Last Saturday I strayed.
I went to a new hairdresser. I was tired of schlepping across town to the stylist I had gone to for years and, frankly, I was in a hair rut. The color was too brassy. The cut only held its style for a couple weeks. Like a couple past their expiration date, my stylist and I had run out of things to say to each other, and I was spending entire appointments engrossed in months-old copies of Vogue and Vanity Fair. My hair, and our relationship, had lost its spark.
So when a friend told me about this fabulous stylist who worked out of her home, which just happened to be walking distance from my house, I decided it was time to step out.
Still, I felt guilty, getting my hair styled behind my old stylist’s back. We had been through so much together: my divorce, my custody battle, my new marriage. But it was just this once, I told myself. I needed to see what hair could be like with someone else.
I walked somewhat furtively down the sidewalk, lined with historic craftsman and Victorian homes in various stages of restoration. And then I came to Vivica’s bungalow, so inviting with its tricked-out drought tolerant front yard and fashionably beat-up vintage porch chairs beckoning “relax a spell.”
Besides being a stylist, Vivica is an artist, and her bungalow is decorated in that casual thrown-together look that only artists can create: wicker suitcases stacked atop each other; the wall above the fireplace transformed into spectacular chalk portraits on a blackboard surface; colored glass vases and retro lamps and flea market furniture that somehow looked as if they had always belonged together.
Vivica’s salon was a pale butter yellow room in the back of the house, behind the gorgeous tiled kitchen with the wooden inlaid floor. She sat me in front of an antique vanity and circled me, like a lion moving in on its prey.
Vivica is nothing if not wild-looking. She’s tall and lean, her sinewy arms and legs bedecked with tattoos, her gold mane encasing her striking face: square jaws, pale blue eyes, full, broad lips. If it were old Hollywood, she would be Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, and Carole Lombard rolled into one.
When she speaks, you listen. In fact, she did not speak so much as she orated. I had a “church window” haircut — very bad — that made my face too vertical and hid my nice long neck! I needed shorter pieces around my face! My highlights, that I thought warmed up my skin, were in fact too yellow! And I had been combing — combing!! — my hair, which broke up the curl pattern! Combing wavy hair, according to Vivica, is about the worst thing you can do.
I had not realized how little I understood my hair, and how poorly I had been treating it.
As Vivica dabbed dye on my roots, her hair salon transformed into a ladies’ salon: clients appearing for touch-ups, neighbors dropping by to escape houseguests who had worn out their welcome. Talk — of on-line dating, and charter schools, and hormone replacement therapy, and which of Martin Amis’s books was the best, and could you have just a sip if you were in AA, and did Michael Stars t-shirts really hold up? — filled the air.
After rinsing out my color in her lime green sink, Vivica yanked sections of my hair, aggressively slicing diagonal swatches with her scissors in the service of keeping my “curl pattern” undisturbed. When the cut was done, she told me to forget everything I had ever learned about drying and styling my hair.
After shampooing, conditioner was to be applied with my head upside down. Drying should consist of flipping my hair side to side with the crook of my elbow. Twirling strands of hair into ringlets was advisable. Forget the hair straightener, apply only curl enhancer — but just at the ends! Scrunching was good, combing was heinous. Twirling my hair onto the top of my head with a clip was dicey, and only to be attempted if the clasp was loose.
She loaded me up with M&Ms and coffee and sent me to her backyard garden, instructing me to practice the hair-flip as the sun dried my hair. Every few minutes she would step outside to scrutinize my technique. “That’s good,” she said. “I think you’re getting it.”
She sent me on my way with a free gift of purple shampoo to be used every other washing to preserve the color. I was to return in three weeks so she could observe — for free — how the cut was growing out, and if changes needed to be made. If we were happy with the color, she would mix a small batch for me to keep at home to apply as the gray roots grew in so I wouldn’t need to schedule appointments as frequently.
“Do you think you can put in the color yourself? Just where it’s needed?”
“I think so,” I said, although in truth I was a little nervous. It all seemed very complicated.
When I got home, I surveyed my new hair in the mirror. The color, ash brown, suited me better. The comb-free flip technique had settled my locks into a natural cascade of waves. My cheekbones appeared broader, my swan neck in full view.
Now. If I can just get it to stay this way.