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.”

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