Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen

Because my mom is great, she taught me to love myself just the way I am. Because I am either lazy or misunderstanding of life lessons, this translated into me never learning much about makeup, fashion, or hairstyles.

Makeup-wise, I was tortured in the theater at a young age by a mascara-wand-wielding stage mom (not mine) who apparently thought full lashes were only achievable by first stabbing my eyeballs into submission to show them who’s boss. After that — and the trying teenage cycle of hiding blemishes with concealer that, hysterically, caused more blemishes — I decided I was just going to be a human who didn’t wear makeup. Plus, you have to wake up early or spend less time playing video games if you want to wear makeup, which, while great for some, doesn’t work if you love sleep or video games as much as I do.

Fashion-wise, I went to a private school that didn’t allow its students to wear blue jeans or printed t-shirts. Since graduation, I have been staging an 18-year rebellion against them by wearing exactly that every single day of my waking life. I presume the “lesson” was to prepare us for the type of business apparel and professionalism expected in the workforce. Well, JOKE’S ON YOU, Private School! Mark Zuckerberg decreed that grown-ups at tech companies can dress like ruffians if we want to! You’re not our real dad!

Now, here’s the cool thing about hairstyles. Unlike makeup or fashion, you’re not supposed to do it yourself! You’re SUPPOSED to pay another human to make you look cool.

I grew up with very long hair, which required only the occasional parent-trimmed split-ends. It was okay, aside from the annoyance and time-commitment of drying it all. I still sometimes joke that I never know when to stop drying my hair, because at some point, it’s no longer damp from the shower, but rather from the head-sweat of blow-drying it for 45 minutes.

But it was all I knew, until senior year of high school when my Musical Theater Camp directors hatched a plot and insisted that my hair needed to be styled and dyed “for my leading role.” In case it’s not clear from my constant references to them, my Musical Theater directors had a bigger hand in teaching me life lessons than they probably realize. Between blocking and choreographing, their yearly “real talks” with campers are the reason many tweens of eastern Pennsylvania start wearing brassieres and deodorant. And are terrified of chewing gum in pleasant company. I digress. But, thanks, guys.

I like to think my mom never recommended I dye my hair — even though she did — because it’s the sort of thing where, once you start, you have to keep it up forever, or end up with dreaded roots peeking through. Well, my natural hair color is “drowned rat brown,” so I was more than happy to start up a new regimen.

(Boring side note, I used to joke that my hair color was “dead mouse brown,” but when deadmau5 became a thing, I had to update for the new millennium. Lame.)

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(Just kidding. I’m sure he’s delightful. Especially his song “Squeak…Cheese…” …
…I’ve never heard one of his songs.)

The inexpensive salon they recommended was…actually a bit behind the times, even for the late ’90s. For my highlights, I wore basically a shower-cap with a bunch of holes in it, and the stylist pulled strands of my hair through with a crochet needle to color them. But to me, it was mystical science, and I looked pretty good as a blonde. (I also killed it in “Chorus Line,” thank you very much.)

That somewhat old-fashioned haircuttery was a pain to get to, so on my breaks home from college, I started going to a hoity-toity salon recommended by a friend. There, I could get basically the same look, without the shower cap, for a price I’m embarrassed to admit paying, but I will say it rhymes with “more hundred” dollars.

It was fine. Meh. I liked having people dote on me for a few hours, primping and preening while soothing music played and incense burned. I got to wear a cool smock. I even got free cola and samples of shampoo. It was all very…nice. But there was something missing.

The stylists were polite, but I didn’t connect with any of them. Sure, they made me look good, but my bar for excellence was: “Do I look different from when I came in?” and if the answer was “not hideously so,” I was satisfied. It’s kind of like trying to cook yourself a delicious Grilled Cheese, though. It’s always going to taste better at a restaurant than it does at home, mostly because the professionals know how to wield butter more liberally than you do. (In this metaphor, butter is my hairdryer.)

