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.”

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