Ron stood at the front of the room continuing to rock back and forth on his heels with his hands behind his back, sizing up our class while Charlie stood at his side like a lower ranking officer accompanying a general addressing his troops.
“Good morning, everyone, my name is Ron however I’ve gained the moniker Captain Ron around school. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it is what it is.” he said in a commanding, rhythmic voice.
“It’s a great thing.” Charlie says, beaming a smile of adoration at him.
“Thank you, Charlie.” he tells her while keeping his gaze on us.
“I’d like to congratulate you on making it through the meet-n-greet. While they aren’t easy they are an honest introduction into the hair industry in the fact that they make you feel uncomfortable, which is something you should get used to feeling for the rest of your lives as stylists.”
Charlie nodded her head in agreement.
“You should also get used to feeling stressed-out, worn-out and freaked-out as well because the truth is, hair is war. It’s a war with your clients, it’s a war with science and it’s a war with yourself. And every day that war starts anew.”
Well this day was turning out to be quite the face-fuck all before noon.
First we’d been dragged onstage to be ambushed by Marshall and the rest of the school and now we have Captain Ron telling us that the profession we’ve chosen is comparable to being in a violent conflict with a high mortality rate.
What was next? Rene force-feeding us her chili dogs and then sewing our asses shut?
“I know it’s only your second day but in a few short months you’ll be out in the real world, taking real clients and being neck deep in the trenches of that war. And the only way to win that war is to have confidence.” he says, placing his elbow on Charlie’s podium and leaning into it.
“Now I believe confidence is something that’s earned, it’s not something you can fake even though it’s encouraged that you do so with the whole ‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ mantra…” he says with a heavy sigh.
“But I don’t buy that BS. True confidence comes from competence and competence comes from doing something over and over again until you’re good at it. And as your competence grows so does your confidence. Does that make sense?”
We nod our heads in agreement because seriously, who’s gonna disagree with this guy?
For all we know he could be a former army general or a former pimp, prone to doling out thrashings for any type of insubordination and none of us were in the mood for a court martial or street side beat down.
“So what I do here at the school is I oversee the accelerated learning program called Phase 2. In Phase 2 we take the best students and make them better. They do hair 7 of the 8 hours they’re here and you know what happens in all that time?”
“It builds competence.” Charlie chimes in.
“That’s exactly right, Charlie. It builds competence…through repetition. And from that competence comes your confidence. Confidence in both your skills and knowledge.”
“Can we join Phase 2 as soon as we’re finished with Core?” Bode asks.
“No, you have to have 800 hours before you’re eligible.” Charlie says with a hinge of disappointment.
“But again, that’ll be here before you know it.” Ron adds. “And one of the requirements to be considered for Phase 2 is to have a perfect attendance during your time in Core. You have to demonstrate early on that you’re serious about your craft.”
Ron takes his elbow off the podium and regains his regal posture, turning to Jimbo who still looks a little queasy post push-up performance.
“Nice job on that stage, girl.” Ron tells her. “You had great form.”
“Thanks.” she tells him with a thumbs up as her head drops to the table.
“Anyway, thank you for your time, everyone, come see me when you’re ready.” he says with the bow of his head.
“Thank you, Ron.” Charlie tells him as he walks out of the room with the same statesmanship and swagger that he’d strode in on.
“I encourage you all to try to join Phase 2 when you’re eligible because Ron is one of the most gifted and effective Learning Leaders at the school. Now, speaking of school…” Charlie says, skipping over to a giant box and opening it up. “Let’s get to some learning!”
She digs into the box and brings out an 800 page book titled: Milady Standard Cosmetology Textbook. She then hands everyone a copy of this huge hardback and has us open to page 1.
3 hours and 199 pages later we’ve covered the entire evolutionary history of hair starting with the first hair cut which dates back to the ice age.
Apparently some scientists defrosted a frozen caveman and discovered that not only was he wearing a prehistoric fanny-pack but he was also rocking a mullet to match it. No doubt this guy was the fucking fire at every primordial party right up until the weather turned cold for a few thousand years.
We also learned that when ancient Egyptians weren’t busy having slaves build pyramids for them they were busy having slaves color their hair for them with a mixture of lead oxide, slaked lime and water.
It was obvious that even sex-symbols as far back as Cleopatra knew that you can’t bring a Roman Emperor to his knees if your greys are showing.
