Ah, the hairdresser. Or stylist, if you prefer. Up until last October, a visit to my hairstylist was a true form of therapy for me. For a year and a half, I got my coif chopped at a cozy, 2-chair, hole-in-the-wall, Japanese-run salon on the Lower East Side by a woman my age named Emi. I learned to block off a good hour plus for my appointments, as this stylist, in non-New York fashion, would take her time with me and my mop. I'd walk in and often be the only customer present, rendering the joint my own private mini-spa. Notes of jazz, classical, world or lounge music would waft from the stereo and embrace me, as the sirens and horns and hustle and hurry of city life outside melted away, like in one of those Calgon commercials. The owner's pug dog would be snoozing away in the corner, giving an occasional snort to indicate pleasant doggie dreams. As I'd settle back into the shampoo chair, I'd float my eyes closed (as they say in yoga class), and thus would begin the zen treatment of mint shampoo and scalp massage – for a good five minutes, at least. Ne'er did Emi skimp on the massage – no sir!
Then, it was off to the barber chair, a clunky antique piece of metal that would only adjust its height so far, so that intermittently I'd have to scrunch down in the seat so Emi could reach the top of my head, which would elicit a modest giggle from her. We'd chat a bit about vacations, boyfriends, city life, the Frequent Flyer cd she was spinning on the stereo (ah, the music she introduced me to!); but for the most part, I'd sit peacefully as she snipped and clipped and combed and checked the length of my layers.
On one nondescript Saturday afternoon in July, as I sat slumped in the barber chair, relishing my bimonthly bliss, Emi interrupted my reverie with a timid, "Um… so I've decided to move back to Japan."
She might as well have ripped the Dining Rooms cd out of the stereo with that needle-scratching-record sound. I spun around in the chair. "What?! No! No, no, no! You can't! It took me 3 years and 2 bad haircuts to find you! Why?"
"It's just time. I'm tired of living in the city, and I miss my family." (A Japanese-Hawaiian-American friend of mine later translated her explanation to mean, "I'm ready to find a Japanese man to marry.")
I was heartbroken. Devastated. Crushed. Literally, near tears. How could fate be so mean? I had gone through stylist after overpriced, underqualified stylist before I'd struck gold with Emi, only to have the too-high barber chair kicked out from under me. Where would I go? What would I do? Who would be my source of new hip lounge music? Of my doggie fix? Of an hour and fifteen minutes (okay, maybe not quite that long) of pure, unadulterated diversion?
I left the salon that day unable to fling and swing my newly-coiffed locks, as I usually did, with the joyful vanity that comes after a good haircut. I'd see Emi one more time before she moved, but needless to say, my last haircut was not nearly as pleasurable as all the others, tainted with the knowledge that the year-and-a-half hair affair had come to an end.
I put off finding a new stylist as long as possible – well over two months, a record for me. I even let my hair go bad for my brother's wedding. But alas, eventually I'd have to get the mop chopped again, and a coworker's recommendation landed me an appointment with equally-young-and-hip Michelle at a much larger, noisier salon in Koreatown, where I continue to go. Needless to say, I have had to make some sacrifices. There is no languorous scalp massage with mint shampoo, no chill music floating from the stereo. And our initial meeting resulted in layers with badly-razored ends, which I put a stop to the second time I saw her. (As with any new relationship, some adjustments are required in the beginning.) Since then, however, she has gotten it right.
But I am still not over my breakup with Emi. I try to console myself with the fact that when I tell Michelle to cut only half an inch, she does exactly that, without objection. That is one thing she has over Emi. And if I want a day-of appointment, I've got it. But damn, do I miss those scalp massages.