       

“I just finished shooting The Muppets movie.” she brags as I drop another section and comb through it. 

“Really.” I say with zero interest. 

“Yeah, the director said I’m a natural.”

“Natural what?” I ask as I begin cutting the next section with growing confidence. 

“Actor, duh.” She says, jolting her head up and back in an effort to face me while I’m still cutting her hair, causing me to lop off WAY MORE than I was supposed to at a severely JACKED-UP ANGLE.

“He said I’m the classiest lady he’s ever worked with.” she says as I stare in disbelief at the fucked-up section of hair that’s dangling from her head.  

“What’s wrong?” she asks, reading the expression on my face.

“Nothing.” I tell her, having no idea how to handle a mistake like this because it was never covered in any of the videos I’d watched this week. 

“Are you sure?” she says, turning to look at herself in the mirror.

“Positive.” I tell her as I spin the chair around so she’s facing the wall instead of the mirror.  

“What the hell’d you do that for?”

“I just wanted to see how pretty your face looks with your hair’s new length.”

“Oh.” she says, perking up like she’s ready for a close-up. “How do I look?”

“Spectacular.” I tell her. “So much so that I wanna show Kaleb.”

“Rad.” she says, throwing devil horns in the air when in all actuality they belong on her head.  

“Stay right here and don’t move a muscle because you look perfect, ok?”

“No problem, I can hold a pose for-fucking-ever.”

“Great.” I say as I run down the row where Kaleb is helping Bree, the waif-thin blonde girl from our class who had a death wish with Dusti last week. 

“I don’t know what else to say.” he tells her as I run up. “I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.”

“Yeah, well you don’t have to keep calling me a shitbrick while doing it! Who do you think you are?”

“I’m the guy that doesn’t get paid enough to put up with people like you and if you have a problem with my language-“ 

“It’s very inappropriate language, young man.” her elderly client says, interrupting his spiel.  

“Look…” he says to the both of them. “You may not agree with my teaching style, but…” he trails off as he notices me standing there.

“But what?!” Bree asks.

“Did you forget something because you’re retarded?” he asks me, completely ignoring Bree.

“BUT WHAT???” she yells. 

“Worse.” I tell him.        

“That sounds way sexier than this.” he says, grabbing me and heading towards my station, abandoning Bree and her client.   

“Kaleb! You can’t just leave me!!!” she cries.   

“I can and I did.” 

“What about my client!?”

“What about her? It’s a $12 haircut for a reason.”

 As we get to my station Kaleb sees Madison’s hair and his eyes bulge wide enough to fill up the frame of his glasses.

“WOW.” he says. “How did-“

“She turned her head while I was cutting her…” I whisper to him. “And she has no idea.” 

“Don’t I look pretty?” she asks him as he gawks at the damage.

“Pretty awful.”

“What?”

“He meant to say awfully pretty.” I tell her with a fake smile.

“But I wanna make you look prettier.” he says, motioning for me to hand him my comb and sheers. 

“Kaleb! I need your help!” Jimbo screams at him.

“You need shock therapy.” he tells her as he combs Madison’s hair and gets ready to cut it. “Ok, kido…” he tells her. “Change of plans, we’re gonna cut your hair shorter.”

“THE HELL WE ARE YOU FUDGE-PACKING ANAL TROLL!!!” she screams, thrashing around in the chair like the girl from The Exorcist in an attempt to stay out of his reach.  

“Whoa, what cradle of filth did you crawl out of?” he says, jumping back in awe. 

“One where my hair isn’t short! I’m an actress and if my hair is too short then I won’t be in any more movies so if you think you’re gonna cut off more than I asked for then you can go fuck yourself inside out!”

“Oh, dude, I forgot to mention that she’s an actress” I tell him with air quotes as he stands there rubbing his chin, trying to figure out how best to deal with Rosemary’s Baby*.

“Here’s the thing…” he says after a few minutes of contemplation.  

“We can keep your hair long but that’s gonna make you look really fat and you and I both know fat girls don’t get parts for movies.”

This catches her attention and dials her down.

 “So if you wanna keep it the way it is instead of going shorter that’s fine, just know you’re gonna look fat and end up sitting on your couch instead of being in the movies.”  

I stand there shocked that he just fat shamed a little girl in an attempt to gain her compliance.

Granted, she was a diabolical little girl but a little girl nonetheless who would now, no doubt, suffer a lifetime of eating disorders and body dysmorphia as a result of Kaleb’s reprehensible strategy.

Still, as reprehensible as his strategy was…

“I don’t wanna look fat, go shorter.”  

It worked.

He bends down and recuts her hair to a new length making everything look crisp, clean and a lot shorter.

“I need you NOW!!!!” Jimbo yells at him. 

“Hold your horses.” he says, finishing up on Madison. “Better yet, let ‘em go so they can trample you.”

“You’re kinda funny.” Madison tells him, realizing that he’s just as awful to people as she is.

“I’m not kidding, Kaleb, NOW!!!” Jimbo shouts.

“No, I need you now!” Bree hollers at him.

“The hell you do!” Jimbo fires back.

“Go to hell, Jimbo!” Bree screams.

“GIRL, I AM HELL!!!” Jimbo roars.   

Kaleb finishes with Madison, stands upright and then takes in the chaos igniting around him.  

“I should’ve followed my uncle’s advice and been in waste management.” he laments, handing me my comb and sheers. 