So my stylists weren’t doing anything revolutionary or transformative; they were just, like, giving me Glorious Leader’s Lady Hairstyle #3, and sending me on my way. And I was mildly impressed because I looked different from the usual — whatever direction my hair went in after I rolled out of bed and pulled a brush through it.

I always had this dream of a stylist who knew my innermost secrets and remembered them, even if I only came in once or twice a year. Someone who would grasp their necklace as I crossed the threshold and exclaim, “Girl, I can read it on your face, what did your horrible ex do this time?” But after 5 or so years of trying out whatever stylist was around the day I made my appointments, I figured that kind of relationship was a Hollywood myth.

Then, one day, a salon opened up right next to the restaurant where I worked. I booked an appointment, went in, and immediately got a good feeling. It still cost the same ridiculous price, but the stylist had an open ear and a hearty laugh at my stories. When she went back to mix my color, I distinctly remember thinking, “This is it. This is the beginning of a lifelong friendship.”

Then she took me back for the “scalp massage / rinse out” portion of our time together. I put my head in the sink, and that sweet cheerful woman turned into Tommy, of Pinball Wizard fame. I kid you not, this lady was battering my skull against the sides of the sink like a kitten attacking a cactus.

Artist's Rendition
Artist’s Rendition

I seriously thought this could be an episode of Seinfeld (a reference that was hilarious and topical at the time). I’d finally found the stylist gal-pal I’d been dreaming of, all for the small price of a near-concussion. I visited her one more time to see if it were just a fluke. Maybe she’d been to the gym earlier that day or had just had a 5-Hour Energy Drink. Nope. She-Hulk left me with a headache that lasted a few hours.

When I moved to California, it was a way to start fresh on a few levels. I’d found my apartment, futon, and (most importantly) toaster on craigslist, so I thought I’d trawl the boards for a new stylist. That’s how I found her. Andi Scarbrough.

I can’t remember exactly what the ad said, but it was short, to the point, and her URL and sassy branding stood out amongst the boring listings: getaDAMNhaircut.com. To me, it was so L.A., it was so, “Honey, no offense, but you need to come here; I’m gonna fix you right up.” And that’s exactly what my time with her has been like.

Since 2005, I’ve followed her from salon to salon around L.A. for two reasons. One, I could tell from the first time I sat in her chair that this was finally going to be that client/stylist relationship you see in movies. A good listener, a font of interesting stories of her own, and a wicked sharp memory. I poured my heart out to her, and when I returned 4 or 5 months later, she was asking specific follow-ups on happenings with the boyfriend, mom, work.

Two, girlfriend can cut a hair. I would have continued going to her for #1 alone, but, man, I lucked out. I never realized that hair could be cut in such a way that it would continue looking great, even as it grew out. Or that all the magical products they use actually make a difference over the .99 cent stuff I usually buy at Ralph’s (They do. Treat yourself.)

Andi sent me a care package when I moved to Japan before even my boyfriend at the time had, filled with Dr Pepper and peanut butter, things I couldn’t get there and missed. She sent me a book of poems she thought would be fun to share with my students, and — of course — asked how my cut and color were holding up.

She did the hair for everyone in my wedding, and my mother-in-law still talks about how fun her style was that day.

11 years and counting. I haven’t owned a car for as long as I’ve known Andi. Hell, I haven’t known my husband as long as I’ve known Andi. I have trouble consistently filling up my smoothie punch-card, and that place is across the street. But when you find something this magical, you don’t want to let it go. (I am talking about our friendship, not the magic of my hair looking great, although I appreciate the side-effect.)

I’m just saying it’s a relief to know I can count on someone to care of one of the three things I’ll never be able to do on my own. I probably won’t learn how to put on eyeliner. I won’t learn what “Haute Couture” is or how to pronounce it. But as long as Andi’s in the tri-state area, I’ll have my hair needs covered like a protective foil.