Even though no one in the industrialized world has gotten one since Ronald Regan was president we’re still required to know how to do it in the event there’s a revival in people wanting to look like Jon Bon Jovi or Madonna circa 1980.
As far as the school is concerned when it comes to doing a perm there are two stages to it, neither of which involves the actual act of doing a perm.
The first stage consists of sectioning and clipping the hair into a 9 paneled pattern where each panel is equal.
The second stage consists of knowing the 19 steps of doing a perm on a client such as your client consultation, double-draping them and having them sign a release form stating that they understand it’s their own fault when they end up looking like a deranged poodle in need of a Swatch watch.
For the first part of the week Charlie has us practice sectioning and clipping our doll heads in the 9 paneled pattern over and over again.
What this means for me is that I continually curse at my doll head over and over again because the only pattern I’m able to create is a pattern of failure and at this point I’ve gotten tired of blaming myself so I’ve taken to blaming inanimate objects.
“Fuck you, I hate you.” I tell my doll head for the billionth time.
“You ok over there?” Dusti, the healthy looking Amy Winehouse girl asks me in her Southern drawl.
“I mean if my doll head is supposed to look like Bob Marley then I’m tip-top.”
“I think I know what’s wrong.” she says, coming over and combing out all the rats in my doll head’s nest.
“Perms being legal is what’s wrong.”
“No, I think it’s where you’re standing. If you change your position it’ll help you keep your patterns even.”
She demonstrates where to stand and then sections and clips my doll head in no time flat.
“Give it a try.” She says, undoing the sections and re-combing it’s hair.
I stand where she suggests and section off my doll head with the concentration of a surgeon.
“I had a lot of fun at your party.” she says as I focus on the task at hand. “And from what I hear you and Denise did too.”
I stop and look at her then over at Denise who’s across the room sectioning her doll head with ease.
“Word travels fast.” I tell her as I get back to work. “Let’s just make sure that word doesn’t travel all the way up to Rene.”
“Don’t worry, I’m the only one she’s told and I won’t tell anyone, she’s my girl.”
“Did your girl tell you about her boyfriend?”
“And that he’s a junkie psychopath?”
“I’ve met him and seen his bullshit in action firsthand.”
“You did?” I say, stopping again so I can give her my full attention.
“Yeah, I was at her place and he went all Captain Crazy on her, screaming that she shouldn’t have spent all her money on school because he could’ve used that money and then he started throwing shit around and breaking things.”
“What’d you do?”
“Grabbed her and got the fuck outta there. She stayed with me for the night and I told her she could stay as long as she wanted but she said she needed to go back and take care of him.”
“Take care of him? That sounds all sideways.”
“It is but I think she feels some sort of obligation to him. They’ve been together for years and there was a time when they were both strung-out together.”
“Really? On what?”
“Heroin.” Dusti says with a look of pain.
“Fuck, that’s like major league Janice Joplin shit.”
“I know. She went to rehab and got clean but obviously he didn’t so I think she feels responsible for trying to help him.”
“That’s admirable but living with an active user after you’ve gotten yourself straight is a threat to your own recovery.”
“That’s what I said. I told her she needs to focus on herself, but he’s got this hold on her. Plus, she says he tells her that if she were to leave him he’d kill himself by overdosing so, she feels trapped, both by him and her own heart.”
I glance back over at Denise, she catches me and gives me a warm, carefree, cherubic smile as if everything were right in the world and she wasn’t always within an arm’s reach of total annihilation.
I knew she was in a bad spot but there’s two kinds of bad. The bad you can walk away from and the bad where 6 pallbearers walk away with you.
Before this conversation with Dusti I thought she was in the former but it was blaringly obvious she was in the latter.
“Is there anything we can do?” I ask Dusti.
“I mean, I’m always checking in on her or taking her out to do things or having her over so she’s not stuck at home with him but that’s about all anyone can do until she’s ready to leave him for good.”
“That’s so true. Let me know if you ever need my help.” I tell her as I get back to work on my doll head in an attempt to distract myself from feeling helpless.
“I will.” she says as I finish clipping up my last section, surprised at my own work.
“Holy shit! I did it!” I scream, wrapping my arms around Dusti.
“I told you! It’s all about where we stand.” she says, her words resonating far deeper than she realizes.
For the last part of the week Charlie has us focus on the second stage of perming which is memorizing all 19 steps involved in doing a perm.
To make the memorization process more fun (or ridiculous) she breaks us up into groups of 3 and has each group write a song that incorporates all the steps in chronological order and then perform said song in front of the class.
Charlie puts Bode, Jimbo and I in a group and tells us we have 15min to compile a song before we’re expected to perform it.
