“You did this on purpose didn’t you?” Kaleb asks while inspecting the gruesome bald spot I’d managed to cut into Trevor’s hair while attempting to do the scissor over comb technique.
“Why would I do that?”
“Same reason the mom from A Christmas Story used up all the glue.”
“So the Old Man couldn’t put the leg lamp back together?”
“So you’ve seen that movie?”
“Who the fuck hasn’t? And what does that have to do with this?”
“Just like the mom didn’t want the lamp around, you didn’t wanna do scissor over comb, you wanted to use clippers and so you decided to sabotage the whole thing by going and doing…this.” he says, poking his finger at the hairless patch on Trevor’s head.
“Do you really think I’d wanna do something like this on purpose?”
“No, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how you did this because the comb should’ve guarded against him being scalped.”
“I amaze even myself sometimes.”
“No shit. You’re like a magician that performs demented tricks on people’s heads. Anyway, like I was saying, because of this little mishap we now have to use the clippers.”
“But I thought you said clippers were tools for the unskilled and incompetent.”
“They are but there’s no way I, or you, and I especially mean you, will be able to fix this by doing scissor over comb.” he gripes. “How do you feel about going super short on the sides?” he asks Trevor.
“I’m good with it but lemme ask Stickman.” he says then nods his head to an imaginary voice. “Stickman is good with it too.” he informs us, making me relieved that both he and Stickman were easy going clients.
“Kaleb, babe, can you come over here and check my cut please?” Dusti yells to him.
“Babe?” he says to me with a scrunched up face. “That just made me feel like I did when I saw my parents 69ing, blech.” he utters then schleps over to Dusti.
“Your boy’s a little salty isn’t he?” Trevor asks once Kaleb is out of earshot.
“You get used to the sodium.”
“I feel sorry for his girlfriend…if he even has one.”
“Oh he does, and she’s a pornstar.”
“What really? That guy?”
“Hard to believe huh?”
“I mean not if she was one of those fetish pornstars like a burn victim or an amputee.”
“She’s actually legit, her name is **** ******.”
“THAT’S HIS GIRLFRIEND?”
“She’s fucking hot, and that moan of hers…god damn!”
“Don’t I know it, Trev.”
Kaleb returns and assess the tattered landscape I’ve left on Trevor’s head then devises a plan.
“Ok, we’re gonna start off with no guard and blend it up using a 1 and then a 2. That’ll erase the bald spot and give a nice gradient look. Then we’ll take some off the top and texturize it. That good with you, dude?” he asks Trevor.
“Hey, man, anything is good from the person banging **** ******. That shit is prime-time, yo!”
“Gee, I wonder how he found out that piece of information.” Kaleb says, looking at me.
“What’s it like having sex with her?” Trevor asks with excitement.
“I don’t talk about my sex life.”
“Aww c’mon, man, ya gotta tell me! I gotta know! Besides, you cut my ear, doesn’t that deserve some kind of compensation?”
“He’s got a point.” I tell Kaleb.
“Fine, it’s good. Now can we move on?”
“That’s it? After every mind-bending thing I’ve seen her do on camera and all you’ve gotta say is ‘it’s good’?”
“Everything she does on camera is acting, it’s not real life. Sorry to burst your boner.”
“It doesn’t look like she’s acting, it looks like she’s loving it.”
“That’s the trademark of a good actor, to pretend. Besides, they have to do re-takes, get different shots, adjust the lighting and then edit it all. It’s no different than anything that goes into a regular movie.”
“She ever take you to work with her?”
“No because I’m too busy working this job where I have to answer questions like this because some people are chatty Kathy’s right, Stuke?”
“So we’re gonna start off with no guard then work our way up to a 2?” I say in a bid to take the focus off of me and my double XL mouth, realizing I’d be a horrible employee if I worked for The Mob.
“Yeah.” Kaleb says, firing up the barbaric clippers and fixing the side with the bald patch on it and making it look crisp and clean.
“Now do the other side just like this.”
“Ok.” I tell him, believing that using the clippers will reduce my ability to make mistakes only to find out that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Cementing once and for all my belief that there was no hope for me when it came to doing any hair of any type in any way on any person.
“Holy hose-hound.” Kaleb says when he sees the Texas Chainsaw Massacre I’d performed.
“How’s it lookin’?” Trevor asks.
“Like Ray Charles did it right after shooting up.” Kaleb tells him.
“But you’re able to fix it, right?” he asks Kaleb as I look out the window and stare at the silhouette of the Santa Monica mountain range in the distance, wanting to flee from here to its highest peak and hoping some kind, understanding soul will bludgeon me over the head with a rock and then leave my corpse to be ravaged by birds and wild animals as if I was given a traditional Tibetan Sky Burial.
“Of course I can fix it.” Kaleb says, grabbing the clippers once again and turning my mess into a masterpiece as the call goes out for our lunch break.
“You wanna finish the rest of the cut so we can get outta here before we all turn to dust?” I ask full of dejection and self-loathing.
“Sure, just watch me so you’ll know what to do next time.” he says, chopping into the hair on the top of Trevor’s head with a calculated frenzy.
As he cuts I look down the row and see the great shag that Bode did on his client which he’s finishing off with hairspray and the flawless A-line Dusti did on hers that she’s flat-ironing.
In fact everyone in my row has done an awesome job on their client with the exception of me who’s standing off to the side with his dick in his hand like some useless cuckold while his teacher finishes the job he couldn’t do.
“Alright you’re good to go.” Kaleb tells Trevor, putting a dab of paste in his hair and styling it.
“Fucking rad.” Trevor says, admiring his reflection. “Stickman is gonna be off the chain this Friday, thanks dude!” he tells Kaleb as he white boy dances with his bandaged ear over to the front desk.