In addition to all that, we also read that the iconic red, white and blue barber pole people associate with haircutting actually evolved from the treatment of bloodletting.
The white pole symbolized the staff a patient would squeeze to make their veins pop out, the blue stripe symbolized their vein and the red, well, you get the gory picture.
Also, it wasn’t doctors that performed the bloodletting but Barbers. Yeah, in addition to shaves and haircuts they also performed tooth extractions, amputations and as already stated, slicing people’s veins open as an idiotic immunity booster.
And if all that trivial fun wasn’t enough, we learned about skin types, hair density, bacteria, and the fascinating evolution of perming methods that despite all their advancements, still smell like shit.
By the time we’d gotten to a stopping point everyone’s brains are throbbing, mine due to a lack of alcohol.
Charlie excuses us for lunch and I make a mad dash to the nearest restaurant with a bar, Bode coming along to keep me company and bringing with him a lunch that he’d packed.
We get to the restaurant and I have a Corona while he eats his lunch consisting of a sandwich and some carrot sticks.
“What’s in the sandwich?”
“Its Tofurkey with gluten-free bread.” he says proudly.
“Tofurkey. Tofu made to taste like turkey. It’s really good plus it agrees with my stomach. The last thing I want is my asshole eating me from the inside out like yesterday. You want half?”
“Of course.” he says as cuts the sandwich in half and puts it on a napkin for me.
“Whoa! This is like the best thing ever!” I tell him after my first bite, genuinely surprised.
“I know!” he says back with a mouthful of tofu that identifies itself as a turkey. “So what’d you think of Ron and what he had to say?”
“Between Marshall and his whole live episode of Punk’d and then Captain Ron and his whole “looking for a few good men” speech it’s hard to know what the fuck to think at this second.” I say as I wash the sandwich down with my beer.
“Yeah it’s definitely been an intense day. But I did like what Ron talked about with Phase 2 and I’m down to join, what about you?”
“I don’t know, man, I’m usually allergic to authoritative people like him. I mean I didn’t come here so I could feel like I was in the military and a part of Seal Team Scissors.”
“Hahahaha, I get that but just think of how much better you’ll be if you’re doing hair at school all day long.”
“I know but that also means being stuck with THAT motherfucker all day long too.”
“Well I’m not giving up on you just yet. 800 hours would put us at roughly 5 months from now so I’ve got plenty of time to talk you into it. And think about it, we didn’t pay all this money to leave school being mediocre.”
“You make a good argument, especially with the aid of a Tofurkey sandwich.”
“Good. Then let’s make a pact not to miss a day of Core so you’ll at least be eligible to join.”
“I can live with that.” I tell him, bumping his fist with one hand and downing the rest of my beer with the other.
I pay my tab and we head back to school, making sure we’re not late to avoid the wrath of Rene.
As we enter the Core Room Charlie has pushed all the tables off to the side and has placed in the middle of the floor a doll head that’s been impaled on a tripod.
TLC’s “Waterfalls” is blasting over the room’s stereo and on the front wall is a poster with the outline of a head shape that has lines at different degrees protruding from it, making it look like some sort of lobotomy diagram from the 19th century.
“Welcome back!” Charlie says full of excitement. “Grab your doll heads and a tripod and set them up then grab some hairpins out of the box over here.”
We do as we’re told and then stand by for further instructions.
“So what we’re going to practice are pin curls. They’re super basic but it’s going to help you understand that the different angles hair is styled at will produce different results in its volume.”
Charlie quickly and efficiently sections out her doll head’s hair and then wraps three different pin curls at three different angles (on base, half on base and off base) each one looking light, bouncy and flawless.
“Ok, everyone, give it a try at all three angles and be sure to reference the diagram poster up front if you need to.”
Everyone starts working on their doll heads and as I brush through mine I realize that doing this pin curl will be the first time I’ve styled any hair other than my own. It’s quite the monumental moment.
So I section out my doll head’s hair then subsection it and do the pin curl, making this my first official step into becoming a bonafide hairstylist.
And then I fall flat on my face.
My curl doesn’t come close to looking like the one Charlie had done. While hers had these perfectly circular curves and bounce, mine looks twisted and mangled as if it were run over by an 18-wheeler.
So I give it another go.
And fall flat on my face again.
One more time.
94 more times.