“Do we put the 19 steps to an existing song or just make up our own?” Bode asks as he and I tap our pens on empty sheets of paper.
“Let’s perform the song in sign language.” Jimbo says while chomping on her pen.
“You know sign language?” we both ask surprised.
“No, but I’m sure no one else does either. That way we can just make random gestures and no one will be the wiser for it AND we get out of having to write this stupid song.”
“But we’d all have to be making the same random gestures at the same time.” I tell her.
“Fuck, Stuke, can’t you just let me live my best lie?”
“What if we put all the steps to the song Danger Zone?” Bode suggests with a wild smile.
“Yeah, but instead we can call it Perming Zone!” I yell, struck with inspiration.
“That’s the gayest thing I’ve ever heard.” Jimbo says, tossing her saliva soaked pen on the table. “And I know a thing or ten about being gay.”
“Then you should feel right at home singing it.” I tell her.
“ME? No fucking way.” she protests.
“Why? It’d be great, and it makes the most sense.” Bode says.
“How so?” She asks him.
“I used to play bass and Stuke played drums. I can hum the melody while he keeps the beat by tapping his foot and hitting his leg.”
“And you bring the whole thing together with your angelic voice.” I tell her, glad that all I have to do during this fucked-up fiasco is make noises with my feet and hands.
Jimbo mulls the proposition over with furrowed brows.
“Fine, but since I’m the star I have a list of demands before I perform.”
“What do you want in your Rider?” Bode asks.
“A pack of cigarettes from each of you and a box of Twinkies.”
“You want a box of Twinkies from each of us too or just one in total?” Bode asks.
“Jesus cross-hanging Christ just one box in total, I’m not some white-trash waste basket.”
“Then what color of trash do you prefer to be called?” I ask her.
“Stuke, you can chew the chubbiest part of my clit ‘cause I don’t have to do any of this you know…”
“Ok, ok. Two packs of smokes and one box of Twinkies.” Bode says to keep the peace while I start scribbling down the words to our song.
“Okay guys, you’re up.” Charlie says, motioning us to the front of the room.
Bode starts off the melody and then I come in with the beat. Jimbo holds the lyric sheet in front of her face while shifting back and forth on her roomy hips, waiting for the part in the song when the lyrics kick in and then…
Rev up your motivation and do your CONSULTATION slow…
Make sure your clients DOUBLE DRAPED and they sign a RELEASE FORM so they know…
They’re on the highway to the Perming Zone, they’re gonna take a ride into the Perming Zone.
Next you’re gonna CLARIFY with shampoo, WRAP and COTTON them then watch the PROCESS go…
Do a CURL EVALUATION then RINSE ‘em but don’t tell ‘em they can go…
‘Cause they’re on the highway to the Perming Zone, gonna look a fly way in the Perming Zone…
We make it through the entire song, listing off the other 10 steps in the process with minimal cursing from Jimbo throughout the performance.
Once we’re finished we receive a tepid response from the class as Bode shoves both fists in the air. “Thank you, Cleveland!” he yells while Jimbo crumbles up her lyric sheet then drops it like a mic.
“That was really good!” Charlie says while clapping her hands as we walk back to our seats.
“Thanks, you wanna sleep with the drummer?” I ask, instantly turning the color of her fair skinned face into a bright burning red.
“Those days are over, Stuke.” she says trying to regain her composure.
“Sad I missed them.”
Just like last week this week is split in two. The first part of the week is spent practicing highlights on our doll heads.
For those of you unfamiliar with the highlighting process it’s a tedious procedure that involves sectioning the hair into specific patterns depending on the desired result and then taking small slices of hair from those patterns and weaving it with a weaving comb.
THEN you place a slice of tinfoil underneath the hair that’s been weaved and apply color or bleach to it and then wrap it all up in the foil as if it were leftovers from a BBQ.
The whole complicated and time consuming technique takes my frustration to heights unknown.
AND since Charlie once again has us using conditioner instead of actual color, I’m once again covered in white stains that make me look like I was the pivot person in a 10 man circle-jerk.
Marshall is brought in on our second day of practicing highlights because in addition to being the school’s resident roaster he’s also considered the school’s resident highlighting king.
A man of many talents this Marshall guy.
But to everyone’s surprise, instead of taking on his role of tormentor he takes on the role of mentor and walks from student to student, giving tips, demonstrating technique and being an all-around source of help, knowledge and encouragement.
“How’s it going, Stuke?” he asks with his signature smirk.
“It’s going right off a cliff, Marshall.” I say as I get my weave tangled into a knot while my foil slice falls to the floor.
“Can I give you a suggestion?” he asks.
“You can give me twenty.”
