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first person

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The Globe and Mail

Yesterday at the salon, I snuck a peek at the client next to me.

I had to be stealthy because there’s an unwritten rule that says while you are at the hairdresser’s you’re only allowed to look directly ahead and must pretend that you and your stylist are the only people in the place.

It’s like at yoga, where no matter what crazy getup the person mere inches from your upward dog is sporting (gold lamé spandex tights, really?), or whatever pretzel position you are trying to wrestle yourself into while your instructor rattles off poses in Sanskrit (following directions has never been my strong suit) you must “surrender” and never let your focus wander beyond your own mat.

So anyway, I was desperate to avoid looking in the mirror and catching sight of the mountain of frizz that had taken residence atop my scalp after my stylist backcombed my hair into a greyish Brillo pad. Like the army, hairdressers like to break you down and steal your secrets, only to build you back up into something if not better, at least blonder, but mostly just suffering from PTSD after seeing the usurious fee required to release you from the confines of the black plastic cape.

So, without turning my head, I strained my eyes all the way to the left.

The client next to me had her iPad propped on the counter in front of her. I could see it was tuned to an episode of The Gilmore Girls. She was simultaneously reading the closed captioning and click-clacking away on her mobile phone at breakneck speed with perfectly shaped, French-manicured gel nails.

“Damn,” I thought, “that is genius!”

As I attempted to feign interest in my own hairdresser’s incessant prattle, I understood that, once again, I was witnessing first-hand how the younger generation of women game the system.

It’s like how my daughter, who at 26 has managed to convince her live-in boyfriend that, in addition to working his full-time job, he needs to shop, cook, do her laundry and clean the cat’s litterbox.

“If you get all that done, then I’ll have time to do fun stuff with you when I’m finished studying,” I imagine her explaining while batting her eyelashes and running her fingers through her naturally straight, golden mane.

She did not get her hair, or her perspicacity, from me.

At the salon, my neighbour, with her millennial multitasking, had created an impenetrable barrier against any and all attempts at conversation.

I gazed down at the paperback marooned in my lap. It was no match for the tech arsenal next door. I was stuck pretending to commiserate with my loquacious stylist. She was describing that her friend’s sister’s cousin did ayahuasca and has now permanently regressed to her five-year-old self.

Next came a play-by-play of the latest episode of The Bachelor.

I responded with something that makes it appear I’m interested … or at least listening.

“Um, is that the show where objectified women prance around in bikinis and battle other women to get the man to give them a rose and make them a princess?”

“Well ya, something like that. BUT, they have really great hair,” she says.

Just in case I forgot who has the power here.

During the two hours we share together every six weeks, I just want to read my book. But no matter how hard I try to appear totally absorbed in the page, Andi, my stylist, interrupts.

I have only myself to blame. I started this relationship off on the wrong foot.

Andi came highly recommended for her ability to work curly haired magic. Like many disadvantaged communities, we curly girls have our own secret society – it’s a survival thing. We willingly share styling products and technique tips as well as the names of trusted hairdressers with other members of our follicly challenged sorority. I got Andi’s name from a woman with an amazing tumble of locks who I had spied across the grocery aisle.

I wanted Andi to like me and to make me glamorous like my shopping sister. So, at our first meeting I was an enthusiastic conversation participant for the entire appointment, thus setting the tone for our relationship and sealing my fate.

Will I never learn? When I moved in with my husband-to-be at the tender age of 21 I wanted him to like me – and, let’s face it, I was excited to play house. I took on what I thought were the girl chores. Thirty-plus years later he still asserts that his responsibilities lie in the external-distribution domain – think carrying out the garbage and mowing the lawn. In his mind, it follows that I must be on internal-distribution duty, which obviously means laundry and toilets.

While I’m not afraid of my husband, the truth is, I am very afraid of my stylist. She’s tall and gorgeous with shiny hair and a perfectly Botoxed forehead. It’s a stark contrast to my own wrinkly face – cruelly magnified under whatever horrible flaw-enhancing lights they use to torture you in that place. Besides, decades on I still bear the emotional scars of repeated futile attempts to tame my frizzy teenage tresses in the days before I discovered the wizardry of JoiGel. Plus, I had experienced enough scary haircut disasters to recognize the risk posed by a mean girl with a pair of scissors.

The grey is just a cruel addendum to a lifetime of hair challenges. And now (thanks pandemic) after months with no legal access to professional-grade Loreal Majirel 8.11 – seriously street drugs are a cinch to get a hold of compared to this hair dye – I cannot carry on the ruse that my hair is only 10-per-cent grey. So I need my stylist more than ever.

Or, I need a manicure, an iPad and a millennial willing to give me some assertiveness training.

Kelley Korbin lives in West Vancouver, B.C.

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