“Get over here!” Jimbo barks at him.

“Seriously, if Sons of Anarchy wasn’t on tonight I’d just go home and shoot myself in the face…get me when you’re finished with the back.” he says, trudging over to Jimbo and still leaving Bree high-n-dry.           

I stand there combing Madison’s hair over and over again in an attempt to keep from having to cut it.

After seeing just how easy things can go south I’m terrified to go on for fear of another calamity.

Only fifteen minutes into my first haircut and I’m already suffering from PTSD.   

“Are you gonna cut my hair or watch it grow?” she asks.

“I just wanna be careful.”

“Can’t you be careful any faster? My ass is starting to go numb.”

I finally muster the courage to continue with the cut and an hour later I’m finished, feeling like I just passed a kidney stone. But beings I still have the front, sides and layers left that means more stones are on their way.

“I’ll be back.” I tell her as I go looking for Kaleb so he can show me how to do the next part of the cut.

“Jesus Christ!” she yells. “You know, I’d like to get outta here before I’m old enough to get an abortion!”

I turn around and look at her with complete astonishment and amazement, thinking this is exactly the type of thing that happens when parents allow their 10yr old child actor to express themselves freely without oversight or guidance:

They end up screaming about abortions in public.

“What?” she asks shamelessly.      

I shake my head at her and hunt for Kaleb, finding him at Bode’s station checking Bode’s cut on a middle aged woman who has bleach-blonde hair and is wearing an outfit that belongs in a 1987 Whitesnake video.     

“Hey, Stuke, how’s it going?” Bode asks all excited. 

“It’s still going.” I say exhausted. “What’d you do to your client?”

“She wanted choppy rocker layers!”

“Nice.”  

“Looks good.” Kaleb tells him. “Go ahead and blow dry her.”

“Ok! And when I’m finished can I use a towel and some spray wax to tease her hair up like Nikki Sixx?”

“Uhhhh…sure?” Kaleb says with total indifference.

“Awesome, man, thanks! It’s gonna look so good! I can’t wait for you to see it!”

“Umm, ok.” Kaleb mutters as he walks me back to my station. “I’ve never seen someone so excited about layers before, what a wiener.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know. How’s the back of your girl’s head look?”

“It looks short, how else should it look?”

“Is it even?”

“Even what?”

“Balanced.”

“Yeah. I don’t know. I guess…maybe. Who knows?”

“You don’t sound very sure.”

“I’m not sure about anything right now other than the fact that I hate doing this cut, hate my client and hate my fucking life.”

“Welcome to the club.” he says.

“What club is that?”

“Club kill yourself. Grab a seat and plan on staying awhile…like your entire career.”   

“Has anyone ever died from sitting in a chair for so fucking long?” Madison moans.  

“No but you can be the first.” Kaleb tells her as he inspects the cut.

“How’s it look?” I ask.

“Not bad if this were a hair school for the blind.” he says, grabbing my comb and sheers to fix my mistakes.

“Since you’ve been at this cut for an eternity I’m gonna go ahead and do the front and sides and then I’ll show you how to do the layers. Cool?”

“Cool.” I say emotionally drained, standing back and watching him with a sense of relief and regret. 

Relief because this is one less barefooted step I have to take over searing hot coals and regret because I obviously suck so bad at this that someone else has to intervene.

A minute later when he’s finished cutting her hair with the precision of a surgeon he goes over how to do the layers.

“Your elevation and hand positioning are key.” he says, taking a section of hair and holding it up at a specific angle and cutting it to be my guide. “If they don’t remain consistent your layers will be trash, ok?”

“Alright.” I tell him.

“You’re going to have a traveling guide so take pie-shaped sections and work your way around the head in a circle.”

“Wait, wait, wait…” Madison pipes up. “Can you just finish it all? Because this ass-clown is cutting years off my life with how long it’s taking him to do my hair.”

“No.” Kaleb says sternly.  

“Why not? I’m the client.”

“No you’re not.”

“Yes I am.”

“No, Stuke is the client, he’s the one paying thousands of dollars to learn how to cut hair. You’re just a talking doll head that needs its mouth washed out with Clorox.”

“That was rude, you ball-bag.” she says crossing her arms.

“So?” Kaleb says shuffling off as she gives him the finger.

“Just hurry the hell up.” She growls at me as I comb up a section of her hair, hold it at its designated angle against the guide Kaleb put in and then carefully cut.  

I continue to repeat that same action, slowly working my way around her head to ensure there’s no more mishaps. And while this strategy is good for the cut, it’s downright horrible for Madison and her lack of patience, civility and decency.       

“You know what?” she says as I hold up another section, making sure it’s even with my guide.     

“What?”  

“I need a tampon.”

“What the – WHY?” I say, dropping both my section and my guide in reaction to her outlandish comment.       

“Because you’ve kept me here for so long that I just hit puberty and started my period.”

I stand there wondering where the batteries are to this thing so I can take them out so it’ll stop talking.  

“Hopefully I’ll be done before you hit menopause.” I say, combing through her hair in an attempt to find my guide.     

“I watched a nature show yesterday where two sloths were mating and I thought they were slow but you take the fucking cake, Stuke.”

As I continue digging through her hair, both worn-out and frustrated, I realize I’ve got exactly three fucks left to give before I go bat-shit ballistic on this ball-breaking kid. 

“Well maybe if you kept your shitty comments to yourself I could get this done faster.” I snap back.   

