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I was fingering aimlessly at the top button of my cardigan, when it suddenly occurred to me that I haven’t played with my clothing like this for over fifteen years. Slightly embarrassed, I drop my hands to my lap and sit up straight.

"Miss. Billingsly?" 

"Yes, Mrs. Hodgeworth?"

"Are you quite alright?"

"Yes." 

"Well then, please pay attention."

"Yes, Ma’am." 

Yikes! I have to stop doing that. If Mrs. Hodgeworth starts to think I’m just another scatter brained young girl with Attention Deficit Disorder; she’ll have me dismissed in a heartbeat. I really need this job. I’ve been out of the Clearfield Community Business School for over a year and a half and finding any job at all in this economy is hard. This is a very good starting position, which would look excellent on anyone’s resume, but the potential for advancement and the possibility that I could one day rise to Mrs. Hodgeworth’s position, should she retire, is priceless. I’ve worked too hard to come even this far and mustn’t become complacent and risk fouling everything now.

Thinking back on to the day that I first saw this opening posted on the CCBS Bulletin Board. It had seemed impossible that I could beat out every one of the girls that would surely apply for this position as Administrative Assistant to the Managing Director of the Bartholomew Jennings Foundation. The Jennings Foundation of course, is only the biggest trust and benevolent organization in the entire state. In addition to funding hundreds of public service programs and their strong support to a variety of historic preservation efforts, they have also given a sizeable endowment to CCBS. I suspect that is partly the reason that this notice for employment was advertised on the BB. 

"Miss. Billingsly. How many attendees do we have for the Lockport presentation?" 

"Ahhh… that would be… five. Mr. Hathaway has not responded yet." 

"I see." 

That was good. It didn’t take me but a minute to find the Lockport replies. I do pride myself on my notes and thoroughness. I believe that is precisely why Mrs. Hodgeworth hired me. Well, not because of my ability to take notes… but my thoroughness. Because before I interviewed with Mrs. Hodgeworth, I studied the Jennings Foundation. I discovered that they are a rather conservative and staid organization and to stand out from all the girls that would likely apply for this job, I would have to appear substantially different from them, serious and quite responsible. 

Normally I dress like anyone else my age. Tight slacks, heels… maybe a too small sweater over a half buttoned, un-tucked blouse. I wear my auburn hair long… usually straight down, past my shoulders with a center part or maybe pulled back into a floppy ponytail. I like a little eye shadow and some color on my lips… nothing too punk or Boho, but definitely trendy and up to the minute in the latest styles. 

However, for my interview, I decided to dress just as conservatively and staid as the Jennings Foundation people appeared to be. I wore a plain brown, knee length skirt that I had borrowed from my mother, with pantyhose, her penny loafers and a plain, buttoned up, white blouse. I twisted my hair up into a simple chignon with a cheap plastic clip pin thing that I bought at the corner drug. I put no makeup on my freshly scrubbed face and I looked completely plain, dead serious and I think, very adult. All the other girls had shown up looking totally garish, wearing either cheap, high fashion knockoffs or pretentious and over designed power suits. Compared to them, I looked like a studious librarian. Obviously, I got the job. Of course, I now have to dress in these nerdy kinds of clothes everyday. But, it’s ok, the job’s worth it. 

"Miss. Billingsly. You must follow up with Mr. Hathaway. He may be stubborn and not keen to attend, but you must persevere. Please stop by his office before five o’clock tomorrow evening and secure his participation." 

"Yes, Mrs. Hodgeworth." 

I couldn’t keep wearing my mom’s stuff of course and I couldn’t afford new outfits, but I was able to expand my wardrobe by visiting the local vintage and consignment shops. Using Mrs. Hodgeworth’s penchant for earth tone woolies, tweeds, twin-sets and old starched pastel blouses as a guide, I acquired a modest but serviceable collection of clean, if outdated clothing, at very low cost. I mean, it’s amazing how much of that old lady stuff shows up in the shops after an estate sale. I dutifully put my hair into the chignon each morning and now I never wear any makeup. My mother of course is extremely pleased to see me off to work each day dressed like what she calls a sensible young lady. I don’t care. I am just really, really pleased to finally have a good job with decent prospects regardless of how I must dress. My friends, with whom I meet up at Tony’s after work, were rather shocked the first time I walked in on them. Dressed in an older, prim and conservative skirt and sweater outfit, they immediately named me Dotty Miss. Marple. They jokingly suggested that if I continued to dress like an elderly chaperone, maybe I shouldn’t sit with them anymore, because I would scare away all the hot boys. It was all in good fun, of course, though I did notice a considerable change in the attitude of the boys. When I was with the group, the guys I knew would still come over and joke, but conversations became more awkward. By the middle of the week, they began to ignore me and sneak curious sideways glances in my direction, as if they were discussing something with one of my friends that was too sensitive for my ears. They would make pointed comments like, would their Nanny mind if they bought them a drink or invite them to ditch the Nerd and join them at another table. My girlfriends remained friendly, though they never missed an opportunity to comment on my plain dress or abandon me as the evening progressed. Honestly, as I think about it now, I never realized they would be so shallow and judgmental. 

"Miss. Billingsly! What have you done to your hair?" 

"I’m… I’m sorry, Mrs. Hodgeworth. My pin must have fallen out. It was an accident." 

Much to my chagrin, my long hair has just spilled forth and now hangs all about my head in a total disarray. I must have absent-mindedly pulled the pin loose. Embarrassed, I reach to the back of my head and find that the entire clip is gone. Is it on the floor? Instinctively, I push my chair away from the table to look for it. 

"Miss. Billingsly! This simply will not do. You must be at your very best with Mr. Hathaway and this kind of accident is unacceptable. Please see Mrs. Moppet on the way out and ask her to arrange an appointment to have your hair squared away before you meet with Mr. Hathaway. I should think something neat and entirely above the collar is appropriate." 

"Yes, Mrs. Hodgeworth." 

Nothing more was said about my hair and our meeting went forward. Mrs. Hodgeworth had a few more items that concerned her and she needed me to address, for the upcoming presentation and I scrupulously wrote everything down on my pad. I was quite alert now, allowing no further daydream or distractions to interfere with the business at hand. But all the while… my long hair hung down around me and made me feel very foolish and juvenile. When Mrs. Hodgeworth concluded our session, I left her office and stopped by Mrs. Moppet’s desk. 

