Chapter 29

When the Past Becomes Your Future

 Of all the supportive people in my circle who could’ve given me a morale boost it turned out to be Jay, the crusher of dreams, the fucker of dads and the sultan of snark, who, with his patented blend of insulting inspiration, put my heart and my head in the right place.      

His tough talk about aspiring to be a better stylist, paying the price for one’s goals and remembering  that the sting of failure is always temporary, was the moment of clarity I’d needed that I didn’t know I was in need of. It had lifted my spirits, sharpened my vision and stirred in me a resolve that had me feeling bulletproof…which didn’t go unnoticed.   

“What’s with you today?” Kaleb whispers in my ear, his breath smelling of a Nicotine Frappuccino.

“What do you mean?” I ask as I comb out my client’s long, wet hair.

“Something’s different about you, you don’t seem like…yourself.”

“How do I normally seem?”

“Like someone who’s walking around with an IED jammed up his ass like that guy in Man on Fire* but today…”he trails off while rubbing his scruffy chin. “Hey Bode.”  

“Yeah?” he responds without looking over because he’s focused on a cut he’s doing. 

“Would you say Stuke seems different today?”

“I dunno. Does he still have black hair and tattoos?” he asks while keeping his eyes on his work. 

“Uh…yeah.”

“Then no, he doesn’t seem any different today than he does any other day.”

“Whatever.” Kaleb gripes. “Do you know what you’re doing on your client?” he asks me.

“One length, round shape.” I tell him as I start to section her off.

“AH HA! There IS something different about you today because normally you would have ME section your client’s hair for you! Are you on drugs? You know, other than the ones we do together where I have to drive your car home because you’re too stoned.”

“No.”

“Are you breaking up with me then is that it? You want me to feel the pang of rejection and beg you to beg me for my help?”

“Not at all. I just wanna get better at this and the only way to do that is to stand on my own two feet and when I fall, learn to get back up and not feel shitty about it.”   

“Speechless.” Kaleb says in disbelief.

“Good for you, Stu.” Bode chimes in, still focused on his work.

“Are you sure you’re not on drugs because-“ 

“Yo, Kaleb!” J.P. Dreama shouts as he comes galloping towards us high on his sheriff’s horse.

“Oh fuck me with a roto-rooter.” Kaleb sighs. “What is it, Jermaine, something?”

“I need a volunteer for beach day giveaway and you’re that person.”

“Jermaine, a volunteer is someone who offers to do something they wanna do, not someone who’s told they’re doing something they have no interest in doing.”

“You don’t wanna help students give out free haircuts on Venice beach?” Dreama asks with a nefarious smile.

“To people that bathe in public restrooms and don’t have a mailing address? No.”

“Well Rene put me in charge of beach day this year so I’m choosing volunteers since no one is stepping-up on their own.”  

“No one is stepping-up because the whole thing is dumber than a dick diaper.”    

“You know what your problem is?”

“Beach day giveaway is for starters.”

“You have a negative outlook, that’s your problem.”

“Trust me, if you were me and had to deal with you then I promise you that you’d have the same problem as me.”    

“You need a come to Jesus moment.”

“I don’t think he’d want me to get that all over him.”

“That’s disgusting and offensive.”

“So is working with the homeless which is why I’m giving beach day a hard pass.”  

“Ok.” Dreama says as he adjusts his bowtie and then struts off.   

“That was easy.” Kaleb says congratulating himself while he attempts to smooth out the wrinkles in his shirt.    

“Maybe too easy.” Bode says as he runs his fingers through his client’s hair and motions for Kaleb to come check it.

“Yeah Dreama isn’t the type of person to just walk away unless it’s to go get a knife.” I add as I start to cut the back of my client’s hair.

“Listen, things like beach day aren’t mandatory for anyone. So if he thinks he can force me into doing it then he’s crazier than he is stupid.”  Kaleb says as he analyzes Bode’s cut.

Seconds later Dreama returns to the scene with Rene as backup.  

“Kaleb.” She bellows out in her deep, foreboding voice.

“This job is such a Judas Chair*.” Kaleb mutters with a shake of his head. “Yes?”

“Jermaine tells me you’re refusing to volunteer for beach day because you think it’s ‘dumber than a dick diaper’. That true?”

“It’s not a lie.”  

“You know that Paul Mitchell prides itself on giving back to the community-“

“Yeah but this part of the community is riddled with lice-“

“Kaleb.”

“Scabies…”

“Kaleb.”

“And scurvy. It’s like taking care of a bunch of land wandering pirates.”

“Shut up and listen to me!” she roars, causing the usual din of The Floor to go quiet. “Taking care of the less fortunate is one of the ways this school makes a difference.”

“Then wouldn’t it make a bigger difference to give them free shopping carts instead of free haircuts? I mean, it’s not like they own mirrors or anything.”  

“One more fucked-up comment outta your mouth and you’ll be out of a job. Do I make myself clear?”

It wasn’t often that someone had Kaleb by the balls to the point of submission but if there was one thing Rene excelled at (other than calorie consumption) it was the squeezing of one’s testicles in the pursuit of gaining one’s compliance. And judging by the lack of color in his face it would appear that Rene had an excruciating grip on Kaleb’s chin knockers.   

“Crystal.” he utters as Dreama watches on with a look of smug satisfaction.  

“Good. Now you’re gonna go with Jermaine and help him figure out the details for beach day since it’s next week.”

“Right now?”

“I’m not talking about tomorrow.”

“I’m kinda in the middle of supervising a row.” Kaleb says, trying to press a point and definitely his luck.

“It’s slow today, I’ll have one of the other Learning Leaders cover your row while you’re assisting Jermaine.”

And with that Dreama led Kaleb off with his head held high, gloating over the fact that he was able to weaponize the homeless in such a way that it scored him huge points in his on-going game with Kaleb of I Hate Your Fucking Guts.    

As for me I was left without any supervision because Jake, the Learning Leader put in charge of us, was busy in the next row over with Bree, the waif-thin girl from our Core class who had just married the fiancé she’d professed her incorruptible love for on the first day of school.

Although going by the looks of how she was interacting with Jake, rubbing her ass up on his crotch and fawning all over him, it appeared that the honeymoon was over, at least in her great big blow job eyes. So I was forced to figure things out on my own which meant…

“Hey Bode, can you help me for a sec?”   

“Sure what’s up?”

“I’m getting ready to move into the front quadrant and I’m wondering which way I need to connect it.”

“Like this.” he says, drawing an invisible line with his tatted hand along the perimeter of my client’s hair.  

“Got it, thanks.”

“Of course. Also, I know we haven’t hung out much since Zahra and I started dating…”

“Dude, don’t even worry about it.”    

“I know but I do worry about it and miss you, so if you aren’t doing anything tonight Za and I were gonna go to Big Wangs in NoHo if you’d like to come, you know, if it won’t make you feel like a third-wheel or anything.”

“Not at all, plus, it’s Tuesday which means 25 cent wings and dollar drafts. And with the money we save we can hit The Star Garden* afterwards since it’s down the street from Wangs.”

“Yeah that’s not gonna happen.”  

Even though The Star didn’t happen the three of us made a night of it and from that point on morphed into a little family that would spend days after school doing each other’s hair, hitting the bars or just watching old Brando movies and eating cereal (a favorite pastime of Bode’s).

Spending all that time with them made me feel like a part of something warm and accepting which not only gave me a sense of belonging but also helped to thaw out the icy cynicism I’d had towards the idea of love ever since Gums had walked out on me.     

After she split I came to view love as nothing more than a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the heart. A gamble that when given a long enough timeline would leave you broke as fuck in more ways than one.      

But in the company of Bode and Zahra I was able to see it as something safe and nurturing that could enrich your life instead of destroying it and I began to think that somewhere in this brave new world of mine I might be able to have what they had.

My mistake in thinking this, however, wasn’t that I had overestimated my ability to love again, it was that I had underestimated just how much Gums had fucked me up and damaged me on the inside. A damage that, left untreated, would one day turn me into an emotional switchblade that would injure, maim and scar another human being for the rest of her life.

*****  

It was Thursday, I was setting up my station and listening to Kaleb bitch and complain about some rash he said he’d gotten from working with the homeless on beach day when I’d noticed that Bode hadn’t arrived yet.

Bode had never missed a day of school nor was he ever late so I tried calling and texting. When that led me nowhere my feet led me to the front desk where Zahra was checking-in clients.

“Have you heard from your man?”

“He texted me last night saying something had come up and that he’d tell me more about it today but that was it.”

“Did it seem like something was wrong?”

“Nah I didn’t get that from him otherwise he would’ve said something, you know?”

“Yeah that makes sense.”

Right before Theory class was supposed to start at 1pm Bode burst through the doors looking like he’d just won the cosmic lottery.  

“Dude, what the fuck is up?”

“Dude…” he blurts out while doing the pee-pants dance. “The guy that used to manage my old band hit me up last night about a bass playing gig, like a BIG one that involves a record deal, a paycheck and a national tour.”

“Seriously? With who?”

“You ever watch American Idol?”

“Fuck no.”

“Samesies. But there was a finalist this season named James Durbin and even though he didn’t win he did get a record deal with Wind-Up Records.”

“You mean the same record company responsible for shitting out audible diarrhea like Creed and Evanescence?”  

“That’s the one. They signed him a couple months back and his album drops next week so they want him on the road ASAP.”

“That’s cool but how did he know about you?”

“I guess he’d come see my band play whenever we’d do a hometown show in Santa Cruz and he liked my style so when the label started putting together a touring band for him he asked his manager to hunt me down to see if I’d want the gig.”

Bode didn’t have to tell me what his answer was because I already knew it.

We had both wanted nothing more from life than to become rockstars and we’d chased that dream over countless years and thousands of miles. Spilling blood, sweat and tears and sacrificing everything imaginable just to come within reach of grasping that dream.  

But that dream had eluded us both. It was like that one lover you become enamored with, obsess over and follow to the ends of the earth only to find out they’ve chosen to be held in the arms of another.        

But now that evasive lover had come back to Bode, telling him that things would be different this time. That he could have her and she wouldn’t stray, she’d remain monogamous and to prove it she’d put it in writing in the form of a record deal, promising him money, fulfillment and the chance to do what he’d always wanted to do; be a fucking rockstar.  

So I knew that his answer would be yes because that’s what mine would’ve been. And it wouldn’t have mattered what I was currently doing or how much money I’d paid to do it. I would’ve instantly answered the siren call of that dream and abandoned all that I had worked for to be reunited with it despite how much it had tortured or taunted me in the past.

You can leave a lot of things in life but the one thing you can’t walk away from is a dream that has become so embedded in you that it’s infused into your DNA.

“So when do you start?” I ask, not so much feeling the pinprick of envy as much as the pain of knowing that my best friend would be leaving soon.

“I was in meetings all morning, did a mini-audition and signed contracts. The tour kicks off next week so starting tomorrow I’m doing 12 hour day rehearsals.”

“What are you gonna do about school?”

“I’m gonna go talk, plead and beg with Rene right now to see if there’s any way I can pause my enrollment so when I do come back I won’t have to pay all over and start all over.”

“Fuck, man. Good luck with that and I’m so happy that this happened to you.”

“Thanks, brother and I want you to know something.”

“What’s that?”

“I tried to get you hired on as the drummer for the band because nothing would’ve made this better than to be doing it alongside you but they already have a guy. Just know that I tried because it would’ve been awesome being in a legit band with you.”  

If ever there was a time that someone’s thoughtfulness took me to the edge of breaking the fuck down then this was it and that made the cut of Bode leaving run so much deeper.

In reaching his long-fought moment of being served his dream his first thought wasn’t to bask in the excitement and glory of it all but to try and share it with someone else, to try and share it with me.

It was one of the most heartfelt and selfless things anyone had ever attempted to do on my behalf and it broke my heart into a million pieces with gratitude.  

“I really appreciate that.” I say, giving him a hug and trying to keep the tears at bay. “But this is all you, go out and fucking kill it.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep you posted on when we have an L.A. show and when I have a break in the tour so we can hang out.” he tells me then grabs his backpack and walks out the door to his new life where he’ll be wide awake in his dream.  

I settle into my seat to get ready for my hour of Theory and notice the empty chair next to me where Bode would normally sit and I can’t help but feel empty myself.

Bode had been here for me in so many ways since day one. A never-ending source of encouragement, stability and love. And his demeanor, always being as calm as a still pond, helped quell the emotional tides and waves that were forever crashing around inside of me. He was a buoy I’d had come to trust that I could hold onto when my inner storms were threatening to drown me.  

And now he was gone, off to do the one thing he had longed to do more than anything else and I was now on my own. Sure, I had Kaleb around but he when it came to anything deeper than a superficial friendship he was about as useful as a condom machine in the Vatican.

So it was up to me to be my own source of calm, reassurance and encouragement. It was something that I’d seemed to struggle with over the past few months but I was stuck here with me so I figured I might as well try my best to be the best person I could be to myself.

