You’re Here to Learn how to do a Blow-job.

Chapter 22

Sunday – 12:30pm

I’m standing at the security gate outside of Kaleb’s apartment complex waiting for him to let me in. He’d told me to be here at exactly 12pm because he hates waiting on people. So when I rolled up at noon on the dot I texted him to let him know I’d arrived.

He texted back saying he’d be right out which clearly was not the case because thirty minutes later I was still waiting on him with my hands full of gear and two giant bags of food from Casa Vega.      

Casa Vega was a Mexican restaurant / cultural staple of The Valley famous for its dim-lit environment, sadistic bartenders and overpriced food made in a kitchen where rodents were known to congregate. Its patrons were a mish-mash of C-list actors, masochistic day drinkers and up and coming pornstars (no pun).

Still, for all its pock-marks and public health hazards the establishment held a certain amount of charm and allure and I’d spent many an afternoon drinking myself stupid at the bar which is what I wished I was doing now instead of waiting around on a person who detests waiting around on other people.    

I text him again in ALL CAPS reminding him I was still at the front gate and had food that was getting colder by the second.  

As I continue to wait I take stock of the immense amount of cuisine he insisted I bring for his girlfriend in exchange for her allowing me to practice blow drys on her all day.  

Taking it all in I begin to wonder just how obese this woman must be because there was enough food here to feed an entire zoo for a week.        

Two burrito dinners, a Mexican pizza, a lobster quesadilla, 3 orders of taquitos, a shrimp enchilada, a chicken enchilada, a cheese enchilada, 2 orders of chips and guac, a nacho supreme, 3 chicken tacos, 3 beef tacos, 2 orders of chicken mole’, 5 churros and a large horchata.

There was no doubt in my mind that this girl had to be the size of a two-ton truck because there was at least one ton of food in my possession.

“Dude, what the fuck?” I ask as he finally waddles out wearing a dirty t-shirt, crusty jeans and socks.  

“What?” he asks in total aloofness, opening the gate to let me in.   

 “I’ve been out here for a half-hour.”

“Oh, I got side-tracked.” he says, leading me through the courtyard.

“Doing what?”

“I can’t remember.”

“How can you not remember, you were just doing it!”

“My brain gets foggy when I don’t take my meds.”

“Then why didn’t you take them?”

“Don’t worry, I just did.”

“Well a lot of good that does me now.”

“Did you bring the food from Casa Vega?”

“What do you think are in these bags with the words ‘Casa Vega’ on them?”

“Did you order everything I told you to?”

“It was a king’s ransom but yeah.”  

“Good, because when my girlfriend doesn’t get everything she wants it can be an explosive situation.”

“I think eating this much food from Casa Vega can be an explosive situation.” I say as we get to his door and he ushers me in.

“Take your shoes off so the carpet doesn’t get dirty.”

I look at his carpet and wonder why he’s worried about getting something dirty that’s already the color of chimney soot. Then I look around the rest of his place and realize the carpet should be the least of his concerns.

Strewn throughout his living room are piles of clothes, boots and shoes. On his warped coffee table sits a dirty bong, crumbled up fast-food bags, used dental floss, an overflowing ashtray and a dead plant.  

A show about World War II is playing on his big screen TV and on his oversized, soiled couch lay a pair of chewed-on PS3 controllers, scattered tools, snowboarding gear and a cat that looks over at me and meows.

“That’s Calvin.” he says, grabbing the food and steering his way through the living room and up two steps that lead into his kitchen / dining area where a motorcycle rests on a stand with half its mechanical guts spilled out beneath it.  

Every light is on exposing all the dents, scuffs and smoke stains on the walls and the entire unit smells like a musky army surplus store.   

I reluctantly take my shoes off and with great apprehension ask him where the bathroom is so I can pee.

“First door on the right.” he says, nodding towards the hallway behind him.  

I carefully walk to the bathroom making sure I don’t step on anything that could infect me with tetanus or hepatitis.

Since its door is closed I prepare myself for whatever terrors lie beyond it thinking that everything I’ve just experienced has primed me for what’s about to come next.

I say my prayers, hold my breath and then fling the door open.

My eyes can’t believe what they’re seeing.

The bathroom is immaculate.

Where I expected to see a mirror splattered with toothpaste there’s instead a crisp, unsullied reflection in it.   

The sink is spotless and free of any debris or random shit piled on its countertop.

The walls are a bright white as are the towels that hang from a polished towel bar. 

The glass doors on the shower are crystal clear and its inside is cleaner than a nun’s thoughts, no sign of rot or decay.

Unbelievable.

I stand here feeling like I’ve come across a pristine island after floating in a sea of garbage and wonder how someone as grimy as Kaleb can have a bathroom as spotless as this.  

And then it hits me…he must not ever use it which is why it looks so sanitary and he looks like he crawled out of a dumpster.

That was the only explanation.

That or there was a secondary bathroom he used which was the real horror show.

I walk over to the toilet recalling a rumor I’d heard at school about Kaleb being the one responsible for leaving disgusting, unflushed dumps in the men’s bathroom as some sort of vile joke.    

So as I lift the lid I brace myself to see a glob of human waste sitting in the bowl like a pile of wet mud surrounded by a rim speckled with urine and pube flakes.  

But to my surprise it’s empty, the toilet bowl and its water look fresh enough to wash my face in and its rim is a cool, sparkling ivory.  

“One question…actually two.” I say coming out. “Why is your bathroom so clean?”

“What’s your other question?” he asks, taking out the last of the food and hunting for a place to put it as Calvin leaps up on the counter to inspect it all with his nose.  

“Where’s your girlfriend?”

“On her way.” he says, taking a bite out of one of the churros and then tossing it back in its bag. “And the bathroom is clean because I bathe in it and anything I bathe in has to be as sterile as a hospital.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I’m a germaphobe.”

He’s a germaphobe.

I look at him and wonder if he has any idea just how much of a walking contradiction he is as he chomps into the hard shell of a taco and its contents free-fall onto his gummy floor.     

“Whatever you say, man. Where would you like me to set-up?”

“Here.” he says, shuffling over to the motorcycle and kicking its discarded parts to the side, remembering the hard way that he’s not wearing shoes.  

“Motherfucker!” he yells, jumping around on his uninjured foot with his taco still in hand.  

He jumps down the hall then jumps back with a folded up lawn chair and hands it to me. I set it up along with my gear while he continues to eat.

“I still can’t believe Charlie never showed you how to do a proper blow dry.”

“I mean, she showed us how, maybe it just didn’t click with me you know?”

“Don’t make excuses for her. As a Core instructor she should’ve made sure everyone could do something as rudimentary as a blow dry and it’s a disgrace that she didn’t. She should be ashamed of herself but she’s too high and mighty to do that.”

“Wow man you’ve really got a grudge against her.”

“No. I just think she’s a phony. She puts on this goody-two shoes act at school and everyone loves her but I know she’s not like that.”

“And how do you know that?”

He stares at me, chewing his food with his mouth open. 

“You guys dated didn’t you?”

“If you even wanna call it that.” he says in between crunches.

“I fucking knew it!”

“Yeah, well, keep it to yourself or I’ll deny I ever told you.”

“Fine, fine. So what happened?”

“Hardly anything. She was dating some guy and they broke-up right before I started working at Paul Mitchell. We started hooking-up and then one day she just quit talking to me. I found out later she’d gotten back with her ex who’s just one big mountain of a man-child.”

As he wipes his hands on his grubby t-shirt the way a toddler would I wonder if he sees the irony in referring to another person as a man-child.

And while picturing someone as elegant and sophisticated as Charlie being with someone as crass and foul as Kaleb was unsettling it also wasn’t that surprising because I could attest firsthand that Charlie had a soft-spot for damaged men.

Remember, she could have failed me on my Practical Exam in Core for being shitfaced but instead allowed me to pass, putting faith in me that I’d get myself straightened out before going onto The Floor.

So I thought her penchant for tending to wounded puppies was an admirable trait, albeit sooner or later one of those puppies was bound to bite her, but still, it’s good to know there’s people like Charlie in the world who will take care of those of us who aren’t always good at taking care of ourselves.  

And regardless of Kaleb’s opinion of her, which no doubt stemmed from his ego being bruised, I still held her in high regard thinking she was a kind and authentic person.  

That being said, there was still one question burning in my mind like a California wildfire.

“What was she like in bed?”

“HA! She was-“

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

“She’s here.” Kaleb says limping towards the door.  

“Who’s here? And what about Charlie?”

“My girlfriend is here. And forget about Charlie.”

“How can I forget about what it’s like to have sex with Charlie?”

“Easy, I did until you just asked me.” he says as he gets to the door and something more important than Charlie’s bedroom performance crosses my mind.  

“HEY!!!” I scream.

“Jesus, what?”

“How’d your girlfriend get to the door without having to wait at the gate?”

“She has the code to open it.”

“Why didn’t you give me the code so I didn’t have to stand out there all day?”

“You didn’t ask.”

As he opens the door in walks a very tall, very attractive, slender lady with long, auburn red hair, milk white skin and emerald eyes that twinkle, a far cry from the sloppy, behemoth, beast of a woman I was expecting to see judging by all the food I was told to bring here on her behalf.  

Upon looking at her one question gnaws at my brain:   

How is Kaleb able to attract such hot women?

First Charlie and now this girl? Seriously, what was his fucking secret?

A filthy home?

Filthy clothes?

Filthy attitude?

If I wasn’t so dumbfounded I’d be crying at the injustice of it all. 

Clad in a sports bra that shows off her hourglass tummy and a pair of yoga pants that accentuate her lean legs, she hops her way around Kaleb’s wrecked apartment like a gazelle leaping on the plains of the Serengeti.

And as she springs into the kitchen and moves around in a slinky and seductive way I ask myself how it is I know this girl because there’s an eerie familiarity about her but I can’t quite put my finger on it.  

Meanwhile she’s putting her fingers on every piece of food by picking and nibbling at it much to Kaleb’s dismay because he is a germaphobe after all.      

“Don’t touch the food with your hands, they could be dirty!” he yells, shuffling into the kitchen.

“My hands are the cleanest thing in this landfill.” she says, grabbing the quesadilla and biting into it.

“And why didn’t you take your shoes off?”   

“Because I don’t wanna get gangrene.” she says with a mouthful of tortilla, cheese and lobster.

“You know I hate it when you don’t follow the rules.”

“Your rules are goofier than a clown on acid.”

Kaleb gives her a plate and fork and she dishes a pile of food onto it commenting how happy she is that everything she loves has been ordered for her.

And as she shovels it all in her mouth like she’s a contestant in an eating contest I wonder how she’s able to keep such a lean and striking figure.

I tell myself it has to be the result of either bulimia, cocaine or obsessive exercise…or a combination of all three, commonly referred to as the L.A. diet.     

“Who’re you?” she asks me while cramming half an enchilada in her mouth.

“I’m-“

“This is Stuke, the guy from school I told you about.”

“Oh right, you’re here to learn how to do a blow-job.”

Blow dry.” Kaleb says correcting her.

“Same difference.” she tells him.

“Huge difference, you should know.” he says, dipping a chip in guac.

“You don’t have to be rude, Hobbit.”

“Hobbit?” I ask.

“Yeah, that’s his nickname cuz he’s always hobblin’ around like one of those poorly dressed midgets in that movie about the rings.”

I burst out laughing at the pure accuracy of this.

“Fuckin’ funny isn’t it?” she chortles with a mouthful of food while Kaleb shakes his head and loads another chip with guac.

It was becoming clear that the reason these two were together had less to do with their opposite exteriors and everything to do with their synonymous interiors. Two peas in a pod gleefully pissing on one another.      

“Hurry up and finish so you can wash your hair and we can get started.” he tells her.

“Fine.” she says with a roll of her eyes.  

She finishes her food and then goes to the bathroom to wash her hair.

“And don’t forget to clean your hair out of the drain!” he screams.

“Blah blah fucking blah.” she yells back from behind the door.

“What a malcontent.” he complains.

“She looks really familiar.” I tell him.

“She’s an actress.”

“Yeah? Anything I would’ve seen her in?”

“Depends on what you watch.”

I tell myself I must’ve seen her in some random show on one of those worthless channels like Syfy, Lifetime or CNN.

Yet I still have that unshakable feeling I know her from somewhere else.  

She comes back with a towel wrapped around her head and sits in the lawn chair. Kaleb has me take the towel off and comb through her hair while Calvin jumps up on her lap and purrs.

“Aww, Calvin, you purr as pretty as my own pussy.”

“Did you bring product?” Kaleb asks me.

“No.”

“Why not? You can’t do a good blow dry without product.” he says and then goes to his hall closet.

“You didn’t tell me to bring product. You told me to bring my gear and food.”

“Thanks for doing that by the way.” his girlfriend says. “Although it’s gonna keep Kaleb on the shitter all night cuz he’s got irritable bowel syndrome.”