“I know you weren’t able to do the last part of the cut but do you still feel like you learned something?”
“Oh yeah, I learned that I’m a total fuck-up and shouldn’t be allowed to touch people’s hair because when I do it’s a crime against humanity.” I tell him as I throw my gear into my kit.
“Hey man, it was your fist men’s cut, of course you were gonna make mistakes.”
“Yeah? What about all the women’s cuts I’ve done? And how many times have I done a blow dry that looked even half-way passable?”
“The answer is none, Kaleb. NONE. I feel like life is giving me a great big sign that says I should fucking quit and count my losses while they’re still countable.”
“You don’t wanna do that.”
“Pretty sure I do.”
“Pretty sure you don’t.”
“Yes I do! When I was in Core it bothered me that I wasn’t any good but I thought I’d eventually outgrow it, get better over time and improve the quality of work I did and the way I felt about it.”
“But none of that has happened and I’m fucking sick and tired of it to the point that I’m ready to quit and go deliver pizzas or something lame like that that that doesn’t kick me in the balls on the daily.”
“If you quit you’ll never get to where you’re supposed to go.”
“And where’s that? A hair salon for the blind?”
“No, although that is funny.”
“It’s funny because you said something like that to me before.”
“That makes sense. But besides that, listen, you have the passion to wanna do good which is why you’re so hard on yourself but you need to ease up, man.”
“That’s hard to do when I see everybody else creating phenomenal work and all I’m making is garbage.”
“Fuck what everybody else is doing.” he says as my fellow students stroll past us towards the front door. “If you stick with this you’re gonna be more successful than all these people.”
“How do you figure?”
“The Law of Percentages.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Do you know how many of these students will actually make a career out of doing hair?”
“No idea, I’m not in charge of statistics.”
“Ten percent is your answer. At most, ten percent will go on to do hair after they graduate.”
“Doesn’t seem like much.”
“Why won’t they?”
“Any number of reasons. They might decide they don’t like it, can’t handle the assistant phase, they get married or knocked up, die in a car crash…who knows, the factors are endless. But if you keep with it that puts you at an advantage.”
“Because ninety percent of your competition won’t even show up for the game. They’ll forfeit their career in hair which will give you more room on the field to flourish.”
“Flourish is the farthest fucking word to describe where I’m at right now.”
“I know but the right now doesn’t last forever. You’ll get better as long as you don’t quit. Plus, here’s a secret no one else will tell you…”
“What’s that?” I ask, thinking of Jan’s Dead Men Tell No Tales tattoo and wondering if Kaleb and I will find ourselves at the bottom of the Pacific once he reveals this secret to me.
“You’re not really here to learn how to do hair.”
What was that?
“Dude, like the Virgin Mary said to God, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“What I’m talking about is that all you’re really here to do is get the 1600 hours you need to take your board exam and pass it so you can get your license. Everything else is just lipstick on a cop. The real learning comes when you start assisting at an actual salon.”
Kaleb dropping this revelation made me feel like I wasn’t allowed a choice between taking the blue pill or the red pill but instead had the red one shoved down my throat and was forced to swallow.
And upon swallowing it came to the realization that the reality I’d thought I’d been living in had been a lie and in its place a new and unsettling truth lay bare that I now had to contend with and accept.
All my notions about school had been an illusion like set pieces on a Hollywood sound stage that appeared to be 3 dimensional but were nothing more than cheap plywood propped up by a few beams and some brackets.
What a fucking asshole this Kaleb guy was.
“You know if this was meant to make me feel better it doesn’t.”
“No! I already feel like I’ve been drowning in a sea of sorrow and instead of giving me your hand you use it to push me further down.”
“Well that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to help you see things for how they really are so you’ll quit stabbing yourself in the heart. I want you to know that you don’t need to know everything about hair when you finish school, you just need to finish it and all that takes is just showing up every day.”
“So you’re saying just come here every day, get the shit kicked out of me and eventually everything will work out?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying and doing that doesn’t take any skill or talent, just determination.”
I finish packing up my shit and notice Bode and Dusti are waiting for me by the door.
“Stuke, more than anything else hair is a mind game. It’s a mind game between you and yourself and you and your clients and I know you’ve got the making of becoming a true Jedi so stick with it, ok?”
“That’s very Obi-Wan of you but I seriously doubt school was as hard for you as it is for me.”
“Trust me, it was a fucking nightmare.” he says, taking me by surprise. “And Sassoon doesn’t have the whole kumbaya culture they do here because Vidal was English and there’s two things the English pride themselves on.”
“Perfection and being cunts to those who can’t achieve it. And in their eyes I could never achieve it.”
“Yeah. There were so many days I’d go home and cry because I’d done something the wrong way and the teachers had humiliated me in front of everyone because of it.”
“Wow, I was always under the impression you’d been this god-like magi from the minute you picked up a pair of shears. I mean, what about that year you spent in London? Didn’t you go there because you were so good?”
“No, I went there so I could get good, and it was the hardest year of my life. But I became who I am because of it and you wanna know why?’
“Because you didn’t quit?”
“Doesn’t happen often but you’re right. And if I can do it so can you. So from now on the only thing you should worry about is not comparing yourself to others, not kicking the shit out of yourself and above all else, don’t become a part of the 90%.”
“Okay.” I say, coming down off the ledge of career suicide I was about to fling myself from.
“It won’t always feel good but that’s temporary and anyone can recover from temporary.”
“I understand and…thanks for the talk, it means a lot, especially from you.”
“Don’t mention it.” he says, pulling from his back pocket a smashed up pack of Marlboro lights that he digs a cigarette out of. “And by that I mean don’t mention what I said to anyone because I can’t afford to look like I care, got it?”
“Good, now go to lunch while I kill myself softly with this cigarette.”