3…

“Did you just cuss at me, Mr. Masturbator?”

2…

“Have you not been hearing the raw sewage spewing from your mouth all day?”

1…

“I can say whatever I want because it’s for my acting, you’re the one that’s supposed to be professional. But you’re right about me being here all day so why don’t you shut your dick holster and wrap things up huh?”

GONE.

I’d wanted to start this next stage of school by being a more responsible and grounded student, kicking it all off with an awesome haircut on my very first client and allowing that experience to be the benchmark for the rest of my time at Paul Mitchell.

But this little half-pint hellion and all her heckling, hollering and harassing had ripped those aspirations to shreds.

She’d done her best to sink her fangs into me and claw at my patience like they were an emotional scratching post, mincing them down until I’d gotten to the point of having zero fucks left to give.

And now that I was fresh out of fucks I didn’t care about my ambitions to be a better student moving forward.

I didn’t care about wanting my first haircut to be a positive experience.

And I didn’t care about Madison and her god-damn acting career.

All I cared about was indulging in some sort of justifiable destruction and since I couldn’t put a drink in my hand then the sheers that were already in them would have to do.  

At first I’d been tied-up in knots that my haircut on Madison would end up looking like one big pile of dog shit and that I would end up looking like an idiot.

But beings that she’d gone out of her way to make me feel like an idiot I figured I owed it to her to make her hair look like one big pile of dog shit.       

So with a mouthful of gritted teeth and hands full of rage I begin yanking up large swaths of her hair and chopping away at it with fierce and unapologetic reckless abandon.

And as that sweet release of anxiety, worry and pent up hostility came rushing out through every angry cut that I made I found myself not caring about how awful the consequences of my actions would look on Madison because after all,

It’s a $12 haircut for a reason…

*Rosemary’s Baby is the 1968 psychological horror film about Rosemary, a newlywed housewife whose struggling actor husband betrays her by allowing their Satan-worshiping neighbors to drug her so Beelzebub can rape and impregnate her.

In exchange for his pimping services the husband is awarded fame and fortune while Rosemary is awarded the responsibility of raising the Anti-Christ.

The film stars Mia Farrow as Rosemary who rocks an iconic pixie cut given to her by Vidal Sassoon at the cost of $5,000.00 (37k by today’s standards).

And while Farrow’s haircut became a global trend-setting look that’s still timeless to this day, that didn’t keep her real-life husband Frank Sinatra from getting his panties up in a wad about the extremely short length of his wife’s hair.

In addition to Sinatra hating Farrow’s hair he also demanded that she drop out of the movie to become a homemaker after ¾ of it had been filmed. When Farrow refused Sinatra filed for divorce and had the papers delivered to the movie’s set.

Funny how manly men can look like giant, cry-baby pussies with the passage of time, huh?

And speaking of pussies…

The critically-acclaimed film was directed by Roman Polanski who less than a decade later would take a page right out of his movie’s script and drug, rape and sodomize a 13yr old girl while she was under the influence of a controlled substance.

After being found guilty of these crimes Polanski fled to France where they don’t look down on that type of thing (Cuties anyone?) and since then has vigilantly avoided visiting any countries that are likely to extradite him back to the U.S. where he would most certainly be imprisoned, and given the criminal’s code of conduct on the inside, would be treated just as horribly as he treated that 13yr old years earlier.

Dark Horse

Chapter 18

My eyes pop open and I jolt upright, causing me to fall off my couch and onto the floor.

The TV is on, the sun is blaring and I’m still dressed in yesterday’s clothes.

I don’t know what time it is, what day I’m in or what type of shit I’ve done but what I do know is that while I was passed-out someone hammered a giant railroad spike into the back of my skull and whoever that person was they also brought along their cat so it could shit in my mouth.

I crawl around on all fours looking for my phone, finding it lodged between the couch’s cushions next to a couple of beer bottles, a pack of cigarettes and an empty Doritos bag.

That must’ve been some rager last night.

I turn on my phone and it tells me today is Friday and the time is 9:20 in the a.m.

I scratch my head and yawn as a vague feeling comes over me that there’s something important about today but since my brain is still swimming in the sea of alcohol I consumed I can’t quite put my finger on it.

And then it smacks me upside the head and I remember the significance of today, the weight of it all falling on me like a downpour of a million Honey Boo Boos.

My practical exam is today and it starts in 10 minutes…and it takes me 20 minutes to get to school.

FML

I jump to my feet and lose my balance, falling into my coffee table and sending all the bottles on it flying as well as a torrent of obscenities loud enough to wake the neighbors.

I cautiously get back up and try to figure out what I need to do in order to get out the door.

Since I’m in yesterday’s clothes and my shoes are still on that means I’m already dressed so that’s out of the way.

I look in the mirror and my hair is a mess but that’s nothing new so I’m good on that front too.

The only thing left is that I need to brush my teeth to get the taste of feline feces out of my mouth so I run to the bathroom and scrub them then follow it up with a huge shot of Listerine, swishing it as I run out to my car.

I race through the streets like the cops are chasing me, running red lights and blaring my horn at any pedestrians stupid enough to cross my path.

As I get within a block of school I realize I’m still swishing the Listerine so I hit my window button but just as I expunge the mouthwash the window gets stuck due to the advanced stages of ruin my car is in.

This results in the window and my shirt being covered in minty green goo.

