Mr. K works very hard on my haircuts.
(Ferns growing not far from Mr. K’s business.)
Mr. K. met me three years ago. I’d had the same hairstyle all lifelong. It was thick handfuls of curls, brown with an early streak of gray, layered in a comforting thatchy fleece falling over my eyeglasses, around my face, and in younger days down the back. It was always nice to hide under all that hair. All it needed was a weekly wash, and a good backwards brush & toss every morning.
“This is wonderful thick hair,” Mr. K. marveled, during those first few appointments, “for a woman your age.” I was going to put on a straight face and joke with him that I’m nearly thirty. But he was so sincere and congratulatory and kind that I just didn’t have the heart. His haircut technique was terrific, and I’d go my way feeling happy for Mr. K’s help.
Then, three years ago Covid lockdown came along. One day a news article mentioned a pandemic-related hair loss called telogen effluvium. That sounded curious to me. Why would lockdown be causing hair loss? I got up and went to the mirror to take a look. Holy smoke! Sure enough: receding hairline, thinning on top. Over the next few months the hair grew straight and silver and baby fine. Salons were closed for months. But that was not an immediate issue, because the hair had simply stopped growing.
Finally Mr. K. and I met again. Like a true professional he said not one single word about the change in my hair. At first I worried that he would be depressed having me as a customer, and I should switch salons. But he simply shifted gears from congratulations and enthusiasm to a tactful kind introspective approach. To his enormous credit, now he devoted even more time and thoughtfulness and painstaking ingenuity working with half as much hair.
Mr. K’s gentle respectful diplomacy makes me appreciate him very much. Not everyone in his profession shares his kind approach. Some time ago, an independent high-end haircutter made the news when he specified that he’s be cutting hair for customers under the age of 40 only. The rationale apparently was that hair eventually loses its ability to stack and bounce and spring back with the same resilience, and would not hold up properly in the sleek geometric styles for which he was famous. I guess his cuts were the equivalent of ortho-molecular gastronomy, where the top of one’s head should look as striking as plated citron whiskers set alight over caviar foam. Anyway, local codes of fair public business put a stop to his habit of turning away customers who looked to be over 40. But his sentiment is not unique. At one establishment here in town, one which did not accept appointments, I showed up three times asking for a haircut. Each time the glam young employees welcomed their peer walk-ins who were equally young and equally glam, while flatly ignoring me. Each time when I asked gently why no one was speaking to me they snapped that “we’re busy,” turning away the Boomer who believes in loyalty, courtesy, and good tips. That establishment has since gone out of business, not before slathering on another layer of shyness to the prospect of going for a haircut.
Any fashion-based scrutiny of my physical appearance feels crestfalling. A haircut might seem a pampering hour of fun to other women. For me, it’s worrying that staff might say “You are too old to look good in one of our haircuts. Your hair does not meet our high standards. We’ll just have to kill you.” To be fair, no salon employee has ever chased me with clippers and a spray bottle. But those appointments from now on will mean confronting that hair loss issue, under competent appraisal and a well-lighted mirror.
Throughout childhood, the strong message among the grownups was that to attract a prospective suitor, a girl’s most important virtue (other than, of course, virtue) was a head of good hair, preferably light in color and naturally curly. At holidays and visits the women would greet me by examining and discussing my hair, making sure that it was still curly and thick. They would lecture me on the importance of hair upkeep as a ticket to a good future and good marital treatment. While mourning the death of her own mother, Mom kindly offered me the consolation of the ultimate compliment from Grandma, who among her final words said: “Mary has NATURAL CURLS. Don’t ever let her cut them.”
All that hair talk was their way of saying “We just want you to be happy and well treated.” How dismayed those salt-of-the-earth elders would be, to see that hair fading away now. Or maybe not, from their point of view in heaven now? And as a Christian who believes in eternal life, just how much upset should I invest in such a trivial concern, and for how long a time? From the standpoint of eternal salvation, none and none. So at a beautiful local clothing boutique run by a talented sewing cooperative of Muslim women, I stocked up on knitted caps and headscarves for everyday wear and resolved to think no more of it.
It dawned on me typing this that the only person left who notices or touches my hair, or even sees it unveiled, is now Mr. K. Today I stopped by for a trim. Normally he works in conscientious silence, but today when I remarked on a song over the radio he confided that his life dream was to be a singer. He shared in a pure open-hearted way about how he practiced his craft, until war broke out at home. “In war it is hard to make your dreams come true.” His family lost everything, started here with nothing, and now he has built up his life perfecting top-level skills in several careers. It was a thrilling story. I listened in rapt admiration. Today Mr. K. must have spent 90 minutes crafting what is left of my hair. It must take great artistry and care to sculpt hair in this condition, but today he absolutely outdid himself. It’s a whole new style, blow-dried in soft sideswept silvery layers.
Leaving the salon I texted Angelina, planning to stop by and show it to her while it still looks so nice. “Omigosh, Mr. K. gave me a really nice haircut! He worked so hard! Bingo and Super Pup will not recognize me any more.” She immediately texted back “Do you think Mr. K. will cut their hair to look amazing too?” I answered that it wouldn’t hurt to try, and that she should leash them up and all come in and ask for a Three In One family special.
Then I went to the grocery store for root vegetables to make cole slaw, and daikon radish to make kimchi. A woman behind me in line said “MARY? Is that you?” It was Angelina. “Mary, your hair style! SO elegant. Turn around. Let me see. You look TEN years younger! Wanna ride home? I made you split pea soup.”
All those front-line workers and specialists who for the past three years have taken the brunt of people’s stress and have helped to keep this country from losing their collective minds? Well, Mr. K. and his team are among them.
God bless you, Mr. K. America is a better kinder country with the precious gift of your artistic talent and kind spirit. Some day I want to hear you sing.