“Babe! What the fuck?” Kaleb says while digging around in his closet until he finds a couple bottles and tosses them at me. “You know I don’t like you talking about that to people!”

“Ugh, the big speech.” she says to Calvin as she pets him.

“Seriously, keep that shit to yourself.” he says scolding her.

“Uh that’s something you should work on doing, isn’t that right Calvin? Yeah, daddy with all his poopie problems might have to start using your litter box.”

“I’d kill myself if I didn’t have a crippling fear of pain.” he tells me. “Now put both products in her hair and make sure you disperse them evenly.”  

I do what I’m told while his girlfriend continues to stroke Calvin’s back.

“Next you wanna section her hair into quadrants so whatever you’re not working on stays out of your way.” he shows me how to section the hair properly and then moves to the next part.

“Now you’re gonna take a sub-section from the quadrant you’re working on and make sure it’s no wider than the width of your brush.”

I do this and wait to hear what follows.   

“Start at the root and use maximum tension because if you don’t it’ll fuck everything up, leaving you with a ball of frizz. Also make sure you keep your dryer and your brush parallel at all times.”

I place my round brush at her root and my dryer parallel to it and then start blow drying.

“That’s not enough tension. Seriously, yank the shit out of it, if it hurts the client, trust me, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, pull as hard as you can and make sure she keeps her neck stiff for resistance, that’s the key to a successful blow dry.”

“I don’t mind if you pull my hair, Stewie.” she says.

“It’s Stuke.”

“Snoopy?”

“Stuke!”

“Sure, sure. Like I said, I don’t mind, it feels good. Isn’t that right, Calvin? Yes! I love having my hair pulled.”  

I pull and tug on her hair making sure I’m employing maximum tension.

“Keep spinning the brush for shine.” he says.

While keeping tension, pulling and spinning are hard to do all at the same time, I manage.

“Okay, now when you get to the ends twirl the brush away from her face.”

As I do this I have no doubt that I look as awkward as a baby horse trying to walk its first steps but I’m able to pull it off.  

“Perfect.” he says as my body fills up with the joy of accomplishment and the feeling that I can be taught to do something and do it good.

“Now take another sub-section and do it all again.”

I repeat what I did, pulling, yanking, spinning and twirling, section after section, all the while trying to remember where it is I’ve seen his girlfriend before.

And as I finish the last sub-section of my first quadrant I’ve become more confident in applying tension and yanking, doing it with an almost barbaric sort of strength.

This in turn makes her head bob and as she stiffens her neck up to maintain resistance little moans escape her mouth, not ones of discomfort but as if she’s enjoying it.

And the more I pull, and yank the more she resists and moans and squiggles around in her chair.

And then…it hits me all at once.

I know how I know her. I know why she looks so familiar.  

And from this point on I lose all sense of concentration and focus on the task at hand.    

Fear & Loathing in the Valley of the Doll-heads

Chapter 21

Tuesday

“Do you know what a game reserve is?” Kaleb asks as I put a cape around my 30-something yr. old client named Tiffany who I just washed out.

“A place where animals are kept so people can pay money to hunt them.”

“Exactly.”

“What about ‘em?” I ask, combing through Tiffany’s long, thick hair. 

“That’s how you need to start looking at all of this…” he says, pointing out towards The Floor “As a game reserve. But instead of paying money to fuck-up animals, you’re paying money to fuck-up people’s hair.”

“Excuse me?” Tiffany says, turning to give Kaleb the stink eye as I try to section her hair out.

“Sit still unless you’re told otherwise.” he tells her as he turns her head back to face the mirror.

“Correct me if I’m wrong but shouldn’t I be worried about not fucking-up people’s hair?” I ask.

“I mean, you shouldn’t be intentionally tryingto fuck-up their hair, ahem, Madison, but you also shouldn’t be afraid to accidentally fuck-up their hair from making mistakes.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. And do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Yeah, I’m dying to know why.” Tiffany says full of sarcasm as she turns to look at Kaleb again.     

“I just told it to sit still but it keeps moving.” Kaleb tells me as he forces her head back towards the mirror. 

“I have a name you know.”

Kaleb shrugs his shoulders at her then continues.     

“ANYWAY, what I was gonna say is there’s a huge space between where you’re at and where you wanna be and mistakes are what fill that space…like lots of them…in your case, an obscene amount.”

“Okaaaaaay.” I tell him as I clip up Tiffany’s hair.  

“So give yourself permission to make all the mistakes you need to learn and let the clients worry about themselves because at the end of the day they’re just doll-heads.”

“I don’t agree with anything you just said.” Tiffany weighs in with an angry voice.  

“Not that I care but why?” Kaleb asks.

“Because I don’t want the person doing my hair to think it’s ok to make a mistake. I want them to do a good job! I’m not some doll-head!  I’m a paying customer!”

“You realize it costs more money to park here than it does to get a haircut.” Kaleb says with a snicker.

“So? That doesn’t mean I’m ok with someone messing my hair up.”

“Actually you signed a waiver saying you’re totally ok with someone messing your hair up.”

This statement weakens Tiffany’s argument because it’s 100% true and she knows it.

Every client that comes into the school is required to sign a waiver that says if they’re not happy with the service or incur bodily harm during the service that they can’t hold the school, its teachers or its students liable.

“Yeah, but-“

“But nothing.” Kaleb says, cutting her off as he digs in his pocket and pulls out a squished up piece of gum, dusts the lint off it then plops it in his mouth.    

“Skydiving, bungee jumping, running with the bulls, all of those require you to sign a waiver because they’re risky activities and here at Paul Mitchell getting your hair done is a risky activity. Hence; the waiver.”

“That shouldn’t be a reason for a teacher to encourage their student to screw-up.”  

“Here’s the thing, he’s a student who’s learning and you’ve agreed to let him learn on you because, well, you’re a cheapskate.” Kaleb says while smacking his gum.

“I am not a cheapskate!” Tiffany yells while bobbing her head back and forth.  

“Yes you are but that’s ok because whatever he messes up I’ll fix and I promise you you’ll walk outta here looking like a Chanel model even though you’re a Walmart shopper. Now if you’re finished I’d like to get him started because he takes for-ever.”

“It’s true, I do.”

Tiffany looks at Kaleb with an expression that says this guy is the biggest asshole to ever walk the face of the Earth…and he’s also spot-on with what he just said.         

“FINE.” she eventually says and settles into the chair as Kaleb goes over the first part of the cut with me which is her perimeter length.  

After making me repeat his instructions back to him verbatim he has me start.

Thirty minutes later he comes back to check on my progress.

“Well?”

“I just finished, give it a look.”

He goes through it then looks at me like he’s just been diagnosed with a terminal disease.  

“What?”  

“I never knew so many mistakes could be made in regard to one task.”

“I thought you said I could make an obscene amount of mistakes and it’d be ok!”

“Obscene yeah, but this is beyond obscene. This is like…a snuff film.”

“Oh my god, seriously!?” Tiffany says with panic.

“Quiet.” Kaleb tells her.

“Well what did I do wrong?” I ask.

“If I went over everything that’s wrong we’d be here for a month.”   

“UGH!” I yell out while looking up at the ceiling wishing it would come crashing down on top of me.

“Relax. I’ll just go over the three major mistakes you made so we can get outta here before the sun burns out.”   

He goes over my mistakes while at the same time effortlessly fixing everything.  

Next he instructs me on how I’m supposed to do her layers by cutting a small section as my guide and then leaving me to it.      

45 minutes later he comes back.

“You’re not finished? I even gave you EXTRA time! What’s taking so long?” he asks.

“Me and my guide keep getting lost in all this hair, I feel like I’m trapped inside that maze from The Shinning.” I say, backing away from Tiffany’s mane like it’s some sort of insidious entity.

“Okay.” he says, yanking my sheers and comb from me and finishing up the entire cut to keep us running on time so I don’t miss my first Theory Class which starts in 30 minutes.

“Now go ahead and give her a blow-out and make sure it’s smooth, shiny and silky.”

“Ok.”

20 minutes later he comes back and finds me tangled up in her hair as if it were an octopus attacking its prey.

“I told you to blow her hair out not try to crawl inside of it!”

“It keeps getting caught up in the brush and somehow I keep getting caught up with it!”

He helps free me and my brush from the bondage of her locks and then looks over the one section of hair I was able to blow-out before getting snared up in it.

“There’s nothing smooth, silky or shiny about this.”  

“No?”

“God no. Didn’t Charlie teach you guys how to blow-dry in Core?”

“Maybe, but I was drunk 90% of the time so who knows.”

“Are you drunk now?”

“No. I told myself I’d stay sober…god knows why though.”

“Then you really have no reason for this looking like a stool sample.”

“HEY!!!” Tiffany protests.

“Watch…” he says as he grabs my round brush and dryer. “It’s all about clean sections, proper elevation and maximum tension.” he yells over the din of the dryer as he takes control of her hair.  

A few minutes later he’s finished and it’s smooth, silky, shiny and Chanel catwalk ready.  

“Oh my god it looks AMAZING!” Tiffany says in astonishment.  

“Told you so.” Kaleb brags, tearing the cutting cape away from her and sashaying it like a matador with his muleta.   

“This is the best it’s ever looked.” she says, admiring it in the mirror and then turning to Kaleb with the doey-eyed adoration of a groupie in the company of her favorite rockstar.

“I know.” he tells her, taking his gum out of his mouth and sticking it under the station.

“You think maybe I could get your number?” she says, twirling a finger in her hair.

“Why?”  

“To do my hair again…or other things.” she says with a smirk.

“Hahahahahahahaha-NO. You’re excused.” Kaleb says, brushing away her and her advances.

“Asshole.” she says under her breath as she grabs her purse and heads to the front desk to pay.

“Ok…” Kaleb says turning to me. “It looks like the first thing we need to focus on is the last thing that’s done in a cut which are your blow-drying skills…or lack thereof.”

“What good are blow-drying skills if I don’t even know how to cut?”

“They’re good because even if you give a flawless cut but the blow-dry sucks then it all looks like shit. AND, if you do a shitty cut…which I foresee a lot of those happening in your future, then a good blow-dry can at least cover it up.”

“Really?”

“No, I’m just saying that to hear the sound of my own voice.”

“I believe that.”  

“Anyhow, starting tomorrow I’m gonna start picking your clients and will only give you those that come in for a blow-out.”

“You can do that?”

“Has it not become clear that I can do whatever I want?”

“I didn’t know you had so much executive power.” I say, throwing my gear in my kit.

“You have it by taking it and you take it by not asking.”

“Has that mantra always served you?”

“Thus far. Now get into your Theory class and hope you’re better in there than you are out here.”

Wednesday

Staying true to his word Kaleb brings me a blow-out client in her 60’s who wears her hair short and her muumuu dress long. After I wash her out he explains the technique that he wants me to employ.

“Now because her hair is shorter I want you to flat wrap it using your-“

“Flat wrap brush?”

“Bingo.”

“Okay, just one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I’ve never used it before and I don’t know how to flat wrap.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Did that sound like a joke?”

“I mean it sounds like your whole time in Core was a joke if Charlie never showed you something as basic as a flat wrap.”

“Like I said, I was drunk during most of Core but I absolutely, positively know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have never touched this brush before nor have I ever performed a flat wrap.”

“I have no idea how Charlie is able to maintain her position here…actually…I take that back. I know exactly how she’s able to.”

“You have my attention.”

“Mine too.” my client adds.

“Because she’s little Miss fucking Sunshine, that’s why.” he says with enough bitterness to knock over a horse.

“Whoa! Do I detect a hint of anger there?”

“I sure do.” my client says.

“Anything you wanna share with the group?” I ask him.

“No.” he says, shaking his disheveled hair. “Besides, it’s best she didn’t show you or else you’d have a litany of bad habits I’d have to correct anyway so you’re better off learning from a professional.”

“Oh la-la, a professional.” my client says as she shimmies her broad shoulders.   

Kaleb demonstrates the way I’m supposed to brush her hair upwards against the round of her head to create smoothness and volume while making sure my dryer stays parallel with my brush.

After he’s done with his demonstration he leaves me to my own devices.

After about 10 min into it I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realize I look like a chimpanzee painting a picture.

My arms are flailing, my back is hunched over and there’s no specific order to what it is I’m doing.

Just a monkey with his brush painting his picture and by the looks of my client’s hair, that picture is god awful.  

“What the hell is this?” Kaleb asks when he checks-in on me 15 min later, poking at her hair like it’s some sort of alien substance.  

“A flat wrap?”

“This isn’t a flat wrap, this is a crime scene.” he says looking petrified. “She looks like Nick Nolte’s mug shot.” 

“I don’t wanna be a victim at a crime scene and looking like Nick Nolte is just that.” My client says as she tries to get up to leave. 

“I can’t let you go looking like this.” Kaleb says, nudging her back in the seat. “Let’s spray you down and try it again.” he tells her, grabbing my spray bottle and drenching her before she can escape.   