I screech into the parking garage at exactly 9:30 a.m., leap out of my car with my hair kit in tow and run to the school, bursting through its doors at 9:31 a.m.

My model who is a friend of a friend and only agreed to do this on the condition that I buy her lunch and drinks afterwards is sitting in the waiting area tapping her foot and looking annoyed.

I say hello and grab her by the hand, leading her onto The Floor where everyone but me is set-up with their models and ready to go.

I find a spot next to Bode, have my model sit down and start throwing my things onto the station.

Charlie is on the other side of the room with a clipboard, checking each student’s station set-up to make sure it’s in accordance with state sanitation guidelines.

“You okay?” Bode asks as I set my shit up at a break-neck pace.

“Yeah, just drank a ‘lil too much last night.” I tell him while grabbing supplies out of my kit.

“You feel ok?”

“You know when a little kid colors a picture in a coloring book and it’s got all those wild strokes of color outside the lines?”

“Yeah.”

“I feel how that picture looks.” I tell him as I finish getting my station ready.

“You think you’ll do ok today?” he asks concerned as Charlie makes her way down our row.

I look at myself in the mirror.

My eyes are bloodshot, my shirt is stained with Dorito dust and mouthwash and I have a dumb expression tattooed on my face.

“Sure?” I say shrugging my shoulders.

“Good morning.” Charlie chirps as she inspects Bode’s station and I make last-minute adjustments to mine in an attempt to make it look like his because he always has his act together and me, well, I’m always me, forever a liability unto myself.

“Looks good.” Charlie tells him with a smile as she jots a score down on her clipboard then turns to me.

“Good morning, Stuke.”

“Hi, Charlie.” I tell her.

She scrunches her nose up and sniffs the air.

“Do you smell that?”

“What?”

“Something smells like…a distillery…and mouthwash.”

“I’ve never been to a distillery so I don’t know what one smells like but I did have a mouthwash incident on the way here so that’s on me, literally.”

“Stuke…you’re not drunk are you?” she probes, putting her face so close to mine that I can smell her bubblegum breath.

“No, but let’s say I was.”

“This exam is meant to simulate real working conditions and it’s unsafe to be working on a client with tools and chemicals if you’re impaired, so if you were intoxicated it could threaten your chances of passing.”

“Well I promise you I’m not only sober but I’m also safe.” I say, leaning up against my model as the chair she’s in swivels causing me to fall on top of her.

“Sorry about that.” I say as I straighten myself up and she gives me a dirty look.

“Let’s hope so because I really want you to pass.” Charlie says with a look of apprehension.

“Me too.”

She inspects my station, puts a mark on her clipboard and then strolls to the center of The Floor.

“Ok, everyone since your models are starting off with dry hair, our first procedure will be sectioning them for a perm. You have 10 minutes to complete this task.”

I start on my model and struggle with my coordination because my entire nervous system is saturated in booze. I end up doing a haphazard job and finishing up just as Charlie yells out “Time.”

She makes her way up and down the rows, grading everyone’s sectioning and then having them recite the 19-steps to a perm.

“Ok, Stuke…” she says as she grades my less than stellar perm sectioning. “Let’s hear your 19 steps.”

I open my mouth and…

Nothing.

I take a deep breath and try again.

“Uhhhh…” is all that comes out.

“I know you know the steps.”

“I know I know them too but my mind is drawing a total blank right now.”

“But we’ve been over them like a million times in class.”

“Well then can I use one of those million times as a credit right now?”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

I try again.

“Uhhhh….you know what?”

“What?”

“No one has gotten a perm since the cast of Different Strokes was alive and relevant so is it really that important for me to know the steps in doing one?” I ask in a last-ditch effort to wiggle out of this web I’ve weaved myself in.

“I know they aren’t popular but it’s part of the school’s curriculum and if you can’t complete this then it could fail you.”

I stand there wondering if all the headway I’ve made since I started was about to be undone due to the fact that I couldn’t recite the 19 steps of performing an ancient and antiquated service.

Was I going to be forced to repeat Core because my mind had suddenly locked-up and kept me from saying something I’d said countless times before without issue?

I felt panic and then I felt pissed as a deep and disappointing anger came over me.

I was angry that I’d allowed myself to drink so much last night and angry that this time might be the time that I really fucked myself with my recklessness behavior.

“C’mon, Stuke.” Charlie says, looking at her watch. “We’ve got a lot more to get to.”

“Ok.” I tell her, wondering how I’m going to pull something off that isn’t on in the first place.

And then Bode starts humming the melody to Danger Zone, the song we’d put the perm steps to a few weeks ago.

I close my eyes and listen to it then fall effortlessly into singing the steps like some idiot savant, making it all the way to the end without missing a step or saying it out of order.

Tragedy averted.

“Made it through with your wingman.” Charlie says, making another mark on her clipboard.

The next procedures we’re tasked with are single and double color process applications followed by highlighting a section of the head, all with using conditioner.

As the haze of my hangover intensifies I have a challenging time getting through all of these things because my hands are shaking, my head is throbbing and my vision is murky.

And while I’m miraculously able to keep from getting conditioner all over everyone the actual quality of my work looks sloppy at best and shit-god-awful at worst, especially when it comes to my highlights.

“Your foils aren’t snug against the scalp nor are they folded securely.” Charlie chides. “If this were actual color or bleach they’d have bled all over the client and made a mess.” she says while putting a grade down on her clipboard and kicking me down another notch or ten.