*You can watch Bode tearing it the fuck up onstage right here. He’s the gent with short, dark hair stage right with the white bass guitar. It should also come as no surprise that he did the entire band’s hair as well as customized their stage clothes.

*Man on Fire is a 2004 movie starring Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, Marc Anthony, Mickey Rourke and a very young Dakota Fanning. The story is about an alcoholic, ex-CIA operative (Washington) who’s hired by the father of a wealthy family (Anthony) to be a bodyguard to his daughter (Fanning) in Mexico City which is a hot bed of kidnappings for ransoms.

Everything is fine and dandy until Fanning is kidnapped and when the ransom drop for her goes sideways, the kidnappers kill her as punishment.

This, as you can imagine, sparks Denzel into doing what Denzel does best; fuck people up in the most vicious ways possible. During his campaign of retribution and revenge he utilizes rocket-launchers, an arsenal of guns and even gets creative by shoving a small, homemade bomb up one unlucky kidnapper’s fat, hairy ass under a freeway overpass.

And speaking of cars, he tapes one dude’s hands to a steering wheel and while he interrogates the guy slices off most of the guy’s fingers making it virtually impossible for him to ever flip somebody off in traffic again.

The film is directed by the late, great Tony Scott who’s able to portray grit, grime and violence in such a raw and sexy way that it makes you wanna go out and choke your partner during sex.  The flick is highly recommended as is establishing a safe word with your significant other so you don’t accidentally kill them and end up with a manslaughter charge.

*A Judas Chair was a medieval pyramid shaped and sharpened device on which a naked victim was lowered onto via ropes and as the victim was lowered the device would slowly tear open their anus and split them in two.

While the chair isn’t something you can order from West Elm you can experience the pain of one by ordering anything else from West Elm and then enduring their months’ long parade of excuses and incompetency when it comes to you never getting the furniture you ordered and then once you finally do get your order, it’s not the fucking furniture you ordered.

*The Star Garden is without a doubt L.A.’s sleaziest, seediest and scuzziest strip club. Located just north of Victory Blvd on Lankershim the club hosts an array of fresh off the bus girls from small towns, girls in abusive relationships who are dancing topless to support their aspiring musician boyfriends and girls that claim to be actresses, models and musicians but who really are just crystal meth-heads driving around their Ford Probe with a broken headlight.

And if crystal meth is your thing then you can always score an 8 ball from a Mexican dude named Miguel who has a fake leg and will take you into the bathroom to do the deal where at which time he’ll take off his fake leg (which is where he keeps his stash) and dispense the drugs accordingly.

But The Star isn’t all shit stains and pock marks and actually boasts the success story of one dancer who was able to swing herself off the pole and become a semi well-known frontwoman of a metal band back in the day.        

Chapter 28 Pt. II

Bloodstains and Battle Scars

 I figured in order to illustrate to Jay just how much of an impact Kelly’s speech had on me earlier in the day I first needed to tell him about the god-awful time I’d been having at school every day up until today.

And now that he had promised not to say anything while I filled him in on how my life had been going (especially the words I told you so) I felt like I could tell him everything.   

So I ran down my shit-stained laundry list of experiences at Paul Mitchell, informing him of all the heads I’d butchered, colors I’d botched, and all the demoralizing bullshit I felt because of it. When I was finally finished he just sat quietly across the table while sucking the salt off a deflated edamame skin.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“What do you think?”       

“I think it all sounds so…”  

“So what?”  

“Horrible.” he says with a voice full of surprising concern.

“It’s been one big butt-plug and up until today I was convinced you’d been right all along.”

“About what?”

“That my decision to do hair was a big mistake.”

“You know, after hearing all that I’ll just go easy on you and call your decision a gross miscalculation.”

“Miscalculation?”

“Yeah, like that time I was with that guy I nicknamed Spartacus. You remember him don’t you?”

“Six foot ten Nubian dude that had a wife and kid?”

“That’s him. Anyway, we were fucking one day at his house, I mean really going at it, and then all the sudden his wife and kid came home earlier than we had expected them to. A total gross miscalculation on our part…it got even grosser when his daughter threw-up all over herself. I’m sure she’s still in therapy to this day.”

“Jay, I don’t know how that’s even remotely comparable to my ‘miscalculation’ but-“

“Like you were saying, up until today your experience with hair and school has been more fucked up than Jim Carrey on acid.”

“Right. And then-“

“You heard this Kelly guy talk and you were miraculously bestowed with all the wisdom and confidence to go forth and succeed.”   

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“Neither would I because it was a fucking joke. But I wanna know what it is he said that made you go from wanting to jam your shears in your jugular to making you as joyful as a pride parade in June.”

“If I’m being honest, it wasn’t what he had to say as much as it was how he was saying it.”

“Just like a neutered dog, I’m not getting it.”

“Alright, so he gave the usual spiel about starting off as a nobody and ending up as a somebody…”

“Cliché to the nth degree.”

“And now he owns a bunch of salons, offers cutting classes and speaks at entrepreneurial seminars. And while-“

“What’s his rate for the cutting classes?”

“I dunno, three hundred bucks or something?  There was an advertisement for it on his merch table.”

 “He has merch?”

“Yeah, t-shirts and shit.”

 “So this guy owns salons, sells merch, offers classes and talks at unemployment seminars.” 

 “Entrepreneurial seminars.”  

“Same fucking difference. And you said nothing in his speech was any good?”

“No. I mean, it was ok. He talked about the value of persistence, having principals, your attitude your altitude blah-blah-fucking-blah. None of it was bad but none of it was life changing either.”

“So then what struck a chord with you?”

“Like I said, it was the way he said what he was saying. He was able to hold the room’s attention with his charisma and body language and was one part comedian and one part rockstar. It was all performance and that’s what resonated with me and got me thinking hey, this is something I could do.”        

“Which is what?”

“Go from school to school and talk to students like Kelly does.”

“What on God’s gangrene earth would you have to talk about?”

“My own journey.”

“Uh, my handsome prince, might I remind you that your ‘journey’ has only gone a couple miles so far and by the sounds of it it’s been so shitty that it probably won’t go much further.”

“But don’t you see? Now I have a reason to keep going! I’m inspired about school again because when I graduate I can just do what Kelly does and not have to worry about doing hair since I suck at it anyway.”  

“Ok, setting aside the fact that this is the most hair-brained idea ever, pun intended, how would you earn a living this way?”

“By selling merch.”

“T-shirts and shit?”

“Yeah!”

“You’ve just got it all figured out, don’t’ you?”

“It seems to work for Kelly.”

“Yes, but in regard to all of the things you’re not thinking about, the most important one is that YOU’RE NOT KELLY. You’re a nobody and nobody is gonna buy from a fellow nobody. People will only buy from a somebody and in order for you to be a somebody you’ve gotta have-“

“Most of the people today didn’t know who Kelly was and that didn’t stop them from buying t-shirts with his name on them for twenty-five bucks a pop.”

“I get that and the reason they did that was because unlike you Kelly has-“

“And in addition to t-shirts I thought maybe I could write a book and sell that as well.”

“What did you say?”

“I thought I could write a book and sell that.”

“That’s what I thought you said. Christ smoking crack this gets dumber and dumber.”

“Hey! Don’t hate on it! I thought it could be a memoir or self-help book. Something like that.”

“You need A LOT of self-help if you think you can write a book of any type.”

“That’s not true! I’ve always been ok at writing, I even had that website a few years ago remember?”

“The one where’d you’d post about all your horrible dates and sexual exploits?”

“Yeah. People seemed to like it. You said you liked it. Your uncle Frank loved it.”

“Uncle Frank just wanted to bury his bone in you so he enjoyed reading about all the insidious places you were burying yours.”

“Still, the site went over well and you wanna know what I heard from people over and over again?”

“That you shouldn’t fuck bartenders from The Rainbow whose vagina is a bed and breakfast for every rockstar in town?”

“Ummmm, no.”

“But you did fuck that bartender and she was in one of your stories, right?”

“Yes and yes, Ghost of Christmas Past.”

“What was that decrepit woman’s name again? Jada? Sheena?”

“Brenna.”

“That’s it. She still alive?”

“Last I heard she got a new liver so she could keep drinking, so, maybe?”

“Sounds like an extraordinary woman, you must be so proud of your-“

“Like I was trying to say, even though the subject matter may have been lewd and vulgar, people kept coming back to it because the writing was good.”

“Okay, I’ll admit that the prose was decent. But compiling a book is totally different than writing little stories about having sex on a buffet table during a Halloween party.”

“I understand that, and-“

“Or having to go to the ER while you were in Colorado because you were pissing razors.”

“That really was a horrible trip to Denver, but-“

“Or how your girlfriend punched you in the face when you came home with a cum stain on your pants and tried to play it off by saying you spilled mashed potatoes all over yourself.”   

“I’ll admit that wasn’t one of my more admirable moments, however-“

“You know what? I don’t think you should write a book about anything…ever…so long as you live.”

“Always the supportive friend.”

“Oh like you’d listen to me anyway. So let’s say you graduate Paul Mitchell and instead of doing hair you decide to go from school to school talking to students and trying to sell your book and t-shirts with your name on it. Have you put any thought into what your qualifying factor might be in all of this?”

“What’s that?”

“The fact that you don’t know what it is means you don’t have one. And if you don’t have one that means you won’t sell anything and if you don’t sell anything that means you’ll be homeless and if you’re homeless you’ll wanna move in with me and I won’t do it, Stuke, I just won’t. You know Edward and Randolph don’t do well with long term guests.”

“Then for the love of all roosters big and small, as well as your dogs, tell me, what the fuck is a qualifying factor?” 

“Well…” he says, stretching his sun soaked arms, locking his fingers and cracking his knuckles. “The reason Kelly can do what he does is because he has a stamp of legitimacy that signals he’s seen a lot, done a lot and paid his dues in this industry. Hence, his qualifying factor. It lends authority to what he says and gives value to what he’s selling. You with me so far?”  

“Yeah, you’re saying he’s put in the manpower and the mileage for his career.”

“Exactly. Now if you were to come fresh out of hair school and try to do what Kelly does, what sort of knowledge or experience are you bringing to the table to validate your worth? What sort of insights would you have to offer in this book of yours that you’re selling? Why would people pay $25 for a t-shirt with your name on it?”

“Ummm…”

“Do you own a salon? Nope. Will you be offering classes? Nope. Will you have spent any time in the industry whatsoever? Nope, nope and nope. The only thing you’ll have under your studded belt is the fact that you survived hair school and graduated.”

“Isn’t that enough considering how hard it’s been for me?”

“Fuck no. Hair school is hard yet most people survive it and end up graduating. And if that’s the case, what’s gonna make you stand out to a group of people that will soon be accomplishing the only thing that you’ve accomplished in a few months’ time?”

“I hadn’t thought about it like that up until now.”

“That’s because you haven’t thought about this at all. If you had then you’d know that it’s crucial to put in the time and torture that’s necessary to establish yourself as someone who’s worth listening to. You’ll need to have gone places and done things that your audience has only dreamt of doing or didn’t know was even possible. You getting me?”

 “You’re saying I need to have some skin in the game.”   

“Not some skin, all of it. And it needs to be tattooed with welts and wounds to give your words weight. People don’t want survivors ok? They pity survivors. People want fighters who are covered in bloodstains and battle scars because it shows they were willing to do whatever it took to get to where they wanted to be.” 

“So what you’re getting at is-“

“That you have to aspire to do more than just graduate school if you’re serious about doing what Kelly does. You’ve gotta commit to wanting to succeed in this industry and be prepared to pay whatever price it is to do so.”

“Of course I wanna succeed, I just don’t think I can do it the way most people do it which is why I like the idea of following Kelly’s path. It just seems more attainable.”

“It is attainable but if you’re gonna follow his path then you have to follow it the right way, no shortcuts. Make yourself become a better hairstylist. Put in the time, effort and energy. Put in the blood and sweat this industry requires for a few years and then you’ll be able to talk about it to a group of hair students and your words will be worth listening to and your book worth buying because you’ll have your qualifying factor.”  

“Fuuuuuck! Why can’t anything be easy?” I groan as I drop my head to the table.

“Because true steel is forged in the fire.”

“Is that a Confucius saying or something?” I ask, lifting it back up.

“Fuck if I know. It’s in a frame on the wall over there.” he says. “Listen, I think you’re on to something with this idea of yours. You just need to apply yourself, spend time in the industry and not allow the failures to stop you.”

“I know. They’re just so discouraging though.”

“Yes and they’re also temporary. Plus, and this is really important so I want you to remember it, especially when you’re down, the industry we’re in, is the only industry in the world where you can have some far-out, fuck-faced idea and still succeed with it.”

“Really?”

“One thousand percent. For instance, just the other day a client of mine was talking about some goofball that claims he’s made something better for your hair than shampoo. It’s called Ten or Fin or Ben or something ridiculous like that. Ever heard of it?”

“No. Paul Mitchell wants me to believe that they’re the only company in the world that makes hair care products.”    