Once he’s finished re-wetting her he positions himself up against me, putting his hands over mine like a marionette master and moving my body, the dryer and the brush in the direction he wants them all to go.

This gives me an opportunity to learn first-hand how a flat wrap is to be performed.

It also gives every Future Professional on The Floor a first-hand opportunity to get video of this and post it to Facebook with all sorts of really awesome captions attached to it.

“That was an exhilarating experience.” my client says after Kaleb and I are finished with our donkey dance and he’s spritzing her with hairspray. 

“Oh yeah?” he says, molding her hair with his fingers.   

“Yeah, it reminded me of a threesome I had at Studio 54 back in ’82…or was it ’83? I was on so many Quaaludes it’s hard to remember.” she says, getting up from the chair and winking at us both before heading to the front desk.  

“Well did you at least get a feel for how a flat wrap is supposed to be done?”

“The only thing I felt was like you were trying to mount me from behind. I’m 1000% traumatized.”

“Good. Trauma can be a great motivator.”

Thursday

Kaleb brings me a teenager with wavy, shoulder length hair who wants it blown out straight and smooth. It ends up being one big ball of frizz.

“Did you use any leave-in products?” he asks, looking at her hair like it’s an abomination to humanity.

“Just one.”

“Then you’re definitely not using enough products.” he says, spraying her down, throwing in a bunch of product and then having me start all over again, ending up with almost the same result after an hour and a half.

Friday

Kaleb has a woman with fine hair sit in my chair who wants a blow-dry with volume and lift.

“Why is her hair flat against her head?” he asks when he comes over to check on us.

“I don’t know, I used a shit-ton of product.”

“Oh my god.” he says, trying to run his hands through her sticky hair. “You’re using too much product.”

“Yesterday you said I wasn’t using enough!”

“It depends on each person’s hair type and texture!”

“Well you didn’t tell me that yesterday.”

“I thought you’d know!”

“How am I supposed to know all the nuances when I barely know the basics?”

“Ugh, take her back to the bowl and wash all this crap out then I’ll show you what to use and how to achieve the look she wants.”

Saturday

Kaleb drops a young lady off at my station with long hair who wants bounce and shine.

Two hours later neither of those things have happened but she has sworn to me that she will never come to the school again.

Kaleb intercedes and saves the day.

Before she leaves she advises me on seeking a career in a different field, preferably a field that needs ditches dug in it.

“It’s come to my attention that you need a lot more help than I’m able to give you at school.” he says as I take a seat in my chair and sink all the way into it.

“That’s what I told you last week.”

“I know and I was trying to be optimistically skeptical but I’ve since realized you’re in dire need of a lot of help.”

“So does that mean you’re gonna like, tutor me?”

“It does. But you can’t mention it to anyone because-“

“Paul Mitchell prohibits students and teachers co-mingling outside of school.”

“Precisely. What’s your number?”

I tell him and he texts me his home address.

“Come by at noon tomorrow with your dryer, round brush and some clips and we’ll spend all day working on your blow-drys if we have to but it won’t be free.” he says as he continues to type on his phone.

“No problem, how much?”

“I just sent you my price.” he says as my phone buzzes with a new text message. I open it up and look at it.

“This is a food order…from Casa Vega…and it’s enough to feed 10 people.”

“I know. Every Sunday my girlfriend likes to order a bunch of food from there.”

“You have a girlfriend?”

“Is that so hard to believe?”

“In a word; yes.”

“Well believe it because she’s gonna be your blow-dry model all day tomorrow and for as many Sundays as it’s going to take to teach you how to do it effectively and efficiently.”

“Cool. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. Be there at 12pm on the dot and don’t be late because I hate, hate, hate waiting around for people.”

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.”

Club Kill Yourself

Chapter 19

“You’re gonna cut your fist section in the back, straight across, at the top of her shoulders and that’ll be your guide. After that you’re gonna drop a ¼” section over your guide, cut that and then so on until you reach the apex of her head.” My Learning Leader Kaleb yells at me over all the noise on The Floor.

 “When you’re finished with that, and I’m finished fixing all your mistakes, we’ll move to the next part of the cut, comprende?”

“Ok.” I say in a dazed stupor, feeling like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi, that semi being my first haircut ever on another human being.  

“Are you sure you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?” he asks with a scowl. “Because you look more confused than an armless guy watching porn.”

“I’m sure.”

“You sure you’re sure.” he says while sectioning and clipping up my client’s hair who was a 10yr old girl named Madison.     

“Yeah…I think.”

“You think?”

“I’m fine.” 

“Fine stands for F’d up, insecure, neurot-“

“I know what it stands for!” I yell at Jimbo who’s trying to heckle me from the next station over where she’s waiting on Kaleb to get her started with her own client.      

“I’m good.” I say, turning back to Kaleb.  

“Ok, because the last thing I wanna do is come back here in 5 minutes to help you because you’re ‘stuck’ or ‘forgot something’ or ‘retarded’.”

It was Saturday, the first day I and the rest of my class were official Adaptives, having been moved from the confines of the Core Room out into the gen-pop of The Floor and the differences couldn’t have been more striking.            

While the Core Room was comparable to a nursery of newborns peacefully sleeping, The Floor was comparable to a nursery of newborns being hacked apart by a buzz saw.       

It was loud, chaotic and fast-paced with blow dryers roaring, clients yelling and staff and students running around like an active shooter was on the loose.

In addition to that The Floor also had multiple Learning Leaders on it instead of one centralized leader like in Core.

This was because The Floor housed 50 stations, making it impossible for one person to oversee 50 different services happening simultaneously. 

So the stations were divided into 5 rows with 10 stations to a row, each row having its own Learning Leader. 

The Leader for the row my class was on was a guy named Kaleb, a 20-something malcontent who looked like Gerard Way circa 2004 if Way had bad posture, wore black hipster glasses and sported a child molester’s mustache. 

Kaleb was cranky, ill-behaved and had more snark than a squad of high school cheerleaders…he also happened to be the school’s most talented cutter.

Having been trained at Sassoon and then studying for a year in London under the world’s most prestigious stylists, Kaleb was a god when it came to cutting hair and he knew it. This is why the only thing that surpassed his talent was his ego, and his utter disdain for all mankind.     

But since Kaleb knew cutting inside and out the school not only gave him a pass for his acute sense of assholery but also put him in charge of preparing and overseeing each group of new Adaptives for their maiden voyage out on The Floor.

This meant I and the rest of my class had been stuck in a room with him for the past 4 days watching cutting videos and practicing on our doll heads in preparation for that voyage under his sneering and scornful tutelage.      

This also explains why he was the Learning Leader assigned to our row—so he could continue to supervise and terrorize us which only added fuel to my already burning fire of fear and distress in regard to giving my first haircut.    

Because even though I’d spent the past week watching videos and practicing on a doll head I still felt unprepared and insecure, like I wasn’t really sure what it was that I was supposed to be doing. 

Plus, there was a HUGE difference between cutting hair on a doll head and cutting hair on a person and that difference was this:   

Doll heads don’t have opinions. 

People do.

And people aren’t afraid to express those opinions when it comes to getting a shitty haircut by way of vicious verbal abuse.         

And while I didn’t think my 10yr old client Madison was capable of lashing me with her tongue that still didn’t do anything to lessen all the stress eating away at me as if I’d been thrown into a Cartel container full of flesh-dissolving acid.  

Because what I wanted more than anything was for my first haircut to be a positive experience.

Problem was, I had zero experience and that put a nail-biting fear in me that Madison’s haircut would end up looking like one big pile of dog shit and that I would end up looking like one big fucking idiot.     

Plus, if all that wasn’t enough to keep me twisted up in ten-thousand ways, I’d also decided to stop drinking so I could start this next chapter of school stone-cold-sober.

Charlie had warned me about the dangers of my substance abuse and that if I didn’t get a grip on it then it would get a grip on me, dragging me down to a place that I wouldn’t be able to get up from.         

So I decided moving forward that I’d refrain from diluting myself with alcohol despite how challenging it might be at times…this exact moment being one of those times.

And as Kaleb went on instructing me about Madison’s haircut all I could do was think about needing a drink to smooth out all the jagged edges of anxiety that were piercing me from the inside out and muzzle all the voices of panic and self-doubt that were screaming like banshees in between my ears.         

“So go ahead and start.” Kaleb says, snapping me back to reality.

“Ok.” I tell him as he hobbles over to Jimbo’s station, leaving me alone with my inescapable dread and Madison’s long, one-length hair that she wants cut at her shoulders with layers.  

“How’s it goin’?” I say as I nervously comb through her mousy-brown locks, trying to prepare myself to cut them.

“What was your name?” she asks in a sweet, squeaky voice.

“Stuke.”         

“Hey, Stuke?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you know what the fuck you’re doing?”

“What!?” I ask, taken aback by her use of a word that’s normally reserved for teens and beyond.    

“I said, do you know what the fuck you’re doing?”

“Uh yeah.” I say with a scoff, knowing full well that I don’t know what it is I’m doing.       

“You’re not gonna make me look like some ratched ass, dick-sucking street whore are you?”

“Uhhhh…” was all I could say while being showered with all the free-flowing filth from this girl’s gutter-mouth.

“Because I am an actress and I can’t go on auditions with shitty fucking hair.”

Oh fuck me in the neck. 

Of all the people I could’ve gotten I end up with a 10yr old with turrets who’s ALSO an actress.

Fucking L.A.

As if my nerves weren’t frayed enough already this kid has just grounded them down into a fine powder.

Because I knew if I so much as cut one hair on her head the wrong way then this little foul-mouth monstrosity would slice me apart limb from limp using words as her weapon.  

So much for thinking she lacked the ability to lacerate me with her tongue.      

“Look, nothing bad is gonna happen to your hair, ok?”

“You promise?”

“I promise. And do your parents know you’ve got a mouth dirtier than Nicki Minaj?”

“They say that’s ok because it allows me to express myself freely and that’s what makes a great actor.”

“How supportive.” I tell her as I position myself behind the chair, take a deep breath, hope for the best

AND…

…cut my very first section ever.   

I take a step back and look at it.

The guideline is sitting at the top of her shoulders where Kaleb said it should be. 

“Not bad.” I say to myself.  

I drop another ¼” section and then cut that over the previous section and again, it looks good, good enough to make me think that maybe I was over thinking this whole thing and that maybe all my dread, self-doubt and anxiety were for nothing.    

A sense of calm comes over me and I start to feel like maybe my first haircut will turn out to be a positive experience after all.       

“I just finished shooting The Muppets movie.” she brags as I drop another section and comb through it. 

“Really.” I say with zero interest. 

“Yeah, the director said I’m a natural.”

“Natural what?” I ask as I begin cutting the next section with growing confidence. 

“Actor, duh.” She says, jolting her head up and back in an effort to face me while I’m still cutting her hair, causing me to lop off WAY MORE than I was supposed to at a severely JACKED-UP ANGLE.

“He said I’m the classiest lady he’s ever worked with.” she says as I stare in disbelief at the fucked-up section of hair that’s dangling from her head.  

“What’s wrong?” she asks, reading the expression on my face.

“Nothing.” I tell her, having no idea how to handle a mistake like this because it was never covered in any of the videos I’d watched this week. 

“Are you sure?” she says, turning to look at herself in the mirror.

“Positive.” I tell her as I spin the chair around so she’s facing the wall instead of the mirror.  

“What the hell’d you do that for?”

“I just wanted to see how pretty your face looks with your hair’s new length.”

“Oh.” she says, perking up like she’s ready for a close-up. “How do I look?”

“Spectacular.” I tell her. “So much so that I wanna show Kaleb.”

“Rad.” she says, throwing devil horns in the air when in all actuality they belong on her head.  

“Stay right here and don’t move a muscle because you look perfect, ok?”

“No problem, I can hold a pose for-fucking-ever.”

“Great.” I say as I run down the row where Kaleb is helping Bree, the waif-thin blonde girl from our class who had a death wish with Dusti last week. 

“I don’t know what else to say.” he tells her as I run up. “I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.”

“Yeah, well you don’t have to keep calling me a shitbrick while doing it! Who do you think you are?”

“I’m the guy that doesn’t get paid enough to put up with people like you and if you have a problem with my language-“ 

“It’s very inappropriate language, young man.” her elderly client says, interrupting his spiel.  

“Look…” he says to the both of them. “You may not agree with my teaching style, but…” he trails off as he notices me standing there.

“But what?!” Bree asks.

“Did you forget something because you’re retarded?” he asks me, completely ignoring Bree.

“BUT WHAT???” she yells. 

“Worse.” I tell him.        

“That sounds way sexier than this.” he says, grabbing me and heading towards my station, abandoning Bree and her client.   

“Kaleb! You can’t just leave me!!!” she cries.   

“I can and I did.” 

“What about my client!?”

“What about her? It’s a $12 haircut for a reason.”