After this she has us wash our models and then blow dry them. She makes her way up and down the rows one final time, grading everyone on their styling skills.

“Ok! Congrats on making it through your practical, everyone! Break down your stations and then take an hour lunch and meet back in the Core Room for your results.”

Bode and I along with our models head to a restaurant where I follow through on my promise to buy my model food and booze while I nurse a beer to combat the hangover and stare off into space.

“You ok?” Bode asks.

“No, I’m upset with myself for getting wasted last night and I feel like I blew the exam and endangered my chances of passing Core.”

“Don’t worry about it, dude. You’re gonna pass this thing and be fine.”

“You know, here’s the thing, even if I do pass it I’m still going to feel like I’m not ready to be out on The Floor. Sure, there’s a couple things I do ok with but I still feel like I’m miles behind everyone else and that I’ll just be a god-damn disaster once I’m out there taking clients. I mean maybe it’s better if I do have to take Core over again…”

Bode gives me a comforting smile.

“I’ve always saw you as the dark horse.”

“The what?”

“The dark horse. The one that no one counts on winning but comes up from behind and takes the gold, surprising everyone. I see that promise in you so just have faith because you’re gonna be golden, I know it.” He says, putting an arm around me and hugging me tight.

I wanna break-down right there in front of our models, strangers and wait staff.

I wanna bawl not only because I’m upset that I’d let myself down but also because over the course of these past six weeks I’d somehow met people so good that they were always ready to help pull me back up.

“Thank you…” I tell him as I bury my head in his chest and squeeze him back. “For everything.”

“I’m your brother.” he says.

We hang out at the restaurant for a while longer then bid our models farewell as we head back to the Core room.

“Alright, guys…” Charlie says, holding in her hands the results of our exams which will not only determine the fate of our scholastic endeavor but also determine if some of us (namely myself) will go home and put our head in the oven. “Just like yesterday I’ll have you come up one at a time for your scores.”

She calls a few people, each one of them telegraphing that they passed by the expression on their face. Then she calls me.

I force myself out of my chair and walk up to her in complete and utter dread.

“Thanks.” I say as she hands me my results. I take a deep breath and then look at my score…it’s a pass and I immediately feel a huge relief as if I’ve just given birth.

She then hands out the remainder of the results to the rest of the class, none of whom failed. We had all survived and completed Core.

“I couldn’t be more proud of you guys.” Charlie says, catching her breath and dabbing at her eyes. “Starting next week you’re no longer mine, you’re no longer Core babies, you’re all Adaptives now, advancing on the next stage of your journey.”

Everyone claps and a few of us hug each other, glad that this whole thing is over.

“It’s going to be a whole different game now…” Charlie warns. “More will be expected of you since you’re taking actual clients. That means the stakes will be higher and the pressure greater but I know you’ll all do amazing and please remember that I’m always here for you.”

Charlie suggests that we spend the rest of the day shadowing other Future Professionals working on clients out on The Floor and as everyone makes their way out of the room Charlie shouts at me.

“Stuke.”

“Yeah?”

“Can I have a minute?”

“Uh, sure.”

She waits until it’s just us in the room.

“As your Learning Leader, watching you advance and grow during your time in Core has been so gratifying.”

“Thank you, Charlie.”

“But also as your Learning Leader I know your capability and I know you could’ve performed better on your practical today…a lot better.”

“I know, I just-“

“Listen…” she says, cutting me off.

“You have so much potential but I also have a feeling you have just as much self-destructiveness which can cause you to sabotage yourself, and sooner or later you’re going to do something you won’t be able to recover from. I know you were fucked-up during your practical today and I could’ve failed you for it.”

“What stopped you?”

“What stopped me was that I know you have the ability to become something great, there’s something special about you that shines when it wants to and I didn’t want to risk stifling that. I also know the burden of being haunted by one’s darkness, one of my best friends is an amazing artist and person who also struggles with substance abuse.”

This was the first time I’d heard someone categorize me as a substance abuser.

All my life I’d considered my drinking just that…drinking.

I drank to have fun, take the edge off, or more recently, kill pain but it was always something I felt I could quit at any time so I didn’t need to worry about quitting. Substance abusers were the ones that couldn’t quit.

They were the crackheads, cokeheads and junkies that were chewed up beyond recognition, lying, cheating and stealing for their next hit, bump or fix.

But hearing Charlie refer to me as one sent a sobering chill down my spine, making me reevaluate my relationship with alcohol, questioning if I did have a habit of going too far and losing control, two things associated with the act of abuse.

“As artists we have a darkness to us, just remember that it can push you forward or push you down and if you don’t control it, it WILL control you…and eventually destroy you, ok?”

“Ok.” I tell her, bowing my head.

“When you get out on The Floor next week it’s going to be a whole different animal and that animal will devour you if you don’t stay focused and disciplined and it would break my heart to see that happen to you. So promise me that you’ll do better because you deserve better.” she says, gently placing her hand up against my face.

“I promise, Charlie.”

“Good, run to your destiny.”

The Weak End (part IV)

Chapter 17

 

Denise continued to hurl, her body convulsing like it was possessed while Dusti and Charlie tried to comfort her and Rene assessed the chaos that was unfolding.

“What a fucking mess.” Rene says, pushing Dusti and Charlie aside and wrapping her huge arms around Denise in and attempt to keep her body in control.

“I’m so sorry…” Denise utters out before vomiting again.