“Ok, well, I guess he calls it a cleaning conditioner or something preposterous like that. Anyway, my point being, as long as you have the vision and the willingness to go the distance, pay the price and make the sacrifices, then even the most bat shit craziest of ideas can catch fire.”

“Like this guy and his no shampoo thing probably will?”

“Absolutely. God help us all.”

Sushi Rolls, Grindr Tolls & Career Goals

Chapter 28

Wait, wait, wait…” Jay says, interrupting me in his gaysally voice while pulling apart his chopsticks and using them to shovel a wad of wasabi into his soy sauce. “You’re telling me that your entire life was changed by listening to some homeless guy give a speech at school today?”

“I never said he was homeless.”

“Well the way you describe him makes him sound homeless. Nappy dreads, goatee…”

“You have a goatee.”

“Yeah but I also have a home, one that’s not made of cardboard boxes and milk crates.” he says, mixing his wasabi and soy sauce with such fervor that it ends up all over the table and me.     

“A little restraint.” I ask as I wipe my soy splattered shirt with a napkin.

“Oh don’t be a queen, your shirt is black anyway, it’ll blend right in.” he chides, dipping a piece of rainbow roll in his sauce and then stuffing it in his mouth while continuing to talk. “So the way you said this guy looked…Courtney? Kerry?”

“Kelly.”

“Sure. It just made me think of your typical transient trash troll, that’s all. No need to get your pubes tied up in a knot about it.”

“I never said my pubes-you know what? Can I just get back to what I was saying before you interrupted me?”

“By all means.” he says, cramming another piece of sushi in his mouth. “Tell me all about this awakening you had today, this moment of clarity, this-“

“Is making me think you’re being a jack-off right now.”

“Me?”

“Yes you. Who else is in this dump besides us?”

He scans the restaurant and realizes it’s just the two of us, our waitress and the unkempt sushi chef who’s licking something off the very knife he used to prepare our food with.  

“This is not a dump.” he protests. “It’s an authentic dining experience modeled after the iconic Akachochins I love to visit in Japan.”

“Well we’re not in Japan, Jay, we’re in Van Nuys, which makes this place nothing more than a dark, dingy shithole where the only thing more dangerous than the gangbangers loitering in the parking lot is the “C” rated food sitting on our plates.” 

“Well, your majesty, since this place offends your sensibilities so much I’ll be sure to never invite you here again.”

“I really hope you mean that.” I say, hunching over to sniff my Philly roll to make sure it’s safe for consumption.

“Jesus Helen Keller Christ, I don’t see you for three months and in that time you’ve become Gwyneth Paltrow sitting high atop your throne and judging us all.” He complains as he takes a slurp of his Sapporo beer.

“Is there any reason you’re being saltier than the soy sauce tonight?” I ask.

He takes another swig, glares at me, belches and then softens up.

“I’m sorry I’m just really upset and being a total hag about it, you don’t deserve my ire.” he confesses.   

“Anything you wanna talk about?”

“No, go on with your personal transformation story.”

“You sure?”

“Yes I’m sure.  It’s far too traumatizing for me to talk about right now so let’s focus on you.”

“Ok then, like I was saying-“

“FINE! If you’re gonna keep hounding me about it then I guess I have no other choice but to tell you!”

“Lucky me.” I say with a long sigh. “So what horrible tragedy has befallen you, my friend?”

“It’s Matlin.”

“The Latin guy you’ve been dating for a while?”

“Past tense, was dating. We broke up yesterday.”

“Really? Why? I thought you said he might be the one.”

“I know and I really thought so too but he uh…”

“What?”

“He…ummmm…sheesh how do I say it?”

“Oh cut the shit. You’ve never had a problem with anything coming out of your mouth or going into it for that matter. So just say what it is you need to say before the suspense bores me to death.”

“Ugh! He caught me trying to cheat on him!”

“He did? With who? How?”

The adulterer lets out a long, dramatic moan while fanning his Botox filled face then goes on.

“It all started a couple weeks ago when he saw the Grindr app on my phone and asked me why I needed that since I had him.”

“And what’d you say?”

“I told him I’d had it long before I’d met him and had forgotten it was there. Then he asked So you don’t use it anymore to meet random guys to fuck? And I told him no.”

“Were you lying?”

“NO!!! I hadn’t been on it that day so technically I wasn’t lying but he still didn’t believe me, can you believe that?!”

“Easily.” I say as I take a gamble with my health and start eating.

“You know, I can’t decide if you’re my best enemy or my worst friend sometimes.”

“Probably both.”   

“Anyhow, in an attempt to smooth things over I deleted the app in front of him and at the time that fixed everything.”

“But let me guess, in true Jay fashion you went and reinstalled it behind his back didn’t you?”

“Maybe.” he says while looking away and gnawing on his chopsticks.

“Didn’t you?”

“Ok yes, I probably did!”

“Why would you do that if you liked him so much?”

“Because I get bored when I’m alone and drinking Patron, Ok?!”

“So take up a hobby! One that doesn’t involve tequila and fucking strangers on the internet!”

“Are you here to listen or lecture?”

“Oh I’m sorry, are my observations pissing on your penis parade?”

“They’re a torrential downpour.” he whines as he rubs his temples.

“My bad. Please continue with your tales of woe.”

“Thank you, Judge Judas. So like I was saying, I reinstalled it because I suffer from acute boredom and do you know what that sneaky little Matlin did?”

“I have no idea.”

“He entrapped me!”

“How, pray tell me, did he do this?”

“He went and made a profile on Grindr using a different name and only posted a picture of his backside. So the other night I’m on the site and come across his page-“

“And you hit him up not knowing it was him…”  

“And I hit him up not knowing it was him.” he confirms.   

“How do you NOT recognize the backside of your own fucking boyfriend?”

“I don’t know! But it was very captivating because never in my life have I propositioned anyone on Grindr before without seeing their face first.”

“That last part is a hard one to buy but whatever. So I take it he called you out on it?”

“You bet he did, called me right away yelling and screaming that I was a liar and a cheater…and a lousy cook…that one really stung.”

“This guy really knows where to stick the knife doesn’t he?”

“Right in my fucking heart.” he says, clutching his chest. “But since he’s never had my pork tenderloin he obviously has no idea what he’s talking about.”

“Obviously. So what ridiculous defense did you try and mount against his empirical evidence?”

“I asked him how it was considered cheating if the guy I wanted to cheat on him with was him. I said if anything he should feel good about it because it’s apparent that the only person I wanna fuck is him…even when I don’t know that it’s him who it is I wanna fuck.”

“Wow, dude, how do you ever find pants big enough to fit those gigantic balls of yours in?”

“I don’t know but in the end he didn’t go for any of it.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“And he told me he never wants to see me again.”

“Still not surprised.”

“I’m such a flawed individual.” he says, wiping away an imaginary teardrop from his face.

“Welcome to the club, Buttercup.”

“Do you have any idea how many gay men don’t care about monogamy and I get stuck with the ONE gay who does? I’ve been bamboozled I tell you! BAMBOOZLED!” he yells while slamming his hand down on the table, causing our waitress to scream something at him in Japanese.

“Oh pipe down, Konnichiwa, you’re lucky I didn’t wear my Godzilla mask in here tonight.” he snaps back. “Anyway, what was I saying?”

“Something about you being the victim in all of this.”

“Oh that’s right, I ended up getting stuck with the one monogamized gay in L.A. Had it been anyone else they would’ve easily said Oh, Jay darling, I don’t care if you wanna fuck other people and if you do be sure to make them dinner afterwards because you’re such an amazing cook.”

“Do we need to find you a support group so you can heal? Maybe go to an al-anon meeting again since it’s free therapy?”

“Oh fuck off, mister. Let’s hear about this Sermon on the Mount you attended today so I can quit talking about fucking myself in ways I don’t enjoy.”  

“Ok, but now that I’m thinking about it, before I get back to it you have to promise me something.”

“Didn’t I just demonstrate that I’m horrible at keeping my word with the whole Matlin thing?”

“I have faith in you…not really…but it was fun to say aloud.”

“What do I need to promise you, Stuke?” he asks with a groan.  

“That at no point will you interject with the words I told you so.”

“I can’t promise that! It’s my favorite thing to do! And right now I could really use some cheering up so don’t ask that of me, ok?”

“Promise.” I tell him as he reaches over and grabs a piece of my roll, plops it in his mouth and chomps down on it with his arms crossed like a petulant child.  

“Ok! But only because I’m in a vulnerable place right now and you’re taking full advantage of it, you emotional rapist you.”

“Thank you.”

A Sense of Purpose

Chapter 27

Dreama was out for blood.

Because of Kaleb’s brazen accusation against him and his threat to go to corporate over it Rene had been forced to yank on Dreama’s leash as an act of self-preservation. However, that yank hadn’t been hard enough to choke Dreama out, just piss him off to the point of declaring war on Kaleb and vowing to have him fired by any means necessary.

This meant Dreama had been working overtime in an effort to take him down, attempting to dig up whatever dirt he could find on Kaleb as well as watching his every move for any infraction that could aid him in his campaign to have Kaleb ousted. And although Dreama kept coming up empty handed time and time again, this didn’t deter his lust for payback but only strengthened his determination to destroy Kaleb once and for all.  

“So what do you think about Dreama’s crusade against you?” I ask Kaleb while setting up my station.

“I don’t.” he says with indifference as he cleans the crud from his fingernails with my shears.  

“You’re not the least bit worried that he’s named you Public Enema #1?”

“Not at all. If anything I’m proud of it.”

“You are?”

“Yeah, because in all the time that I’ve known Dreama I’ve never seen him work as hard as he has these past few weeks at trying to get me fired. In fact, I’d say I’ve done what nobody else, including himself, has been able to do.”

“And what’s that?”

“Motivate him.”

“You’re serious aren’t you?”  

“Dead serious, and to be honest, I’m so impressed with what I’ve done that I’m thinking I should quit hair altogether and become a life coach. Although if I quit that would make him happy and giving him any sort of happiness is not on my to-do list.”

“Maybe you could just bill him for your services then.”

“You never have ‘em but that’s a great idea.”

Still, despite his blasé attitude toward Dreama’s vengeful vendetta this didn’t mean Kaleb had been gallivanting around with the usual impunity he’d grown accustomed to, especially when it came to being at work on time.

In the past he’d meander into school ten to fifteen minutes late as if his schedule was more of a suggestion than a command and by the grace of God he’d always go unnoticed and unpunished for it. But now that he was walking around with a giant bull’s eye on his back he could no longer afford to waltz in at his leisure.  

And even though Kaleb was one of those people who didn’t give a single, solitary fuck when it came to 99.9% of things in life, the one thing he did care about was losing to someone like Dreama and so he was determined not to hand him an easy victory by way of tardiness.

This meant that ever since Kaleb had a price put on his head he’d been making sure to raise that head (along with the rest of his ramshackle of a body) at the butt-crack of dawn to ensure that he made it into work on time, which in and of itself was a HUGE life-improvement on his own part. 

So who knew, maybe Kaleb had a future in life-coaching after all.

As for me I’d been trying to follow his advice on not caring about the quality of my work and instead just focus on making it to school every day, not losing my shit and of course, not becoming a part of The 90%.

However, telling myself to not care about my work was easier said than done because it went against everything I’d held sacred about being a creative. As an artist I had always labored under the belief that whatever I created should be done with the utmost of care and held to the highest of standards.  

Now, though, I’d been told to abandon that belief in exchange for wholesale apathy which meant that even when I made someone’s hair look like it’d been gang-raped by a pack of chimpanzees hopped up on Viagra and methamphetamines my only response could be complete and total irrelevance.      

Which sucked because I’d always felt a responsibility and attachment to whatever I did or made. It was an extension of myself into the world and if I was gonna be someone who didn’t care about what they were bringing into the world then that didn’t make me any better of a person than Mary Jo Campbell*.      

And while I understood Kaleb’s reasoning behind it all (don’t burn your forest for the trees, in fact, don’t even care about the trees) that didn’t make it any easier or give me any sort of relief or resolve, it had only put me in the agonizing position of being miserable if I cared and being miserable if I didn’t cafe. It had been a lateral move, not a forward one, leaving me to feel like I was the resident of a shitty neighborhood and all I’d done to change my situation was move from one side of the street to the other. Sure, I’d done something but that something had still kept me in the same shitty place.  

So I needed a way out, I needed to find some sort of purpose to embrace that would get me through school in a more positive way. Something that would help me weather all the failures, disappointments and spells of self-doubt and self-loathing I’d experience while at the same time keeping my integrity as an artist in-tact.         

The problem was, I had no idea what that purpose might be or where I could find it and until I did…

“So what am I gonna be fucking up today? A haircut? Color? Highlights?”

It was back to the business of desecrating heads like I was Jeffery Dahmer.  

“Today’s fuck-up will be brought to you by way of a blow dry.” Kaleb says as he cleans the last of his fingernails with my shears then twirls them around like a gunslinger.

“Really? Just a blow dry?”

“Yeah, everyone has to be finished with their clients by 11 today so hopefully that’s something you can manage…god help us.”   

