Poem: Jenni the Hairdresser

The Backstory

I was under strict orders: No talking for four hours.

Not. One. Word.

That’s not easy for me.

I was sitting in a salon chair in a stark exam room. My little sister Jenni was a candidate for her hairdresser’s license; I was her model. Seven other nervous candidate-and-model pairs were spaced throughout the room. For four stressful hours, Jenni had to demonstrate her skills, techniques, and knowledge of safety to a scowling and unnerving exam monitor. The monitor was suspiciously watching our every move.

Possession of a cell phone was grounds for dismissal. A simple piece of paper, forgotten in your pocket, was grounds for dismissal. A murmured word of encouragement from the model was grounds for dismissal.

I was afraid to breathe, lest it be grounds for dismissal.

Each candidate had to complete a number of treatments in those four hours, everyone doing a different treatment at a different time. Among other things, they had to successfully and skillfully do a manicure and nail extension, a facial, a haircut, a make-up application, a (fake) perm, and a (fake) coloring.

When the exam monitor said, “You may begin,” Jenni sprang into action. Evidently, she was to do the facial and manicure first. She jammed the neck rest onto my chair and flung me back, then smeared my face with a cottage-cheese-like substance, scrubbing it in expertly. She dashed water onto my face, then toweled it off quickly. She threw me back upright, shoved my fingers into little bowls of dubious liquid, yanked them back out, and began scraping furiously at the cuticles.

I wanted to open and close my mouth like a fish, but I kept my lips pressed tightly together.

Not. One. Word.

The hair cut came next.

She drenched my head with water from a spray bottle, then grabbed hair clips and plunged them into my hair, securing chunks of hair at odd angles. One clip was thrust inadvertently onto my right ear. My eyes popped open. I sat there, bug-eyed, gripping the arm rest while the clip bit into my ear, but my mouth stayed resolutely shut.

I would utter not a single word, no matter what. Do whatever you want, torture me if you must.

Not. One. Word.

I watched as she snatched up the scissors. Oh god, they seemed awfully big. Jenni gave the chair a skillful little twirl, standing back to expertly eye my hair, and then started hacking, first one side, then the other, removing hair clips as she progressed. She glanced at me with a startled expression when she released the hair clip impaling my right ear. I smiled weakly in the mirror.

She continued cutting, a chop here – a critical appraisal, a careful measurement – a slash there. Back and forth. One side to the next. Shorter and shorter.

Unfortunately, the hair cut was the one treatment for which she ran out of time.

Half a haircut later, we were moving on. I saw Jenni’s eyes flicker unhappily over my head, but I kept my mouth firmly shut. No words of encouragement, no reassurance from me.

Nope. Not one word.

Hair grows back.

Jenni was pulling out the hair dryer and curling iron for her next treatment when the woman in the chair next to us, seeing her daughter gathering supplies for a facial, said brightly and unthinkingly, “Remember the neck rest, dear!”

The room fell deadly silent. The mom, realizing her mistake, gasped, hand over her mouth. The exam monitor stalked menacingly to the chair. Towering over her, she said softly but ominously, “I’m sorry, but you can’t say that.”

We waited in horrified silence.

This was clearly grounds for the candidate’s immediate dismissal. At the very least, she would fail this particular treatment. Even if she were allowed to proceed and finish the four-hour practical, there was no guarantee they would not just fail her anyway. She would have to wait six months to retake the licensing exam.

The monitor paused for an agonizing heartbeat that lasted forever, then growled to the candidate, “You may continue.”

Jenni’s eyes swiveled to meet mine in the mirror. “Not one word!” they said fiercely, urgently.

I wanted to babble, “I won’t! I promise I won’t!” But I kept my lips pressed tightly, tightly together. I wouldn’t let one little peep slip out.

We heard the mother’s muffled sobs, unsettling and heartbreaking, the remainder of the four hours. Her daughter forged bravely on with the exam, doing a facial and applying make-up to her mother’s tear-stained face.

Jenni returned to her treatment of creating soft fluffy curls. Hands juggling combs and brushes and the curling iron, she placed the hair dryer on a table and turned back towards me. I watched helplessly as the hair dryer slid towards the table’s edge. I wanted to shout at her – Look out! Grab it! – but kept my lips tightly sealed, allowing the hair dryer to clatter loudly to the floor.

On to the fake color treatment. Half of my head was plastered with KY Jelly, standing in for a hair chemical. Tiny locks of hair were twisted carefully into aluminum foil. She worked on my head with great concentration, pouring all manner of liquid over it, transfiguring it into an aluminum-foil-glittering, KY-Jelly-dripping spectacle.