 As we get to my station Kaleb sees Madison’s hair and his eyes bulge wide enough to fill up the frame of his glasses.

“WOW.” he says. “How did-“

“She turned her head while I was cutting her…” I whisper to him. “And she has no idea.” 

“Don’t I look pretty?” she asks him as he gawks at the damage.

“Pretty awful.”

“What?”

“He meant to say awfully pretty.” I tell her with a fake smile.

“But I wanna make you look prettier.” he says, motioning for me to hand him my comb and sheers. 

“Kaleb! I need your help!” Jimbo screams at him.

“You need shock therapy.” he tells her as he combs Madison’s hair and gets ready to cut it. “Ok, kido…” he tells her. “Change of plans, we’re gonna cut your hair shorter.”

“THE HELL WE ARE YOU FUDGE-PACKING ANAL TROLL!!!” she screams, thrashing around in the chair like the girl from The Exorcist in an attempt to stay out of his reach.  

“Whoa, what cradle of filth did you crawl out of?” he says, jumping back in awe. 

“One where my hair isn’t short! I’m an actress and if my hair is too short then I won’t be in any more movies so if you think you’re gonna cut off more than I asked for then you can go fuck yourself inside out!”

“Oh, dude, I forgot to mention that she’s an actress” I tell him with air quotes as he stands there rubbing his chin, trying to figure out how best to deal with Rosemary’s Baby*.

“Here’s the thing…” he says after a few minutes of contemplation.  

“We can keep your hair long but that’s gonna make you look really fat and you and I both know fat girls don’t get parts for movies.”

This catches her attention and dials her down.

 “So if you wanna keep it the way it is instead of going shorter that’s fine, just know you’re gonna look fat and end up sitting on your couch instead of being in the movies.”  

I stand there shocked that he just fat shamed a little girl in an attempt to gain her compliance.

Granted, she was a diabolical little girl but a little girl nonetheless who would now, no doubt, suffer a lifetime of eating disorders and body dysmorphia as a result of Kaleb’s reprehensible strategy.

Still, as reprehensible as his strategy was…

“I don’t wanna look fat, go shorter.”  

It worked.

He bends down and recuts her hair to a new length making everything look crisp, clean and a lot shorter.

“I need you NOW!!!!” Jimbo yells at him. 

“Hold your horses.” he says, finishing up on Madison. “Better yet, let ‘em go so they can trample you.”

“You’re kinda funny.” Madison tells him, realizing that he’s just as awful to people as she is.

“I’m not kidding, Kaleb, NOW!!!” Jimbo shouts.

“No, I need you now!” Bree hollers at him.

“The hell you do!” Jimbo fires back.

“Go to hell, Jimbo!” Bree screams.

“GIRL, I AM HELL!!!” Jimbo roars.   

Kaleb finishes with Madison, stands upright and then takes in the chaos igniting around him.  

“I should’ve followed my uncle’s advice and been in waste management.” he laments, handing me my comb and sheers. 

“Get over here!” Jimbo barks at him.

“Seriously, if Sons of Anarchy wasn’t on tonight I’d just go home and shoot myself in the face…get me when you’re finished with the back.” he says, trudging over to Jimbo and still leaving Bree high-n-dry.           

I stand there combing Madison’s hair over and over again in an attempt to keep from having to cut it.

After seeing just how easy things can go south I’m terrified to go on for fear of another calamity.

Only fifteen minutes into my first haircut and I’m already suffering from PTSD.   

“Are you gonna cut my hair or watch it grow?” she asks.

“I just wanna be careful.”

“Can’t you be careful any faster? My ass is starting to go numb.”

I finally muster the courage to continue with the cut and an hour later I’m finished, feeling like I just passed a kidney stone. But beings I still have the front, sides and layers left that means more stones are on their way.

“I’ll be back.” I tell her as I go looking for Kaleb so he can show me how to do the next part of the cut.

“Jesus Christ!” she yells. “You know, I’d like to get outta here before I’m old enough to get an abortion!”

I turn around and look at her with complete astonishment and amazement, thinking this is exactly the type of thing that happens when parents allow their 10yr old child actor to express themselves freely without oversight or guidance:

They end up screaming about abortions in public.

“What?” she asks shamelessly.      

I shake my head at her and hunt for Kaleb, finding him at Bode’s station checking Bode’s cut on a middle aged woman who has bleach-blonde hair and is wearing an outfit that belongs in a 1987 Whitesnake video.     

“Hey, Stuke, how’s it going?” Bode asks all excited. 

“It’s still going.” I say exhausted. “What’d you do to your client?”

“She wanted choppy rocker layers!”

“Nice.”  

“Looks good.” Kaleb tells him. “Go ahead and blow dry her.”

“Ok! And when I’m finished can I use a towel and some spray wax to tease her hair up like Nikki Sixx?”

“Uhhhh…sure?” Kaleb says with total indifference.

“Awesome, man, thanks! It’s gonna look so good! I can’t wait for you to see it!”

“Umm, ok.” Kaleb mutters as he walks me back to my station. “I’ve never seen someone so excited about layers before, what a wiener.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know. How’s the back of your girl’s head look?”

“It looks short, how else should it look?”

“Is it even?”

“Even what?”

“Balanced.”

“Yeah. I don’t know. I guess…maybe. Who knows?”

“You don’t sound very sure.”

“I’m not sure about anything right now other than the fact that I hate doing this cut, hate my client and hate my fucking life.”

“Welcome to the club.” he says.

“What club is that?”

“Club kill yourself. Grab a seat and plan on staying awhile…like your entire career.”   

“Has anyone ever died from sitting in a chair for so fucking long?” Madison moans.  

“No but you can be the first.” Kaleb tells her as he inspects the cut.

“How’s it look?” I ask.

“Not bad if this were a hair school for the blind.” he says, grabbing my comb and sheers to fix my mistakes.

“Since you’ve been at this cut for an eternity I’m gonna go ahead and do the front and sides and then I’ll show you how to do the layers. Cool?”

“Cool.” I say emotionally drained, standing back and watching him with a sense of relief and regret. 

Relief because this is one less barefooted step I have to take over searing hot coals and regret because I obviously suck so bad at this that someone else has to intervene.

A minute later when he’s finished cutting her hair with the precision of a surgeon he goes over how to do the layers.

“Your elevation and hand positioning are key.” he says, taking a section of hair and holding it up at a specific angle and cutting it to be my guide. “If they don’t remain consistent your layers will be trash, ok?”

“Alright.” I tell him.

“You’re going to have a traveling guide so take pie-shaped sections and work your way around the head in a circle.”

“Wait, wait, wait…” Madison pipes up. “Can you just finish it all? Because this ass-clown is cutting years off my life with how long it’s taking him to do my hair.”

“No.” Kaleb says sternly.  

“Why not? I’m the client.”

“No you’re not.”

“Yes I am.”

“No, Stuke is the client, he’s the one paying thousands of dollars to learn how to cut hair. You’re just a talking doll head that needs its mouth washed out with Clorox.”

“That was rude, you ball-bag.” she says crossing her arms.

“So?” Kaleb says shuffling off as she gives him the finger.

“Just hurry the hell up.” She growls at me as I comb up a section of her hair, hold it at its designated angle against the guide Kaleb put in and then carefully cut.  

I continue to repeat that same action, slowly working my way around her head to ensure there’s no more mishaps. And while this strategy is good for the cut, it’s downright horrible for Madison and her lack of patience, civility and decency.       

“You know what?” she says as I hold up another section, making sure it’s even with my guide.     

“What?”  

“I need a tampon.”

“What the – WHY?” I say, dropping both my section and my guide in reaction to her outlandish comment.       

“Because you’ve kept me here for so long that I just hit puberty and started my period.”

I stand there wondering where the batteries are to this thing so I can take them out so it’ll stop talking.  

“Hopefully I’ll be done before you hit menopause.” I say, combing through her hair in an attempt to find my guide.     

“I watched a nature show yesterday where two sloths were mating and I thought they were slow but you take the fucking cake, Stuke.”

As I continue digging through her hair, both worn-out and frustrated, I realize I’ve got exactly three fucks left to give before I go bat-shit ballistic on this ball-breaking kid. 

“Well maybe if you kept your shitty comments to yourself I could get this done faster.” I snap back.   

3…

“Did you just cuss at me, Mr. Masturbator?”

2…

“Have you not been hearing the raw sewage spewing from your mouth all day?”

1…

“I can say whatever I want because it’s for my acting, you’re the one that’s supposed to be professional. But you’re right about me being here all day so why don’t you shut your dick holster and wrap things up huh?”

GONE.

I’d wanted to start this next stage of school by being a more responsible and grounded student, kicking it all off with an awesome haircut on my very first client and allowing that experience to be the benchmark for the rest of my time at Paul Mitchell.

But this little half-pint hellion and all her heckling, hollering and harassing had ripped those aspirations to shreds.

She’d done her best to sink her fangs into me and claw at my patience like they were an emotional scratching post, mincing them down until I’d gotten to the point of having zero fucks left to give.

And now that I was fresh out of fucks I didn’t care about my ambitions to be a better student moving forward.

I didn’t care about wanting my first haircut to be a positive experience.

And I didn’t care about Madison and her god-damn acting career.

All I cared about was indulging in some sort of justifiable destruction and since I couldn’t put a drink in my hand then the sheers that were already in them would have to do.  

At first I’d been tied-up in knots that my haircut on Madison would end up looking like one big pile of dog shit and that I would end up looking like an idiot.

But beings that she’d gone out of her way to make me feel like an idiot I figured I owed it to her to make her hair look like one big pile of dog shit.       

So with a mouthful of gritted teeth and hands full of rage I begin yanking up large swaths of her hair and chopping away at it with fierce and unapologetic reckless abandon.

And as that sweet release of anxiety, worry and pent up hostility came rushing out through every angry cut that I made I found myself not caring about how awful the consequences of my actions would look on Madison because after all,

It’s a $12 haircut for a reason…

*Rosemary’s Baby is the 1968 psychological horror film about Rosemary, a newlywed housewife whose struggling actor husband betrays her by allowing their Satan-worshiping neighbors to drug her so Beelzebub can rape and impregnate her.

In exchange for his pimping services the husband is awarded fame and fortune while Rosemary is awarded the responsibility of raising the Anti-Christ.

The film stars Mia Farrow as Rosemary who rocks an iconic pixie cut given to her by Vidal Sassoon at the cost of $5,000.00 (37k by today’s standards).

And while Farrow’s haircut became a global trend-setting look that’s still timeless to this day, that didn’t keep her real-life husband Frank Sinatra from getting his panties up in a wad about the extremely short length of his wife’s hair.

In addition to Sinatra hating Farrow’s hair he also demanded that she drop out of the movie to become a homemaker after ¾ of it had been filmed. When Farrow refused Sinatra filed for divorce and had the papers delivered to the movie’s set.

Funny how manly men can look like giant, cry-baby pussies with the passage of time, huh?

And speaking of pussies…

The critically-acclaimed film was directed by Roman Polanski who less than a decade later would take a page right out of his movie’s script and drug, rape and sodomize a 13yr old girl while she was under the influence of a controlled substance.

After being found guilty of these crimes Polanski fled to France where they don’t look down on that type of thing (Cuties anyone?) and since then has vigilantly avoided visiting any countries that are likely to extradite him back to the U.S. where he would most certainly be imprisoned, and given the criminal’s code of conduct on the inside, would be treated just as horribly as he treated that 13yr old years earlier.

Dark Horse

Chapter 18

My eyes pop open and I jolt upright, causing me to fall off my couch and onto the floor.

The TV is on, the sun is blaring and I’m still dressed in yesterday’s clothes.

I don’t know what time it is, what day I’m in or what type of shit I’ve done but what I do know is that while I was passed-out someone hammered a giant railroad spike into the back of my skull and whoever that person was they also brought along their cat so it could shit in my mouth.

I crawl around on all fours looking for my phone, finding it lodged between the couch’s cushions next to a couple of beer bottles, a pack of cigarettes and an empty Doritos bag.

That must’ve been some rager last night.

I turn on my phone and it tells me today is Friday and the time is 9:20 in the a.m.

I scratch my head and yawn as a vague feeling comes over me that there’s something important about today but since my brain is still swimming in the sea of alcohol I consumed I can’t quite put my finger on it.

And then it smacks me upside the head and I remember the significance of today, the weight of it all falling on me like a downpour of a million Honey Boo Boos.

My practical exam is today and it starts in 10 minutes…and it takes me 20 minutes to get to school.

FML

I jump to my feet and lose my balance, falling into my coffee table and sending all the bottles on it flying as well as a torrent of obscenities loud enough to wake the neighbors.

I cautiously get back up and try to figure out what I need to do in order to get out the door.

Since I’m in yesterday’s clothes and my shoes are still on that means I’m already dressed so that’s out of the way.

I look in the mirror and my hair is a mess but that’s nothing new so I’m good on that front too.