“What’s with the early cut-off time?”

“There’s an industry guest coming in at 11:30.”

“There is?”

“Yeah, didn’t you get the email?”

“The email? From who?”

“The school.”

“The school sends out emails?”

“All the time, you didn’t know about this?”

“About the emails or the industry guest?”

“Both I suppose.”

“No.”

“How could you not?”

“I barely check my regular mail so the odds of me checking my email are right up there with you cleaning your apartment.”

“That’s a low blow.”

“Maybe, but for me to drive my point home I had to shit on yours.”

“You’re becoming more like me every day, did you know that?”

“I do and that’s a scary realization.”

Kaleb has me blow dry a professional middle-aged woman in a power suit that’s come in for a blow out before her big staff meeting. By the time I’m finished she looks like a homeless person that spends her days wrestling with pigs.  

She asks me if I’m genuinely ok with sending her back into the world looking the way she does and so I give her what’s become my default, couldn’t care less reply; a shoulder shrug with a side look of whatever.   

She makes the mistake of turning to Kaleb for an explanation or support and all he gives her is the same response as mine, uniting us both in our front to not give a rat’s ass in regard to the rat’s nests I’m making on the daily.

After she leaves, swearing never to return, the call goes out for students to take a 20 min break before reporting back to the Theory Room for the industry guest.

Bode and I run to Starbucks, grab our caffeine fix and then get back with a few minutes to spare.

Kaleb waves us over to a spot in the back where according to him he had to fight tooth and nail to save us seats because in addition to the 200+ regular students in the room there’s also another 100 former students who have shown up for this guest, packing the place beyond capacity and giving it that funky, sweaty, too-many-bodies-in-a-room smell.     

“How did all these past students know about today?” I ask our fearless seat-saver.   

“They must still be on the school’s email list.”

“Did you know that the school sends out emails?” I turn and ask Bode.

“Yeah I read mine all the time, don’t you?”

“No, and I feel so left out.” I say, looking around and sensing an excitement buzzing through the dewy crowd as if this guest can walk on water or raise the dead. “So who is this person anyway?” 

“Kelly Cardenas.” Kaleb tells me.   

“She must be pretty awesome at hair if she can bring all these people out of the woodwork. I wonder if she’s hot.” I remark.

“HE.” Kaleb says.

“Who’s he?” I ask.

“Kelly. Kelly is a he.”

“Oh she is is she?”

“Yeah, and even though he has salons throughout the country he’s more known for his inspirational speaking which is what he’ll be doing today.”

“So he’s just here to talk? And all these people are just here to listen?”

“That’s about the size of it.” Kaleb says, scrolling on his phone.

“Have you seen him before?” I ask Kaleb.

“Yeah, he comes here every year.”  

“What does he talk about?”

“I dunno, life shit and how to be good at it I guess.”

“You mean like Tony Robbins?”

“Sure, like Tony Robbins, only without all the yelling and big teeth.”  

“Interesting.” I say with a sarcastic overtone, knowing full-well that most “inspirational speakers” who claim to have all the answers are nothing more than charlatans preying upon the universal uncertainties every man, woman and non-binary person experience throughout their lifetime on Earth.

“Well I guess he can’t be any worse than Dreama.” I note.

“Or that father son waxing team that came in last month.” Bode adds. “Good lord that was a massacre.”

“To put it mildly.” Kaleb chortles with his face still buried in his phone’s screen. “Did Blake ever make a full recovery?”

“I don’t think Blake ever stopped being high long enough to notice that he needed medical attention.” I tell him.  

Blake was one of the few straight male students who attended Paul Mitchell and not only was he a promising stylist but he was also high AF every single day of his young, hot life. This, one can imagine, could impact his cognitive skills from time to time and there was no time more evident of this than when a father and his son came to the school to give a presentation and peddle their brand of body hair removal wax.

At one point during their spiel they asked for a volunteer to come on stage so they could smear their revolutionary new product over a part of that person’s body to demonstrate the “amazing abilities” it had in getting rid of unwanted hair.

Without bothering to ask which part of the body they planned on removing hair from, Blake was on stage, in a chair with his shirt off, more stoned than a biblical whore and wearing a big, dumb smile across his face.

Within seconds the father and his son were on him, slathering their golden goo all over his hair infested chest. Next they proceeded to cover said chest with dozens of strips of waxing paper until his upper torso looked like a paper mache. Once that was done the ripping off of the papers commenced, each tear making the same sound a tape gun does when it’s being pulled across a moving box.

Over and over again the dad and his offspring took turns yanking paper strips off of Blake’s chest, taking with them not only his hair but also bits of his top layer of skin as well. And as every yank of paper yielded more hair, more epidermis and more screams from the audience, Blake continued to sit there with that big, dumb smile plastered across his face, unfazed and unaware that this dipshit duo were filleting him like a fucking fish.

By the time it was all said and done there was a pile of paper strips rife with blood, wax, hair and skin both littering and sticking to the stage while Blake’s chest looked like it’d been pared with a potato peeler.  

“That was a bloodbath for the ages.” Kaleb says, breaking free from his phone’s spell and shoving it in his pocket as Capitan Ron swaggers on stage to address the crowd.

“Alright, alright, I know you’re all excited for today’s guest so please make sure to give him your full and undivided attention. That means putting your phones away and keeping them away or else I’ll be taking them away, understood?”

Everyone nods their heads and mumbles ‘YES’ knowing that Ron isn’t one to make empty requests or threats.  

“Now I know some of you have seen Kelly before and the fact that you came back to see him again is a testament to his skills as a speaker.” Ron says, looking around the room to make sure all eyes are on him. “For those of you seeing him for the first time I’d suggest you open your hearts and minds to what he has to say because he truly is a visionary who wants to help people make their lives better. So without any further delay, it’s my honor to bring out Mr. Kelly Cardenas.”

At this the crowd of former students jump to their feet, cheering, clapping and whistling as if Jesus himself had returned and stopped by to see how everyone’s day at Paul Mitchell was going before continuing on with his rapture duties.

The rest of us who had yet to experience this Kelly Cardenas character didn’t know how to respond. So some joined in on the hootin’ and hollerin’ while others sat by and looked on with healthy skepticism.

I myself wasn’t sure what to think, including what this guy would look like. But whatever notion I may have had in regard to his appearance it sure as shit wasn’t what entered the room and ascended the stage.

Sporting a blonde, nappy mess of shoulder-length dreads and a dark scruffy goatee on his face, this guy did not strike me as someone who could change my life with the utterance of his words.

What he did strike me as was a burned out beach-bum who hit the bong 24/7, a third-world traveler that spent his life guzzling ayahuasca* and frolicking through the jungles of South America naked or the bass player of a Grateful Dead cover band that wasn’t above asking people for spare change at gas stations.

In fact the only thing that kept me from believing this guy played in a drum circle and sold sage sticks in Venice was his impeccable wardrobe that consisted of custom made clothes and a leather jacket that all screamed high-end rockstar chic. It was a total juxtaposition to say the least.

He stood still onstage beaming a warm, radiant smile from his round, cherubic face until the applause from his disciples died down and everyone returned their assess to their seats. Then he finally spoke, which is what we’re all here for in the first place.   

“Thank you all so much for such an incredible welcome.” he says in a voice that sounds just like Wayne Newton. “You know, I get to go to all the Paul Mitchell schools around the country and Sherman Oaks never fails to bring the love.”

This remark lights the crowd up again and gives way to another round of standing, yelling, clapping and cheering, making my tinnitus ring a little louder and my patience grow a little thinner.

I was already under the impression that this guy was full of shit and that the only thing of value he’d have to say would be ‘That’s all the time I have, thanks for being a great audience.’  

So I was hoping for a quick end to all this inspirational nonsense. Seriously, dude, let’s hurry up and get to changing some lives so the rest of us can get on with ours and go to lunch.  

Little did I know that the biggest life that was about to change was my own.  

*Mary Jo Campbell is the mother of Kris Jenner. Kris Jenner is responsible for giving birth to not only the Kardashian / Jenner kids but also spawning a reality TV franchise and product brand. Those two business entities not only celebrate her children’s status-driven narcissism but are also responsible for convincing a generation  of young women that their bodies aren’t good enough because they don’t compare to the plasticized, photo-shopped images of Jenner’s superficial offspring, prompting teenage girls as young as 13 to ask their parents for nose, breast and butt jobs in a sad and futile attempt to keep up with the Kardashians.

Had Mary Jo Campbell been a little more birth-controlling and a little less pro-creating when it came to the act of bearing children then the world might have been spared the damaging effects of having Kris Jenner and her descendants in it.     

* Ayahuasca (hi-uh-wah-ska) is a South American hallucinogenic tea that when consumed is believed to give people not only a beautiful and spiritual experience but also offer them unique clarity about their lives and bestow them with an enhanced sense of personal direction.

While the plant isn’t illegal in the U.S. per se, its active ingredient, known as D.M.T. is banned as a Schedule I Drug, the same category as heroin and ecstasy so the only way to slurp up some of this spiritualized soup is to travel to Brazil, Costa Rica or Peru for a retreat or if you’re in the States you can take part in an underground ceremony led by a Shaman at the tune of $250 a pop.

Which if you think about it isn’t a lot money when it comes to having profound realizations that the miserable job or relationship you’re in isn’t the right thing for you, thereby empowering you to seek out a path that gives you total happiness and fulfillment and in turn making you a better person and the world a better place.

The 90%

Chapter 26

 

“You did this on purpose didn’t you?” Kaleb asks while inspecting the gruesome bald spot I’d managed to cut into Trevor’s hair while attempting to do the scissor over comb technique.

“Why would I do that?”

“Same reason the mom from A Christmas Story used up all the glue.”

“So the Old Man couldn’t put the leg lamp back together?”

“So you’ve seen that movie?”

“Who the fuck hasn’t? And what does that have to do with this?”

“Just like the mom didn’t want the lamp around, you didn’t wanna do scissor over comb, you wanted to use clippers and so you decided to sabotage the whole thing by going and doing…this.” he says, poking his finger at the hairless patch on Trevor’s head.

“Do you really think I’d wanna do something like this on purpose?”

“No, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how you did this because the comb should’ve guarded against him being scalped.”

“I amaze even myself sometimes.”

“No shit. You’re like a magician that performs demented tricks on people’s heads. Anyway, like I was saying, because of this little mishap we now have to use the clippers.”    

“But I thought you said clippers were tools for the unskilled and incompetent.”

“They are but there’s no way I, or you, and I especially mean you, will be able to fix this by doing scissor over comb.” he gripes. “How do you feel about going super short on the sides?” he asks Trevor.

“I’m good with it but lemme ask Stickman.” he says then nods his head to an imaginary voice. “Stickman is good with it too.” he informs us, making me relieved that both he and Stickman were easy going clients.  

“Kaleb, babe, can you come over here and check my cut please?” Dusti yells to him.

“Babe?” he says to me with a scrunched up face. “That just made me feel like I did when I saw my parents 69ing, blech.” he utters then schleps over to Dusti.     

“Your boy’s a little salty isn’t he?” Trevor asks once Kaleb is out of earshot.

“You get used to the sodium.”

“I feel sorry for his girlfriend…if he even has one.”

“Oh he does, and she’s a pornstar.”

“What really? That guy?”

“Hard to believe huh?”

“I mean not if she was one of those fetish pornstars like a burn victim or an amputee.”

“She’s actually legit, her name is **** ******.”

“THAT’S HIS GIRLFRIEND?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s fucking hot, and that moan of hers…god damn!”

“Don’t I know it, Trev.”

Kaleb returns and assess the tattered landscape I’ve left on Trevor’s head then devises a plan. 

“Ok, we’re gonna start off with no guard and blend it up using a 1 and then a 2. That’ll erase the bald spot and give a nice gradient look. Then we’ll take some off the top and texturize it. That good with you, dude?” he asks Trevor.

“Hey, man, anything is good from the person banging **** ******.  That shit is prime-time, yo!”

“Gee, I wonder how he found out that piece of information.” Kaleb says, looking at me.

“What’s it like having sex with her?” Trevor asks with excitement.  

“I don’t talk about my sex life.”

“Aww c’mon, man, ya gotta tell me! I gotta know! Besides, you cut my ear, doesn’t that deserve some kind of compensation?”

“He’s got a point.” I tell Kaleb.

“Fine, it’s good. Now can we move on?”

“That’s it? After every mind-bending thing I’ve seen her do on camera and all you’ve gotta say is ‘it’s good’?”

“Everything she does on camera is acting, it’s not real life. Sorry to burst your boner.”

“It doesn’t look like she’s acting, it looks like she’s loving it.”

“That’s the trademark of a good actor, to pretend. Besides, they have to do re-takes, get different shots, adjust the lighting and then edit it all. It’s no different than anything that goes into a regular movie.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“She ever take you to work with her?”

“No because I’m too busy working this job where I have to answer questions like this because some people are chatty Kathy’s right, Stuke?”

“So we’re gonna start off with no guard then work our way up to a 2?” I say in a bid to take the focus off of me and my double XL mouth, realizing I’d be a horrible employee if I worked for The Mob.     

