Walking across the intersection I couldn’t take my eyes of my shoes.
One was a black Vans the other a black Converse and while it wasn’t my greatest moment I told myself it could’ve been worse, it could’ve been a dress shoe and a gym shoe. Besides, it was an honest mistake anyone could’ve made with a Blood Alcohol Content higher than 10 times the legal amount.
Paul Mitchell was tucked in the corner of the Sherman Oaks Galleria which was a shopping staple of The Valley, an outdoor mall made up of shops and restaurants frequented by D-list celebrities, has-been musicians and local residents who had money but not enough to live in a nicer place like Beverly Hills.
When I first walked into the school I thought I was in the wrong place. With its high, exposed ceiling, lacquered concrete floor, Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” blaring and cute girls in skimpy clothes dancing around the entrance, the space looked less like a place of learning and more like a chic night club.
“Hi! Can I help you?” one of the dancing girls said as she flashed a smile as big as her boobs that were trying to escape from her low-cut shirt.
“Yeah, is this the hair school?”
“It is! Would you like a cut?” she asked, motioning her fingers like scissors while still dancing around. I didn’t know if I should tip her or give her my jacket.
“No I wanna learn how to do hair. Where do I enroll?”
She pouted and pointed to an office with the word ADMISSIONS above it.
I went in and sitting behind a desk was a girl that with her long dark hair, big brown eyes and compact face looked like an Anime character.
“Hi I’m Amy!” she said loud and bright.
“Stuke?! That’s a fun name! How do you spell it?”
“Well, most people try to spell it every way but the right way which is S-T-U-K-E.”
“Got it!” she said as she jotted it down on a form.” What made you wanna do hair, Stuke?”
This was a question I hadn’t prepared myself to answer so she’d caught me off guard.
“Oh. Well. I wanna do hair because…because…”
My face started to burn and my balls crawled into my stomach. It didn’t happen often but I was at a loss for words and afraid that any second she’d tell me to leave and not come back until I had an answer.
Then a poster on her wall caught my attention. It said “Love what you do, do what you love.”
“I wanna do hair because I wanna do what I love.”
“Oh that’s great!” she said, coming out from behind her desk then freezing in her tracks.
“Why don’t your shoes match?”
Do I play this off or act surprised?
“Ah, well…because it’s a new trend.”
We’re gonna go with playing it off.
“Yeah…in Tokyo. All the hair dress- uh, stylists are doing it.”
“No way that’s SO COOL!”
“I KNOW! I can hardly believe it myself.”
“Well, Mr. Stuke…”
“Stuke is fine.”
“Ok, Stuke what we like to do first with potential students is give them a tour of the school so if you’ll just follow me…”
We leave her office and go to an area called “The Floor”. It’s a huge space filled with hair stations and attractive women doing color, cuts and blow-drys all dressed in black like ninjas ready for a funeral.
Next we go in to the “Theory Room” which is a large classroom with a stage and podium at the front and a teacher behind it giving an intense lecture on the molecular properties of hair and the mathematics involved with coloring it. Every student looks stressed as fuck as they scribble down notes like their lives depend on it.
“Most people don’t realize it but doing hair requires a lot of math and chemistry.” Anime Amy whispers in my ear, sending a wave of panic from the deep part of my sphincter to the top of my spine.
“Wait, math and chemistry?” I said looking at her in horror.
Although I didn’t know much about hair what I did know was that it seemed like a profession free of annoying things like math and chemistry. Plus, in all the years I’d known Jay not once had he brought that shit up.
Traveling the world? Engaging in hedonistic sex? Doing so much blow that he lost his sense of smell? Those were the things Jay talked about when it came to doing hair. But never did he sound like Stephen fucking Hawking or Bill fucking Nye when I’d ask him how work was going.
I started to wonder if Jay had been right all along, that this was a HUGE mistake. That he’d known a secret about something I knew nothing about and that’s why he was against it from the get-go.
“Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems.” she said, no doubt smelling the fear on me as if it were Drakar cologne. “Once you’re immersed in it you’ll soak it right up.”
“The same could be said about vodka or quicksand.”
“Stuke, you’re so funny!” she giggled as she pushed me out of the room.
“Next up is the Core Room. This is where you’ll spend the first 6 weeks of school and learn all the basics of hair. Everyone loves Core.” she says like a game show host then opens the door.
The Core Room was a far-cry from the intensity and tension on display in the Theory Room.
Part adult pre-school part Zen retreat, the Core Room emanated safe, soothing vibes. The walls were filled with homemade posters that had motivational slogans or random facts about hair on them and spa-like music played in the background.
Students peacefully practiced on their doll heads under the gentle and calming guidance of a soft-spoken teacher. Everyone in the room looked and acted as serene as Tibetan monks who’d just 420’d and the mood was contagious because my pulse started slowing and my eyelids dropped to half-mast.
“What do you think?” Amy asked.
“It feels so…relaxing.” I said, having completely forgotten about the freak-out I’d had mere minutes ago in the Theory Room.
“I know, it’s the best place to start your journey.” she replied, taking hold of my hand and leading me out like a docile Hindu cow. “And speaking of starting, we can start your enrollment now if you like.”
“Yeah.” I tell her, still sedated from the tranquility of the Core Room.
We go back to her office and sit at her desk.
“Let’s start by having you fill out these forms.” she says, reaching across to hand me a stack of papers.
As she does this she knocks over a picture frame and I pick it up. Upon seeing the picture a cold, sick feeling sweeps over me, robbing me of all the inner-peace I’d been enjoying up until now.
The picture is of Amy and her husband on their wedding day.
And in that moment I’m taken away from the chic nightclub school and its blaring music. Away from Amy’s office and my mismatched shoes. Away from the pill-popping alcoholic I’d become over the past few weeks.
I’m taken back to my living room on a sunny morning 1 month, 3 weeks, 6 days and 23 hours ago.
I’m taken back to who I used to be and the exact moment this whole fucking mess began.