“Try and stay calm, baby.” Rene tells her with a surprising sense of compassion then looks at the crowd that’s formed with phones in hand.

“Y’all need to get back to minding your business before I put you out of business.” she yells. “And whoever is dumb enough to put this online, I will destroy you and your family.”

The crowd disperses and Rene turns to Charlie.

“Run to admissions and grab the first aid kit, there’s nausea medicine in it.”

“Ok.” Charlie says, sprinting away gracefully in her high-heels and pin-up dress.

Denise’s involuntary personal protein spill finally subsides and she leans her body up against the towel bin trying to catch her breath as if she’s just finished running a marathon.

“What got her sick?” Rene asks Dusti whose eyes go as big as Frisbees.

“Uh…”

“C’mon now, take baby girl’s lead here and spit it all out.”

“She’s uh…”

“I’ve got food poisoning.” Denise says, panting for air. “I had something bad the other night, thought I was better but…”

Dusti and I share a glance then look at Rene for the verdict.

“Oh fuck. I’ve had that so many times and it’s hell when it hits you.” She says, grabbing a clean towel to wipe Denise’s face. “Just be glad it ain’t comin’ out both ends.”

She’d bought it hook, line and sinker.

It was Denise’s most spectacular moment of cunning and clarity because if there was one thing Rene couldn’t contest or be unable to sympathize with it had to be the result of accidentally getting sick from eating because Rene was a professional eater.

Charlie ran up with the first aid kit, popped it open and handed Rene the medicine.

“Stuke.” Rene barks. “If you’re gonna stand around then make yourself useful and get this girl some water.”

I do as I’m told and come back with a bottle of water for Denise. She pops the pills and chugs the water.

“Thanks.” she says, passing the bottle back to me as her body starts to settle down from being dope sick.

“You’ve gotta be burning up in this jacket.” Rene tells her as she pulls on its sleeve to take it off.

“It’s fine.” Denise says, yanking the sleeve out of Rene’s grip. “I’m just really cold.”

“Ok” Rene tells her without pushing the matter.

“Is it ok if I go back to class?” Denise asks.

“I think you need to take it easy.” Rene says, putting an arm around Denise’s waist and moving her toward the stairs. “There’s an empty office upstairs, I want you to go there and lay down ‘til school lets out.”

“But what about my Core exam this Friday? I need to study so I can be prepared.”

“Denise, don’t worry about it. You’re going to be allowed to take it on your own time with no penalty. Right, Rene?” Charlie says without waiver.

“That’s not gonna be a problem. You just need to relax right now.” Rene says.

“Ok.” Denise tells her, allowing Rene to guide her up the stairs.

“Stuke.” Rene says, turning back at me. “Make sure all them towels in the bin get clean.”

Oh you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.

“Can’t we just throw ‘em away?” I ask in an attempt to avoid the revolting task I’d been given.

“You gonna pay for a buncha new towels?”

“Haven’t I already with my tuition?”

“Don’t push me, boy.”

“I’ll help ya.” Dusti says.

Rene and Denise disappear upstairs and I grab the vomit filled bin and walk to the washing room with Dusti at my side while every Future Professional and their client cringe at the sight of the container in my hands.

“That was a close call.” Dusti says.

“What’s a close call is if I can make it to the laundry room without getting any of Denise’s puke on me.”

“Well if you do you can just add it to the list of all her other fluids you’ve gotten on you.” she says with her Southern sass.

We go into the washing room and I do my best to shake all the towels from the bin as well as its liner without having to come into contact with them.

“Do you think she’ll be ok?” I ask Dusti as she dumps an entire bottle of detergent into the washer.

“As long as she lays up there ‘til schools out she should be.”

“How about you?”

“How ‘bout me what?”

“Are you gonna be ok having her at your place for the next week, taking care of her?”

“Yeah, we’re gonna be fine.” Dusti says, closing the washer’s lid and firing it up.

We walk back to class and everyone looks at us as we walk in.

“Everything good?” Charlie asks.

“Oh you know, just right as rain.” Dusti says as we take our seats.

“Good.” Charlie says with a sigh of relief.

“What was going on with Denise?” Bree, the waif-thin blonde who swore to Rene she’d never cheat on her fiancé asks.

“She got food poisoning.” Dusti says matter of factly.

“I’ve never known food poisoning to make you nod off or act stoned before.” she says with a roll of her eyes.

“And I’ve never known people with uninformed opinions to look smart before.” Dusti says, glaring back at her.

“I mean…we can poison you and see how it all plays out.” Jimbo adds.

“You don’t have to be bitches about it. I just think it’s wrong if someone comes to school all fucked up and throws up all over the place.”

By this point in the day Dusti has been under so much stress, uncertainty and pressure that all of her nerves have been grinded down to one singular, distressed strand and now Bree has decided to jump on it like its a god-damn trampoline.

“I THINK…” Dusti screams as she bolts up from her chair so fast and furious that it falls over. “YOU NEED TO SHUT YOUR FUCKING-“

“HEY!!!!” Charlie yells in a desperate attempt to gain control. “Everyone needs to calm down and get a grip on their emotions ok? It’s been a crazy day and scrapping with one another isn’t gonna make it any better.”

“Well I’m just saying-“

“We heard what you had to say, Bree and while I value your concern the truth is Denise has food poisoning and the past few days have been rough for her and we’re leaving it at that.”