“Yeah.” Kaleb says, firing up the barbaric clippers and fixing the side with the bald patch on it and making it look crisp and clean.

“Now do the other side just like this.”  

“Ok.” I tell him, believing that using the clippers will reduce my ability to make mistakes only to find out that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Cementing once and for all my belief that there was no hope for me when it came to doing any hair of any type in any way on any person.   

“Holy hose-hound.” Kaleb says when he sees the Texas Chainsaw Massacre I’d performed.

“How’s it lookin’?” Trevor asks.

“Like Ray Charles did it right after shooting up.” Kaleb tells him.

“But you’re able to fix it, right?” he asks Kaleb as I look out the window and stare at the silhouette of the Santa Monica mountain range in the distance, wanting to flee from here to its highest peak and hoping some kind, understanding soul will bludgeon me over the head with a rock and then leave my corpse to be ravaged by birds and wild animals as if I was given a traditional Tibetan Sky Burial.     

“Of course I can fix it.” Kaleb says, grabbing the clippers once again and turning my mess into a masterpiece as the call goes out for our lunch break.

“You wanna finish the rest of the cut so we can get outta here before we all turn to dust?” I ask full of dejection and self-loathing.

“Sure, just watch me so you’ll know what to do next time.” he says, chopping into the hair on the top of Trevor’s head with a calculated frenzy.

As he cuts I look down the row and see the great shag that Bode did on his client which he’s finishing off with hairspray and the flawless A-line Dusti did on hers that she’s flat-ironing.

In fact everyone in my row has done an awesome job on their client with the exception of me who’s standing off to the side with his dick in his hand like some useless cuckold while his teacher finishes the job he couldn’t do.       

“Alright you’re good to go.” Kaleb tells Trevor, putting a dab of paste in his hair and styling it.

“Fucking rad.” Trevor says, admiring his reflection. “Stickman is gonna be off the chain this Friday, thanks dude!” he tells Kaleb as he white boy dances with his bandaged ear over to the front desk.

“I know you weren’t able to do the last part of the cut but do you still feel like you learned something?”

“Oh yeah, I learned that I’m a total fuck-up and shouldn’t be allowed to touch people’s hair because when I do it’s a crime against humanity.” I tell him as I throw my gear into my kit.

“Hey man, it was your fist men’s cut, of course you were gonna make mistakes.”

“Yeah? What about all the women’s cuts I’ve done? And how many times have I done a blow dry that looked even half-way passable?”

“Well you-“

“The answer is none, Kaleb. NONE. I feel like life is giving me a great big sign that says I should fucking quit and count my losses while they’re still countable.”

“You don’t wanna do that.”

“Pretty sure I do.”

“Pretty sure you don’t.”

“Yes I do! When I was in Core it bothered me that I wasn’t any good but I thought I’d eventually outgrow it, get better over time and improve the quality of work I did and the way I felt about it.”

“Stu-“

“But none of that has happened and I’m fucking sick and tired of it to the point that I’m ready to quit and go deliver pizzas or something lame like that that that doesn’t kick me in the balls on the daily.”

“STUKE!”

“What, motherfucker?”

“If you quit you’ll never get to where you’re supposed to go.”

“And where’s that? A hair salon for the blind?”

“No, although that is funny.”

“It’s funny because you said something like that to me before.”

“That makes sense. But besides that, listen, you have the passion to wanna do good which is why you’re so hard on yourself but you need to ease up, man.”

“That’s hard to do when I see everybody else creating phenomenal work and all I’m making is garbage.”

“Fuck what everybody else is doing.” he says as my fellow students stroll past us towards the front door. “If you stick with this you’re gonna be more successful than all these people.”

“How do you figure?”

“The Law of Percentages.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Do you know how many of these students will actually make a career out of doing hair?”

“No idea, I’m not in charge of statistics.”

“Ten percent is your answer. At most, ten percent will go on to do hair after they graduate.”

“Doesn’t seem like much.”

“It isn’t.”

“Why won’t they?”

“Any number of reasons. They might decide they don’t like it, can’t handle the assistant phase, they get married or knocked up, die in a car crash…who knows, the factors are endless. But if you keep with it that puts you at an advantage.”

“How?”

“Because ninety percent of your competition won’t even show up for the game. They’ll forfeit their career in hair which will give you more room on the field to flourish.”

“Flourish is the farthest fucking word to describe where I’m at right now.”

“I know but the right now doesn’t last forever. You’ll get better as long as you don’t quit. Plus, here’s a secret no one else will tell you…”

“What’s that?” I ask, thinking of Jan’s Dead Men Tell No Tales tattoo and wondering if Kaleb and I will find ourselves at the bottom of the Pacific once he reveals this secret to me.  

“You’re not really here to learn how to do hair.”

What was that?

“Dude, like the Virgin Mary said to God, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“What I’m talking about is that all you’re really here to do is get the 1600 hours you need to take your board exam and pass it so you can get your license. Everything else is just lipstick on a cop. The real learning comes when you start assisting at an actual salon.”

Kaleb dropping this revelation made me feel like I wasn’t allowed a choice between taking the blue pill or the red pill but instead had the red one shoved down my throat and was forced to swallow.

And upon swallowing it came to the realization that the reality I’d thought I’d been living in had been a lie and in its place a new and unsettling truth lay bare that I now had to contend with and accept.

All my notions about school had been an illusion like set pieces on a Hollywood sound stage that appeared to be 3 dimensional but were nothing more than cheap plywood propped up by a few beams and some brackets.  

What a fucking asshole this Kaleb guy was.

“You know if this was meant to make me feel better it doesn’t.”

“No?”

“No! I already feel like I’ve been drowning in a sea of sorrow and instead of giving me your hand you use it to push me further down.”

“Well that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to help you see things for how they really are so you’ll quit stabbing yourself in the heart. I want you to know that you don’t need to know everything about hair when you finish school, you just need to finish it and all that takes is just showing up every day.”     

“So you’re saying just come here every day, get the shit kicked out of me and eventually everything will work out?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying and doing that doesn’t take any skill or talent, just determination.”

I finish packing up my shit and notice Bode and Dusti are waiting for me by the door.

“Stuke, more than anything else hair is a mind game. It’s a mind game between you and yourself and you and your clients and I know you’ve got the making of becoming a true Jedi so stick with it, ok?”

“That’s very Obi-Wan of you but I seriously doubt school was as hard for you as it is for me.”

“Trust me, it was a fucking nightmare.” he says, taking me by surprise. “And Sassoon doesn’t have the whole kumbaya culture they do here because Vidal was English and there’s two things the English pride themselves on.”

“What’s that?”

“Perfection and being cunts to those who can’t achieve it. And in their eyes I could never achieve it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. There were so many days I’d go home and cry because I’d done something the wrong way and the teachers had humiliated me in front of everyone because of it.”

“Wow, I was always under the impression you’d been this god-like magi from the minute you picked up a pair of shears. I mean, what about that year you spent in London? Didn’t you go there because you were so good?”

“No, I went there so I could get good, and it was the hardest year of my life. But I became who I am because of it and you wanna know why?’

“Because you didn’t quit?”

“Doesn’t happen often but you’re right. And if I can do it so can you. So from now on the only thing you should worry about is not comparing yourself to others, not kicking the shit out of yourself and above all else, don’t become a part of the 90%.”

“Okay.” I say, coming down off the ledge of career suicide I was about to fling myself from.

“It won’t always feel good but that’s temporary and anyone can recover from temporary.”

“I understand and…thanks for the talk, it means a lot, especially from you.”

“Don’t mention it.” he says, pulling from his back pocket a smashed up pack of Marlboro lights that he digs a cigarette out of. “And by that I mean don’t mention what I said to anyone because I can’t afford to look like I care, got it?”

“Got it.”

“Good, now go to lunch while I kill myself softly with this cigarette.”

Not Waving but Drowning

Chapter 25

“I don’t know how to do a style and set.” I tell Dreama as I begrudgingly fasten a cape around the elderly woman he’d forced me into taking. 

“Best way to learn is by making mistakes.” he says walking away.

“Yeah but I don’t’ even know where to start. Could you at least give me some pointers?”

“God damn it does Dreama have to do everything?” he complains, stomping back to my station and scribbling down a list of products in the penmanship of a 1st grader on the back of my client’s ticket. “Throw this in her hair and curl it.” 

“Curl it how? Can you do the first one for me so I understand?”

“No! Just fake it ‘til you make it.”

“Or just watch a YouTube video on how to do it.” Kaleb’s nasally voice says from behind us. 

“Dude! What are you doing here?” I say, happier than a priest in an all boys orphanage to see him.

“What are you doing here?” Dreama snarls.

“Well, Jermaine, I work here despite your best efforts to change that.” Kaleb says while Dreama looks at him like a cockroach that won’t die.  

“Oh my god! Kaleb, you’re back!” Dusti screams, jumping up and wrapping an arm and leg around him as if he were a stripper pole, a move she’ll later come to master when she relocates to Vegas, takes up pole-dancing and gets crowned 2019’s Miss Exotic Pole Dancer of the Year. 

“Could you please not do that?” Kaleb asks, peeling Dusti off his body. “I’ve got a herniated disc.”

“Oh, my bad.” she says, running her hands down his backside until he squirms out of her reach. 

“By the way, Jermaine, Rene would like a word with you.” Kaleb tells him.   

“It’s DREAMA!” he barks back like a petulant child. “And why’s she wanna see ME?” he asks, rightfully confused since he’s normally the one sending people to Rene, not the one being sent.  

“I dunno. Once we were finished she told me to get back on The Floor and send you up.” 

“You tell her some bullshit about me? Cuz if you did…” Dreama boils while clenching his fists and teeth. 

“You better get going, you know how short she is on patience.” Kaleb says with a grin.

“Fuck you, faggot, this ain’t over.” Dreama hisses before turning and trudging back up the stairs to Rene’s office while Bode, Dusti and I stand there stunned at the reversal of fates that had taken place.

“What the fuck just happened?” Dusti asks.

“And how did you manage to keep your job? Dreama made it sound like you were toast.” I say.    

“As usual Dreama didn’t know what he was talking about.” Kaleb tells us as he tidies his porno-creep mustache in a station mirror.” And once he left, Rene and I were able to come to a nice little agreement.”

“I didn’t know the words ‘nice’ and ‘agreement’ could be in the same sentence as ‘Rene’”. Dusti says.

“Or the word ‘little’” I add.

“Seriously, trying to reason with her is like trying to negotiate with Genghis Kahn.” Dusti giggles.

“I know, and at first she wasn’t interested in talking because she was too busy yelling about firing me. But once I explained why that wasn’t in her best interest she decided to keep me around.”

“Really?” Bode asks perplexed. What’d you say to make her act so…unlike herself?” 

“I told her if she fired me then I’d have a lot of time on my hands, enough time to call corporate and tell them about the Learning Leader she’d hired who not only lacked industry experience but was also fucking students on her watch. Once she saw the severity in this she thought it was best I stay.”     

“So you blackmailed her?” I ask.

“I don’t think that’s the right word to use since she’s black, it comes across as racially insensitive.”

“Bribed?” Bode asks.

“There was no exchange of money.”

“Then how does the word ‘extorted’ make you feel?” I say, prompting Kaleb to think on it for a second.

“It makes me feel like Tony Soprano. I like it.” 

“So you knew about Dreama hooking-up with Natalia then?” I ask.

THAT’S who he’s been fucking? Jesus Christ he has NO respect for himself, that’s just awful.”

“If you didn’t know it was Natalia who’d you think it was?”

“I wasn’t sure, I just threw a broad allegation out there, put on my poker face and hoped for the best. But seriously, Natalia? Gross. Just visualizing that makes me wanna lobotomize myself.”

“What do you think’ll happen to Dreama?” Dusti asks.

“I dunno. But whatever it is he’s gonna blame me for it and have a giant hard-on for trying to fuck me as a result of it so you know what that means.”

“What?” we ask bewildered.

“I need to start using a little more caution and constraint in the way I handle myself at school.”

Kaleb giving a shit about the way he handled himself in general let alone at school could only mean one thing: They were breaking out the snow-blowers in Hell because it had officially frozen over.  

“Well we’re glad you were able to escape the noose.” Bode says.

“Thanks.” he replies then looks at the elderly woman in my chair. “What’s this?” 

“This is what Dreama said I had to do, a style and set.”

“Do you plan on doing hair in a nursing home when you graduate?”

“It wasn’t in the cards.”

“Excuse me, miss?” Kaleb says into her hearing aid equipped ear. “My name is Kaleb, I’m a teacher here and I think there’s been a mistake with the student you’ve been given.”

“Mistake? What kind of mistake? Is he gonna make me look like the Bride of Frankenstein?”

“There’s a good chance that could happen but besides that he’s also super slow, slower than two turtles copulating.”

“Copu-what?” she asks, craning her neck towards him in an attempt to hear better. 

“Forget it. You want a style and set correct?”