The only thing left is that I need to brush my teeth to get the taste of feline feces out of my mouth so I run to the bathroom and scrub them then follow it up with a huge shot of Listerine, swishing it as I run out to my car.

I race through the streets like the cops are chasing me, running red lights and blaring my horn at any pedestrians stupid enough to cross my path.

As I get within a block of school I realize I’m still swishing the Listerine so I hit my window button but just as I expunge the mouthwash the window gets stuck due to the advanced stages of ruin my car is in.

This results in the window and my shirt being covered in minty green goo.

I screech into the parking garage at exactly 9:30 a.m., leap out of my car with my hair kit in tow and run to the school, bursting through its doors at 9:31 a.m.

My model who is a friend of a friend and only agreed to do this on the condition that I buy her lunch and drinks afterwards is sitting in the waiting area tapping her foot and looking annoyed.

I say hello and grab her by the hand, leading her onto The Floor where everyone but me is set-up with their models and ready to go.

I find a spot next to Bode, have my model sit down and start throwing my things onto the station.

Charlie is on the other side of the room with a clipboard, checking each student’s station set-up to make sure it’s in accordance with state sanitation guidelines.

“You okay?” Bode asks as I set my shit up at a break-neck pace.

“Yeah, just drank a ‘lil too much last night.” I tell him while grabbing supplies out of my kit.

“You feel ok?”

“You know when a little kid colors a picture in a coloring book and it’s got all those wild strokes of color outside the lines?”

“Yeah.”

“I feel how that picture looks.” I tell him as I finish getting my station ready.

“You think you’ll do ok today?” he asks concerned as Charlie makes her way down our row.

I look at myself in the mirror.

My eyes are bloodshot, my shirt is stained with Dorito dust and mouthwash and I have a dumb expression tattooed on my face.

“Sure?” I say shrugging my shoulders.

“Good morning.” Charlie chirps as she inspects Bode’s station and I make last-minute adjustments to mine in an attempt to make it look like his because he always has his act together and me, well, I’m always me, forever a liability unto myself.

“Looks good.” Charlie tells him with a smile as she jots a score down on her clipboard then turns to me.

“Good morning, Stuke.”

“Hi, Charlie.” I tell her.

She scrunches her nose up and sniffs the air.

“Do you smell that?”

“What?”

“Something smells like…a distillery…and mouthwash.”

“I’ve never been to a distillery so I don’t know what one smells like but I did have a mouthwash incident on the way here so that’s on me, literally.”

“Stuke…you’re not drunk are you?” she probes, putting her face so close to mine that I can smell her bubblegum breath.

“No, but let’s say I was.”

“This exam is meant to simulate real working conditions and it’s unsafe to be working on a client with tools and chemicals if you’re impaired, so if you were intoxicated it could threaten your chances of passing.”

“Well I promise you I’m not only sober but I’m also safe.” I say, leaning up against my model as the chair she’s in swivels causing me to fall on top of her.

“Sorry about that.” I say as I straighten myself up and she gives me a dirty look.

“Let’s hope so because I really want you to pass.” Charlie says with a look of apprehension.

“Me too.”

She inspects my station, puts a mark on her clipboard and then strolls to the center of The Floor.

“Ok, everyone since your models are starting off with dry hair, our first procedure will be sectioning them for a perm. You have 10 minutes to complete this task.”

I start on my model and struggle with my coordination because my entire nervous system is saturated in booze. I end up doing a haphazard job and finishing up just as Charlie yells out “Time.”

She makes her way up and down the rows, grading everyone’s sectioning and then having them recite the 19-steps to a perm.

“Ok, Stuke…” she says as she grades my less than stellar perm sectioning. “Let’s hear your 19 steps.”

I open my mouth and…

Nothing.

I take a deep breath and try again.

“Uhhhh…” is all that comes out.

“I know you know the steps.”

“I know I know them too but my mind is drawing a total blank right now.”

“But we’ve been over them like a million times in class.”

“Well then can I use one of those million times as a credit right now?”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

I try again.

“Uhhhh….you know what?”

“What?”

“No one has gotten a perm since the cast of Different Strokes was alive and relevant so is it really that important for me to know the steps in doing one?” I ask in a last-ditch effort to wiggle out of this web I’ve weaved myself in.

“I know they aren’t popular but it’s part of the school’s curriculum and if you can’t complete this then it could fail you.”

I stand there wondering if all the headway I’ve made since I started was about to be undone due to the fact that I couldn’t recite the 19 steps of performing an ancient and antiquated service.

Was I going to be forced to repeat Core because my mind had suddenly locked-up and kept me from saying something I’d said countless times before without issue?

I felt panic and then I felt pissed as a deep and disappointing anger came over me.

I was angry that I’d allowed myself to drink so much last night and angry that this time might be the time that I really fucked myself with my recklessness behavior.

“C’mon, Stuke.” Charlie says, looking at her watch. “We’ve got a lot more to get to.”

“Ok.” I tell her, wondering how I’m going to pull something off that isn’t on in the first place.

And then Bode starts humming the melody to Danger Zone, the song we’d put the perm steps to a few weeks ago.

I close my eyes and listen to it then fall effortlessly into singing the steps like some idiot savant, making it all the way to the end without missing a step or saying it out of order.

Tragedy averted.

“Made it through with your wingman.” Charlie says, making another mark on her clipboard.

The next procedures we’re tasked with are single and double color process applications followed by highlighting a section of the head, all with using conditioner.

As the haze of my hangover intensifies I have a challenging time getting through all of these things because my hands are shaking, my head is throbbing and my vision is murky.

And while I’m miraculously able to keep from getting conditioner all over everyone the actual quality of my work looks sloppy at best and shit-god-awful at worst, especially when it comes to my highlights.

“Your foils aren’t snug against the scalp nor are they folded securely.” Charlie chides. “If this were actual color or bleach they’d have bled all over the client and made a mess.” she says while putting a grade down on her clipboard and kicking me down another notch or ten.

After this she has us wash our models and then blow dry them. She makes her way up and down the rows one final time, grading everyone on their styling skills.

“Ok! Congrats on making it through your practical, everyone! Break down your stations and then take an hour lunch and meet back in the Core Room for your results.”

Bode and I along with our models head to a restaurant where I follow through on my promise to buy my model food and booze while I nurse a beer to combat the hangover and stare off into space.

“You ok?” Bode asks.

“No, I’m upset with myself for getting wasted last night and I feel like I blew the exam and endangered my chances of passing Core.”

“Don’t worry about it, dude. You’re gonna pass this thing and be fine.”

“You know, here’s the thing, even if I do pass it I’m still going to feel like I’m not ready to be out on The Floor. Sure, there’s a couple things I do ok with but I still feel like I’m miles behind everyone else and that I’ll just be a god-damn disaster once I’m out there taking clients. I mean maybe it’s better if I do have to take Core over again…”

Bode gives me a comforting smile.

“I’ve always saw you as the dark horse.”

“The what?”

“The dark horse. The one that no one counts on winning but comes up from behind and takes the gold, surprising everyone. I see that promise in you so just have faith because you’re gonna be golden, I know it.” He says, putting an arm around me and hugging me tight.

I wanna break-down right there in front of our models, strangers and wait staff.

I wanna bawl not only because I’m upset that I’d let myself down but also because over the course of these past six weeks I’d somehow met people so good that they were always ready to help pull me back up.

“Thank you…” I tell him as I bury my head in his chest and squeeze him back. “For everything.”

“I’m your brother.” he says.

We hang out at the restaurant for a while longer then bid our models farewell as we head back to the Core room.

“Alright, guys…” Charlie says, holding in her hands the results of our exams which will not only determine the fate of our scholastic endeavor but also determine if some of us (namely myself) will go home and put our head in the oven. “Just like yesterday I’ll have you come up one at a time for your scores.”

She calls a few people, each one of them telegraphing that they passed by the expression on their face. Then she calls me.

I force myself out of my chair and walk up to her in complete and utter dread.

“Thanks.” I say as she hands me my results. I take a deep breath and then look at my score…it’s a pass and I immediately feel a huge relief as if I’ve just given birth.

She then hands out the remainder of the results to the rest of the class, none of whom failed. We had all survived and completed Core.

“I couldn’t be more proud of you guys.” Charlie says, catching her breath and dabbing at her eyes. “Starting next week you’re no longer mine, you’re no longer Core babies, you’re all Adaptives now, advancing on the next stage of your journey.”

Everyone claps and a few of us hug each other, glad that this whole thing is over.

“It’s going to be a whole different game now…” Charlie warns. “More will be expected of you since you’re taking actual clients. That means the stakes will be higher and the pressure greater but I know you’ll all do amazing and please remember that I’m always here for you.”

Charlie suggests that we spend the rest of the day shadowing other Future Professionals working on clients out on The Floor and as everyone makes their way out of the room Charlie shouts at me.

“Stuke.”

“Yeah?”

“Can I have a minute?”

“Uh, sure.”

She waits until it’s just us in the room.

“As your Learning Leader, watching you advance and grow during your time in Core has been so gratifying.”

“Thank you, Charlie.”

“But also as your Learning Leader I know your capability and I know you could’ve performed better on your practical today…a lot better.”

“I know, I just-“

“Listen…” she says, cutting me off.

“You have so much potential but I also have a feeling you have just as much self-destructiveness which can cause you to sabotage yourself, and sooner or later you’re going to do something you won’t be able to recover from. I know you were fucked-up during your practical today and I could’ve failed you for it.”

“What stopped you?”

“What stopped me was that I know you have the ability to become something great, there’s something special about you that shines when it wants to and I didn’t want to risk stifling that. I also know the burden of being haunted by one’s darkness, one of my best friends is an amazing artist and person who also struggles with substance abuse.”

This was the first time I’d heard someone categorize me as a substance abuser.

All my life I’d considered my drinking just that…drinking.

I drank to have fun, take the edge off, or more recently, kill pain but it was always something I felt I could quit at any time so I didn’t need to worry about quitting. Substance abusers were the ones that couldn’t quit.

They were the crackheads, cokeheads and junkies that were chewed up beyond recognition, lying, cheating and stealing for their next hit, bump or fix.

But hearing Charlie refer to me as one sent a sobering chill down my spine, making me reevaluate my relationship with alcohol, questioning if I did have a habit of going too far and losing control, two things associated with the act of abuse.

“As artists we have a darkness to us, just remember that it can push you forward or push you down and if you don’t control it, it WILL control you…and eventually destroy you, ok?”

“Ok.” I tell her, bowing my head.

“When you get out on The Floor next week it’s going to be a whole different animal and that animal will devour you if you don’t stay focused and disciplined and it would break my heart to see that happen to you. So promise me that you’ll do better because you deserve better.” she says, gently placing her hand up against my face.

“I promise, Charlie.”

“Good, run to your destiny.”

The Weak End (part IV)

Chapter 17

 

Denise continued to hurl, her body convulsing like it was possessed while Dusti and Charlie tried to comfort her and Rene assessed the chaos that was unfolding.

“What a fucking mess.” Rene says, pushing Dusti and Charlie aside and wrapping her huge arms around Denise in and attempt to keep her body in control.

“I’m so sorry…” Denise utters out before vomiting again.

“Try and stay calm, baby.” Rene tells her with a surprising sense of compassion then looks at the crowd that’s formed with phones in hand.

“Y’all need to get back to minding your business before I put you out of business.” she yells. “And whoever is dumb enough to put this online, I will destroy you and your family.”

The crowd disperses and Rene turns to Charlie.

“Run to admissions and grab the first aid kit, there’s nausea medicine in it.”

“Ok.” Charlie says, sprinting away gracefully in her high-heels and pin-up dress.

Denise’s involuntary personal protein spill finally subsides and she leans her body up against the towel bin trying to catch her breath as if she’s just finished running a marathon.

“What got her sick?” Rene asks Dusti whose eyes go as big as Frisbees.

“Uh…”

“C’mon now, take baby girl’s lead here and spit it all out.”

“She’s uh…”

“I’ve got food poisoning.” Denise says, panting for air. “I had something bad the other night, thought I was better but…”

Dusti and I share a glance then look at Rene for the verdict.

“Oh fuck. I’ve had that so many times and it’s hell when it hits you.” She says, grabbing a clean towel to wipe Denise’s face. “Just be glad it ain’t comin’ out both ends.”

She’d bought it hook, line and sinker.

It was Denise’s most spectacular moment of cunning and clarity because if there was one thing Rene couldn’t contest or be unable to sympathize with it had to be the result of accidentally getting sick from eating because Rene was a professional eater.

Charlie ran up with the first aid kit, popped it open and handed Rene the medicine.

“Stuke.” Rene barks. “If you’re gonna stand around then make yourself useful and get this girl some water.”

I do as I’m told and come back with a bottle of water for Denise. She pops the pills and chugs the water.

“Thanks.” she says, passing the bottle back to me as her body starts to settle down from being dope sick.