By my 100th try the section I’ve been working on has ended up in some type of complex knot which I’m sure would garner applause from a Boy Scout but would get a loud gasp from a hairstylist.
I look around and everyone else is pulling it off effortlessly, their curls looking flawless.
Mine, however, total shit.
And then the reality of it all hits me.
I’m no good at this and I shouldn’t be here.
Hair isn’t something that comes natural to me like it obviously does with everyone else. I’m an imposter here, a charlatan, a fucking lie.
I wanna crawl off in a dark corner and fall apart without any concern of putting myself back together again.
Enrolling in hair school had been my attempt at rebuilding myself and by the looks of the rat’s nest I’ve created on my doll head it had been the wrong course of action.
This was just another mistake in a long line of mistakes. Another log to throw on my raging fire of faults that was burning away any shred of self-esteem or hope I might’ve had left.
I look at the mess I’ve made and it’s the perfect metaphor for my life, all of it one big messy disasterpiece.
Charlie must’ve noticed me just staring at my doll head with the same vacant eyes the doll head was staring back at me with.
“Everything ok?” she asks, touching my arm with a loving gentleness only a female can exude.
“I can’t do this.” I tell her, my voice quivering from all the inner turmoil that’s rumbling inside of me. “This one simple thing I can’t fucking do it.”
“How many times have you done this before?”
“In your life, before today.”
“Ok, so don’t beat yourself up over it.”
“Everyone else seems to be doing just fine.”
“Listen…” she says, touching my face and turning it towards hers. “When learning something new the worst thing you can do is pay attention to how well other people might be doing it. Don’t ever compare yourself to someone else’s progress. We all arrive at our destination in our own time and in our own way.”
She gracefully sprays detangler over my doll head and then tenderly brushes out the knot and mats.
“Don’t forget what Ron said about competence and what it takes to build it and don’t get discouraged. Each try is a step closer to where you want to be, the only way you’ll keep from getting there is if you give up.”
Once she has the doll head’s hair nice and smooth she shows me again how it’s done and I try to emulate it, all to no avail, my hands refusing to do what my mind is instructing them to do.
“Fuck.” I say through gritted teeth as my hand turns to a fist, ready to strike my doll head down with furious anger.
“It’s ok.” Charlie says in a quiet voice. “You’re going to get this and everything else that follows and I’ll help you each step of the way.” She says as she brushes the doll head’s hair back.
“And one day when you’re an amazing stylist, accomplishing things you never knew you could do, you’ll look back on this moment with great reverence in how far you’ve come. Who knows, you might even write a book about that incredible journey.”
“If you think I’m gonna write anything about any of this then you’re certifiably insane.”
“Well change is constant, Stuke.” she says with a heartwarming smile. “And for now why don’t you give yourself a change of pace. Go outside and unwind with some fresh air, come back whenever you’re ready.”
I walk out to the smoking area and sit against the building, smoking a cigarette and watching the cars zoom by on Ventura Blvd wishing I could go with them so they could take me away from all the frustration, anger and anxiety I’d suddenly felt inside class.
As an adopted child I’d always carried with me a crippling fear of abandonment that I never outgrew. I always worried that the people I loved would leave, and then one day, Gums left.
And I hated this mess of a person she’d left me with, an emotionally unstable person who could lose his shit at the drop of a pin curl.
And although my fear of abandonment had been a specter haunting me throughout my life, I started to wonder how easy it’d be to abandon myself. Because the truth was, I was sick of who I’d become so I wondered if it’d be best to just walk away from this person and everything in his life.
I put my hand up to wipe away the tears, knowing that I really wanna walk away from all of this the same way Gums had walked away from me.
But just because she’d betrayed me didn’t mean I should betray myself. Just because she’d abandoned me didn’t mean I should abandon myself.
I knew, or at least I thought I knew, that deep down, buried beneath all this dysfunctional debris was a strong and defiant person.
But until that person returned I’d have make do with what I had, with the me that I was.
I turn and face the school, looking into it through its giant windows and watching all the Future Professionals working on The Floor. In the window I can see my reflection which superimposes me onto The Floor as well.
Hanging off to the side on one of the walls is a giant sign with 6 words written in bold, black letters like a commandment from God saying:
FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT
Captain Ron didn’t believe in faking it but it looked like the rest of the school did and as far as I was concerned I had no other choice but to.
I was going to have to fake who I was until the real me showed back up.