Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Living Vicariously through our Clients

Alfred, Who were you this week? Who did you have in your chair that you not only did their hair, but you are invested in, identify with, give advise to, console, motivate, listen to, admire and help feel good about themselves. How many clients this week have you done for over ten years? How many have you walked through tough times with, gone through a divorce or a miscarriage with, or you handed them Kleenex discussing a problem that brought them to tears sitting with all the foils on their head. Alfred, who were you this week? Who was in your chair that let you feel the baby kick, showed off the new engagement ring, finished their dissertation, described the Olympics in Beijing, or you handed them a Kleenex as they laughed themselves into tears while they sit waiting for the hot wax to rip little hairs off their chin. Were you a famous movie star again?

One of the best things about being a hairdresser, is the magic of living vicariously through are clients lives. We have so many different, interesting, and varied people that pass through our hands everyday. When one allows another to touch them physically-such as a masseuse, a doctor, or a hairdresser- an intimacy develops. A trust develops. Many people find this bond a comforting, and therapeutic link to anther person who is involved-yet detached. There seems to be a lot of safety in this relationship. I have clients that have come once a month for 25 years. If your getting a basic single process color that lasts about two hours, that sums out to six hindered hours of time spent together. That is the equivalent of fifteen- forty hour work weeks of close, hands on intimacy. We make some serious long lasting relationships with our clients.

Some of them are whimsical and humerus. If I put myself into the shoes of a few off the top of my head; I get to be a mom whose 12 year old son just got back from the most prestigious PING PONG CAMP in the world outside of Budapest Hungary. I get to be an Olympic gold medalist rower. I get to be a three star general. I get to be the Dean of a prestigious graduate school. I get to be a fifteen year old hip-hop break dancer. I am a well known actress, news anchor, and author. I also get to be a few really crazy psychiatrists, heart surgeons, and a leading physicist.

Alfred, and others in our salon got to be a Greek national soccer player, an oil painting restoration expert at the Smithsonian, and an Archaeologist just back from Tunisia looking for ancient scrolls. We got to be the President of an Eastern European country-flanked by drop dead handsome secret service- (when asked what she thought was the most pressing world issue at the moment, she paused, thought deeply for a moment, and then answered:"What I care about the most right now is that...I become a Grandmother this year")

We also got to be a regular mom working part time, juggling three kids, a mortgage, and a husband whose job is on the line. We felt the frustration when we were not accepted into the graduate program that we had worked so hard for. We were a parent who wouldn't let their fifteen year old son attend the "legalize marijuana" rally without supervision. We were an alcoholic fifteen days sober struggling to keep it together. We were a divided family dealing with getting Grandma into the right living situation for her final days. We were first time business school clients, recommended to us to get just the right haircut for job interviews. We were a new doctor in a new city working thirty six hour shifts who wanted some ideas on where to drive out of Boston for day trips. (Ogunquit, or Newport) We were a hot trendy BU student who died her Asian black hair- snow white blond 3 days before, who spent the entire day at the salon to fix it. She bought lunch for everyone, and she walked out a sensation.

Living in voyeuristic monthly snapshots through our clients is sometimes extremely painful. It can be really hard to see someone you've been intimately involved with careening into a big mistake, staying with an abusive partner, or sinking into the depths of depression. Many clients invite you to establish the oopportunity to provide advise, motivation, and the pep talks that go beyond just the monthly haircut chit chat . When you have been involved with someone for 25 years, gone through the good, the bad and the ugly there inevitably comes those moments where we have the ability to provide service that goes above and beyond. The concept of boundaries is a big one here. My job is to do your hair. But if I can I can set you up on a blind date with my 10th grade English teacher (who hit me in the face with an eraser,) and then you get married because of it, all the better, I get bonus points

This week such a moment presented it self. My beloved long time client has been battling cancer for the last 12 years. We have been shopping for hats together, building memories with her remarkable daughter of thirteen when they come to the salon together, and I have hooked her up with other clients who specialize in treatment of her affliction. Our goal is to make it to her daughter's Bat Mitzvah at the end of October. This week, her husband carried her up the stairs late, after the salon was closed. I had the shades down, soft lights, and soft music. I buzzed her hair down to a crew cut, and tinted her eyebrows. We sat and talked. I will take the day off to attend the Bat Mitzvah to help with styling and moral support. I wouldn't dream of charging a penny for this, as it is my honor to be involved and included in this families process.

Yesterday I went to the house of a 94 year old women who had been great friends of my parents. She spends "the season" on Martha's Vineyard where she is a true "matriarch", and then is flown back to old Savannah GA where she is the doyenne of the plantation set. I have gone to her museum of a house for 28 years, three times a year. As I finneshed up her hair, I got choked up thinking that this would be the last time I would be able to help this wonderful woman maintain her dignity, put a smile on her, and help her feel like the femmenine southern Belle that she has always been. For two hours yesterday she was again the grand lady whose parents had gone down on the Andrea Doria Ocean Liner (they survived). I suggested I put some lipstick on her, clip on the pearl earings, and hey- let's slip these high heels on for a minute even just here in the bed. The look on her face once again made me realize why I am in this buisness. Her son came up to me later to say she had been looking forward to this all week. I was in tears as I reminded him how to massage her head every night, and that she had conveyed to me to make sure she has her lipstick and earings were ALWAYS on in the hospital until the very last day.

The one year old kid whose bangs I cut my first year as a hairdresser- (I don't do kids...no way...well, OK just this once) is named Dylan. He is pushing thirty and should be a Calvin Klein underware model. I have watched him grow up for his entire life, and feel like "Aunt Thomas". He makes all his girlfriends come into the salon for a "drive by". It's like running the Mohegan indian gauntlet. Some of them have walked out with a tommahawk squarely in the forehead. But if they think they can just come in and pick the golden apple without some sort of litmus test, they have a surprise coming. I think being a 28 year old Calvin Klein underwear model, a three star General, a cancer survivor, or a fireman are all right up there as the truly great clients to live vicariously through.


Dylan said...

Thomas, come on. It was Fruit of the Loom. And that was only for a summer. You know my bread and butter has always been hand modeling.



Anonymous said...

I cried reading this, Thomas. It is beautifully written. I do believe that every person deserves to be treated "VIP", even if they don't have fancy credentials that are news worthy. Coming in for a haircut and a chance to talk with you is a treat and I look forward to the extra bounce in my step as I leave.
Caitlin Roberts

Hair on the Air Show said...

Thank you. I meant every word of it. EVERYONE should feel like a VIP when you go to get your hair done.

Deb said...

Thomas, this is a great post. Thanks!