Small Talk


After any holiday is a good time for small talk. Someone did something somewhere and thus a conversation is born. As an introvert, I take advantage of these times. Like a rabbit in a garden of lettuce, I get while the gettin’ is good.

My hair dresser, who prefers the term “stylist”, always wants to chit-chat while she is washing and snipping away at my hair. I try my best to appease her throughout our sessions but usually fall into a blissful silence. I love having my hair done and don’t have much to say. People aren’t expected to carry a conversation with a surgeon, usually because of the anesthesia, but also to let the expert focus on his/her work.

I take this same approach towards my stylist (I prefer “hairdresser”) who disregards my silence and continues with the chitty-chat. In my best effort at normal human interaction, I had a good question ready for her at my last appointment.

As she was sudsing up my hair, I asked, “So what did you do for the fourth of July weekend?”

Nailed it. She did lots of things, including a trip to her grandma’s house on Lake James.

As she detailed the boat parties, fireworks on the water, live bands and skiing, I remembered the one and only time that I went to Lake James.

It was on the fourth of July, too. I experienced the floating booze parties and water sports, first hand. They hadn’t changed much in over a decade by her descriptions. Boats still congregated in great numbers, dropped anchor, and the boaters hopped into the water to drink beer out of ice filled coolers and to float the day away.

Everyone ends up with a sunburn, dehydration, and varying degrees of a hangover (for those who are of age, of course).

When I was there, it was at a time when people had cell phones but they weren’t “smart” like they are today. People weren’t addicted to them like we are now, myself included. I was lucky enough to have my very own cellular device which was silver with a hot pink, rubber case. There were actual buttons to dial the numbers and a little antenna on the top. As a highly prized piece of advanced technology, I took the best care of that little phone.  I can say with absolute certainty, it was not with me on the boat.

Looking back, I’m not sure how I got the message out on the water, in the middle of a floating booze party that my mom was in the hospital, but I did. The only thing I knew was that there had been a firework explosion and she was involved.

I wanted to tell my hairdresser/stylist that I had been to Lake James on the fourth of July, too. I wanted to share how I always wanted to go back to see the fireworks on the water. I wanted to share with her something real, but then that wouldn’t have been small talk, anymore.

Slow down, maybe?

What does a haircut mean to you?  

Is it a necessary evil from which you spend multiple mornings gazing into a mirror filled with regret at having gotten yet another bad ‘do’?  Maybe the thought of sitting in a barber’s chair, covered in a cape, and vulnerable to a stranger’s hands is so traumatic that you don’t even go.  Instead, you head to the bathroom with a pair of scissors or clippers and do the work yourself.  Or you don’t cut your hair at all; a ponytail is fine by you for all of life’s events. 

Of course, there is another group of folks, those who actually enjoy getting a haircut.  They look forward to trims and new styles because they have a hairdresser who gets them and their hair.  Though many failed visits to Fantastic Sam’s and Great Clips, I made a discovery that changed my entire haircut philosophy and became one of these people.  What I found was that the secret to a good haircut is a good hairdresser, one you can trust with the hair that you present to the world.  Oh, and perhaps the most important thing, you get what you pay for; the quality of a haircut couldn’t be more differentiated than by this simple principle.

My hairdresser, or stylist, as she prefers to be called, dresses in black from head to toe.  Usually, there is a red or purple streak through her hair and a stud or hoop through her nose.  She takes her work very seriously and has no time for small talk.  In fact, she appears to be annoyed by questions and attempts to exchange daily pleasantries.  Sometimes she doesn’t respond at all, and if she does, it’s always in one word answers. 

When I sank down into her chair this last time, I expected these things.  I accept these antisocial quirks and have come to enjoy sitting in silence as she shapes and snips my hair without the need for pointless small talk.  It’s a relief to not have to entertain anyone; I can just sit and be pampered.    

However, instead of being pampered, I left her chair feeling that I had just paid to be roughed up and I didn’t like one bit of it. 

It started as soon as I sat down, she gruffly asked me, “What’ll it be?” with the hint of a smirk.

It was like I was ordering a burger at MacDonald’s instead of getting a trim in a nice salon where they usually offer filtered water or a glass of wine.  On this day, I’m pretty certain the only thing she was going to offer was a glass of shut-the-hell-up-or-get-out. 

Clearly, she wasn’t listening when I said “Work your magic,” as she rummaged through her drawer in search of something or another.

She pulled a pair of scissors out of her drawer and slammed it shut, and I should have suspected that I was about to be in trouble.

“So a trim, right?” she said.

 Without waiting for my response, she started attacking my hair in a frenzy of thousands of cuts.  She cut and snipped without slowing to check her work or to see my eyes large with fear.  I knew this wasn’t going to be the delightful experience that I usually had under her hands, but assumed this was a new technique.

Thank God, she slowed when she got close to my face and that was when I noticed how badly her hands were shaking.  They quivered and shook, while her eyebrows drew close in a fixed concentration on my hair.  My fear grew as I watched her work in the mirror with a complete disregard for the rest of the world.  Soon, she was back up to her old furious pace and hair flew everywhere.  She was a modern Edward Scissorhands, but she was all blades without any tenderness on this day.

“There,” she declared with relish.  “You’re done.”

“I am?” I asked, in a stupor at what had just happened to me, and all by my own admission through my silence.

I shudder to think about what else happens because of silence and misplaced trust.  I can’t go back in time and get my hair back, but I can trust my gut instead next time.  Whether she was getting the flu, fighting withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, or maybe just plain hungry, I should have stopped her when it first seemed wrong.  She needed a break away from the scissors for her sake, the clients, and future business. I knew it in my gut, but did nothing to stop her.

Fortunately, I can grow my hair back and use this experience as a reminder of what happens when a person sits in silence with their hands neatly folded, hoping for the best.