"My Dear! Miss. Billingsly! What happened to your hair?" 

"Oh, I had an accident. Somehow, I lost my hairpin and well… that’s why I’m here. Now, Mrs.
Hodgeworth wants me to have my hair trimmed up before I meet Mr. Hathaway. And, well… she said I should see you about arraigning an appointment?" 

"She did, did she?" 

"Yes." 

"And when is your appointment with Mr. Hathaway?" 

"Tomorrow, before five?" 

"Oh, dear me. That is rather sudden. Did Mrs. Hodgeworth mention where she wanted you to go?" 

"No, she just said that I should see you right away and she said I should get something neat and off the collar." 

"Dear me, on such short notice." 

"Well, that’s ok, Mrs. Moppet. I suppose I could just slip into Snips-N-Clips and get a fast trim… it’s ok." 

"No. It’s Mr. Hathaway is it? Are you going alone?" 

"Yes. I just need to pick up some papers and a reply. It’s really no bother… Snips-N-Clips takes walk-ins." 

"No… no that’s not necessary. You’re Bartholomew Jennings now. You might as well be done with it. I know… I’ll call Gladys Stroh. You wait right here." 

I stood patiently as Mrs. Moppet thumbed through her phone book. Gladys Stroh is not in the yellow pages. Someone picked up on the other end and the two of them began to exchange pleasantries. I could actually hear Gladys Stroh’s loud voice over the phone though I could not make out any actual words. I listened as intently as I could, as the conversation gradually began to focus on me… and the real reason for the call. I feel so foolish. Mrs. Moppet repeats the words, neat and off the collar, at least three times, winking at me in every instance, before finishing up with… "… she’s a Bartholomew Jennings girl you know… of course… I know you will. Thank you very much, Gladys."

"Well it’s set. You’ll get yourself in there by eight-thirty tomorrow morning and Mrs. Stroh will fit you in. Here’s the address. I’ll tell Mrs. Hodgeworth where you are, so she won’t think you tardy."

Tardy? I feel even more like a little schoolgirl. I can’t even make my own hair appointment and I need an excuse and permission to be late for work. I take the slip of paper with the address, thank Mrs. Moppet for her help and as I turn to leave, she hands me a rubber band and suggests I put my hair into a ponytail. I swear, this will never happen again!


The address takes me into one of the oldest parts of town and onto a narrow street, lined along each side with trees and long strips of brick face, row houses. At the beginning of the block I notice a recently erected sign that proclaims this area to be part of the Clearfield Historic District. Over time some of these old homes have been converted into small shops. Some of them are now occupied by trendy art or clothing boutiques, cafes, specialty shoppes, with an "e"… and some of them just appear to be relics hanging on from another era. I wonder if there is any connection between the Bartholomew Jennings Foundation’s preservation efforts and the fact that I am here today, or if this is just a coincidental manifestation of the Foundation’s ever present influence. Although the entirely residential nature of this block has long been altered, no doubt this historic designation will curtail any future development.

Gladys Stroh’s shop is one of the older conversions. There is a high, delicately hand painted though aged sign, projecting from the wall that proclaims this to be The Nu Ewe Hair & Beauty Salon. The hint of pink curtain blocks one window, framing a faded photo card of a freshly, if severely coifed young lady from the fifties. The other is filled by the bulk of an old and hard working air conditioner. Other then that, this looks like the original residence it once was.

I am familiar with the perfumed and scented aromas related to some of the processes that are normally performed in hair salons. However the pervasive density of the pungent odor, expelled through the window machine here, is simply overwhelming. Years of commingled chemical smells predating modern ventilation, must flourish in every porous surface within. Surely this is not simply the exhaust of this early morning’s activity? This seems so archaic. I know the Jennings Foundation is ultra conservative and sometimes acts pretty old fashioned, but they do use computers and cell phones and get along quite well in the modern world. It just seems a little strange that Mrs. Moppet would send me to this old place. Well, I suppose she knows what she’s doing and what’s right for Mr. Hathaway. A tingly door chime announces my entrance.

"Hello? I’m here?"

There are two, elderly smocked ladies, over at a row of ceramic and metal hooded dryer chairs. The one wearing netted curlers turns around and sits down. The other, a robust woman wearing a tight bubble of pink tinted hair, leans over the now seated lady, lowers her visor, twiddles with some dials and then turns on the machine. As the whirl of the motor begins to spool up, she turns toward me.

"You’re my eighty-thirty? The new secretary over at Bartholomew Jennings?"

"Yes. No! I mean yes, I’m your eight-thirty appointment, but no, I’m not a secretary. I’m the Administrative Assistant to the Managing Director. You’re Gladys Stroh?"

"Sure, Honey. Have a seat. Hang your sweater and bag over there."

Really! Does she think I’m a secretary! Perhaps it is just as well that I have some of this long hair trimmed away. The Administrative Assistant to the Managing Director of the Bartholomew Jennings Foundation should look responsible and mature and certainly, never mistaken for a mere secretary. Returning from the rack by the door, I see she is holding another smock open for me and it is clear that she intends for me to turn around and slip my arms into the wide pink sleeves.

"Turn around, Dear!"

I wish she wouldn’t keep shouting! It’s disconcerting. As it is, I’m now answering her questions in a louder than normal voice. She must be a little deaf. I nervously look over toward the lady under the dryer, but she pays us no mind. Maybe she’s deaf too, or maybe she just can’t hear anything under the bonnet.

Once the smock is over my shoulders, she pushes my head slightly forward and brusquely fishes my long hair out from between my back and the smock. She then turns me around, snaps me closed up to the neck and points to the chair. I am now wrapped and enveloped within that same sharp, aromatic brew that I encountered outside the building. My smock is saturated with the smell of chemicals, lotions and sprays.

"Did Mrs. Moppet mention anything about the style or my cut?"

"No. Although she was very clear that it is to be above the collar. Why? Do you think you have a better idea?"

I so wish she wouldn’t shout.

"Oh, no. I’m just wondering what you might do. I do want to look mature and very capable to Mr. Hathaway. Do you know him?"

"Well, not personally. But he’s often in the paper. I suppose everyone around Clearfield knows of Mr. Hathaway. And of course, Mrs. Hathaway."

"My! Mrs. Hathaway? What is she like?"