Next was the perm. She slathered the other half of my head with shaving cream, standing in for a different hair chemical. Chunks of hair were rolled tightly into rollers and pinned to my scalp. Gauze was wrapped around my skull, paint brushes were pulled out, more shaving cream was slopped into my hair, plastic bags were secured over my head.

I don’t know what the heck she was doing, but she was sure doing it. A little too enthusiastically, it seemed to me, as more shaving cream was glopped liberally into my hair.

I sat there, mouth closed, and took it.

Over the course of those four hours, she skillfully wielded enormous shears, paint brushes of various sizes, wispy pieces of paper, crinkly aluminum foil, sharp razors, hair dryers and hair brushes, hot curling irons, thick eye pencils, gluey facial creams, tweezers, untold quantities of liquids (poured generously over my head), and all manner of little stabbing instruments.

When the exam monitor called, “Time! Put down your tools!” the entire room, candidate and model alike, exhaled with relief.

Jenni removed the aluminum foil and rollers from my hair, and we both staggered outside.

Half of my head was a gloppy mess, KY Jelly oozing from oily glistening strands. The other half was stiff with shaving cream, a mass of hardened and crusty coils. Spikes of chopped hair from the unfinished cut stood on end. My face was stretched taut with a cracking, congealed goo. One fingernail was unnaturally long, daubed with little sparkly dots.

My right ear throbbed.

But I hadn’t breathed a single word.

We returned home, where Jenni gently washed all the goop off me, lovingly and professionally finished the cut, and threw in a free color for the little incident with the ear.

Magically, I was transformed from an unremarkable 50-year-old middle-aged woman to a stylish and eye-popping hottie.

Did she pass? Jeez, did you read that last sentence?

Oh yeah, she passed.

With flying colors.

Jenni the Hairdresser

Is your hair a big mess? Do you need a new style?
Forgotten to get your hair cut in a while?
Need a new color? Perhaps a slight trim?
Jenni the Hairdresser cries, “Come on in!”

And she grabs the big shears that are used in the gardens,
And glops on the gel ’til it thickens and hardens,
And checks through her tools: The vice grip. The saws.
The fire retardant for occasional flaws.

Then she closes her eyes and starts snipping and whacking!
Chopping and tugging and sawing and hacking!
Hair’s flying all over the room in big chunks;
It covers the furniture! Lands with loud thunks!
The client holds tight to the fast-spinning chair,
And Jenni’s heard shrieking, “What fabulous hair!”

When she’s done, she steps back and admires her work,
(Feels a sense of relief that her client’s not hurt),
Then grabs her hair dryer – an industrial fan,
And straps down her client (safety’s always the plan),
Then flips it to “high” and the fan roars and smokes.
The client’s thrown forward, but is saved by the ropes.
The wind rages and howls and whistles about.
“Turn your head to the right!” we can hear Jenni shout.
Rollers and hair clips are tossed through the air,
Which are snatched and then shoved in the customer’s hair.
Cheeks flap on the face in that strong steady blast;
The wind scours the skin plus it dries the hair fast!

Then the fan is turned off; she selects a paint brush –
Painting on highlights is no time to rush! –
And using the very best paint you can buy
(’Cause paint lasts much longer than regular dye),
She dabs here and there ’til the client is glam,
Then to finish with flair, she upends the whole can!
She doesn’t need hairspray to get things to stick:
The hairdo holds great if the paint’s good and thick.

And then comes the make-up! The powders, the color!
More color is better! Less is more duller!
Deep purple, hot pink, turquoise blue, brilliant green:
Use all on the face for the very best sheen!
And they both disappear in a big cloud of dust
Where they coughed and they sneezed and they gagged and they cussed.

When it’s finally all over (and the cops are all gone),
And the firemen move their big trucks off the lawn,
When the news teams have left and the sirens are off,
And the medics have treated everyone with a cough,
And gone are the gas masks and chemical gook –
Jenni unveils the client’s New Look.

And they cry “Yes, exactly! You’ve captured my wishes!”
And Jenni is showered with “Thank you’s” and kisses.
You’ll be gorgeous and giddy and dancing on air
When Jenni the Hairdresser fixes your hair.

4 Comments Poem: Jenni the Hairdresser

  1. Karen Gake

    That was amazing…not one word??? From you?!?!?! Unbelievable!!!! So very glad it was only that one time you had to be silent or my world would not be so happy!!!! 🙂

  2. Kathie

    Sounds like a trip to the Funhouse, Carol –
    Did you ever hear about that place? Crazy mirrors, air jets on the floors that blow your skirt up, off kilter floors, giant machines that tumble you as you try to walk through – a crazy life size lady that just laughs and laughs and never stops. Thanks for the nostalgic trip back in time. . . it was wild!
    I can hardly wait to see your hair . . .


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