“Yes. I don’t want my hair cut or colored and I don’t wanna end up looking like Ellen DeGeneres, that squawky woman resembles a 12yr old boy.”

“Ok, well Stuke here is not the person to do that for you because he takes forever.”

She glances over at me for confirmation of this.

“He’s not lying.” I tell her. 

“And by the looks of it time isn’t something you have so I’m gonna hand you over to a student that can get the job done before God calls you from his waiting room into his office, ok?”

So much for caution and constraint.   

“I have a bridge game in two hours you know.” she tells him.

“You’ll be out of here before then. Plus, we have a complimentary defibrillator if you need it so don’t hesitate to ask.” he says, removing her cape and interlocking his arm with hers and walking her back to the front desk.

“He’s such a gentleman.” Dusti says, running her tongue along the top of her teeth. 

“A true nobleman.” I say. “Total aristocrat.” Bode follows up.

“Shut up, the both of you.” she chides, adjusting her boobs to be front and center.       

Minutes later Kaleb comes back leading a procession of clients.

“Bode, here’s your shag cut, Dusti, this lady would like a triangular bob and Stuke, here’s your men’s cut.” he says, then goes on to dole out the remainder of the clients to the other students in the row.   

 “Hi, I’m Stuke.” I tell the scrawny 20 yr. old white kid in my chair.     

“I’m Trevor.” he says with an impish smile. “I need a haircut before this rave I’m goin’ to on Friday”.

“Yeah? Is this rave like Monster Massive?” 

“Yeah, only more massive. I like to take X and glue glow sticks to my clothes so I look like a stick figure, I do it every time I go to one of these things.”

“Is that your costume?”

“It’s more than a costume, it’s an identity…I even have a name for it.”

“Which is?”

“Stickman.”

“Makes sense. Do you dance at these things?”

“I don’t know how to dance…”

“Well not everyone dan-“

“But Stickman does and he’s a maniac on the floor.”

“He sounds like a real rager.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” he says taking a deep breath. “One night Stickman was so out of control that I woke up in Tempe.”

“Arizona?”

“Is there more than one Tempe in the country?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then Arizona it was.”

Kaleb returns and stands behind Trevor, running his hands through his messy mop of hair. “Ok, so like I said earlier, we’re gonna do this men’s cut employing the scissor over comb technique…”

Scissor over comb is one of the most graceful and precise methods a stylist can employ. It’s also one of the hardest to learn and execute because the comb and the scissors have to work in unison while moving along the head as if they were dancing, all the while maintaining consistency and accuracy with the length that’s being cut.

The end result (if done right) is a soft, beautiful style which tapers in at the sides and the nape giving the client a more customized look as opposed to just having their hair mowed over with clippers. 

Some in the industry swear by this system while others swear at it. But regardless of where a stylist falls with loving or hating it, it’s respected by all and truly mastered by few.      

“…and since we’re doing that technique I need you to wash him out and blow dry him first.” Kaleb says.   

“Hold on, I thought one of the reasons you wanted me to do a men’s cut was because you didn’t wanna suffer through another blow-dry with me.”

“I know, but to do this his hair has to be in a uniform direction and to achieve that you’ll need to wash and blow dry it before starting.”

“Ugh.”

“Quit your bitchin’, it’ll take all of five minutes and make sure to use your comb when blowing him out because the back and the sides need to be in a downward direction and the top needs to be combed towards the front. Got it?” 

I do what I’m told and when I’m finished he looks it over. 

“Wow, even blowing out short hair is a challenge for you.”

“Can’t we just use clippers on him?”

“No, that’s barbaric.” he says, wetting Trevor’s hair with a spray bottle then re-drying it again.

“There, see how it’s all nice and neat?”

“A real work of art.”

“I know, plus, it’ll make it easier for you to follow your guide.” he says as he takes my shears in his hand.

“Now, you’re gonna start behind the ear at the mastoid process, placing the comb against his head and the shears against the comb. Then you’re gonna move both of them upwards at the same time while cutting, like this.” he says, demonstrating on Trevor and then…

“ARGH!!!! MY FUCKING EAR!!!”

Accidentally cuts him. 

“Oh my god!” Kaleb squeals. “I think I got blood on me!”

“You? What about HIM!?” I ask as a crimson stream races down the side of Trevor’s baby white face.

“Blood makes me nauseous and I’m a germaphobe!” Kaleb cries as if he’s been bitten by a rabid dog.

“Well go grab him a towel or something.” I yell. 

“That’d be nice.” Trevor says unfazed while holding his ear as his fingers turn red.

“Ok.” Kaleb says, holding his stomach and hobbling over to the towels while Trevor’s head bobs around as he inspects the floor.   

“Lose something?” I ask.

“Just wondering if any part of my ear is down there.” he replies casually.

Kaleb comes back and thrusts the towel at me with his head turned to avoid seeing more blood. I grab it and press it against Trevor’s ear, maybe pressing it a little too hard because he yelps out again.  

“Sorry, I wanna make sure it has enough pressure to stop.” I tell him in my best fake surgeon voice.

“I’ll go find a Band-Aid and some Neosporin.” Kaleb says then flees the scene, leaving me alone with this hair cutting causality in my chair and wondering if said causality had signed a release form that would relinquish us from the culpability of maiming him.

Kaleb is gone for what seems like an eternity which makes me wonder if he’s actually looking for first-aid supplies or just puking his guts out in the bathroom, it could be either so in the meantime I try to make small talk with Trevor in an attempt to break the long, awkward bleeding silence.         

“Soooooo…. have you been here before?”   

“A couple times but I think I’ll remember this one the most.” he says, pulling my hand and the towel from his ear so he can survey the damage. 

“Oh would you look at that!” I say surprised. “It’s just a little nick. By the way you were gushing I thought for sure it was a van Gogh.” I tell him as the flow has slowed down to a trickle due in no small part to all the pressure I’d applied like a fucking pro. 

“Yeah it isn’t that bad.” he says, dabbing at it with the towel then wiping the blood off his hand as Kaleb finally returns with the provisions he’d set out for.

“Here.” he says, handing them to Trevor then turning around while he bandages himself up.

“Wanna keep going?” Kaleb asks hesitantly once all signs of blood and injury are out of sight.

“Hell yeah!” Trevor replies with excitement. “Stickman needs to look sharper than those scissors that just cut me.”

“Stickman?” Kaleb asks.

“Forget about it.” I say. “Just get on with the cut…without cutting him again…please.”

Kaleb carefully shows me the technique again and then leaves me to do the entire left side of Trevor’s head. After 20 minutes he comes back to check on me.

“That looks like a lawn that’s been mowed by an epileptic having a seizure.” he says, taking my shears and evening out all the disproportionate lengths riddling the side of Trevor’s head. “Try it again on the other side.” 

“I’m gonna do just as bad on that side too, can I please just use the clippers instead?”

“Forget it, clippers are tools for the unskilled and incompetent.”

“I reside in both those categories.”

“And the only way to get out of them is to keep trying.” he says, leaving me to do what I don’t wanna do while he goes to check on an Asian student at the end of the row named Jan.

After a few minutes and a few tries I stop to look at my work and wonder how it is that I’ve done what I’ve done. It wasn’t anything good, mind you, but the level of bad that it was had astounded even me.

“How the fuck?” I whisper to myself while gazing at this epic fail with equal parts distaste and intrigue because it was something so awful it pained me to look at it but so bizarre I couldn’t not look at it.

And speaking of looking at it, I thanked my walking upright God that this mistake of magnificent proportions had taken place on the side of Trevor’s head making it nearly impossible for him to see.         

“How’s your ear doing?” I ask as I frantically wave to Kaleb in a futile attempt to get his attention. 

“It’s pulsating.” he says while tapping his foot. “Like the beat that makes Stickman move.” he adds, pumping his shoulders up and down as I continue to flail my arm at Kaleb to no avail.

“Cool, I’ll be right back.” I say then run over to Kaleb who’s talking with Jan who has an agitated look on her face.    

“I just don’t get the point behind it.” Kaleb quips at her while rubbing his scruffy chin.

“What’s not to understand? It’s pretty straightforward if you ask me.” she bites back. 

“Well let’s ask Stuke since he’s covered in tattoos.”

“What are we asking Stuke since he’s covered in tattoos?”

“Show it to him.” he orders Jan.

“Fine.” she says with a roll of her auburn colored eyes, pulling up her sleeve to reveal a script tattoo she’d recently got on the inside of her bicep.

Dead Men Tell No TalesI read aloud. “Is that your first tattoo?”

“Yeah, I just got it and I was excited about it until…”

And I already knew the rest…

In all her excitement she’d had a momentary lapse of reason and had made the cardinal mistake of showing it to Kaleb and now found herself and her tattoo the target of his snark-filled scrutiny.

“Isn’t that that the silliest thing for her to get?” Kaleb asks me.

“I’m not the tattoo police but my clie-“

“I mean I’d understand it if she was a pirate but she’s not, she’s an Asian from…where was it again?”

“Simi Valley, Kaleb. And I happen to like what it means which is why I got it. Duh.” 

“And what does it mean? That you’ve been watching too much Johnny Depp in a funny hat and eyeliner?”

“It means that secrets can kill you and I think that’s poetic.”

“So are you saying you’d kill anyone that knows a secret about you?”

“I’m saying I’d kill you and I wouldn’t even try to keep it a secret.”

“Sheesh, only your fist tattoo and you’re already acting like a hardened criminal.”

“And I’m not sure what you’re acting like; an asshole or a moron.” she says, then turns back to blow drying her client.    

“Girls are so weird.” he says as if he’s genuinely puzzled by Jan’s hostility towards him. “What do you need?”

“What I always need; help.”

Showdown at the PM Corral

Chapter 24

Every Tuesday morning before we began the business of learning how to do hair students were required to attend a general assembly in the Theory Room called POW WOW which focused on the business of the business of learning how to do hair.

The first half of POW WOW consisted of staff telling us what we should be doing, buying and selling while the second half was reserved for industry guests to come in and tell us what we should be doing, buying and selling.    

Today’s POW was no different than any other; Make sure you’re at school on time, smoking is allowed in certain areas only and sell as much Paul Mitchell product to clients as you possibly can so the brand can expand its billion dollar empire, you fucking serfs.

After the POW portion was over we were allowed a ten minute break to have a smoke, take a leak or for the very expedient, run to the car and get high and then return back in time for the WOW portion.

But today instead of having someone from the industry come in and WOW us with a demo, their product or their wisdom, one of the school’s Learning Leaders, Jermaine Parker, was going to be giving a presentation.

Jermaine was Rene’s nephew and although they shared the same last name he insisted everyone call him by his “professional” name which was J.P. Dreama.  

J.P. Dreama had been hired as a Learning Leader the day after he acquired his cosmetologist license which was unheard of due to the fact that the school had a firm policy requiring all Learning Leaders to have a minimum two years experience behind the chair before they could be eligible for the gig. 

But when your aunt is the Head Motherfucker In Charge and you don’t want to put in the time it takes to acquire the skills you need for the position you’d like, then nepotism is the road to take in getting the job you want but aren’t qualified to have. And the way Dreama saw it was why bother paying to climb the ladder when he could take the elevator for free.

And so as a result of this family favoritism mixed with Dreama’s complete lack of experience, J.P. earned himself the reputation as being someone who had no idea what the fuck he was doing 100% of the time when it came to teaching. 

But what he lacked in knowledge he overcompensated for in bold-faced bragging because in addition to being a shoddy Learning Leader he was also an actor, director, producer and rapper, a real 21st Century Renaissance man.  

And while he couldn’t tell you how to give a simple one-length haircut he could tell you about all the auditions he was going on, music he was making and headshots he was posting to his Facebook page.

But his list of accomplishments didn’t stop there because J.P. Dreama also held the position as school sheriff, deputized by Aunt Rene and given full jurisdiction to question, harass and penalize Future Professionals at will.

This meant you would often see Deputy Dreama out patrolling The Galleria and arresting students who’d left school without permission to grab a quick coffee, soda or snack and escorting them back to Rene’s office for disciplinary action.

And if he wasn’t busy chasing down AWOL fugitives then he was hard at work handing out citations to Future Professionals who weren’t in total compliance with the school’s all black dress code, writing students up for petty crimes such as having white shoelaces in their black shoes or red trim on their black jacket.

But his policing didn’t stop at the Future Professional level because Dreama was also notorious for threatening the jobs of his fellow Learning Leaders for an array of charges that spanned from arriving at work a couple minutes late to not using the official Paul Mitchell vernacular while out on The Floor.

And while he derived great satisfaction in holding the fate of people’s employment over their heads what Deputy Dreama truly reveled in was culling the student rumor mill in search of solid gold gossip about other Learning Leaders that he could later use as leverage or blackmail.     

Oddly enough, the biggest dirt being shoveled around the scandal circle was in regard to Dreama himself and the allegations that he was sexually involved with a chubby Armenian student named Natalia which was a crime punishable by swift and vengeful termination.