“And if you got anything else to say about it then start a fucking blog.” Jimbo tells Bree with a sneer.

“Jimbo!” Charlie yells.

“Or say nothing at all.” Dusti follows up.

“Dusti!”

“I’ll say whatever I want.”

“Bree!”

“We’re all family here so stop your bickering because it’s un-lady like and unprofessional!” Charlie says, chiding the testy trio.

Dusti picks up her chair and sits back down while Jimbo grumbles something about a spit-roast and Bree adjusts her posture to look prim and proper.

“We’ve got a lot more to cover for the exam in 3 days so open up your books and lets get to it.”

We spend the rest of the afternoon reviewing for the written exam because Charlie has figured the only way to instill order is by assaulting us with a steady stream of information like a cop with a firehose to keep us paralyzed and in in-line.

But a few minutes before school is to let out Charlie ends up undermining all the order and obedience she’d acquired by saying these 6 fatal words:

“Why don’t we play a game… “

I’m gonna hit the pause button right now to fill you in on a little something about Charlie…

Charlie was every student’s favorite Learning Leader. If you were to ask any Future Professional what they thought about Charlie you’d hear nothing but praise and adoration.

She was smart, sincere, and polite and always conducted herself in a way that showed she was wise beyond her years and she LOVED to teach with kindness and support.

But Charlie had one mortal flaw:

Charlie loved orchestrating games.

Now when you have a group of normal, secure, emotionally stable adults, any game can be played without someone becoming aggressively competitive, taking things personally or losing their shit.

However, when you have a group of creatives, most of whom are insecure, emotionally unstable, ruthlessly competitive, take everything personally and are always losing their shit, it’s better you don’t have them play a game because all you’re doing is starting the timer on a thermonuclear bomb.

Yet for some reason Charlie could never grasp this fact.

No matter how many times she’d have Future Professionals play a game that game would always nosedive into chaos and explode with a high velocity impact. Because when you have 200 creative students under one roof it’s not so much a student body as it is a village of savages.

And those savages require very little provocation to turn murderous on one another.

“What kind of game?” Bode makes the mistake of asking.

“Musical chairs!!!” Charlie shouts as if we’ve all won some Publisher’s Clearing House prize.

She gets a gaggle of groans in return.

“Oh come on, it’ll be fun, especially after a tense day so let’s get in touch with our inner-child!”

“Charlie, everyone’s inner-child is a raging lunatic.” I tell her in a plea to abandon this venture.

“Oh stop it, Stuke and get up and play.” she says as she moves all the tables out of the way and puts the chairs into formation.

I do as I’m told and assume the position along with everyone else.

Charlie turns the music on and we all walk around the chairs with the same heightened anxiety as a platoon of soldiers walking into a minefield and then…well, you know how this fucking game works.

I was happily one of the first casualties and after a few go-arounds it was down to 2 chairs and 3 students: Bode, Dusti and Bree.

Gulp.

Charlie hits the music, kills it and Bode immediately (and very gentlemanly like) takes a chair.

Dusti is hovering over the other chair and just as she begins to sit down Bree shoves her out of the way causing Dusti to lose her balance and fall face-first into the floor while Bree plops down on the chair.

A collective “OHHHH!” is let out as everyone looks at Bree with a WTF expression.

“What? I wanna win.” she answers back without apology.

The whole move demonstrates a reckless lack of foresight on Bree’s part because Dusti is a former figure skater whose entire body is toned muscle while Bree is a former bulimic whose entire body is a twig.

Still, you had to hand it to Bree for having balls so big she needed a wheel-barrel to cart them around in.

“YOU FUCKING CUNT!” Dusti screams, jumping to her feet with clenched fists.

“WHOA TIME OUT!!!!!” Charlie says, running over with arms flailing towards Dusti, intervening just as she’s within choking distance of Bree. “Let’s have you go outside and take five.” she tells Dusti, steering her to the door.

“Bree…” Charlie says. “You’re disqualified for unsportsmanlike behavior. Bode, congratulations, you’re the winner.”

“You mean I’m the musical chair king?”

“You are. May your reign be long and DIGNIFIED.” she says, locking eyes with Bree then ushering Dusti out of the classroom.

While Charlie is outside trying to convince Dusti not to pulverize Bree the rest of us move all the tables and chairs back to their original place while Bree stands off to the side.

“She didn’t have to call me a cunt.” she bemoans.

“She didn’t call you a cunt.” Jimbo says, pushing chairs up against a table. “She called you a fucking cunt.”

“I don’t know why you have to be so hostile to me, Jimbo.”

“And I don’t know why you have to keep breathing but here we all are.” Jimbo spits back.

Seconds later Charlie comes back in the room without Dusti.

“Stuke, can you take Dusti’s kit and purse out to her please?”

I grab her stuff and find Dusti at the foot of the stairs with Denise who looks coherent but spent.

Since school is one minute away from being let out Future Professionals loiter around the area where Dusti and Denise are standing and take turns gawking at them and then whispering amongst themselves.

“That was some fucked-up shit.” I tell Dusti as I wheel her kit and purse over to her.

“This whole day has been some fucked-up shit.” she says with a drained voice. “Thanks for grabbing my things.”

“Sure. You feelin’ better, Denise?”

She takes a deep breath and gives a faint smile.

“Yeah, I’m just tired, ready to sleep for a couple days.”

The 5pm bell rings and a herd of black stampedes around Dusti and Denise who slowly trudge towards the exit like two weary warriors, exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally.