“You’ve gotta be burning up in this jacket.” Rene tells her as she pulls on its sleeve to take it off.

“It’s fine.” Denise says, yanking the sleeve out of Rene’s grip. “I’m just really cold.”

“Ok” Rene tells her without pushing the matter.

“Is it ok if I go back to class?” Denise asks.

“I think you need to take it easy.” Rene says, putting an arm around Denise’s waist and moving her toward the stairs. “There’s an empty office upstairs, I want you to go there and lay down ‘til school lets out.”

“But what about my Core exam this Friday? I need to study so I can be prepared.”

“Denise, don’t worry about it. You’re going to be allowed to take it on your own time with no penalty. Right, Rene?” Charlie says without waiver.

“That’s not gonna be a problem. You just need to relax right now.” Rene says.

“Ok.” Denise tells her, allowing Rene to guide her up the stairs.

“Stuke.” Rene says, turning back at me. “Make sure all them towels in the bin get clean.”

Oh you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.

“Can’t we just throw ‘em away?” I ask in an attempt to avoid the revolting task I’d been given.

“You gonna pay for a buncha new towels?”

“Haven’t I already with my tuition?”

“Don’t push me, boy.”

“I’ll help ya.” Dusti says.

Rene and Denise disappear upstairs and I grab the vomit filled bin and walk to the washing room with Dusti at my side while every Future Professional and their client cringe at the sight of the container in my hands.

“That was a close call.” Dusti says.

“What’s a close call is if I can make it to the laundry room without getting any of Denise’s puke on me.”

“Well if you do you can just add it to the list of all her other fluids you’ve gotten on you.” she says with her Southern sass.

We go into the washing room and I do my best to shake all the towels from the bin as well as its liner without having to come into contact with them.

“Do you think she’ll be ok?” I ask Dusti as she dumps an entire bottle of detergent into the washer.

“As long as she lays up there ‘til schools out she should be.”

“How about you?”

“How ‘bout me what?”

“Are you gonna be ok having her at your place for the next week, taking care of her?”

“Yeah, we’re gonna be fine.” Dusti says, closing the washer’s lid and firing it up.

We walk back to class and everyone looks at us as we walk in.

“Everything good?” Charlie asks.

“Oh you know, just right as rain.” Dusti says as we take our seats.

“Good.” Charlie says with a sigh of relief.

“What was going on with Denise?” Bree, the waif-thin blonde who swore to Rene she’d never cheat on her fiancé asks.

“She got food poisoning.” Dusti says matter of factly.

“I’ve never known food poisoning to make you nod off or act stoned before.” she says with a roll of her eyes.

“And I’ve never known people with uninformed opinions to look smart before.” Dusti says, glaring back at her.

“I mean…we can poison you and see how it all plays out.” Jimbo adds.

“You don’t have to be bitches about it. I just think it’s wrong if someone comes to school all fucked up and throws up all over the place.”

By this point in the day Dusti has been under so much stress, uncertainty and pressure that all of her nerves have been grinded down to one singular, distressed strand and now Bree has decided to jump on it like its a god-damn trampoline.

“I THINK…” Dusti screams as she bolts up from her chair so fast and furious that it falls over. “YOU NEED TO SHUT YOUR FUCKING-“

“HEY!!!!” Charlie yells in a desperate attempt to gain control. “Everyone needs to calm down and get a grip on their emotions ok? It’s been a crazy day and scrapping with one another isn’t gonna make it any better.”

“Well I’m just saying-“

“We heard what you had to say, Bree and while I value your concern the truth is Denise has food poisoning and the past few days have been rough for her and we’re leaving it at that.”

“And if you got anything else to say about it then start a fucking blog.” Jimbo tells Bree with a sneer.

“Jimbo!” Charlie yells.

“Or say nothing at all.” Dusti follows up.

“Dusti!”

“I’ll say whatever I want.”

“Bree!”

“We’re all family here so stop your bickering because it’s un-lady like and unprofessional!” Charlie says, chiding the testy trio.

Dusti picks up her chair and sits back down while Jimbo grumbles something about a spit-roast and Bree adjusts her posture to look prim and proper.

“We’ve got a lot more to cover for the exam in 3 days so open up your books and lets get to it.”

We spend the rest of the afternoon reviewing for the written exam because Charlie has figured the only way to instill order is by assaulting us with a steady stream of information like a cop with a firehose to keep us paralyzed and in in-line.

But a few minutes before school is to let out Charlie ends up undermining all the order and obedience she’d acquired by saying these 6 fatal words:

“Why don’t we play a game… “

I’m gonna hit the pause button right now to fill you in on a little something about Charlie…

Charlie was every student’s favorite Learning Leader. If you were to ask any Future Professional what they thought about Charlie you’d hear nothing but praise and adoration.

She was smart, sincere, and polite and always conducted herself in a way that showed she was wise beyond her years and she LOVED to teach with kindness and support.

But Charlie had one mortal flaw:

Charlie loved orchestrating games.

Now when you have a group of normal, secure, emotionally stable adults, any game can be played without someone becoming aggressively competitive, taking things personally or losing their shit.

However, when you have a group of creatives, most of whom are insecure, emotionally unstable, ruthlessly competitive, take everything personally and are always losing their shit, it’s better you don’t have them play a game because all you’re doing is starting the timer on a thermonuclear bomb.

Yet for some reason Charlie could never grasp this fact.

No matter how many times she’d have Future Professionals play a game that game would always nosedive into chaos and explode with a high velocity impact. Because when you have 200 creative students under one roof it’s not so much a student body as it is a village of savages.

And those savages require very little provocation to turn murderous on one another.

“What kind of game?” Bode makes the mistake of asking.

“Musical chairs!!!” Charlie shouts as if we’ve all won some Publisher’s Clearing House prize.

She gets a gaggle of groans in return.

“Oh come on, it’ll be fun, especially after a tense day so let’s get in touch with our inner-child!”

“Charlie, everyone’s inner-child is a raging lunatic.” I tell her in a plea to abandon this venture.

“Oh stop it, Stuke and get up and play.” she says as she moves all the tables out of the way and puts the chairs into formation.

I do as I’m told and assume the position along with everyone else.

Charlie turns the music on and we all walk around the chairs with the same heightened anxiety as a platoon of soldiers walking into a minefield and then…well, you know how this fucking game works.

I was happily one of the first casualties and after a few go-arounds it was down to 2 chairs and 3 students: Bode, Dusti and Bree.

Gulp.

Charlie hits the music, kills it and Bode immediately (and very gentlemanly like) takes a chair.

Dusti is hovering over the other chair and just as she begins to sit down Bree shoves her out of the way causing Dusti to lose her balance and fall face-first into the floor while Bree plops down on the chair.

A collective “OHHHH!” is let out as everyone looks at Bree with a WTF expression.

“What? I wanna win.” she answers back without apology.

The whole move demonstrates a reckless lack of foresight on Bree’s part because Dusti is a former figure skater whose entire body is toned muscle while Bree is a former bulimic whose entire body is a twig.

Still, you had to hand it to Bree for having balls so big she needed a wheel-barrel to cart them around in.

“YOU FUCKING CUNT!” Dusti screams, jumping to her feet with clenched fists.

“WHOA TIME OUT!!!!!” Charlie says, running over with arms flailing towards Dusti, intervening just as she’s within choking distance of Bree. “Let’s have you go outside and take five.” she tells Dusti, steering her to the door.

“Bree…” Charlie says. “You’re disqualified for unsportsmanlike behavior. Bode, congratulations, you’re the winner.”

“You mean I’m the musical chair king?”

“You are. May your reign be long and DIGNIFIED.” she says, locking eyes with Bree then ushering Dusti out of the classroom.

While Charlie is outside trying to convince Dusti not to pulverize Bree the rest of us move all the tables and chairs back to their original place while Bree stands off to the side.

“She didn’t have to call me a cunt.” she bemoans.

“She didn’t call you a cunt.” Jimbo says, pushing chairs up against a table. “She called you a fucking cunt.”

“I don’t know why you have to be so hostile to me, Jimbo.”

“And I don’t know why you have to keep breathing but here we all are.” Jimbo spits back.

Seconds later Charlie comes back in the room without Dusti.

“Stuke, can you take Dusti’s kit and purse out to her please?”

I grab her stuff and find Dusti at the foot of the stairs with Denise who looks coherent but spent.

Since school is one minute away from being let out Future Professionals loiter around the area where Dusti and Denise are standing and take turns gawking at them and then whispering amongst themselves.

“That was some fucked-up shit.” I tell Dusti as I wheel her kit and purse over to her.

“This whole day has been some fucked-up shit.” she says with a drained voice. “Thanks for grabbing my things.”

“Sure. You feelin’ better, Denise?”

She takes a deep breath and gives a faint smile.

“Yeah, I’m just tired, ready to sleep for a couple days.”

The 5pm bell rings and a herd of black stampedes around Dusti and Denise who slowly trudge towards the exit like two weary warriors, exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally.

 

On Wednesday Charlie breaks the day in two to simulate what our Core Exam will be like on Friday.

We spend the first part of the day practicing on our doll heads for the practical exam. Going over all the different services we have to know and reciting the 19 perm steps until our voices are hoarse.

The next part of the day Charlie has us taking multiple-choice practice exams. We’re given a set amount of time to complete each exam and when we’re finished we review it. Then we take another exam and review that one.

This monotony continues until it’s time to go home so I can practice everything over again until I pass out.

But since I’ve been diligent about not drinking more than two beers a day so I can focus on my prep it’s good to be passing out from doing instead of drinking. It’s also a good feeling to have my mind and body operating with a lucidity and precision that I haven’t experienced in a long time.

On Thursday we start it all over again, practicing every service on our doll heads until lunch then returning to study and prepare for the written portion afterwards.

“Is Denise good?” Bode asks Dusti during one of our 10min breaks.

“Yeah!” Dusti says with a big smile. “She’s been eatin’, sleepin’ and recovering.”

“When’s she coming back?” I ask.

“Next Tuesday.”

“Has she heard from her boyfriend?”

“He’s been blowing up her phone and leaving threatening messages but she refuses to give him the time of day which is good. Her parents are flyin’ in tomorrow from one of the Dakotas, Virginias or Carolinas, I can’t remember which, and they’re gonna help her get a new place so she can get away from him for good.”

“That’s awesome news.” Bode says.

“It is.” Dusti says. “And Denise has talked with the school about taking her Core exam at the end of next week so it looks like things are gonna work out.”

“What about her staying clean?” I can’t help but ask.

“She feels so shitty about everything that happened that she never wants to use again so she got in contact with her old sponsor from NA and is gonna start going to meetings and she also came clean to her parents about everything so they’re gonna help her get some outpatient treatment.”

“That’s so good to hear.” Bode and I say as the three of us walk back into school to prepare for another afternoon of practice tests.

“I have a proposition for you guys.” Charlie says as we take our seats. “Based on everyone’s results in all the practice exams we’ve done, you’re all more than ready for it. So if you’d like to take the actual written exam right now we can and that way all you have to worry about tomorrow is the practical exam. And once that’s over you can take it easy the rest of the afternoon.”

Everyone looks at everyone else, trying to gauge who falls on what side. Personally, I was more than ready. I’d been studying my ass off and had no doubt that I was going to ace this thing.

And as far as the rest of the class, they were also down to get it out of the way.

Except for Jimbo.

“I don’t want to do it, I don’t feel like I’m ready.”

“Trust me, Jimbo, you’re ready.” Charlie tells her.

“Besides, everyone else wants to take it today.” I tell her.

“Go fuck yourself and everyone else.” Jimbo yells back at me in a fit of anxiety.

“Jimbo, calm down.” Charlie says, walking over to her and putting her arm around her in a comforting manner.

“I’m just scared.” Jimbo responds, throwing both arms around Charlie’s waist and nestling her head against Charlie’s boobs.

Charlie tries to politely step away but Jimbo has her in an iron grip, slowly inching her hands towards Charlie’s ass.

“Ok, ok…” Charlie says, tapping Jimbo on the back and finally breaking free before Jimbo’s hands hit pay dirt.

“Alright, I feel better now.” Jimbo says, sitting upright and taking out a pen. “Let’s do this.”

Charlie administers the exam. I finish it in 20min flat, being the first one to hand it over to Charlie.

“How do you think you did?” she asks.

“I killed it.”

Once all the exams have been handed in Charlie grades them then calls us up one by one to give them back to us with our results.

Each person gives a smile of relief upon getting their exam and I’m the last one to be called up.

“You got the highest score.” she whispers to me, showing that I’d only missed one answer. “Congratulations.” she says with a warm, dimpled smile.

A sense of pride surges through me like an electrical current igniting a stadium full of bright lights.

“I’m proud of you, Stuke.”

“Me too.” I tell her, grabbing my exam and holding onto it as written proof that I can conquer whatever I set out to do.