But as is always the case with those who have connections to power and are belligerent from its effects, Dreama was afforded the luxury of never being held accountable to the very laws he took such sadistic pleasure in enforcing.

So because of this unfair advantage that he had over everyone else, everyone else saw it in their best interest to avoid engaging with or talking about this Gangsta Gestapo at all costs.

Everyone else except for of course…

“Dreama’s presentation is gonna suck the balls right off a donkey.”

Kaleb.   

He’d taken a seat next to Bode and I and was pissed at the fact that Dreama had been allowed to give a presentation when he himself had made the request to do so a few weeks prior and was shot-down by Rene.

“My idea was awesome too.” he went on griping. “It was fun, interactive and full of knowledge that the students could use but in the end I was told that Learning Leaders aren’t allowed to sit in as industry guests. Yet here we are, about to watch a Learning Leader give a presentation who hasn’t spent a day of his life in the industry. Go fucking figure.”

“We live in a world of hurt don’t we, buddy.” Bode says with a smirk as he pats Kaleb on the back.     

“Okay, listen up.” Dreama yells out as he takes the stage dressed in a pair of black jeans, white Jordans, a grey button down and a black clip-on bowtie. “My presentation today is about THE MOST important thing done in a service, can anyone tell me what that is?”

“I don’t think he knows which is why he’s asking.” Kaleb whispers loud enough for those in our row to hear and chuckle at.

“The client consultation.” Natalia says, shimmying her shoulders at Dreama from the front row.  

“That’s right.” he tells her with a cat ate the canary grin. “And y’all ain’t doin’ ‘em good enough before starting your services and when things go south y’all come cryin’ to Dreama and Dreama ain’t got time for it.” he says, swaggering over to the side of the stage and pecking his fingers on a laptop.

“So today we’re gonna watch a video on how to perform a consultation called…How to Perform a Consultation.”

He says this with the utmost seriousness as he tries (and fails) to link the laptop up with the Theory Room’s multi-media presentation screen that hangs above the stage.

After 10 minutes of fumbling around and with the assistance from a fellow Learning Leader, Dreama is able to connect to the screen and play the video.  

Now you’d think that for someone who’s constantly touting their talents about being an actor, director and producer that it’d be well within their capacity to create a quality video utilizing a real set, real people and real dialogue.

But, no, that didn’t happen.

And instead what we were given was a video Dreama had stumbled upon in the deepest, darkest depths of YouTube that was crudely animated and accompanied by a creepy, monotone robot voice that mechanically talked about the consultation process.

And as we watch this grotesque oddity with complete dumbfoundedness Kaleb continues to fume more and more with bitter indignation, driving him to make typical Kaleb remarks that get louder and louder until he finally blurts out something the entire room can hear.          

“I once had such horrible diarrhea that I thought my toilet was the shittiest thing I’d ever seen but this turd takes the fucking urinal cake.”

This is met with out-loud laughs from everyone except Dreama who stops the video so he can admonish the crowd and put Kaleb squarely in his cross-hairs.   

“HEY!!!! Dreama is up here trying to be a daymaker and create some magic and all y’all can do is sit there and be resisters.” he shouts, using Paul Mitchell terminology that shows that he’s punch drunk on the school’s Culture Kool-Aid. “So I’d appreciate it if you’d show Dreama some respect for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do this for you!”

Dreama scans the room with his best mad dogging look then resumes the video, glaring over at Kaleb intermittently until the video concludes 20 minutes later.

Once it’s over everyone looks at everyone else because none of us are sure what it is we just witnessed or how it is we should respond to it, even Natalia has a WTF look on her round, plumpy face. So we sit there, paralyzed with ambiguity until Dreama breaks the uncomfortable silence by applauding himself.    

“Yeah, y’all are welcome for that knowledge Dreama just dropped on you.” he says while clapping. “Make sure you use it out on The Floor today. Now get the steppin’.”

This is our cue that this week’s POW WOW has officially come to an end and we’re now free to exit the Theory room and head onto The Floor to start taking clients.

“I want you to try scissor over comb for your men’s cut so I can get a feel for how bad you are at it.” Kaleb tells me while I set myself up in his row.

“I assure you that however bad you think it may be, it’ll be a lot worse.”

“That’s what I’m counting on. Bode, how do you feel about doing a shag today?” Kaleb asks as he and Dusti also set-up in his row.

“I’d LOVE to get a shag from you.” Dusti says, batting her thick eyelashes at him.

“Uh, how about we find you a man.” Kaleb counters.

“Like in a men’s cut?” she asks.

“Like in general.” he replies, causing her to clutch her pearls and laugh aloud at his jest because she’s carrying around the world’s biggest record-breaking boner for him.

“I’d like to do a fun rock-n-roll shag.” Bode says with his usual upbeat enthusiasm.

“Cool, and Dusti, we’ll find something for you today, just not a shag.”

“Fine, but you owe me one.” she says with a big smile and a shift in her hips.

“Riiiiiiiiiight.” Kaleb tells her. “Now before we get started I wanna make sure everyone-“

“Yo, Kaleb.” Dreama shouts, prancing towards him with his chest puffed out like an angry rooster. “Dreama needs a word with you.”  

“Can it wait? I’m kinda in the middle of-“

“I’m tired of you and your bullshit attitude.” he says seething. “You think I didn’t hear every one of your little remarks during my presentation?”   

“It’s obvious you did, are you wanting an apology?”

“You’re damn straight I do unless you wanna find yourself-“

“Because I think you should be the one apologizing.”

“ME? For what?”      

 “That abhorrent presentation you gave.”

“Abhorrent?”

“Yeah, it means awful.”

“I know what it means! And fuck you cuz my shit was insightful and inspiring.”

“No, it was insulting and infuriating.”

“You’re just mad cuz Dreama was up onstage and you weren’t.”

“I’m mad because these students paid a lot of money to come here and learn something of value and all you had to offer them is a YouTube video made by a 3rd grader and narrated by Stephen Hawking. Don’t you think they deserve more?”    

“Deserve more? What more could they want? They’re already attending the Harvard of hair schools!”

“The Harvard of hair schools?” Kaleb says laughing. “That doesn’t even make sense.”  

“What are you talkin’ about?” Dreama says, getting more agitated by the second.

“There’s over a hundred Paul Mitchell schools in the country but only one Harvard. Harvard is a highly respected institute of learning, Paul Mitchell is a franchise. If anything Paul Mitchell is the McDonald’s of hair schools.”

“So now you’re not only talkin’ shit on me, you’re talkin’ shit on where you work.”  

“No, I’m just aware of where it is I work and it’s nothing comparable to Harvard, especially when students are given what you gave them today. That was just…embarrassing.”  

This comment turns Dreama’s mocha colored face to a deep shade of pissed-off purple.  

“That’s it! I’ve had enough of you and your mouth!’ Dreama spits. “Get yo ass up to Rene’s…NOW!” he screams, channeling the spirit of Ike Turner.

“I’ll be back in a sec.” Kaleb tells us as Dreama escorts him up to Rene’s office.

“That’s doubtful.” Dreama says back to us. 

Seconds later screaming can be heard coming from both Rene and Dreama as they take turns verbally assaulting Kaleb.  

“You think he’s gonna get fired?” Bode asks.   

“If not fired then at least 3rd degree burns all over his body.” I tell him.

“That’s such a crock of shit.” Dusti adds. “He had every right to call Dreama out on his bullshit, that guy’s as useless as a spoon in a knife fight.”  

After a few tense minutes Dreama strides down the steps alone and parades out onto The Floor like a prize-fighter who’d just won his bout.

“Alright y’all let’s take some clients.” he says, strutting over to the front desk and grabbing the client roster so he can assign guests to students.

“Yo, tattoo boy.” Dreama says, walking towards Bode and I with an elderly lady trailing behind him.  

“Which one?” Bode asks as we look at each other puzzled.

“Either of you, I have a client that needs a style and set so one of you-“

“We can’t take her.” I tell him.

“What was that?” Dreama says, looking at me with contempt in his black, angry eyes.

“I said we can’t take her, we’re-“

“You take what I give you. You don’t have a say in it.”

“Well we were supposed to do haircuts with Kaleb today so if it’s all the same we’d like to wait on him.” I say as I prepare to incur his wrath.

But instead of screaming he just laughs to himself while shaking his head, looking at me as if I was someone too stupid to get the punchline to a joke he just told.

“I hate to burst your bubble, kid, but Kaleb isn’t coming back. Not today, not tomorrow…not ever.” he says with a menacing grin. “Now take the god-damn client before you really piss me off.”     

Because your girlfriend is ****fucking******!

Chapter 23

“So yesterday at four a.m. I’m sound asleep because of course I am and from out of nowhere someone starts pounding on my door like the cops, BAM! BAM! BAM!” Bode says, hitting his hand on the table in cadence with his BAMS and almost knocking our coffee cups off the table.     

“Did it scare the shit outta you?”

“You bet it did, I bolted right outta bed butt-ass-naked and as soon as my feet hit the floor I tripped over a pair of shoes and fell flat on my dick…you ever fall on your dick before?”

“No, which is surprising given all the other things I’ve done to it.”  

“Well let me tell ya, it fuckin’ hurts. Anyway, I’m stumbling around in the dark like Stevie Wonder, trying to find something to wear while the banging continues. I finally find a pair of shorts, put ‘em on…backwards…and then answer the door ready to punch whoever the fuck is on the other side.” he says, grabbing his cup and finishing off the last of his coffee. “You need a refill?”

“No, if I have any more caffeine I’ll be shaking like Michael J. Fox.”

“Ok, I’ll be right back.”

“Wait! Who was at your door?”

“Tell you in a sec.” he says, getting up and wading his way through a herd of black clad Future Professionals until he reaches the counter.

It was Tuesday morning and since Bode and I had gotten to school early we (like the rest of the student body) decided to hit the Starbucks inside The Galleria for a cup of coffee, in Bode’s case two cups of coffee which would no doubt have him and his delicate digestive system on the can in no time flat.   

“So who was it!?” I ask as he sits back down with a fresh cup of brew.

“Fucking Shay.”

“Shay?”

“Yeah, fucking Shay.”

Shay was this tall, slender, model looking Latina girl from school who Bode had been hooking-up with over the past couple of weeks.

However, judging by the tone in his voice, the look on his face and the fact that he kept referring to her as fucking Shay, it was clear that he was regretting his decision to do so and I’m sure it had less to do with him violating his Purity Contract and more to do with her pounding on his door in the early a.m. like some cracked-out Jehovah’s Witness.

“Why would she do something like that?” I ask.

“Because she was drunk…and pissed off. The perfect combination to make you think it’s ok to show up at someone’s place in the wee hours of the morning and harass them.”

“What was she pissed-off about?”

“Well, Sunday afternoon she sent me a text saying that she loved me and wanted to be my girlfriend.”

“Wow.”   

“Yeah, that’s what I thought; wow.”

Before Bode shared his bodily fluids with Shay he made sure to share with her the fact that he was neither in the headspace nor the heartspace to be in a relationship and that anything that happened between them would be nothing more than a friendly tryst amongst two mature adults. 

See also: fuck buddies

Shay said she had no problem with this arrangement because she had just gotten out of a relationship filled with lies and infidelity and the last thing she wanted was anything serious. So it had appeared that they were both on the same page in regard to their casual sexcapades. 

But given the content of the text she’d sent him on Sunday it now appeared that she had decided to jump off that page and rip it into a million pieces.     

“So how did you respond?”

“I told her I thought she was a great person whose company I enjoyed but like I’d said from the get-go, I didn’t want a relationship.”

“How’d that go over?”

“She called me a fuckboy and said I’d taken advantage of her.”

“How can she accuse you of that if you both agreed it wasn’t gonna be anything serious?”

“Trust me, I brought that up but it didn’t matter, anything I had to say was met with insults and accusations.”

“So did you finally just tell her to fuck the fuck off like I would’ve done?”

“No because I didn’t wanna take the chance of it turning into more drama at school.”

“Yet another example of how you’re not as skilled at self-sabotage as I am. What happened after that?”

“I said I’d be happy to have a civil conversation with her but I wasn’t gonna continue talking to her if she was gonna keep being mean, especially when all I’ve been is honest.”   

“How’d that fly?”

“She said I could honestly go fuck myself and to never talk to her again.”

“That Latina temper is no joke.”

“Sure isn’t and it’s not how I wanted things to end but by that point I was just glad it was over.”

“But it wasn’t over because at four a.m. crazytown is bangin’ on your door like a cop.”

“Exactly.”

“So did you let her in?”

“It was that or let her keep making noise until she woke up the neighbors and the real cops showed up.”

“Did that at least calm her down?”

“Fuck no, the tirade continued with her pacing around my living room like a tiger in a cage while telling me I was nothing but a selfish bastard that only cared about himself, his dick and killing the spirits of innocent women.”

“Were you afraid that this innocent woman might try to kill you?”

“How?”

“Oh I don’t know, bash your head in with the wooden heel of her Jeffery Campbells.”