"I’m afraid Sylvia Hathaway passed on a few years ago and Mr. Hathaway is widowed. Sylvia and I actually grew up together in this very neighborhood, although she was three years older then I. Eventually, we did tend to our separate ways. But… Sylvia, God bless her, always did come back here faithfully every week and I would do her hair. Sylvia was very instrumental, along with the Foundation, in having this entire block added to the historic register. She’s been a God send to saving our way of life here and arresting the insensitive de
velopment that’s gone on in some parts of the city."

"Really? That’s amazing! You did Mrs. Hathaway’s hair?"

"Every week."

"That’s what I want!"

"To come in here every week?"

"No. Well, maybe… but what I mean is, can you give me a cut and set like Mrs. Hathaway?"

"What? A young whip like you?"

"Yes. Well that’s just it don’t you see? When I came in here you thought I was just some piffle of a young secretary. I don’t want to look like that any more. I don’t want to be thought of as just another trendy, silly and interchangeable little clerical girl. I want to be taken seriously. I want to look like a straight and sensible woman that can be trusted to handle the details and business of the Jennings Foundation! Can you do it?"

"What?"

"Make me look like Mrs. Hathaway?"

"She wore a blue tint."

"Ok… without the tint."

"Well, Dear, I suppose so… yes, that’s fine, with no tint. Your hair color is very nice the way it is and you do have such a lovely and thick head. Sylvia’s hair was a lot thinner then yours, you know. But, of course, I can certainly give you her cut and style. It will be quite the change for you. My, my, I haven’t much call for a neat and sensible style on a young girl these days. Why, they hardly ever come in here, unless it’s with their mother, dragging them along. This will be thoroughly enjoyable. It will be a real pleasure to give a young lady like you a proper cut and set. Yes indeed. A real pleasure. I’ll have you looking neat and prim in no time. Have you ever had a perm?"

"A perm?"

"Right. We’ll need to add more body for some buoyancy."

I’m a little surprised. A perm? What did I just get myself in for? I can’t believe I just made a snap decision on something like this. Normally, I like to think things through and figure out my best options. I hope I haven’t been too rash. I’ve no idea what Mrs. Hathaway even looked like. This is an awful lot like going into an ethnic restaurant and ordering the first item on the menu, without understanding the language. Except this isn’t just taking a chance on a lousy meal, this is my hair. My hair! The very same hair, that has been my pride and joy for a very long time. Gladys seems to notice the concern wash across my face.

"You’re sure this is what you want?"

No, actually, I’m not so sure. On the other hand, I am sure that I landed this job with Bartholomew Jennings because I did my homework and showed up dressed and looking like the type of young lady that they should consider appropriate to their established and traditional image and values. I’m certainly bright and intelligent enough for this job, but making that first good impression is so important. I’m sure there were applicants, just as smart and qualified as me, but their trendy and flamboyant appearance painted them into a frivolous and transient pigeonhole. I am the one that was hired. No, I must not get cold feet now. It doesn’t matter; it’s just hair. Hair grows. If I don’t like this style, I can change it the next time. If Mrs. Hathaway’s hair was permed, then mine shall be permed. What is important to me right now, is my career with Bartholomew Jennings. If Mr. Hathaway is subconsciously reminded of his wife, he may be more accommodating and accessible. If my business with him today goes well, Mrs. Hodgeworth will be very pleased. Why, I might even be able to acquire and service the entire Hathaway account. Wouldn’t that be something for a young girl of twenty-four to accomplish after a year and a half of bumbling around with the rest of the unemployed clerical "secretaries"? No, this is not the time to go backwards.

"How old was Mrs. Hathaway, when she passed?"

"Seventy-one."

"Dear me!"

"Yes. Such a pity. A sad day. Unexpected… really. Well, she always looked and felt fresh as a daisy when she left me."

"Yes, I’m sure she did. Well, lets be on with it."

"Yes… lets… this will be such a tribute to her. Sylvia was so well respected and admired in the community. No doubt Mr. Hathaway will consider this as a kindly gesture toward her rich legacy. I’ll guarantee you this… when you leave here today… you will step forth in the most exquisite reincarnation of Lady Sylvia Hathaway’s crowning glory! Ah, if only you dressed with her style… the resemblance should be complete."

Wow! Seventy-one! That’s older then even Mrs. Hodgeworth! I take a deep breath to calm my nerves. I see myself in the mirror as a young girl again. This is somewhat of a last look and goodbye to all that. I can’t imagine what I’ll look like when she’s finished. But if Gladys is right and Mr. Hathaway is favorably influenced by my appearance, this could be the most important day of my life. I’m just a little nonplused by her comment about my clothing. What’s wrong with it? I’m wearing my mother’s over the knee tweed skirt again with a nice plain blouse. Isn’t this a very timeless and conservative combination? Surely a woman of any age should look nice, dressed like this?


With no further ado, Gladys releases my hair from my clumsy chignon and it spills over my shoulders. Picking up a large brush, she combs through my long locks, pulling it free of tangles until it all lies smooth and straight around my head. I am still facing the mirror but I can no longer see myself through the curtain of hair. Relief comes quickly… if indeed it is relief… with a few precise snips of a scissors, the wall before my eyes, drops away revealing my surprised face. She has cut straight and high, leaving just a short bit of bang, hanging down to middle of my forehead. I can barely suppress the gasp of my shock at the reality of this first incision. If anything, I now look even more juvenile!

There is little time to dwell on the insecurities that flood my mind. Gladys swiftly lifts and cuts at the hair all around my head. The length across the top is quickly dispatched and then the sides, leaving my ears completely exposed. Any earlier wistful musing, reminiscent of a youthful innocent is brusquely hacked away. She methodically chops her way around to the back of my head and severs the final vestige of my flowing femininity. Tears begin to well in my eyes as I stare at the shorn and awful utilitarian necessity worn by the butch girls on the sports teams. How can she make something nice of this? At best, I look the manifestation of one of those worn factory girls that spend their lives, chasing after drunken husbands and too many kids! I look horrid! I see nothing but a frantic shock of frightened hair overwhelmed by my massive ears. My ears! Are they truly so large and ugly?

