Russian Hacker, Punk Rock Hair • 13 September 2007

I kept it short-short for a while in college, after the dred lock period (itself the result of a month on a winter wilderness ski trip, aided by a little cross-country skiboot grease… then maintained for the thrill of taking that hair to my parents’ church on winter break). When I cut it all off, it was said I looked like KD Lang. Which was great. That was before life in the tropics and So-Cal bleached it to hell. But the thing about the short-short was that it required a lot of stupid maintenance.

When I started grad school, I said forget it. I have a simple trim at the beginning of every school year and otherwise let it grow. It basically lives on top of my head in two post-practice sweaty braids pinned crosswise.

I go to Jennie, a Chinese woman with a chair at a ghetto salon adjacent the 405. My friend Nancy, also a Chinese immigrant, recommended her. Jennie takes a full hour to trim my fine brickstraight hair, and we make smalltalk across what my Montanan mother calls “the language barrier.” She’s meticulous and I adore her. Nobody goes to her, though, because the salon is owned by and caters to Chinese men, and there’s some kind of norm in this place against co-ed stylist-client cutting. Strange.

Last fall Jennie and I took off a foot—twelve full inches—and it was still long hair. I tipped her as much as she charged me for the cut and still spent under $30.

But this summer Jennie suddenly moved to Canada. Damn US Immigration.

So yesterday I was down in the Student Union, and walked into “Campus Cuts” for a trim. Sketchy, but I only needed a straight trim, short enough that I would stop tripping on my braids in tittibasana.

You never judge your stylist by her own hair, because chances are she changes it every week and that amount of processing will take its toll. But the woman who wordlessly pointed me to my chair was looking distinctly brassy and frizzed. She said nothing as she suited me up, and then the ancient cell phone on her counter rang.

She took the call. (My gawd.)

In Russian, for about five minutes. Loudly. Just standing there in the shop, conducting a family dispute. Then she stomped back in my direction, huffing.

She brushed out my long hair with a wide toothed comb. And here’s the hilarious part. She worked around my head and on the last stroke the comb stuck a full inch from the bottom of my hair. Rather than work out the gnarl, she used her free hand to swipe her scissors and cut the comb free. We still hadn’t even discussed what I wanted.

Holy shit, did she just do that? I wanted to cheer her on it was so goddam impulsive. So much for performing the service—at $14 I wasn’t getting any extra care.

Then she looked down at me, no eye contact, and grunted in a good old lady gravelly tenor: How long. Not spoken as a question.

I was suddenly feeling crazy. This woman clearly had no business cutting hair, or even handling scissors. We couldn’t really communicate; and I was only going to pay her a criminal $14 for the service. I sort of had to do something brash. Either bolt out of there, or let her have at me.

So I said: Shoulder length. Which meant hacking off a full eight inches. She shrugged to communicate she (a hair stylist) did not understand the phrase shoulder length.

I made my palm rigid like in karate to signal where I wanted her to cut.

Ok. That was the last thing she said to me.

She divided my hair into four sections, two in back and one on each side. (Jennie used to work with about thirty sections.) No wash. I’d walked in with a weird, uneven part way to the left as a result of driving with an open window. She just left it.

She cut each section in a single line, about two inches shorted than I had indicated. Except the first snip, which she had to repeat twice because the scissors were so dull. My hair has grown light over the summer, and I looked at that pile of dry strawberry blonde on the floor and felt delighted to be free of it. 

Yes! Take it away!

Three, maybe four, minutes later, when the cut was over (no blow dry, because she’d barely sprayed me down, and no style), I felt lightheaded to say the least. Amazing. I thanked her honestly and left a decent tip.

The Editor said that while my punk rock hair was interesting and he understood my commitment not to get regular cuts in grad school because the hair is fairly weedlike in its growth speed, I had to go to a salon for cleanup.

Turns out Westwood is full of salons. (Because it's just a tacky financial-celebrity district, not a genuine University District.) I’m using some online fora to see which ones ULCA students like best. We’re talking $185 if you don’t want a blow dry. Yeah. These kids are loaded.

I guess Campus Cuts only exists to serve Grad Students and the Grounds Crew.

I’m enjoying the punk rock hair for now (though I did have to clean up the worst bits, which where unbelievably bad); still I am thinking of paying good money to have it all taken off. However, I know the minute I walk in to Mark Slicker or somesuch, I’ll suddenly get possessive and protective of it (as if it's a thing of value) and go for a conservative correction job. At my age and pretending to be professional, it’s about time I  find a hairstyle that suits me, and if it happens now it’s only because I got the courage from my Russian hacker. I'll try to keep her spirit with me when I sell out to the salon.