I thought, Sure, I can go to a totally new salon (provided that it's an ethnic one). I'm not so protective of my hair or worried that something will go awry. My hair no longer carries the weight of hiding. Plus, it's easier to be adventurous when you're traveling somewhere new.
After asking for a few recommendations from Lisa, I picked the Nappy or Not Hair Salon, partially because I love the name.
I should have known.
A bored-looking girl in her early twenties reluctantly stopped text messaging and led me back to the shampoo area, which was a dingy corner half-partitioned off from the rest of the room. Dirty, unmarked tubs of various creams and shampoos dotted the shelf above the washing sinks. I'm not a snob, I told myself. A little salon ghetto is always comforting to me anyway.
The girl lathered my hair with about ten times as much shampoo as I normally use. It was the real sudsy kind, which meant it was full of irritating chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate and laureth sulfate. She scrubbed my head with her fingernails. I wanted to tell her, "You know, more does not equal better. Lather is NOT good (signals stripping away of nutrients, and it's the kind of soap that doesn't fully rinse out of hair). You should use the pads of your fingers instead of your fingernails." But I didn't. She smoothed a minty oil all over my head and attempted to start combing it but then gave up quickly and stepped into the other room to finish text messaging while the conditioner oil did its work. I combed my hair myself. The oil was good--it smelled of essential oils (hooray for natural ingredients!) and felt tingly on my scalp. That was something, at least.
After the rinse the beautician finally got to me. I told her I wanted a trim--not much length taken off, and maybe some shaping near the top. She smiled and began to cut, and my nervousness set in. I wanted to nibble my nails with every snip. I tried to concentrate on the Everybody Hates Chris show that was blaring from the TV. Girl was paying too much attention to it herself and not enough on my hair, I thought. She laughed, and doubled over several times, taking my hair with her. Oh Lord, please let it be over.
I did not bring up conversations about ethnic hair, about the natural hair movement, all the conversations I've been obsessing over for years. I am able to just get a simple haircut without considering the political implications of hair, race, etc. It's just hair.
And then a man who obviously knew the stylist came into the salon and began watching Chris Rock's show.
"You all know that movie Good Hair?" he asked innocently.
No one had seen it but me.
"What did you think," he asked.
Here we go.
Well, I told him. It was funny, but didn't really get too deep into the issues behind--
"WHAT YOU TALKIN' ABOUT?! HE GOT REAL DEEP! HE WENT TO INDIA AND FOUND OUT ALL OUR HAIR COMES FROM INDIA AND BLACK PEOPLE DON'T RUN THE HAIR BUSINESS NO MORE YOU KNOW IT'S THOSE ASIANS..."
I sighed. Apparently I cannot escape this. It is my life. The man stood up.
I explained that what Rock didn't talk too much about was why black women are obsessed with hair, that some people think they're trying to attain a Eurocentric notion of beauty...
"BUT BLACK WOMEN ARE OBSESSED WITH THEIR HAIR!"
The stylist spoke up and said that more and more people are going natural and--
"WOMEN SPEND HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS ON WEAVES AND YOU KNOW WHERE THAT HAIR COMES FROM IT'S FROM INDIA BLACK PEOPLE DON'T EVEN MAKE MONEY ON THEIR HAIR"
I looked from the shampoo girl to my stylist. We shared a knowing look. It wasn't worth it.
At last she finished by smoothing my hair with some sort of grease concoction she claimed to have created herself out of mayonnaise and egg. My hair looked incredibly short, but I knew it would look okay tomorrow. I paid her (girl charged me an extra $20 because it was a full cut instead of a trim, which was baloney) and left, shaking my head.
Hair. It never ends.