“Everyone, I cannot tell you how awesome you all are. Each one of you rose to the occasion in taking this test by surprise. You all adapted to the situation, used your heads and came out on top, all traits of being a successful stylist. Now give yourselves a god-damn round of applause!” Charlie says.

The room erupts in cheers, hoots, hollers and clapping and seconds later the 5pm bell rings.

“Now don’t get cocky, you’re only halfway there and tomorrow is a monster. Make sure you get plenty of rest because you’re going to need all the concentration and energy you can muster.” she warns us as we spill out of the classroom.

On my drive home I look in the rearview mirror and realize that I like what’s looking back at me.

I hadn’t thought about Gums much and when I did I didn’t want to fall apart, I didn’t want to do anything because I had proven to myself that I could recover and become so much more than what someone had done to me.

It felt empowering, liberating and above all else, redeeming.

I was now on the path I was meant to be on and I was on my way to becoming who I was supposed to be.

I get home and grab a beer and then another one, drinking for the first time in months to celebrate instead of medicate and it feels soooooo good.

Good enough to break my self-enforced two drink maximum because feeling successful feels exhilarating.

So I have a few more, then a few more after that, then a few shots, celebrating with myself (and paving the way for a tremendous hangover) passing out around 4am and completely disregarding Charlie’s warning about needing rest, concentration and energy for the practical exam in a few hours.

 

 

 

The Weak End (part III)

Chapter 16

 

Dusti and Jimbo burst into the room with Denise while Charlie is giving a lecture on skin diseases.

An hour earlier Charlie had allowed the two to go to Denise’s place to check-in on her in response to the text she’d sent Dusti.

By the looks of it Denise was alive but to say she was alive and well was a stretch because anyone with functioning eyeballs could see Denise was anything but well.

Her bouncy, shiny chestnut hair was ratty and disheveled. Her smooth and manicured hands were marred with cuts and bruises. Her firm and youthful face was droopy and weary and her normally bright and attentive eyes were murky and lost.

“Is everything ok?” Charlie asks with a look of shock as Dusti and Jimbo steer Denise to a seat.

“We’re fine.” Dusti says.

“You sure?” Charlie asks, walking towards Denise.

“I’m fine.” Denise mutters, holding up a hand to stop Charlie’s advance. “I wasn’t feeling good earlier but started to feel better and wanted to come to school. Sorry if I messed anything up.”

“It’s ok.” Charlie says, hitting the brakes and backing up towards her podium to give Denise space. “Just let me know if you need anything ok?”

“I will, thanks.” Denise says, pulling her jacket around her as if to fight off a chill.

“We’re just finishing up a lecture before lunch so feel free to take notes if you like.”

“Ok.” Denise mumbles.

Dusti puts a pen and piece of paper in front of Denise and she looks at them like they’re foreign objects.

“For your notes.” Dusti says in a hushed tone.

“Right.” Denise answers back, still staring at them.

Charlie takes her place behind the podium to resume her lecture while we try to resume listening and taking notes however that proves to be a challenge because none of us can keep our eyes off Denise.

Her head keeps swaying back and forth like a palm tree on a breezy day and on more than one occasion she nods off and Dusti has to nudge her with an elbow in an attempt to keep her awake and aware.

Charlie notices this too and winces every time she sees Denise fading out, prompting her to cut the lecture short and send everyone to lunch early.

“Be ready to practice shampooing when you get back.” she says as the class leaves the room.

IS everything ok?” I whisper to Dusti as we walk out behind Denise.

“Well…” Dusti says.

“Oh, hey you.” Denise slurs to me as she turns around then speaks to Dusti. “I need to use the bathroom. Can I meet you out front?”

“Sure, hun.” Dusti says.

As Denise hobbles off to the bathroom Charlie comes up on Dusti.

“What exactly is going on with her?”

“Oh she’s just had a rough few days and hasn’t gotten much sleep so she’s a little out of it.” Dusti says, taking her best shot at damage control.

“What happened?” Charlie asks.

“Her and her boyfriend got into a fight on Saturday night and it got physical.”

“Oh my god, is she alright?”

“I think so. He ran off and hasn’t been back but just to be safe I’m having her stay with me for the rest of the week.”

“Ok, well let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“I sure will.” Dusti says with a face full of smile and then grabs my hand and bolts for the front door.

“That was only half of it…” she tells me as we make our way out front. “Denise is high as fuck.”

“Wait, what? THAT’S what’s wrong with her?”

“Uh, duh. Haven’t you ever seen someone smacked out before?”

Throughout my life I’d seen a lot of people do a lot of things with drugs.

I’d seen people put a hit of acid in their eye and trip their balls off for 12 hours straight.

I’d also seen people shoot up coke and run around like escaped mental patients.

But in all my years I’d never witnessed anyone doing heroin or being high on heroin except for in the movies and Denise’s behavior looked NOTHING like it did in the movies so…

“No.”

“Really?” Dusti asks astounded.

“Trust me, I’m just as surprised about it as you are. How’d it all go down?”

“Well like I said, she and her boyfriend got into a fight Saturday night and it got really violent. She said a neighbor threatened to call the cops so he hightailed it outta there but left his stash behind.”

“And so she just said-“

“Fuck it, and as you can see, it hasn’t been pretty.”

“Not at all.”

“And speaking of not pretty, when we got to her place…Jesus Christ, Stuke…”

“What?”

“It was something straight out of Trainspotting. The whole apartment was trashed and she was wearing nothing but a filthy pair of sweats and a blood-stained tank-top. Jimbo and I had to help her get dressed and told her that under no circumstances was she to take her jacket off.”

“Because of track marks?”

“Exactly. It’s unbelievable how fast she’s unraveled.”

“So what now?”

“Now? Now she’s gotta try and stay coherent enough to get through the day and hope that Rene or no other Learning Leader finds out that she’s high ‘cause if they do she could get kicked out.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes! Weren’t you paying attention our first day when we had to go over all that code of conduct bullshit?”

“Not really, I was drunk.”

“Well, coming to school high is definitely a crime punishable by expulsion.”

“Then why’d you bring her here in the first place?”

“Believe me, I tried to talk her out of it but she insisted on coming because she didn’t wanna do anything to jeopardize her standing at school.”

“She didn’t see the irony in doing just that by coming to school…high?”

“She can’t grasp the concept of irony at this point.”

“Then can’t you just take her back to your place now?”

“I’d love to but she’s dead set on being at school so I’m just rolling with it and hoping for the best.”

“Yeah but can’t we convince her it’s in her best interest to take a sick day?”

“She’s on drugs. You know as well as I do you can’t convince people to do anything they don’t wanna do while they’re on drugs. At least if she’s here I can keep an eye on her. It’s not the ideal situation but it’s better than her being alone and in harm’s way.”

“Dusti?” Denise says as she shuffles out the front door of the school.

“Yeah, babe?”

“Can we sit in your car during lunch so I can smoke some cigarettes and chill?”

“Whatever you need.” Dusti says, walking off with her and then doing an about face to tell me one last thing.

“B-T-dubs, don’t say ANYTHING to ANYONE. I already swore Jimbo to secrecy and expect the same from you, for her sake.”

“My lips are sealed.”

 

“So she’s at school high as a kite.” I tell Bode as we eat our Tofurkey sandwiches, betraying my word to Dusti and making me less than an admirable and trustworthy human being.

“Aww man that’s not good.”

But since I know Bode is an admirable and trustworthy human being I’m certain he won’t repeat any of this to anybody so it’s pretty much like not saying anything to anyone anyway.

“Is there something we can do for her?”

“Not really. Dusti is just hoping Denise can make it through the day without anyone noticing she’s fucked-up so I guess the best way to help her is to…I don’t know…ignore it all?’

“It sucks that we’re powerless over this and the most heartbreaking thing is that Denise is too.”

“Yeah, the next few hours are gonna be dicey but hopefully nothing bad happens and she just goes to Dusti’s and gets better.”  I tell him as we head back into the school.

“Alright, everybody, we’re going out to The Floor to practice shampoos so pick a partner and take turns on each other.” Charlie tells us as we all prepare to shampoo another human for our first time ever. “It’s super busy today so please be courteous to all the other Future Professionals out there as well as their clients and remember to be patient and kind.”

“Hey.” Denise says, tugging at my arm with a subtle wobble. “Could you shampoo me?”

“Umm, hold on a sec.” I tell her and then scoot my way over to Dusti.

“Denise wants me to shampoo her, what should I do?”

“Fucking wash her hair then…and take as long as you can. The more time she’s just sitting somewhere out of the way the better.”

“Gotcha.” I tell her and go back over to Denise.

“Let’s get you nice and clean.” I say as I take her hand and lead her onto The Floor.

All 8 shampoo bowls are occupied so we wait in line until it’s our turn.

“This is gonna be so nice.” Denise says as she leans up against my arm.

“I don’t know, it might be a good idea to keep your expectations low.”

“Stuke…” she says with a faint laugh. “You should learn to be more sure of yourself…and I know it’s gonna be good ‘cause I like the way you touch me.”

“That’s nice of you to say.”

We finally get our turn at the shampoo bowl and Denise sinks into the chair as I put a towel around her shoulders. She then leans all the way back as her long, brown, ratted up hair fills the bowl.

Even though I’ve been naked with this girl and have had my hands over every part of her body those hands are still shaking from nervousness because this is the first time I’ve ever washed someone’s hair besides my own.

I turn on the faucet and let it run until the water hits that perfect temperature of comforting warm and then run the nozzle all along her hairline, using my other hand as a barrier between her hair and face so I don’t accidentally water board the poor girl.

I then run the water throughout the rest of her hair making sure every inch of it is soaking, sopping, drenching wet.

Next I grab a bottle of detangling shampoo and mix it with a heavy conditioner, rubbing it into her scalp until it’s frothy and then gently work it from scalp to ends, untangling all the knots it had gotten itself into over the past few days.

Once the hair is loose and free again I rinse it out and then apply another glob of conditioner, working it in until all of her hair is creamy, shiny and slippery.

Then I intuitively start massaging her temples, behind her ears and up and down her neck.

Even though I’ve never done any of this before it all feels natural, healing and makes me feel intimately connected to someone in a way I’ve never experienced.

I come to the conclusion that out of everything I’ve done with hair throughout my time in Core, this is by far my most favorite. It relaxes me, grounds me and makes me feel, without effort, confident and in control.

“That feels so wonderful, I knew you’d be amazing at this.” Denise says with her eyes closed as I continue massaging her.

I look down at her face and feel an overwhelming sense of sadness for her.

Sad that things had gotten so bad she thought turning into this person was the only viable option for her. All her vibrancy, vitality and beauty had evaporated and in its place was a dazed and ravaged victim.

A victim from a misguided sense of obligation to a man that never thought twice about hitting her.

A victim from substance abuse that stemmed from wanting to numb all the confusion, hurt and emptiness that was eating away at her heart.

And a victim of the monster that was now coursing through her veins, eroding everything beautiful about her from the inside out.

I looked at her and saw myself.

Someone so crushed that they said to themselves If I’m gonna get beaten down it’s at least gonna be done at my own hands.

Just then Denise’s glassy eyes pop open and stare up at me.

“I’m sorry.” she says in her most lucid voice yet.

“For what?”

“That you have to see me like this. I know you know and it’s not who I am I just, sometimes, I just don’t wanna be who I am anymore and this lets me forget.”

“It’s ok.” I tell her as I rinse the conditioner out of her hair. “We all have our days and we all have our demons and some days, those demons win.”

“I just wish I could get ahold of things…keep shit together. It’s so hard to build a life when the bottom keeps coming out from underneath you. You get to a point where you get so tired of things falling apart that you just wanna fall with them.” she says as a tear rolls down her cheek. “And that’s what I did, I chose to fall.”

I turn off the faucet and run my fingers through her clean, fresh hair.

“The best part about things falling apart is that some of those things weren’t good for you anyway and now you get to rebuild with things that are good for you.”

“Thank you.” she says as I blot her hair with a towel, help her up out of the chair and then toss the towels in the dirty towel bin.

“Thank you as well.”

“For what?”

“For asking me to wash your hair, I wouldn’t have wanted my first shampoo to be with anyone else.”

She takes a few steps away from the chair then suddenly stops and turns back at me, a look of horror on her face that’s become a pale white.

“Are you ok?” I ask.

“It’s coming…”

“What’s coming?”

“The…”

She stops her sentence short by covering her mouth with both hands then running to the nearest container, the towel bin, and starts throwing up violently.

Everyone in the vicinity stops and looks on in disgust and repulsion as Dusti runs over and puts her arm around Denise in a vain attempt to try to help.

“Denise, honey, everything is gonna be ok.”

“I can’t…stop.”

Are the only words Denise gets out before she resumes heaving uncontrollably again.

Seconds later Charlie is rushing over to her as a crowd emerges around what’s playing out.

“Oh my god, Denise…” she says, trying to pull back all of Denise’s puke speckled hair as she goes on vomiting.

