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Beauty School Drop Out

by Ann K. Howley


Beauty shop storefront with a sign reading "Salon"

I am a freelance writer in Bethel Park, PA.  My work has previously appeared in Skirt! Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, LA Reader, Writers News Weekly and other publications. I also just finished writing a humorous coming-of-age memoir called Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad.

Faced with a sudden plumbing problem, my hairdresser once had to escort me next door to a dog grooming shop called The Poodle Palace to wash and rinse my hair so she could cut it. I thought that leaning over a metal basin that stank of wet dog while a dozen little Foo-Foo creatures yapped uncontrollably in the background was the worst hair cutting experience of my life.

I was wrong.

“How would you like a free haircut?” a friend asked.

It sounded suspicious, but she explained that her twenty year old daughter was a cosmetology student and needed a volunteer so she could cut real hair for her final exam.

A free haircut? Why not? I didn’t think my hair was particularly difficult to cut and I certainly wasn’t fussy, as evidenced by my habit of running my fingers through my short, wet hair and running out the door in the morning.

“Sure,” I said, pleased at this small stroke of good fortune.

Again, I was wrong.

When I arrived at the beauty school, the girl managed to wrap my neck and shoulders in a plastic apron and wash my hair without drowning or scalding me, but when I sat down on the swivel chair in front of the mirror, she suddenly froze and stared at my wet head with a look of frightening incredulity, as if my hair was a million-piece puzzle that she couldn’t solve.

Several minutes passed and she didn’t budge. All around us I heard the tink-tink sound of metal scissors as the other students in the class busily snipped and clipped the hair on their volunteers’ heads with what seemed like direction and purpose. Only my unfortunate hair cutter stood behind me as still as a statue with a comb in one hand and scissors in the other.

I started to feel nervous. A minute later, the instructor slowly walked past and it was her disapproving glare that finally spurred my hair cutter to action. The girl’s hands started to shake and she dropped the black comb on the floor.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about licensed cosmetology, but in every hair salon I have ever visited, I have observed the universal protocol for handling dropped beauty implements. Any comb or brush that falls on the floor is like a dead football. Out of play. And from what I’ve witnessed, the hair cutter is required to immediately pick it up and drop it into a container of a sterilizing liquid that looks like Blue Berry Blast Kool-Aid in order to prevent the spread of some dastardly disease or condition from floor to head and beyond.

The good news is that my assigned cosmetology student appeared to know this rule because a flicker of recognition crossed her face as she considered the fallen comb on the floor. The bad news is that when she knelt down to pick it up, she surreptitiously glanced around the room to make sure no one was watching as she wiped it on her apron and lifted the germ-laden, biologically-compromised comb to my head and ran it through my wet hair.

The poor girl was a cosmetological disaster.

I watched anxiously as she cut and combed my hair. She occasionally stopped to sigh, as if she were unable to hide her disappointment in the results.

Feeling regret, I sat patiently as my friend’s daughter failed her final exam on my hair.

“Thank you. It looks nice,” I lied when she finally finished.

Nice? I said nice? I saw myself in the mirror. My thick, brown, formerly foolproof hair looked so hacked and uneven, I could have achieved the same result if I blindfolded myself and sawed off clumps of hair with a steak knife. It wasn’t nice. And it would take six weeks of hair growth and an expensive haircut at a fancy, overpriced salon to recover.

I learned later that after failing her final exam on my head, the girl dropped out of beauty school.

Maybe stinky, wet poodles weren’t so bad after all.


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