Thursday, August 23, 2007


I went to the hairstylist yesterday. I have an interesting habit. Whenever I'm among people, especially people who do me a service (like the hairstylist or manicurist and the like) I love to ask them about themselves. I often ask them all sorts of questions and I always ask them whether they enjoy their job. If they answer affirmatively, I then ask what they enjoy most (if I'm at the hairstylist's, I'll ask them which cuts they like to give, what colors they'd like to dye people's hair and at the manicurist's I'll ask what kind of hands and feet they like best and the colors of nail polish they prefer.)

And then I ask them for their stories. It's what I do best, collecting stories. You'd be amazed by what people have seen.

So my hairstylist yesterday was named Sherry. She explained that she's been around a tough crowd. Said that she's given haircuts since she was three (used to comb the dye into her father's hair) and made money ever since she was five (her father would drive her around with her little blowdryer and brush and she would cut people's hair and earn two to four bucks.) She described the different places she'd worked, how by one of them she used to have to go out front to pick up the syringes and empty booze bottles and throw them away.

The she told me the following story. It's an excellent story, but I warn you that you've got to have a morbid sense of humor to appreciate it.

Sherry: Well, I've had a gun thrown at me.

Olivia: Seriously?

Sherry: Sure. One of my customers called me up late at night and told me that he was going to off himself. So I say to him, sure, okay, just do me a favor first. So he says, what's the favor. So I say, go get yourself some Hefty garbage bags first. So he drives out to the store and buys the Hefty garbage bags and then calls me back and says, now what. So I say, okay. Put a garbage bag over your head and then blow your brains out. Hopefully the bag will catch the pieces of brain and gunk and other s--- and make it easier for someone to clean up after you.

[she laughs]

He was so mad at me that he drove all the way down to Champaign to throw the gun at me. Walked into my house and threw it at me.

Olivia: Did he hit you?

Sherry: Nah, he missed.

Olivia: That's...genius. How did you come up with that?

Sherry: I have no idea how it came to me.

Olivia: Did he end up committing suicide?

Sherry: No, he didn't off himself. So it all worked out.

[if I knew how to whistle and could do a low whistle, that's what you would insert here]

I've seen plenty of crazy day this girl comes into my shop; she hasn't got any shoes on. She was running from her boyfriend; he was beating her...

Olivia: That's awful.

Sherry: Yeah. You been doing this job as long as I have, you see plenty of crazy s---. See, it's the sense of touch. When you go to a psychologist or a shrink, they can't touch you. But here, I'm touching them, their hair, and that forms an instant bond. People feel comfortable telling you anything that's on their mind, their problems and sorrows and troubles. When I first started, I used to carry that all around with me. But I've learned to let it go. Now I let what they tell me here stay here.

Olivia: And when you go home do you deal with it?

Sherry: Sweetheart, the first thing I do when I go home is make myself a cocktail. And I tell everyone to leave me alone and not to speak to me. [she puts up her hand in a 'go away' gesture for emphasis]

We continue this conversation as I see how she has to hear and listen to so many people's problems and then shed this burden before coming home to pursue her own life. By the time we're leaving she tells me that she could provide the source material and I ought to write a book (since she'd mentioned that she has enough stories to fill a book.) I was telling her that she should check into Augusten Burroughs and the way he writes. And of course, I thanked her for her stories.

I think what she said about touch is brilliant. She's right that we feel instantly closer to people we touch. Of course, the circumstances have to be friendly- there's a difference between the doctor's office, where every touch can be nervewracking since you assume the doctor is judging you or has found something problematic in your body- and the touch of a hairstylist as she does your hair, talking to her fellow hairstylists, walking purposefully to one station or another, discussing the latest celebrity news, listening to the radio that plays through the speakers. That environment is friendly and open so people are more willing to speak.

You know who is curing society? The hairstylists and manicurists and the listeners. Of course there are two kinds; the people who are forced to listen as opposed to those whose talent is listening (like Sherry.) I bet most customers don't even realize how much pain these listeners siphon off from them.

It's fascinating to hear about their lives, the listeners. I love their stories. I remember at one time I used to pity people who worked in a nail shop. I figured that no one would actually want to touch people's feet all day (although honestly, I don't understand dentists, either. Who would want to have to deal with all that gunk in people's teeth?) And then I had the most fascinating conversation with my manicurist who explained that she loves her job and she loves making people feel pretty and happy, boosting their self-confidence. She sees nail design as art and is expressing her creativity when she does it. The exact same thing applies to hair; many hairstylists also see themselves as artists and are expressing their creativity; they love their jobs.

Definitely not all of them; some people end up in beauty professions simply because they weren't able to make it in their chosen area of interest, and those are always the sad stories. But even then, it's really amazing to hear about people's lives and find out how they ended up at the place they are at.

Next time you go to your dentist, doctor, manicurist or hairstylist, you might consider asking them for their stories. I promise they'll be interesting. It will also enable you to thank them, a little, for the good care they take of us. And by that I mean everything from providing us with the service we pay them for to providing us with the more meaningful, more important service of hearing us out. Sometimes that's all someone needs.


Anonymous said...

Why is it that my hairstylists can never speak English?

Chana said...

Ah, the benefits of living in Chicago...where the hairstylists speak English.

Seriously, though? It's obviously just another challenge for you, Jackie. You shall learn Spanish or Portugese or whatever the language at hand is and then communicate!

e-kvetcher said...

>I don't understand dentists, either. Who would want to have to deal with all that gunk in people's teeth

Dentists? What about proctologists?

Apropos, my wife says this is very true to life...

Shoshana said...

I always wondered about the people who do pedicures and dentists also.

I love my hairdresser (and she speaks English). She does a fabulous job on my hair, but she also really goes out of her way for me. And she does tell me all kinds of stories about her life as well, which has not always been so easy. I've been amazed at how much of her life she has told me in the number of times I've been under her care. But I won't go to anyone else now.

Jack Steiner said...

My barber speaks perfect English.

haKiruv said...

I work at a gas station and this post is funny to me. I thought about keeping a blog of my stories. I've seen some interesting stuff. Not enough for a book though.

Ezzie said...

All this in a post and nobody talks about the listeners or the garbage bag!? Those were the best parts!

the apple said...

Don't know if you'll even read this comment, but anyway. My hairstylist always asks me if I have a boyfriend. Hehehehe. Methinks I'll have to ask her to do my hair when I get married G-d willing to make up for all the disappointing answers.