“No, not really. The only thing I was afraid of was that if I disagreed with her it could make things worse so I just let her rage on in the hopes that she’d feel like she was being heard and eventually chill out.”

“That do the trick?”

“Nope, it just allowed the insanity to reach a boiling point where she was yelling and flailing her arms all over the place…and that’s when she knocked over my favorite bass and broke its neck.”

“Your vintage Fender?”

“Yeah.”

“Holy shit, did she do that on purpose?”

“No, but still.”

“So was that the proverbial record skip where all the bullshit came to a halt?”

“Yeah, we both just stood there looking at the guitar in shock and then she threw herself on my couch and started crying.”  

“For the death of your guitar?”

“Hardly. She went into this story about her ex and how their relationship and break-up had not only put her in therapy but also on a cocktail of antidepressants that kept fucking with her emotions and that all she wanted was for someone to tell her she was ok and worthy of being loved.”

“You know, not that what she did was cool because it totally wasn’t, but, I think we both know how bad a break-up can fuck with you. In fact, I’m not even sure why they’re called break-ups because what happens is you break the fuck down, like completely, until you don’t know who you are or what it is you’re doin’ anymore.”

“I know and even though I was super pissed I knew that acting out wouldn’t make anything better so I figured a little compassion would go a long way.”

“What’d you do?”

“Sat down next to her and explained that we hadn’t known each other long enough for her to actually be in love with me and that maybe her thinking she was in love with me was her way of trying to fill a void that had been left from her last relationship ending.”    

“That’s some pretty impressive psycho-analysis, Dr. Freud, how’d she take that diagnosis?”

“She said I was right and that it was unfair of her to throw her sense of worth on me by saying she loved me and expecting me to say it in return or make her my girlfriend…and then she tried to make out with me.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, and when I turned away telling her it wasn’t a good idea she-“

“Went back to going coo-coo for Cocoa-Puffs?”

“You got it. Jumped right off the couch and started calling me every name she could think of. By the way, do you know what a cockwomble* is?”

“I do not.”

“Me either but she called me one of those too.”

“Kids these days. So how did it all end up ending?”

“I told her I’d been patient and cool with her given the circumstances but that it was time for her to go and she could do that by way of cab or cop but either way she was leaving.”

“Which one did she choose?”

“Neither, she called a friend to come get her but when her friend got there she just stood in the doorway pouting.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me, so then what?”

“I told her I wasn’t doing this anymore and to call me when she was sober, then I shut the door on her and thankfully she ended up leaving.”  

“Have you heard from her since?”

“She texted me last night saying she was embarrassed about her behavior and that it wouldn’t happen again. Oh, and that she’d also pay for the guitar.”

“I guess that ended on a good note…no pun. Are you gonna hang out with her again?”

“Hell no. I told her it was best that we just be friends. She said she understood and promised that things would be cool so let’s hope she keeps her word. All I can say is that I definitely learned my lesson.”

“Don’t answer the door at 4 a.m. unless you’re expecting pizza or sex?”

“Don’t shit where you sleep. From now on I refuse to get involved with another student because the last thing I need is a bunch of drama at school from a woman scorned.”

This pledge, while admirable, would end up being short lived because in a few weeks Bode would meet an elegant English / Egyptian girl named Zahra who was hired to work at the front desk and in time decide to become a student herself.

Bode and Zahra would date, fall in love and in three years’ time move to a sleepy surf town up the coast where they’d buy a house, get married, have a baby and at the risk of sounding cliché, live happily ever after.

As for me you’d think I would’ve taken Bode’s experience with Shay as a warning to refrain from getting involved with any more fellow students myself, but no, I didn’t.

And within a short time I’d find myself neck deep in a situation that was ten times worse than someone showing up at my place at 4 o’clock in the morning drunk and wanting to call me a cockwomble.          

“Anyway, enough about me, how’d things go at Kaleb’s this weekend?” he asks, finishing off his second cup.

“Interesting to say the least, he had his girlfriend come over to be my blow-dry model.”

“Kaleb has a girlfriend?”

“He does, and get this…” I say, leaning in. “She’s-“

“Hey, how y’all doin’?” a voice full of Southern drawl booms throughout the store as we look up and see Dusti and Denise walking towards us.

“Hey ladies!” Bode says as we get up and take turns giving Denise a hug then step back to admire how incredible  she looks.

The last time we’d seen her she was decomposing before our very eyes. Her hair was matted up, her skin translucent and littered with sores and track marks and her glassy eyes kept rolling to the back of her head as she faded in and out of consciousness.

But now she looked fresh and crisp. Her hair was bouncy and buoyant, her skin healthy and radiant and her eyes alert and glowing.    

“You look so beautiful.” I tell her, relieved to see that this was how her story with addiction had ended instead of it ending by way of heart wrenching tragedy.     

“Thank you, Stuke. It’s amazing how great you can look and feel once you cut toxic drugs and toxic people out of your life.” she says with her signature girl next door smile.  

“I’d say so!” Bode tells her as I continue to gawk at how golden she appears.

“After my relapse my parents helped get me into rehab and out of my living situation with that psychopath I was dumb enough to have as a boyfriend. So now I’m clean AND have my own place and I can’t tell you how happy, healthy and grateful I feel because of it.” 

“We’re SOOOOO happy for you.” I tell her. “What’s going on with school?”

“I talked to Rene and I’m gonna be studying with one of the Learning Leaders this week and then take my Core exams next Monday and then spend the rest of the week doing my cutting classes and once those are finished I’ll be on The Floor with you guys.”

“I’m so proud of you, baby girl.” Dusti says, throwing her arms around her.

“We’re all proud of you.” Bode says. “You girls wanna sit with us?”

“Nah, we just popped in cuz we saw y’all and Denise wanted to say hi.” Dusti says.

“Yeah I have a meeting with Rene to finalize my study schedule and exam times so we’ll see you at school.” Denise says with a wink as her and Dusti turn and strut out of the store.

“I can’t believe how great she looks.” Bode says as I watch them leave, remembering the last time I’d seen them together was when they were hobbling out of school after Denise had gotten dope sick and thrown up all over the place. 

“Anyway you were saying?” Bode says as we sit back down.  

“Saying what?” I tell him, still dazed from the surprise of Denise.  

“About Kaleb’s girlfriend?”

“Oh yeah! Take a wild guess what she does.”

“Sheesh, anyone that’d wanna be with Kaleb would have to be into some pretty weird shit.”

“You have no idea.”

“Is she a circus clown?”

“No.”

“A mortician?”

“Huh-uh.”

“Dominatrix?”

“Close, but no cigar. Although I’m sure she’s not afraid of pulling a Lewinsky with one.”

“Wait! Is she a…pornstar?”          

“Bingo.”

“NO FUCKING WAY!!! HOW? WHO?”

“I’m still trying to figure out the ‘how’ but as far as the ‘who’ it’s **** ******, you know of her?”

“Do I!” he says with beaming eyes. ”Did you recognize her right away?”

“No, probably because she had her clothes on. It wasn’t until she started moaning that-“

“Wait, why was she moaning?’

“Kaleb told me to yank on her hair as hard as I could while blowing her out so when I did she started making that trademark moan of hers which is when I had my light bulb moment…or moan it if you will.”    

“She does have a memorable moan.” 

“Yeah, it’s like hearing the voice of god…if god were a woman getting railed.”

“So what happened once you figured out who she was?”

“I lost all focus and the blow dry turned to shit. And the one after that, and the one after that…and still, the one after that. I couldn’t think about anything I was supposed to be doing because my mind was too busy thinking about everything I’d seen her do.”

“Oh man that had to suck! Why do you think Kaleb didn’t tell you about her in the first place?”

“I dunno, I mean he did say she was an actress, he just failed to say she was an adult film actress.” 

“You think he did that outta shame?”

“C’mon this is Kaleb we’re talkin’ about, do you think he even understands the concept of shame?”

“True. So how did everything end up?”

“Ugh, after my fourth failed attempt he took over because he said he couldn’t bear to watch another shitty blow dry.”

“Did you ever say anything to him about it? Like how you knew who she was?”

“No, I wasn’t sure what the proper etiquette for something like that was, you know? Like how do you tell someone you’ve seen their girlfriend having sex with men, women and mechanical devices all over Pornhub?” 

“That is a thorny one. So is he still gonna help you outside of school?”

“Surprisingly, yes. Although next time we’re using a doll head…thank god.

“Kaleb.”

“Uh, yeah, Kaleb, that’s who we’ve been talking about.”  

“No, I mean Kaleb just walked in.”

I spin around and see Kaleb in all his grumpy, grubby, grungy glory waiting in line. He looks over at us and gives his usual “couldn’t care less” head nod then shambles up to the counter and orders. 

“You should say something to him about it.” Bode says with the excitement of a teenage girl.

“Like what? I really applaud your girlfriend’s flexibility when it comes to double penetration?”

“No, nothing like that but maybe something like-“

“Why do you two look like you’re over here talking about me?” Kaleb says, surprising us.

“Hey man.” I tell him as Bode and I straighten up.

“Stuke was just telling me about the blow-drys he did on your girlfriend.” Bode says with a grin.

“Yeah? Did he tell you how each one got progressively worse until it made me wanna barf?”

“I sure did!” 

“Now that almost sounds like you’re proud of it.” he says looking at me with suspicion.

“I think he’s just glad he was able to find out what his problem was.” Bode chirps with a look on his face that says here we go!

“Really? And what’s that?” Kaleb asks, peering at me with his icy-blue eyes through the hazy lenses of his dirty glasses.  

“Well…” I say, trying to muster up my courage. “Because your girlfriend is-“

“Is what?” he says, slurping on his venti Frappuccino.

“Is…”

“Any day now, Simpleton.”

“Because your girlfriend is **** fucking ******!” I say, forcing the words out of my mouth as if they were a rock-hard turd that was causing severe constipation.  

“And?” he says matter of factly with whip cream hanging from his mustache.

“Well, and…it was just hard…wait, IT wasn’t hard, as in my dick but the situation was hard, you know, being in close proximity to someone who-“

“You’ve jerked-off to before?”

“Look, I will neither confirm nor deny that but let’s just say it was a challenge to be around someone who has so much sexual prowess and notoriety, especially when they start moaning.”  

“I really hate it when she does that because it’s so embarrassing and it happens all the time. It’s like a bear rubbing its itchy back up against a tree for relief and groaning loud enough for the whole forest to hear.”

“Why didn’t you tell me who she was before she got there?”

“Because once people find out you’re dating a pornstar they wanna know what the sex is like.”

“So what’s it like?” Bode asks.

“Yeah, what he said.”

“See what I mean? Listen, I didn’t wanna make it a big deal so I just didn’t mention it.”

“Do your parents know?” I ask, totally enthralled by all of this now that it was out in the open.

“That I have a girlfriend?”

“Who does porn.”

“No, they don’t know.”

“What are the chances your dad has seen her in action and has no idea that his son is the one hitting it. Don’t you think he’d be proud of you?”

“Jesus jerking-off in a jack-o-lantern, do you see why I don’t ever mention it now?” Kaleb complains to Bode. “It just opens up one giant can of gonorrhea.”

“Well I for one am proud of you.” Bode says back. 

“Do you think she would’ve felt uncomfortable had I known who she was?” I ask.

“Are you serious? Millions of people watch her have sex every day in every way, I doubt she’d be self-conscious if she knew that you knew who she was.”  

“Makes sense.” Bode says.

“Whatever, is this conversation over now?”

“I don’t think this conversation can ever really be over due to its sheer epicness.” I proclaim.

 “Epicness isn’t even a fucking word. Anyway, let’s talk about what I’m gonna have you do on The Floor today.” Kaleb says in a desperate attempt to steer the conversation away from the oncoming gang-bang of questions and comments.   

“More blow-drys?”

“Without the moaning?” Bode adds.

“No. I’ve seen you do enough of those and can’t handle any more disappointment. I want you to take a men’s haircut today.”

“But I’ve never done a men’s cut.”

“I know, maybe you’ll be good at it.” Kaleb says then pauses. “Wow, I can’t believe I was able to say that with a straight face.”

“Whooooaaaa shit, make way.” Bode blurts as he jets up out of his chair and hobbles towards the bathroom.

“What’s that all about?” Kaleb asks as he takes another loud slurp of his drink.  

“Duty calls, quite literally.” I tell him. “So you think I’ll do ok on a men’s cut?”

“Let me put it to you this way, you can’t do any worse than what you’ve been doing on women. Plus, men have less hair and they don’t need to be finished off with a blow-dry so that’s less grief on my end.”

“Fine. But can you at least assure me one thing?”

“What’s that?”

“That the sex with your girlfriend is mind-boggling.”  

“I wouldn’t know, I’m still a virgin and that’s why she’s with me, because I’m untainted and pure.”  

*A cockwomble is a completely useless person (male or female) who spouts constant bullshit. Prime examples of a cockwomble are:

Gavin Newsom

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Kanye West

Gwyneth Paltrow

David Miscavige

Elizabeth Holmes

PC Nazis, Anti-vaxxers & Q-anon supporters.

        

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.”