"Have a wipe, Dear. It’s always a bit of a stun when the girls cross that threshold to becoming an adult. They all think they’ve made a terrible mistake, but you’ll soon realize it’s not the long hair that makes you a woman, it’s just hair and mostly it just gets in the way and holds you back. It’s a shame more girls won’t choose to accept coming of age and shoulder their responsibilities as dignified and respectable ladies. These days they all seem to pretend they’re a Disney Princess and expect to act like children forever."

When I’ve finished wiping my eyes and have regained a bit of composure, Gladys asks me to rise and leads me to a different chair, next to a basin. When I’m seated, she tilts it backwards and thoroughly washes my hair, then lifts me forward to towel it dry. When I return to the salon chair and look in the mirror, I look even worse. My hair is now plastered against my skull and my ears protrude from my head like massive semaphores. I would burst into tears again, were it not that
this time, I realize this isn’t the end of it and at some point whatever styling graced Mrs. Hathaway, should soon begin to soften this stark countenance. Oh Lord! What a roller coaster of misgivings!

While I’m taking this all in, Gladys quickly sweeps the remnants of my hair, that litter the floor around the chair, into a neat pile next to the counter. There’s a lot of it. Years… a lot of years… that hair has been with me a long time… through school, the CCBS… this latest bout of unemployment, well… most of my life. And now it’s just been unceremoniously brushed off into a corner. It’s sad. But Gladys is right. It’s time for me to grow up. I have a promising career ahead of me. The women who move in the world of Bartholomew Jennings, the Lockports and the Hathaways, are not Boy Toys at Tony’s.

"Now we’re ready to straighten this up."

Using a smaller comb and scissors, Gladys deftly lifts and snips, paying closer attention to smaller sections of my hair. These shorter moist clippings stick to my nose and ears and occasionally she’ll pause to flip the larger pieces onto the shoulders of my smock. She’s very fast, although why wouldn’t she be? Gladys has probably been doing women’s hair like this for over fifty years. When she’s satisfied with the length, she puts down her tools and pulls a wheeled taboret alongside me. The top is a compartmentalized tray filled with assorted curling rollers, color coded and arranged by size, although they’re all smaller and more elaborate then the curlers I’ve seen used at Snips-N-Clips. She steps on a pedal beneath the chair and I am slowly lowered to the floor.

Standing behind me, the first thing she does, is reach over me with a different comb and separate a wide but thin section of hair away from the front of my hairline. She lifts it straight up with the comb, grips it in her fingers and then tucks the comb out of the way between her knuckles. Her other hand instinctively reaches for one of the pink rollers, which she positions and holds across the ends of my lifted hair. She reaches into the taboret again and brings forth a small slip of paper, placing it along side the outstretched hair. Then both the paper and my hair are wound tightly down to my scalp and locked in place by a clip that’s hinged at one end of the curler. One thing that’s very clear now is the length of my hair. It’s only about two, two and a half inches long… tops. Another thing that’s very clear… is that my hair is wrapped extremely tightly around these curlers. It feels like what little hair I have left on my head, will be pulled out at the roots!

"I’ve never seen that kind of curler before. They’re very small. Are they old?"

"These? These are perm rods. I guess they’re old, I’ve had them awhile. But, heavens… they’re not as old as me!"

"I guess that will put a lot of curl into my hair? I guess it won’t stand up that high when you’re finished, will it?"

"No, it won’t stick up. You’ll have a nice consistent height all around, with a nice tight curl. The solution and neutralizer are equally as responsible for the body and texture as these rods are. Basically, the solution allows your hair cells to relax and take on the coiled shape of the rods and then the neutralizer firms them up and shapes them to hold the curl."

"Will that damage my hair?"

"Yes and no. The hair you see on top of your head is already dead. It does hold proteins and amino acids and is a bit of an archive of your body’s chemical history and in that extent, the perming solution does chemically break down the cell structure and allow it to be reshaped. But the hair follicles in your scalp are the real living roots and we won’t hurt them. They’ll just keep on producing hair. That’s why perms grow out. Your new growth won’t be permed until we touch it up."

Wow! She’s pretty smart! I mean for an old lady. But I guess since she’s been doing hair for a long time, it’s only natural she should know pretty much about it.

"And this is how you did Mrs. Hathaway’s hair?"

"Yeap."

"Length and everything? With these kinds of rods?"

"Yeap, exactly the same. Same rods, actually."

Well, this is what I asked for. In the time it took for me to ask the questions and Gladys to respond, she’s wrapped slivers of my hair around at least seven more of these rods. I guess it’s going rather quickly. Anyway, as I sit and watch her work in the mirror, a row of these tightly coiled unions of hair, paper and plastic have systematically been stacked side by side, forming a neat row from my forehead up toward the crown of my head. It’s fascinating to watch her work and to think that Mrs. Hathaway once sat here in this very same chair, having her hair wrapped like this in these very same perm rods!

When the center row is finished, Gladys begins to roll the hair on the side of my head onto more rods and I notice immediately that my side hair is shorter in length then the hair across my crown. She is also sectioning my hair in a perpendicular direction and wrapping it so that the rods are arraigned parallel with the floor. She works from the center row down, rolling and stacking each rod against the other, moving front to back as she completes a row. When she’s finished I am a sight to behold. Dozens and dozens of tiny pink rods cling to the very shape of my head. Oh! Mrs. Hathaway! This all seems so old fashioned… and at the same time… so right!

I am so enthralled with my appearance. The novelty of it all! To be sitting here and getting my very first perm. I feel like I’m joining a secret club or something. I certainly feel all grown up! As I continue to stare at my reflection, turning by head this way and that, I see there are quite a few loose hairs poking out from beneath this head full of rods that somehow have escaped a wrapping. I’m surprised! I wouldn’t think Gladys would miss even one of those.

The sudden pop and snarl of a small, high speed, electric motor snaps my attention back to Gladys. My eyes focus on her hand, which now wields a large, black and chrome, electric clippers! She moves behind me, gently pushing my head forward and places the whirling crosscut teeth directly against the bottom of my neck. I cringe and involuntarily shudder as she lifts it, drawing the vibrating edge slowly across my flesh until she reaches the hairline I feel as a tightly wound Maginot Line at the back of my head. She repeats this several times, clearing those errant hairs and with each pass my skin becomes increasingly sensitive. When she reaches my ears, she carves cleanly around them and when she is finished, none of those stray hairs remain. My freshly cleared skin is burnished smooth and pink.

"Geez! That’s kind of high isn’t it?"

