Dear Diary: It Was the Best of Hair, It Was the Worst of Hair

Written by | Columnists and Letters

Wade Rouse

Wade Rouse

Wade decides it’s about time he splurged on a visit to an upscale salon, and he certainly ends up paying the price.

I spent a majority of my Ozarks childhood accompanying my grandmothers to the beauty parlor. Nearly every Saturday was spent watching them get their thinning hair permed and backcombed higher and higher until it reached – as one of them liked to say – “God’s eye.”

Remember that line of Dolly Parton’s from Steel Magnolias? “I don’t trust anybody that does their own hair. It’s just not normal.” Well, that’s the way my grandmas felt, and I ended up following in their meticulously coiffured footsteps.

The major difference between how they did it and how I do it, however, is that my grandmothers were loyal to one beauty parlor and one stylist the majority of their lives. I, on the other hand, change stylists more often than coffee filters.

This spring, before my latest book tour was set to start, I felt it was the time not only to reinvent my hair but also to splurge a little while doing it. So I stopped a handsome stranger on the street sporting a great haircut and asked what salon he used. He laughed.

“I go to a barber who’s just starting out,” he said. “22 bucks. No frills. No shampoo. Sometimes, he has his kids in the shop with him.”

“Oh,” I said.

Rather than take his advice, I ended up booking a consultation and cut at a super-expensive salon — the kind where there is plenty of attitude and a long waiting list. When the time came, I was nervous but excited.

A beautiful woman wearing what seemed like little more than a Kleenex greeted me; sat me in a giant egg-shaped chair; and brought me champagne. Once I was a touch buzzed, she introduced me to my stylist: a willowy, pretty man whose long hair had feathers tied into it.

“Just fly in?” I asked. He didn’t laugh.

My consultation consisted of a lot of “tsk-tsks” and head slapping. He asked me who had done the awful highlighting job on my hair. “The sun,” I said. He didn’t laugh.

He spun me in the chair and stared at me for a very long time, until I felt as though I were on the witness stand in an episode of Dateline.

“Do you trust me?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Good.”

He cooed as he colored, snipped, shampooed and gelled. When he finally spun me back toward the mirror, I gasped.

I looked like Carrot Top. After Electroshock.

“Do you like?” he asked.

I couldn’t answer.

When the final bill was presented, I was struck dumb all over again.

And yet I paid. I even felt pressured to tip. Strangely, the whole process made me feel like that insecure little gay boy who spent years feeling like he never quite fit in amongst all the pretty people all over again.

I ended up trimming my own hair and doing the best I could to cover up the bad highlights. When it was time for my next haircut, I made an appointment with that young barber recommended to me by the handsome stranger with the great hair. His barber shop had an old couch in it and a few folding chairs. Vintage boxing posters lined the walls. There were no tissue-paper clad, champagne-toting attendants to greet me — just the proprietor and another barber.

“How long have you been cutting hair?” I said, noting his youth.

“Since I was 14,” he explained. “Learned on the street.”

I was nervous, and he could tell.

“Trust me?” he asked. After my previous experience, I didn’t really. But something told me to just let him do his job, so I nodded. With clippers, scissors and no attitude, he gave me the best haircut of my life — the kind where people now stop me on the street to ask where I go. And all for $22 bucks.

I’m still figuring these kinds of things out. I have lots of insecurities, especially when it comes to (as my grandmas used to say) “putting on airs,” but I’m finally learning that sometimes indulging means getting the right thing, not the most expensive thing; that there can be a fine line between pampering yourself and fooling yourself; and that sometimes the best treat you can give yourself (like not letting yourself get pushed around), doesn’t cost a damned thing.

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Last modified: September 17, 2018