 

On Wednesday Charlie breaks the day in two to simulate what our Core Exam will be like on Friday.

We spend the first part of the day practicing on our doll heads for the practical exam. Going over all the different services we have to know and reciting the 19 perm steps until our voices are hoarse.

The next part of the day Charlie has us taking multiple-choice practice exams. We’re given a set amount of time to complete each exam and when we’re finished we review it. Then we take another exam and review that one.

This monotony continues until it’s time to go home so I can practice everything over again until I pass out.

But since I’ve been diligent about not drinking more than two beers a day so I can focus on my prep it’s good to be passing out from doing instead of drinking. It’s also a good feeling to have my mind and body operating with a lucidity and precision that I haven’t experienced in a long time.

On Thursday we start it all over again, practicing every service on our doll heads until lunch then returning to study and prepare for the written portion afterwards.

“Is Denise good?” Bode asks Dusti during one of our 10min breaks.

“Yeah!” Dusti says with a big smile. “She’s been eatin’, sleepin’ and recovering.”

“When’s she coming back?” I ask.

“Next Tuesday.”

“Has she heard from her boyfriend?”

“He’s been blowing up her phone and leaving threatening messages but she refuses to give him the time of day which is good. Her parents are flyin’ in tomorrow from one of the Dakotas, Virginias or Carolinas, I can’t remember which, and they’re gonna help her get a new place so she can get away from him for good.”

“That’s awesome news.” Bode says.

“It is.” Dusti says. “And Denise has talked with the school about taking her Core exam at the end of next week so it looks like things are gonna work out.”

“What about her staying clean?” I can’t help but ask.

“She feels so shitty about everything that happened that she never wants to use again so she got in contact with her old sponsor from NA and is gonna start going to meetings and she also came clean to her parents about everything so they’re gonna help her get some outpatient treatment.”

“That’s so good to hear.” Bode and I say as the three of us walk back into school to prepare for another afternoon of practice tests.

“I have a proposition for you guys.” Charlie says as we take our seats. “Based on everyone’s results in all the practice exams we’ve done, you’re all more than ready for it. So if you’d like to take the actual written exam right now we can and that way all you have to worry about tomorrow is the practical exam. And once that’s over you can take it easy the rest of the afternoon.”

Everyone looks at everyone else, trying to gauge who falls on what side. Personally, I was more than ready. I’d been studying my ass off and had no doubt that I was going to ace this thing.

And as far as the rest of the class, they were also down to get it out of the way.

Except for Jimbo.

“I don’t want to do it, I don’t feel like I’m ready.”

“Trust me, Jimbo, you’re ready.” Charlie tells her.

“Besides, everyone else wants to take it today.” I tell her.

“Go fuck yourself and everyone else.” Jimbo yells back at me in a fit of anxiety.

“Jimbo, calm down.” Charlie says, walking over to her and putting her arm around her in a comforting manner.

“I’m just scared.” Jimbo responds, throwing both arms around Charlie’s waist and nestling her head against Charlie’s boobs.

Charlie tries to politely step away but Jimbo has her in an iron grip, slowly inching her hands towards Charlie’s ass.

“Ok, ok…” Charlie says, tapping Jimbo on the back and finally breaking free before Jimbo’s hands hit pay dirt.

“Alright, I feel better now.” Jimbo says, sitting upright and taking out a pen. “Let’s do this.”

Charlie administers the exam. I finish it in 20min flat, being the first one to hand it over to Charlie.

“How do you think you did?” she asks.

“I killed it.”

Once all the exams have been handed in Charlie grades them then calls us up one by one to give them back to us with our results.

Each person gives a smile of relief upon getting their exam and I’m the last one to be called up.

“You got the highest score.” she whispers to me, showing that I’d only missed one answer. “Congratulations.” she says with a warm, dimpled smile.

A sense of pride surges through me like an electrical current igniting a stadium full of bright lights.

“I’m proud of you, Stuke.”

“Me too.” I tell her, grabbing my exam and holding onto it as written proof that I can conquer whatever I set out to do.

“Everyone, I cannot tell you how awesome you all are. Each one of you rose to the occasion in taking this test by surprise. You all adapted to the situation, used your heads and came out on top, all traits of being a successful stylist. Now give yourselves a god-damn round of applause!” Charlie says.

The room erupts in cheers, hoots, hollers and clapping and seconds later the 5pm bell rings.

“Now don’t get cocky, you’re only halfway there and tomorrow is a monster. Make sure you get plenty of rest because you’re going to need all the concentration and energy you can muster.” she warns us as we spill out of the classroom.

On my drive home I look in the rearview mirror and realize that I like what’s looking back at me.

I hadn’t thought about Gums much and when I did I didn’t want to fall apart, I didn’t want to do anything because I had proven to myself that I could recover and become so much more than what someone had done to me.

It felt empowering, liberating and above all else, redeeming.

I was now on the path I was meant to be on and I was on my way to becoming who I was supposed to be.

I get home and grab a beer and then another one, drinking for the first time in months to celebrate instead of medicate and it feels soooooo good.

Good enough to break my self-enforced two drink maximum because feeling successful feels exhilarating.

So I have a few more, then a few more after that, then a few shots, celebrating with myself (and paving the way for a tremendous hangover) passing out around 4am and completely disregarding Charlie’s warning about needing rest, concentration and energy for the practical exam in a few hours.