"What?"

"My hair. I mean, I know it’s rolled up in these perm rods and all, but it feels high. I mean, it feels like there’s an awful lot of bare skin back there?"

"Mrs. Hathaway wore hers off the collar, Mrs. Moffet said off the collar and really, any responsible lady would keep her hair off her collar. It’s neat and tidy and keeps your clothing looking clean and fresh. Hair naturally accumulates some oiliness over time. It’s simply good hygiene and no one wants to see a dirty blouse collar."

"Of course not."

Well, that does make a lot of sense, I suppose. I never thought about that. Gladys begins to wrap a rolled towel around my head, just below the bottom of all the perm rods, fastening it together above my forehead. Then she tapes small cotton pads over each of my ears. Finally she places a short, stiff plastic cape over the shoulders of my smock and ties the ribbon ends together in a bow, beneath my chin. I notice that the bottom edge of this cape is turned up and edged like a small rain gutter. In the mirror, my refl
ection looks truly silly. I look like a contestant on a wacky game show that’s about to get drenched under some gooey waterfall.

Gladys has left me for a moment. In the mirror, I see her walk over to the lady under the drying bonnet and check on her hair. She turns a dial on top of her dome and then moves off toward a row of wall cabinets and out of my view. When she returns, she’s carrying a pair of plastic squeeze bottles, one of which she places on the taboret, the other being shaken vigorously.

Any question I might have, as to the contents of the bottle is preemptively answered by the strong sulfuric smell that suddenly floods my nostrils. Oh MY! Gladys quickly squeezes the liquid onto the full length of each perm rod, saturating every bit of my hair. This surely is the infamous perm solution! The stringent aroma makes my eyes water, although Gladys appears to be immune, or at the least, used to the powerful scent. Dear me, will this terrible smell be with me all day? When all of my hair is soaked, she removes the plastic cape and changes the pads on my ears. Finally she covers my entire head with an elasticized cap and steps back.

"There. We’ll let this cook for a while. You get up and have a seat over there next to Mrs. Rogers. She should be ready for her comb out now and you should be about ready when she’s done."

This is powerful stuff! My head already begins to feel warm even before she turns on my dryer. As I watch the two of them return to the chair, through the scratched and yellowed visor, I realize I’m really in the thick of it now. There’s no going back. For better or worse… I’m getting a perm!

There’s not much to do now but sit here and "cook". The magazine Mrs. Rogers was reading, an old and worn National Geographic, looks somewhat interesting although some of the articles are long past being "new" discoveries. Watching Gladys work on Mrs. Rogers is far more intriguing. I’ve never witnessed a woman, her age, having her hair done in Snips-N-Clips. As Gladys removes Mrs. Rogers’s curlers, I see that her hair, surprisingly golden in color, is also pretty short and cut high above her neck. Small springy curls emerge as the last of her curlers go back into the tray. Gladys begins to pick at the disorganized array with a wide, flat, fork like comb and urge them into a more unified coexistence. Gradually, a precise, round bubble begins to rise over her head.

There isn’t all that much difference between the bubble shaped hairstyle that Gladys herself wears and the bubble shape that she’s now created on Mrs. Rogers. Mrs. Rogers’s arrangement of course, is fresh, immaculate and round as a ball. Sitting here within the warm and cozy interior of this dryer dome, I’m afforded a reasonably clear, if slightly yellow tinted, opportunity to examine the two of them together. The now interwoven mass of Mrs. Rogers’s hair is quite cleanly separated and lifted from the exposed skin of her face and neck and is even sharply defined as it passes above her ears. It very nearly appears as if a mottled, textured globe has been fitted around the top of her head. The two of them, sure do look like a couple of little old ladies, which, obviously, they are. Together, they resemble a prize pair of pink and golden poodles.

I’m surprised when Gladys lathers a foamy cream onto the back of Mrs. Roger’s neck. From my position, the skin below her hairline appears quite bare. She carefully pushes a small amount into the open areas above her ears and then, using an old fashioned straight razor, shaves her. Cripes! No one’s ever shaved my neck, especially with a straight razor. That looks scary as all get out!

The other thing I’m wondering about… is the length of my hair and what kind of hairstyle Mrs. Hathaway wore. I don’t know how long Mrs. Rogers’s hair is, since they started before I arrived, but when she walked over to the chair with Gladys, her head full of tight curlers looked about the same as mine. I wonder if all these older ladies get pretty much the same thing? Just then, a little buzzer goes off and Gladys leaves Mrs. Rogers and comes over to me.

"You’re done. Go on over to the sink chair and I’ll add the neutralizer, Dear."

Gladys ties the plastic cape around my neck again and removes my cap. She then begins to squeeze on the neutralizer. I’m facing away from the mirror and can’t watch her, although I have no doubt that this process is identical to the earlier application of the perm solution. I am however presented with a close up view of Mrs. Rogers and her new do. At this close range the sculptural severity of her hair is almost frightening. The abrupt juncture between her bright pink skin and the tight bundle of hair that perches above looks most unnatural. Her head is tilted slightly toward me, following my progress and as my eyes meet hers, she gives me a warm and knowing smile.

"I don’t believe we’ve met. I am Henrietta Rogers."

"How do you do. I’m Joanne Billingsly."

"You’re the new secretary at Bartholomew Jennings. Gladys mentioned that you might be coming in this morning."

"Yes, well, actually, I’m the new Administrative Assistant."

"Yes, of course, Dear. Is that what we’re calling you these days?"

"Why… ah… I don’t know… I have… ah… particular responsibilities to Mrs. Hodgeworth. She’s the Managing Director."

"Yes, of course. I do know of Mrs. Hodgeworth… a fine woman. You should do well by her. Sensible choice, on your part, coming in here and having Gladys fix your hair. Your mother must be very proud of you."

"Actually, she is, although I only told her of my appointment last night. It’s all been rather sudden. She doesn’t know I’m having a perm."

"I’m sure she’ll be pleased with the result. Its not every mother that can see her daughter turn into a lady in her lifetime. So few of the young appreciate or have the self confidence for the classic styles."

"Have you been a customer of Gladys for long?"

"Heavens yes… years and years… it’s been so long."

"Did you know Mrs. Hathaway?"

"Why, of course. Wonderful woman."

"I’m… I’m having my hair done in her honor."

"Are we now?"

