“Don’t you need to go and register for school?” Alma asked Thelma, her hands on her hip, elbows splayed out.
“Yeah, but I’m not going,” Telly 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.”
Alma was so excited. She loved it that Telly 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. Alma started looking up cosmetology schools.
Telly was 19 years old. She had been going to Tri-C Community College for a year trying to learn how to become a special needs teacher. When she was a lifeguard at Bay Pool, she used to teach them how to swim. She loved those kids.
But, at Tri-C they showed movies about teachers teaching special needs kids and the movies bummed her out. The whole thing came down to seeing the women’s faces, the teachers, and how their faces were hard, angry, and she could see they were frustrated. She thought to herself, I don’t want to be like that around special needs kids.
“I didn’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.”
Telly cut hair when she worked at Bay Pool. Kids she worked with would ask her, “Do you know how to cut hair?”
“I don’t know, maybe. I cut my own.”
“OK, can you cut mine?”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll cut it.”
She 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 Telly’s asked her at one of their school reunions.
“No, but it sounds great,” she said. The way she looked at it, even if I don’t remember it, back then he wanted his ear pieced, so I pierced it, dark or no dark.
By the time Alma was done, the next thing Telly knew, she was enrolled at the Fairview Beauty Academy in Fairview Park. It was there back then and it’s still there now, thirty years later. It didn’t always go as planned. She had to spend many hours 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?” Telly blurted out. “Lay back down!”
Her teachers were flabbergasted. “Did you just swear at her?”
“No, I didn’t swear at her.”
“Are you lying?”
They made her write “I will not swear in front of clients” 500 more times. It was ridiculous.
“I’m paying you to go to this school,” she said.
“Keep writing,” they said.
It was horrible. She was always in trouble. She didn’t even know she was saying anything vulgar when she was saying it. It was just part of her 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. Alma enjoyed 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 their 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 man behind them said to her. “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” he sneered.
Telly 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.” She kissed her mom on the mouth.
“Jay, what are you doing?” Alma asked her. She hadn’t been paying attention to the man behind them.
Halfway through beauty school she got into a car accident when she hit a cement truck. She was out of commission for four months. When she came back, she had four months left. Those months became her dark days. She thought she was a hot shot and that she knew best. She never paid attention. She 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 else said. I was the daring person. It wasn’t about playing with scissors.”
She was the first one to go on the floor. She didn’t mind standing all day. She could do it all day with no problem. Telly had cut hair before, so she was on fire, let’s go. She couldn’t and wouldn’t quit. She had to finish beauty school because she couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to Tri-C.
Telly hated beauty school, but she got through it, and got her first job at Cadillac Cutters. It didn’t go well, not because of her cursing, but because, in the end, she didn’t curse enough.