Barking Up the Beauty School Tree

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“Anybody who doesn’t know what soap tastes like has never washed a dog.” Franklin Jones

“Don’t you need to go and register for school?” asked my mom.

“Yeah, but I’m not going,” I said.

“What do you mean, you’re not going?”

“I’m not going back to school. I’m not cut out for it. I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Hair, I’m going to do hair.”

She was so excited. She loved it that I was going to be a hairdresser. If a woman doesn’t have a hairdresser then she has no choice but to let her hair go. My mom started looking up cosmetology schools.

I was 19-years–old. I had been going to Tri-C Community College for a year learning to become a special needs teacher. When I was a lifeguard at Bay Pool I used to teach them how to swim. I loved those kids.

But, at Tri-C they showed us movies about teachers teaching special needs kids and the movies bummed me out. The whole thing was seeing the women’s faces, the teachers, and how their faces were hard, angry, and I could see they were frustrated. I thought to myself, I don’t want to be like that around special needs kids.

I don’t want to become angry, tainted, jaded. The thought of getting frustrated with any of the special needers killed me. I didn’t want to ever get angry with one of those little faces.

The day I told my mom I was going to become a hairdresser, it came out of the blue. I didn’t actually know I had been thinking about it. You can only do what you want to do when you actually know you want to do it.

I used to cut hair when I worked at Bay Pool. Kids I worked with would ask me, “Do you know how to cut hair?”

“I don’t know, maybe. I cut my own.”

“OK, can you cut mine?”

“Yeah, I’ll cut it.”

I used to pierce ears, too. “Do you remember the time the electricity at school went out and we were all bored and you pierced my ear with your earring?” a friend of mine asked me at one of our school reunions.

“No, but it sounds great,” I said. Even if I didn’t remember it, back then he wanted his ear pieced, so I pierced it, dark or no dark.

By the time my mom was done, the next thing I knew, I was enrolled at the Fairview Beauty Academy in Fairview Park. It was there then and it’s there now, thirty years later. It didn’t always go as planned. I had to spend a lot of time writing “I will not swear in front of clients” on one sheet of paper after another.

One day a lady was in the bowl, soap in her hair, water in her hair, and she decided to sit up.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I said. “Lay back down!”

My teachers were, like, “Julie!”

“Did you just swear at her?”

“No, I didn’t swear at her.”

“Are you lying?”

“No.”

They made me write “I will not swear in front of clients” 500 more times. It was ridiculous.

“I’m paying you to go to this school,” I said.

“Keep writing,” they said.

It was horrible. I was always in trouble.

I don’t even know I’m saying it when I’m saying it. It’s just part of my vocabulary. It’s been that way my whole life. My mom would come home from work at the hospital, we’d sit down at the dinner table, and she was off, fuck that stupid doctor, fuck that idiot nurse, and that fucking patient who gave me so much trouble, too. That was our dinner talk.

Have you ever talked to a nurse? Nurses swear like truck drivers, on and on and on. Mom loved cursing a lot. She wasn’t just trying to get her point across by using harsh language, although it helped. It became part of the word world at our house.

I grew up in a house full of swearers. I swear a lot in front of everyone, all the time.

My mom and I went to Put-in-Bay one weekend. It’s a small island in Lake Erie, the best walleye, and the third tallest monument in the country. We were waiting in line to get into the roundhouse. We were talking and I was swearing up a storm.

“Nice mouth,” a guy behind us said to me. ”Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

I whirled on him. “You know what, asshole, my mother invented the word fuck. You want to see me kiss her? I’ll kiss her right now.” I kissed my mom.

“Jay, what are you doing?” she asked me. She hadn’t been paying attention to the man behind us.

Halfway through beauty school I got into a car accident when I hit a cement truck. I was out for four months. When I came back I had four months left. Those months became my dark days. I thought I was a hot shot and that I knew best. I never paid attention. I was always goofing off.

I thought I knew how to do everything, do it all. Once you get out of theory they put you on the floor. I don’t want to do haircuts is what everyone said. I was the daring person. It wasn’t about playing with scissors.

“I do!” I said.

I was the first one to go on the floor. I didn’t mind standing all day. I could do it all day with no problem. I had cut people’s hair before, so I was, let’s go. I couldn’t and wouldn’t quit. I had to finish beauty school because I couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to Tri-C.

I hated beauty school, but I got through it, and I got my first job at Cadillac Cutters. It didn’t go well, not because of my swearing, but because, in the end, I didn’t swear enough.

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