"Yes. I have a very important business engagement, representing the Bartholomew Jennings Foundation, this afternoon and wanted something appropriate to her taste and style."

"Don’t we all?"

"What… what do you mean?"

"Well, Dear, Sylvia Hathaway’s taste and style are legendary and unrivaled. But it was her heart, her soul and her passion that made her a leader and inspired so many. There was nothing special in her appearance. Sylvia came in here every week for her touchups and sets just like any other decent and dignified lady would. It’s true she moved with unparalleled grace and held herself to the highest ideals, but at the end of the day, she kept her hair neat and tidy, just like all the rest of us. When you leave here today, you’ll look as crisp and smart as Sylvia, myself or anyone else. You are to be commended for taking some initiative, forsaking girlish frivolity and embarking on a woman’s truer path to fulfillment and knowledge. That is no small undertaking, but you should show no arrogance in that accomplishment. This is simply a necessary first step toward maturity. To truly rise to the stature of some one like Sylvia Hathaway, you must shoulder her mantle, lead and carry her benevolence to the next level."

Wow! I feel like I’ve just received Jedi instruction from Yoda! This sudden outburst of radical feminist philosophy coming from an old lady that looks like one of a hundred indistinguishable grannies in this town? I am blown away!

&q
uot;I’m going to lean your seat back now, so we can rinse you off."

The back of my neck rests against a pad along the front of the basin. My conversation with Mrs. Rogers ended; I stare at the ceiling, trying to make sense of what she just said. Gladys removes the towel that’s encircled my head for so long and begins to take the perm rods out, throwing them into the sink. Then the soft spray of warm water comforts me as Gladys massages my head, working her fingers through my hair, washing the neutralizer away. I begin to relax. This feels good. I begin to forget about Mrs. Rogers. But… wait a minute. Did Mrs. Rogers just say my hair is going to look like hers?

Gladys raises my seat again, wraps a new towel around my wet head and returns to Mrs. Rogers. Once again I am set bolt upright to stare directly at her. Gladys has handed Mrs. Rogers a shaped card to hold over her eyes. They speak briefly; Mrs. Rogers nods and then Gladys begins to cover the surface of her hair with a fine lacquer spray. A cloud quickly forms around her and begins to drift towards me. In the next breath, I draw the heavy mist through my nostrils and feel it’s sticky hardness coat my nasal hairs. Involuntarily my nose twitches and flares from the eerie prickliness. I am soon picking at my nose with my fingers to lessen this annoying intrusion. When the sound of the aerosol finally abates, I am rapidly blinking my eyes to keep my lashes from sticking together. As the cloud dissipates, Mrs. Rogers’s hair reappears as a hard glistening sphere. I think I will soon look like that.

After Mrs. Rogers settles her bill, makes her good-byes and leaves, Gladys returns and has me switch over into Mrs. Roger’s now vacated chair. Faced by the mirror, I cannot avoid looking at myself. My hacked disarray has been replaced by rows of tiny coils that sharply frame the upper third of my face and hug at the top of my head; none of them low or long enough to even brush my ludicrously large ears. It’s a grim and austere vision. I look as if I’ve aged ten years. I nearly die when she picks up the clippers again and switches it on.

"It’s awfully short, Mrs. Stroh? Do you really need to cut it any more?"

"Just need to shape it a bit."

She carefully skims the churning teeth close to the surface, hovering, dipping to pick off bumps and irregularities. Gradually a thin coating of moist curled clippings builds over the shoulders of my smock and if possible, the circumference of my hair becomes even more uniform.

The clippers are at last returned to their resting hook and now it is time to anoint my head yet again from yet another plastic bottle. I am informed that this is now the actual setting lotion and is necessary to hold my final style in place. After my hair is again saturated, she begins to wind my hair around a new and different, spiked type of roller. She explains that these are more specific to the hairstyle I am to get, although she has arranged them across my head, following the same pattern she had used with my perm rods. When they are all in place, she gives them all another squirt of the lotion for good luck. I am freed from the plastic cape, but fitted with another pair of ear pads. Now topped off with a hair net, I am lead again to sit beneath the domed hair dryer. This is all becoming so tedious. I can’t imagine what it must be like to come in here every week and be subjected to so much finicky ministration. Who has the time for this? How long have I been here? What must this cost? I’m suddenly very conscious and unnerved by the fact that I may not be able to pay for all of this.

As I sit and sweat beneath the dryer, another elderly customer enters the salon. I watch closely as she hangs her jacket next to my sweater and they exchange greetings. The new woman is quickly smocked, escorted to the basin seat, tilted and then Gladys immediately begins to wash her. I wonder if this same scenario was played out for Mrs. Rogers to watch when I first arrived? No, this woman’s hair is already very short. I came in with a full head of hair… young and naive… and that does seem so long ago. This woman receives only a light trim before her head is completely covered in curlers, and Gladys is so fast. Doesn’t she ever tire? I’m exhausted!

When Gladys leads her over to take the seat next to me and helps her under the dryer, she gives me a nod and pleasant smile. She wears horn-rimmed glasses and looks to me, like she’s about in her sixties, but beyond that, we look nearly identical in our smocks, curlers, ear pads and hairnets. This time I am able to suppress my insane compulsion to tell her I’m the new Administrative Assistant or make some inane comment about Mrs. Hathaway. I realize now, that to these women, a bubble perm is nothing more than a neat and practical hairdressing.

Gladys lifts my visor to check my hair and then her telephone rings. She adjusts the dial above me, lowers the visor, indicates two more minutes with her fingers and then walks off to answer the phone. Without warning my new neighbor leans over towards me.

"First time?"

"What?"

"Rite of passage?"

"I’m sorry, I don’t follow?"

"Don’t see many young girls in here for a proper set these days. Big day for you?"

"Well, yes. I have an important business meeting later today."

"Business is it?"

"Yes, I’m an Administrative Assistant with the Bartholomew Jennings Foundation."

"Are you now?"

"Yes, I’m handling the Hathaway Account."

"Indeed? That is a very important job for a young girl."

"Yes it is. I’m very excited."

"Yes, I guess you are. Well, it’s best to look smart for a business meeting. But you know, you should really look your best at all times."

Our conversation is cut short as Gladys returns.

"It’s Mrs. Moffet on the line. She wants to know how you’re coming along and how much longer we might be and she wants to talk with you. The phone’s on the counter. I told her we are about done; there’s just the comb-out. When you’re finished, come over to the chair, we’ll get you all tidy and you can leave."

I guess it is getting on. I see it’s already past ten-thirty. Maybe I’m here too long?

"Hello? Mrs. Moffet?"

"Yes, Hello. Miss. Billingsly, the reason for this call is to inform you that your appointment with Mr. Hathaway has been confirmed for precisely, four-o-clock and Mr. Hathaway will allow you fifteen minutes to conclude the Lockport business."

"Ok, that shouldn’t be a problem. I think Mrs. Stroh is nearly finished with me."

"I know. However, Mrs. Hodgeworth is quite concerned that you conduct yourself and appear before Mr. Hathaway with all due respect and decorum. She’s ask me to inquire as to the propriety of your wardrobe."

"My wardrobe? Well, I’m wearing that below the knee skirt I wore at my interview, a nice light blue oxford shirt and my white cardigan."

"I see. Well that’s decent enough for around the office, but it doesn’t sound up to snuff for Mr. Hathaway. Do you have a suit?"

"No, I don’t."

"Dear me, perhaps you should swing by Melodies Holiday Plus Dress Shoppe and be properly outfitted."

"Mrs. Moffet. I really can’t afford to do that. As it is, I’m not sure I can afford all the work and time I’m spending with Mrs. Stroh."

"Nonsense. Miss. Billingsly, this is strictly Bartholomew Jennings business. We will carry the billing on this. What are your sizes? I will phone ahead and arrange it. Do you have a pad and pencil? Write this address down and when Mrs. Stroh is finished with you, you will take a cab straight away, be fitted
and you may as well change right there and come directly to the office. There are still items that Mrs. Hodgeworth must review before your appointment. Is that all very clear?"

"Yes, Mrs. Moffet. Yes, I understand. Thank you. Goodbye, Mrs. Moffet."

Wow! This really is very important! A new suit! Well, that is very nice of them. I certainly shouldn’t be taken for the clerical help with a new suit and a fresh set. Well! Yes… back to Gladys Stroh and my comb-out!

My curlers are removed as soon as I’m settled in. Well, the curls seem a little fuller now; but it’s still not a particularly flattering style in my eye. Regardless, it’s not the shock it might have been, if I hadn’t been confronted with the facts of life, according to Mrs. Rogers, earlier. I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that a severe tight, bubble cut is Gladys Stroh’s solution to every stylish challenge and all of these old ladies, right up to and including the late Sylvia Hathaway, couldn’t agree more.

Gladys picks up a rat-tail comb and begins to lift and open up the coils of my hair. Gradually, that ubiquitous, precise and round bubble begins to rise above my own head. She does seem to be separating the clumps of curls more than she had for Mrs. Rogers, fanning them out into a more diaphanous and finer texture. I don’t know if this might be because I have more hair, per square inch, than Mrs. Rogers does or if it’s a characteristic of Mrs. Hathaway’s perhaps more refined preference. It does look less utilitarian and more feminine and classy, than the tight poodle styles that top Mrs. Rogers and Gladys Stroh wears herself. My hair looks a little higher as well, maybe an inch and a half or two, above my scalp. The additional height and body though, seems to exagerate the sharp delineation between hair and cleared flesh. She begins to further distinguish this boundary by curling the edges in and under themselves. This presents an appearance of having a distinctly autonomous, spun glass sphere placed over my head, rather than having my own hair urged into a generic set. I look much, much older now, perhaps forty or fifty. I don’t know what to make of it.

I see Gladys pick up the aerosol can and know she will now shave me like Mrs. Rogers. It’s not unexpected, though I hardly see a need for it. She loosens the collar of my smock, peels it back and covers my neck in foam, again carefully pushing dabs of it around my ears. I do not object and dare not move during this procedure. The first touch of the blade is chilling. I’ve shaved my legs often enough, but my neck feels much more sensitive under this steel. The thin scratching sound alone is mesmerizing. How smooth must I be? She is methodical. Starting beneath, despite appearances, what is still the bulk of my hair, she drags the razor down to somewhere below the collar of my smock. Each stroke borders on the erotic. I cannot believe how tingly this feels! If I actually had any hair left on my neck, it would be standing straight up! The sharp carving around my ears is equally stimulating. I’ve never felt anything like it. Of course, I stare straight ahead at my mirrored reflection and my evolving appearance triggers more disjointed thoughts than my mind can cohesively process. The ear problem hasn’t gone away. Maybe if I didn’t have any ears, then I might look like some exotic alien with an extended, domed cranium. As it is, my ears seem even more, elephantine and prominent

Ok, Well, at first glance, I doubt that anyone will consider that I’m just twenty-four and certainly not brush me off as a young and inexperienced secretary. My exceedingly prim and precise bubble do, is simply too old fashioned, conservative and mature. Objectively… I don’t really look like a forty or fifty year old woman, either. My skin is so much smoother and softer than any older lady’s is. No crow’s feet, double chin, baggy eyes or blotchy skin discoloration spoils my clean, youthful complexion. This hairstyle certainly fits in with the likes of Mrs. Moffet and Mrs. Hodgeworth, though. If this is what the public expects a woman with the Jennings Foundation to look like, if this is what it takes to fit in… ok… it’s really not that bad. I mean, it’s just a hairstyle, right? I haven’t actually aged.

Yowl! Gladys douses my freshly shaved flesh with some kind of icy cold lotion that absolutely jolts my nerve endings!

"Are you alright? This is just an astringent. It might tingle for a while. Now, here, hold this over your eyes, while I set this."

"Wait! Must we? The spray gets up my nose."

"I’ll fix that."

Gladys nonchalantly twists up two pieces of tissue and presses them into my nostrils. Huh? Then I’m handed Mrs. Roger’s spray card and I know what to do. I cover my eyes. Cripes… that astringent really stings! What follows is that same thick lacquered cloud, only this time I am at the center of it. This time my nasal hairs aren’t immediately pasted together, but I’ve opened my mouth to breathe and now my tongue becomes coated. Gladys very liberally covers my hair with several successive coatings and I think… with even more of this heavy hairspray, then she had allowed on Mrs. Rogers. It’s inconceivable that I need all of this.

"There now. Have a look."

My hair seems to glow. As I slowly turn my head, light sparkles and dances across the surface as if it were a crystalline globe. It looks immaculate, perfectly round with not a single hair out of place. I look so different! So prissy and prim! Sylvia Hathaway must have been quite a refined lady. I can just imagine her standing in a receiving line somewhere, standing all proud and straight in some kind of tastefully elegant, jacket-dress and pearls. Serene and stately… almost regal. My hair looks awfully fragile though. Mrs, Hathaway must have lived a restrained life. I can’t see myself playing volleyball in this do!

"It’s… so… different!"

"Well, of course. Long to short is always a big change for a girl."

"Will it last? I’m afraid to touch it!"

"It will last through the day good enough, if you don’t go banging your head into a wall and you can touch it all you want. There’s plenty of hold with this spray. You should wrap it with one of these satin sleeves; though, when you bed tonight. It’ll keep for a while longer. Of course, over time you should set it in rollers at night and after you wash it. With practice you’ll learn to feather the surface like this, but you can also wear it with more of a curl, like Mrs. Rogers. You saw her set. You have the same basic cut and curl. Didn’t your mother ever show you how to set your hair?"

"Well, I’ve seen her do hers, but, I’ve never set my own hair, except maybe with a few big rollers. I’ve had long hair since forever!"

"It’s not much different. You watched me didn’t you? You use a smaller rod and stack them like I did."

Yeah, I guess. Geez! Mom! She won’t even recognize me. I wonder what she’ll say? This is much more elaborate then her regular neat style. She doesn’t get a fancy set unless it’s a wedding and even then, whoever does her hair, isn’t this precise and fussy. Well, I know she’ll like it. Mom’s been harping on me to grow up, cut my hair and look more adult, especially through that fallow period, when I was searching for work. She’s been extremely pleased to see me land this job with Bartholomew Jennings and see me dress more conservatively each morning. Yeah… Mom will be thrilled! Gladys hands a flexible pink sheet of stiffened nylon, that’s lined with satin to me and explains how it works.

"We’ll not put this on now, but all you do, is carefully wrap it around your set and fasten the Velcro together at the front like this. You should find a smaller pillow as well. If you sleep with a thin barrel pillow beneath your neck, your head will still be comfortably supported, and you won’t flatten your se
t. It’s also a much more healthy way to sleep, takes the pressure off the air passage."

Tentatively, I raise one finger to touch my hair. It feels so stiff. The intertwined surface is very hard… not like my hair at all… more like a… carapace… or a shell… like a hard acrylic helmet. I tilt to the side and the tight structure moves with me. There’s no waving roll, like wind across a wheat field that had followed me with my long loose hair. It’s so strange. It feels so light. I know it’s there, because my entire scalp and all my shaved skin feels invigorated, electrified and alive, but it feels aloof, like a hovering cloud. Gladys offers a hand mirror so that I may examine her work from the side and rear. I hold it out as far as I can for the broadest view. Oh, No! This can’t be me! The rolled edge of the strict, bouffant bubble dips slightly behind my ears, in a gentle arc toward the center of my neck before rising again to the opposite side. It’s so high! Against the strong contrast to my auburn hair, my neck looks a ghastly, pasty white. There is the pink fleshed tinge of shaving and astringent, but my neck… it looks so long, stark and naked. My chignon never left so much of my skin exposed! From the back, I look like an elderly matron with darkly dyed hair. I lower the mirror to my lap. I’d rather not look at that any more. Yes, this will take some getting used to.

"It looks good on you. A proper Bartholomew Jennings girl. Mr. Hathaway should be comfortable with your appearance. Of course, it is up to you to impress him with your competence."

"Thank you Mrs. Stroh. This is so much more than I expected. I guess it will take some getting used to. It’s… it’s so different. I even feel different… so much older. I don’t know what to say!"

"You just do well by Mr. Hathaway today and I’m sure Mrs. Hodgeworth will be pleased. You look like a proper young lady now. And might I add, if you would take a card, so that should any of your young friends decide the time is right for them to embrace some more sensible and traditional women’s hairdressing, you might recommend them to me?"

My friends! Dear me, yes… what will they say now? They had turned so condescending towards me in just my plain over the knee skirts and chignon. I can’t imagine their reaction when they see me with this old lady’s poodle perm! They’ll think I’ve lost my mind! And… the boy’s? I can’t honestly imagine a single one of them taking any interest in a girl that reminds them of their grandmother! Well, it’s done. What will be, will be. It’s me with the good job and better prospects. If they want to hold themselves back and look like teenagers forever, that is their poor choice and misfortune. Perhaps I’ll find a respectable, single and eligible young gentleman with his own bright and promising future!

"Yes, Mrs. Stroh, I would be pleased to give my friends your name. Some of them could do with a change in their myopic conformity. Mrs. Stroh, may I use your phone? When Mrs. Moffet called, she said Mrs. Hodgeworth wanted me to go to the Melodies Holiday Plus Dress Shoppe straight away and I should call for a taxi when we finished."

"Oh, that’s a smart store. You certainly shall be making a clean break with your past today, young lady. You are quite lucky that someone like Mrs. Hodgeworth has taken such a particular interest in your immediate future. She must be very confident of your abilities to request such an investment."

"Yes, I suppose I am fortunate. That is very generous surprise. Mrs. Moffet said the Foundation would pick up the tab. Ahhh… Mrs. Stroh, did she mention a similar arrangement with you?"

"Yes. We spoke of it. You’re on the Bartholomew Jennings account now. Shall I schedule you at the same time next week?"

"Next week? I… I don’t know if I should take the time from work?"

"Nonsense. You come in here at eight-thirty again. We’ve done the cut. Keeping your set neat and tidy won’t take nearly the same time. It’s all just maintenance and touchups now. Mrs. Hodgeworth will understand. Heavens! You want to be accepted as an up and coming, Administrative Assistant with the Bartholomew Jennings Foundation? Well, you can’t return to sloppy habits and appearance. When you look good it builds self-confidence and assurance, you concentrate on doing just your very best work, knowing you’re prepared for every situation. This is what you want, isn’t it?"

"Yes. This is exactly what I want."

"Well, alright then. I’ll see you next week. Now you hurry off to Melodies Holiday Plus Shoppe and your Mr. Hathaway and do make us all proud!"

"Yes, Mrs. Stroh. I will. Thank you so very much."

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