Two Learning Leaders dash their way up the stairs leading to Rene’s office and in under 30 seconds Rene is charging down the steps double-time.

She bulldozes her way through the crowd, coming onto the scene of Denise viciously throwing up into the towel bin and her eyes go wide.

“What in the good god-damn fuck is going on here?” Rene roars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weak End (part II)

Chapter 15

 

Weak 4:

 

Perms.

Yes perms.

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?”

“That too.”

“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.”

 

Weak 5:

 

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.


Weak 6:

 

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.

“No, why?”

“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:

 

 

help

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weak End (part I)

Chapter 14

 

Weak One:

We go over what Charlie refers to as the nuts and bolts of hair styling which consists of shampooing our doll heads, flat-ironing their hair and blow drying it.

The shampooing and flat-ironing is a cinch. Blow drying however, hell on earth.

Tension, constant movement and keeping the blow dryer parallel with the round brush are all basic requirements to pulling off a successful blow dry, none of which I can do after 49 repeated tries.

Each time I attempt it the result looks worse than before, my doll head’s hair ending up in a giant ball of frizz or giant dreadlock. The only comfort I get from each failed effort is the fact that my doll head can’t talk because if she could she’d be yelling at me a very long and angry torrent of obscenities.

“You know what you can do that will help you with your blow drys, Stuke?” Jimbo asks as she looks over the 50th shitty blow dry I’ve done.

“What’s that, Jim?” I ask exhausted.

“When you go home tonight practice blow-drying your doll head in the shower, that way you can both be put out of your misery.”

“I appreciate the suggestion and judging by the way you smell when you come to class every day I never would’ve guessed you knew what a shower was.” I tell her.

Yet even without her fucked-up feedback I know that out of everyone in class I’m that person.

I’m the one all the others look at when they’re feeling bad about their work so they can feel better again.

I’m the patron saint of sucking at hair and when someone is feeling down on themselves all they have to do is pay a visit to my altar of atrocity and recite the following prayer for solace:

I may not be that good but at least I’m better than Stuke. Thank you, God. Amen. 

Weak 2:

We practice doing single and double color application processes which means I either make a regular mess or twice the mess.

Charlie has us using conditioner instead of color to practice on our doll heads which means I get the milky white substance EVERYWHERE and on EVERYONE which nobody appreciates.

I’m constantly making such a mess that I’m quarantined to a separate part of the room so the only one who’s a causality of my inability is me. By the end of each try I look like the unwilling participant of a bukake party.

Weak 3:

Charlie bludgeons us over the head with our Milady Textbook of Cosmetology for the entire week causing the sort of blunt force trauma that would make even the most seasoned ER surgeons puke with disgust.

At the end of our 6 weeks in Core we’re to be tested by having both a practical and written exam before we’re able to go onto The Floor and start taking clients so she has us reading chapter after chapter and taking test after test.

Every day is a never ending rapid river of information that we have to absorb and regurgitate…total mental bulimia.

And if all that weren’t enough I keep thinking about this upcoming Sunday because it was the day that I was supposed to be getting married to Gums.

The constant thought of it looms over my head like a dark storm cloud that keeps pouring down on me a million could haves, would haves and should haves to the point that I feel like I’m drowning inside my own head.

Since the wedding was supposed to be at Jay’s I call him up during my lunch break and ask him if I can come over that day, get drunk and take the wedding dress he’d bought for Gums as a gift (and still had possession of) and set it on fire in his backyard.

“Your absurdity never ceases to amaze me.” he says.

“I don’t see what’s so absurd about wanting to burn that dress in effigy.” I tell him while eating my own Tofurkey sandwich that Bode has been thoughtful enough to make and bring me every day for lunch. “Think of it as a bonfire of the vanities.”

“I most certainly will not. Besides, my homeowners insurance doesn’t cover drunk idiots accidentally setting my yard ablaze so the answer is NO.”

“Then can I at least have the dress so I can destroy it in some sort of symbolic way?”

“NO.”

“Why not?!”

“Because I might give it to Matlin.”

“Who the hell is Matlin?”

“This guy I’ve been seeing a lot of lately and he just might be the one.”

“Be the one what?”

“The one I marry, hello.”

You’re thinking about getting married?”

“Don’t judge me, it could happen, and if it does that dress would look spectacular on him.”

“You’ve gotta be joking.”

“I don’t joke when it comes to me marrying someone and the dress I want them to wear while doing it.”

“Fine, whatever. Can I at least come over and hang out with you then?”

“Why? So you can get drunk and ramble on about Gums all day long? No thanks, I’d rather put my dick in a salad shooter.”

“That’d be one of the safer places you’ve put it in recent times.”

“I’ll give you that…but I won’t give you my Sunday afternoon.”

“Why not?”

“Because Matlin is coming over and we’re gonna watch Rupal’s drag race and then I’m gonna watch him go down on me ‘ALL NIGHT LONG…’ he sings as if he were Lionel Ritchie.

“Well then what am I supposed to do? I don’t wanna spend that day alone!”

“I dunno, invite some of your schoolmates over for a party, you paid a lot of money to meet them so put it to good use. Jesus, do I have to think of everything for you?”

I didn’t wanna admit it but Jay’s idea was good. And even though I didn’t really know anyone in my class besides Bode that didn’t stop me from inviting everyone over to get rip-roaring drunk with me in an attempt to keep my attention diverted for the day.

Since we had to order the wedding invites in bulk that meant there were more than enough to use as invites to my party. So I took a black sharpie and drew a giant X over the front of the invite and on the back wrote:

You are cordially invited to get shitfaced with me on the day I was supposed to get married but won’t  be now because my bride is busy banging a banker. Also, please bring a covered dish.

And then I handed them out to my Core class.

At around 2pm Sunday almost the entire squad showed up, including Jimbo who’s brought a super-sized cake.

“It’s Vegan.” she says as she tosses it down on the table.

“Thanks, but you didn’t have to do that because I’m not vegan.”

“I know. But you’re just as lame as a vegan so it’s appropriate.” she says lighting up a cigarette.

By 9pm everyone is wasted, dancing around, laughing, screaming and bringing a positive life-force to my apartment, a life-force that’s been absent for months on end.

Denise, the cute girl next door type had shown up looking stunning in a short summer dress and had been cozying up to me but then disappeared sometime after 9:30 so I figured she’d had too much to drink and just peaced out on the down-low.

By 10:30pm everyone has dispersed leaving Bode and myself as the last ones standing.

“You gonna be ok by yourself?” he asks as he helps me clean up the place.

“Yeah I’ll be fine.”

“You sure? I’m happy to stay if you need me to, I know this day was tough for you.”

“It’s cool, you’ve done more than enough and I really appreciate you, thanks.”

“You’re a good person.” he says, pulling me in for a hug. “Don’t let the actions of your ex make you think otherwise.”

“Thanks, man, that means a lot. I’m glad we met.”

“Me too. I’ll see you in class next week, call if you need anything.”

“Will do.”  I tell him as he walks out the door, leaving me alone with the pestering company of my thoughts.

The Killers “Mr. Brightside” comes on and I grab a bottle of vodka and think about everything that was supposed to be happening today but didn’t.

I was supposed to be with Gums and our group of family and friends celebrating our marriage.

I was supposed to be holding her in my arms, dancing with her in Jay’s backyard under the starlit sky.

I was supposed to return home with her, kissing her neck as I unzipped her wedding dress and then ran my hands over her brown, tattooed body.

And then I was supposed to be having sex with her for the first time as her husband, knowing without a doubt that she would be the only person I’d ever want to be with like this for the rest of my life.

Being with her felt like home. She had been my home.

But that home was gone now and in its place was a mausoleum where her ghost and I were its sole occupants.

As I listen to a song about a guy whose girlfriend is cheating on him a slogan I’d heard years ago randomly pops into my mind.

Life doesn’t always give you what you want but it always gives you what you need…   

As I chugged the vodka to escape the disappointing reality I’d been forced into I wondered why life in its infinite wisdom thought I needed any of this bullshit.   

“Stuke…” a voice came from my room, scaring the shit out of me to the point I started choking on the vodka and had to spit it out.

I went to investigate, thinking that maybe I’d finally reached that level of alcoholism where one starts to hear things and hallucinate.

Upon entering my room I was assured that I wasn’t tripping and that it had been an actual person.

It was Denise and she was in my bed, cuddled under the covers.

“I thought you’d left without saying goodbye.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t feeling good so I snuck off.” she says, pulling the covers away and revealing a very attractive and very naked body. “I hope you don’t mind…”

“I think with enough therapy I’ll get over it.”

“That’s good.” she says, running one hand through her long, chestnut colored hair and the other one down the side of her body.

“How are you feeling?” she asks with a smile.

That was the million dollar question.

One minute I think I’m all alone and preparing to drown myself in misery, the next I’m looking at a hot, naked woman lying in my bed who I had no idea was here in the first place.

Life doesn’t always give you what you want but it always gives you what you need…

“I’m okay.” I tell her as I lean up against the door and take a swig off my bottle.

“Just ok?” she says rolling over and exposing her toned backside and perfectly peach shaped ass.

“Yeah.”

I hadn’t had sex since Gums had left 3 months ago which is the longest I’d gone without it since I was 15.

I wasn’t sure if I could remember how to do it and even if I could remember I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it through without breaking down and crying like some broken-hearted bitch since tonight was technically my wedding night.

“I bet you’d feel a lot better if you were in bed with me…” she says, coming up on all fours and looking over her shoulder.

And she was right, I did feel better.

Being wanted by someone made me feel better.

Connecting physically with someone made me feel better.

And fucking their brains out and making them feel good made me feel better.

It was the best hour of my life that I’d had in what seemed like forever.

I felt worthy again, wanted again and attractive again.

I felt alive and liberated, if only for a while, from all the oppression of my suffering.

“Just so you know…” I tell her as we share a post-coital cigarette. “We’re violating our purity contracts.”

“It was worth it.” she says, caressing her hand up and down my chest.

“Do you wanna stay the night?”

“I’d like to but I need to get home. Are you ok to drive me?”

“Yeah, I’m not so drunk that I can’t act sober.”

We put our clothes on and walk out to my dilapidated Honda Del Sol.

“Oh my god I love these cars! Can we take the top off?”

“Sure.” I tell her, feeling like a baller in my poor man’s Porsche.

We drive to her place, blasting Depeche Mode’s “Home” on repeat as the warm night air breezes around us and she keeps her hand on my leg.

For a minute I feel like the old me again, the confident me, the me who was free of heartache and free of being haunted by the memory of someone.

It felt good.

It felt better than good.

It felt like coming up for air when you’ve been underwater and how that first breath of oxygen fills your lungs with life and your heart with gratitude.

“Do you want me to walk you to your door?” I ask as we pull up to her apartment complex.

“It’s ok, I don’t know if he’ll be up or not.”

“Your roommate?”

“My boyfriend.”

HUH?

“You have a boyfriend?”

“Yeah…” she says, dropping her head. “It’s bad though, it’s really bad.”

“You didn’t think about telling me?”

“I’m sorry, it’s just really embarrassing to talk about it because he’s strung-out and gets violent and I need to leave but I can’t because I’m broke and…and…and I really like you but…”

Her gentle sobbing kept her from finishing her sentence.

And even though she’d made me the other man, the Rob the Banker, I couldn’t be mad at her because she’d also made me feel normal again.

By her wrapping her naked body around mine, kissing me with a raw and primal passion and looking at me as someone of worth she had helped me re-connect with a part of myself I was convinced had been lost forever.

She had helped me find my way home to myself, if only for a little while, but a little while was all I needed to be assured that it still existed, that I could find my way there permanently.

“It’s ok.” I tell her, running my hands through her hair and wiping the tears from her cheeks. “Are you gonna be safe when you go inside?”

“Yeah, hopefully he’s passed out in an oxy-coma but if things get rough can I call you to come get me?”

“Of course.”

“Thanks and thank you for taking me home. I had a great time with you tonight and the sex was…”

“Was what? Nauseating? Frightening? Regretfu-“

“It was amazing.” she says with a wide grin. “I haven’t felt so good or so valued in such a long time.”

“Me too.”

“I’ll see you at school next week.” she says as she gets out of the car and collects herself.

I watch her walk up to her door and wonder what’s waiting for her on the other side of it and if it’s waiting to do more damage to her than it’s already done.

I think about how we’ve all been broken by others and in turn we go out and break others in the same ways we’ve been broken.

We’ve become a population of zombies that take turns biting one another, infecting and re-infecting. Not because we’re evil but because we’re all hurt, and hurt people hurt people.

Denise puts her key in the lock and before turning it looks over to me, blows a kiss and mouths the words “Thank you” then goes inside.    

Chapter 13

 

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?

Sheesh-us Christ.

“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.

“To-what?”

“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?”

“Seriously?”

“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.

And again.

And again.

Aaaaaaaand again.

One more time.

I’m lying.

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?”

“Today?”

“In your life, before today.”

“None.”

“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.