“Try doing the weave moving your entire arm instead of just your wrist because it’s the motion from your wrist that’s getting your weave tangled and knotted. If you employ your whole arm then it will keep you more balanced and in control.”
I try this a couple times and look like a robot having a violent seizure and knocking my doll head off it’s tripod.
“Let me help you…” he says, placing my doll head back on her stake and then positioning himself behind me like a puppet-master, placing his hand on my arm.
“Whoa! You’re stiff as a corpse!”
“I’m a tad stressed.”
“Lets loosen you up.” he says as he starts massaging my arm and shoulder.
“Marshall, is it appropriate for you to be massaging Stuke?” Charlie asks, giving us an instant audience of my fellow students.
“He’s too tense, besides, doing hair falls into the touching people industry so this is perfectly acceptable.”
“I’m not gonna lie, it feels good.” I tell Charlie.
“Fine.” she relents. “Just make sure his shirt stays on.”
“Ok…” he says, taking hold of my arm and then guiding me through the weave, making the act seem light and effortless. “There, see how easy that was?”
“Yeah.” I tell him surprised, looking at a perfect weave.
Next he walks me through foil placement, product application and then folding the foil into a nice, neat square.
He has me do a few more while he watches and coaches, each weave and foil I do getting better and better resulting in my doll head not looking like she crawled out of a dumpster.
The second part of the week we watch cutting videos in preparation of our first haircut on our doll head.
After watching the videos and a live demonstration by Charlie showing us the step-by-step process of cutting a basic one-length she has us chop away.
Everything I watched in the videos and in Charlie’s demonstration made perfect sense but since my mind, eyes, arms hands and fingers aren’t accustomed to working in tandem for the purpose of cutting hair, my doll head ends up looking like she’d gotten her mane caught in a blender.
There’s no doubt that if this poor thing had a fully functional body then she would definitely grab the shears from me and slit my throat.
Also the end of this week marks that we have one more week left in Core.
But before we’re able to transition onto The Floor with all the other Future Professionals in gen-pop we have to show that we kinda know what it is we’re doing.
So to prove that we’re not total dipshits that might hurt ourselves or someone else we have to pass two exams at the end of next week.
The first exam is a written covering all the chapters we’ve gone over and the tests we’ve taken in our Milady Cosmetology Textbook. Charlie tells us that the exam will consist of 50 questions spanning 10 chapters.
The second part of the exam is a practical exam in which we have to demonstrate our ability to do highlights, single and double process color applications, perm sectioning and being able to recite the 19-steps to doing a perm as well as shampooing and blow-drying.
All of this is to be done, mind you, on a living, breathing model (which we’re tasked with finding).
In the event the student fails either part of the exam that student will be forced to repeat another six weeks in Core.
This not only means they’ll be six weeks behind their graduation date and have to pay Rene extra money but it also means they’ll endure non-stop taunts and ridicule for the rest of their tortured time at Paul Mitchell for being the slow kid that got held back a grade.
I take this consequence very seriously because I do not want to be held back.
So I have Bode come over after school lets out on Saturday afternoon and we spend all night Saturday and all day and night Sunday and Monday practicing on our doll heads for the practical exam.
We also make flash cards to quiz one another on subjects related to the written exam.
In addition to that I decide it’s in my best interest to pump the brakes on my drinking so both my body and mind have the chance to operate in the way they were intended to.
Starting bright and early on Tuesday morning Charlie has us review all the material we’ve read from our textbook and has us taking practice quiz after practice quiz.
Everyone is stressed the fuck out with the exception of Denise who’s absent.
“Have you talked to her at all?” Dusti asks me while I’m smoking a cigarette on our 10min break.
“We were supposed to hang out on Sunday but I never heard from her. I’ve been calling her like a stalker ever since and it keeps going straight to voicemail.”
“Maybe her phone broke or she’s sick or she’s sick AND her phone broke.” I say in a lame attempt to hope for the best even though we both know Denise lives in the land of the worst.
“Maybe I’ll swing by her place during lunch to see if she’s ok or needs anything.” she says.
“Want me to go with you?”
“I would but I’d hate to do anything that could trigger her boyfriend if he’s there. ”
“Fair enough. Let me know if you change your mind.”
“I will.” she says as we head back into school.
An hour later Bode, Dusti and I are in class sharing a table, trying to memorize the differences between the Anagen, Catagen and Telogen phases of hair growth when Dusti’s phone gives a text alert.
“Dusti, you know this is a no-phone zone right now.” Charlie says.
“I’m sorry.” she says, opening up her phone to check the text. “I’ve just been worried about- OH MY GOD!” she says petrified.
“What?” I ask.
“It’s from Denise.” she says, showing me the cryptic one word message she’d sent: