The Perm Portfolio

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In the history of hairdos, what’s the most infamous? The comb over? The egregious 1980s perm? The man-bun? All good guesses, but in my opinion, it’s the mullet that takes the prize. Another question: would you be able to turn down $200 as a 17 year-old teenage girl in the summer? These two questions are related, at least for one particularly shockingly questionable trip to the salon for me.

I had my Senior portrait taken for the yearbook almost as soon as I finished my Junior year in high school. My high school contracted with a company that every student would be required to use so that all student pictures would look consistently good, or at least consistent, period. They also assigned you an appointment time that you HAD to meet. To compensate this rather inflexible setup, the rates were fairly inexpensive, and they did always turn out nicely. As my last name started with an ‘A’ at this time, I was one of the first to have my picture taken. By this time, my distinct poodle permed hair had long since had a chance to grow out into what I would call ‘standard’ 1980s big, curly hair, and that’s how it looked in my portrait, thanks to a fresh blow-out and light styling from my stylist, Chrissie. Besides the consistent babysitting gigs, this was the biggest thing I had to worry about that summer, besides relaxing and getting enough time in with my friends. I had known since my Sophomore year where I’d be going to college, so life beyond high school barely entered into my thoughts.

One afternoon at the end of June, my stepmom, Angela, my idol, a wonderful parent and person, surprised me as I was lounging on the couch, reading a magazine. She called into the den, and I got up to say hello, only to scream before I could get a word out! That morning, her hair had looked as it had for roughly the last three years: dyed blond, large, softly curled and permed. Now, it was a dark brown, almost black cropped wedge, neatly framing her ears, and with a great deal of volume all around. Her permed hair had been kept to give it a wavy texture, except near the front, where a bit of extra length hung over her forehead slightly, before being swept up and over into the rest of the structure. It was both professional and very chic, and, just as with every which way Angela wore her hair, looked absolutely perfect! On top of this, her makeup was especially well done, too, and she was wearing a rather formal outfit for just a regular salon visit. Still, I screamed with delight as I ran over to greet her, “Angela, wow! You look incredible! I had no idea you were having so much cut off!” I gave her a hug, beaming at her.

My stepmom blushed a little, saying “Yeah, neither did I, sweetie. I knew I’d be going darker, but Chrissie took me a few inches shorter than I wanted. I do like it though! What do you think?” She asked me with genuine interest, which was something that just made my affection for her really swell even more. While Angela and I have never openly discussed our hair “thing”, it is something we share a bit of a deeper connection on, even if not addressed directly. She values, even today, my opinion on her hair just as much as I value her thoughts on mine. I gushed for almost five minutes straight as to how much I loved her new look. It made her appear more mature without aging her, more modern without losing any feminine features. When she showed me the back, I couldn’t help but feel a flush of excitement and delight at the very pointed “V” shape Chrissie had given her tightly cropped nape. Angela had been given the ideal wedge any woman could have asked for at that time. I smiled, walking back around to face her, and said “This’ll cause, like, a major stir at work, don’t you think?”

Since I would be heading off to college in a year and a few months, and Brianna, my older stepsister, was already in college, Angela had started a part-time administrative position at a law office for a bit of extra income, and something to do. She nodded, “That’s part of why I had this done at all. I was the only woman there with longer hair, and honestly, don’t love being referred to as ‘the blond one’.” I laughed, but she only smiled. It must have bothered her more than she was letting on, though, because she added “So, we shall see what they have to say tomorrow,” with a bit of smug satisfaction. I shrugged, “Well, I just love it. Hey, I forgot to ask: why’d you let Chrissie take you so much shorter?” Angela was checking her hair in reflection of a glass cabinet door. “Hm? Oh, well, she did ask if she could go a bit shorter, and I didn’t say ‘no’ per se, but you know how it goes. She actually asked me to ask you if you wanted some extra money this summer.” She sat down in a chair and I returned to the couch, saying “I guess if the hours work with my babysitting, I’d think about it. I wouldn’t be able to work once school starts, though. Besides, aren’t I kinda young to work there?”

Angela shook her head, “This wouldn’t be a JOB-job, she’s just working on entering a hair show, and has to submit a portfolio of her work. That’s why I’m so dressed up! She actually rang me and told me to put on something nice, and that I’d be having my makeup done, too. She offered to do my hair on the house the next two times if she’d let me go a bit shorter, but a ‘bit’ to her means a lot, I guess! Chrissie said she’d be willing to pay you $200 if you let her get her fingers on you.” My mouth swung open again, and I stammered “Two-two hundred?” Angela laughed, “Ha! I told her you’d say that! Yes, $200, really. You’d be there almost all day, though, so it’s not like a free appointment. I told Chrissie you would give her a call tonight if you’re interested.” I thought for a second, “So, $200 just to have my hair cut like yours?” Angela tilted her head, “Mmm, it could be. The only thing she said was that she wouldn’t shave your head or give you a mohawk, but she might want to dye your hair. That’s all she told me, Janet.” I considered it for about thirty seconds, before grinning and saying “I’ll do it. I’m due for a perm again, anyway, so this is, like, perfect timing!” She smiled, and said “I’d ask her if she’s planning on doing any perms when you call her, just to be sure.” I nodded, already pulling out the house business card directory.

The phone rang a few times before the receptionist picked up. “Hi Frankie. Can I speak with Chrissie, please? It’s Janet.” I grinned as Frankie said “She told me she was hoping you’d give her a call! Yeah, I’ll give her a holler.” I played with my hair as I heard the muffled sounds of the salon through the receiver. I jumped suddenly, however, as the loud, nasally voice of Chrissie came through, “Jan-Jan, is that you, kiddo?” I smiled, laughing “Hi Chrissie! Yep, it’s me. Angela told me to give you a call about a free hair appointment.” I heard Chrissie snort, then say in a playfully exasperated tone “Well, it’s not QUITE that simple. I need t’ take some professional shots of hairstyles I can do so I can go an’ enter into one of them regional hair shows. I’m the one choosin’ your style, though, understand?” I nodded, sitting up as I could tell she was being more serious. “Uh-huh, I understand. Um, you weren’t going to be doing a perm, were you, Chrissie?” There was a slight pause, then Chrissie answered “Actually, yeah, I was. Ya interested in gettin’ permed again? I think you’re due, right?” I smiled again, excitedly answering “I am! So, can I do it?” No pause this time. “That’d be great, dahling! I was hopin’ you’d do this, so I’d say yeah, ya can do this, ‘long as Angela’s okay with it. She’ll have to sign somethin’ my hubbie wrote up, ‘cause you’re a minor. Can ya do Sunday afternoon, say 1 o’clock? I’m doin’ some of these cuts when the salon’s closed so I can really take my time an’ all that.” I looked over to Angela, whispering “Can I do it this Sunday?”, to which she smiled and nodded. “I’m good, and Angela said she’s good, too, Chrissie!” An excited squeal came through the phone, “FABulous, sweetheart! Tell me, ya like Angela’s new hairdo?” I gave a big smile, “Oh, yeah. I love it! She looks great!” Chrissie answered, satisfied “Good. Well, I’ll keep that in mind for ya, kiddo. See ya Sunday, Jan-Jan! Oh, an’ wear somethin’ nice you’d be willin’ to have your picture taken in, ‘kay?”

I hung up the phone, tingling with a pleasant mixture of anticipation, arousal, and happiness. “I guess we’ll be matching again, Angela!” She looked surprised, saying “Really? She said that you and I would be wearing the same hairstyle?” I made a waving motion with my hand, “Well, sort of. She asked if I liked how yours looked, and I said yes, so that can only mean one thing, right? Chrissie also said you’d have to sign something, for me, I guess.” Angela leaned her head back, “That’s right, I forgot! I had to sign a letter saying I was fine with her using the pictures as part of a submission. Gosh, I guess that shows you how serious she’s taking this!” Sunday was a few days away, so I had a chance to do some fun things with my long hair for what would likely be the last time for a while. That Saturday night, not really wanting to see a movie with my friends, and Daddy on a fishing trip with some of his army friends, Angela and I had some fun putting as many bows and ribbons in my hair, which had been teased nice and big for just this occasion. I’ll admit, she had allowed me a nice glass of wine with the wonderful Italian dinner she had prepared after Mass, so we were both a little giddy afterwards. By the end, I looked like I had a small Christmas tree sitting on top of my head! Angela had braided a few sections, which was a little bittersweet, as we both knew there likely wouldn’t be another opportunity for this in some time. We didn’t vocalize this, not wanting to spoil our bit of juvenile fun, but we both felt it.

The following morning was somewhat painful, but not for emotional reasons. The bows took almost 20 minutes to remove, and my hair looked rather like a nest when the braid was taken out, too. I did run some water through my long locks as I showered, but opted not to shampoo, as I’d be enjoying that soon enough. I couldn’t decide what to wear, though, but thankfully Angela was there to guide me. She picked out a shiny puffy sand green pussy-bow blouse and a sepia tone plaid skirt. As it was the summer before Labor Day, I wore white flats and a white leather belt to complete my ensemble. Although I could drive, I didn’t have my own car, so Angela and I would share hers. Because she had to sign the form, Angela would obviously be driving us there that afternoon. The trip over was unusually quiet, I remember. As we walked into the salon, I suddenly felt a little weird; normally the salon was buzzing with activity, gossip, and all manner of products, appliances, and tools being used. Today, however, it was eerily quiet.

It wasn’t for long, though, as the ubiquitous sound of sharp boot heels hitting against the tile, followed by “Come on in, ladies!” being shouted by Chrissie brought the atmosphere back to normal. Despite Angela’s dramatic makeover, Chrissie’s giant black, permed hair was the same as ever, worn up today in a wide updo. Despite being just over 50, she was wearing a rather low-cut leopard-spot top and black leather pants. Her smiling lips were bright red, as were her garish nails, and the baby blue eyeshadow she preferred extended all the way up to her thinly arched eyebrows. Even if not everybody’s taste, I don’t think anyone could have ever argued that Chrissie was neglectful of her appearance! She sauntered over, giving us both hugs and kisses on the cheeks. “How ya two doin’ today? Jan-Jan, we feelin’ excited ‘bout today’s makeover?” I smiled, giggling, unable to form a thought, suddenly. “How’d the office like the new ‘do, Ang?” asked Chrissie, making her way over to the reception desk. Angela smiled smugly, “Well, two of them asked if I was trying to make a statement, to which I simply said ‘No, but I can think of a fitting one right now.’!” Chrissie cackled, waving her hand behind her hair, “Tell ‘em, Ang! Seriously, though, ya liken’ it well enough?” Angela nodded, running her fingers up her nape, answering “Oh, definitely. So, Janet mentioned I’d have to sign a form?” Chrissie, though still smiling, turned more serious, nodding “Yeah, Gerald was so insistent that I have all of the ‘models’ sign off on these things for record keepin’ and whatnot. I’ve never had to wait an’ give a haircut before someone signs a piece a paper!”

She pulled out a folder and two pens, sliding a single sheet across the desk to Angela and me. My stepmom picked it up, reading it for herself before handing it to me. I don’t recall exactly what it said, but the gist of it was that I, or my guardian, understood that my picture was to be used only for submission purposes, and would not be used for any commercial ventures. Chrissie would be able to use the pictures for as many portfolio submissions as she chose, so long as the conditions of the submission remained the same. Having worked in a law office myself, I can now understand why her husband, Gerald, was so eager to do this, and was actually doing everyone a nicety by making sure that no one was going to have their pictures abused or mistreated. I remember signing my name, and Chrissie thanked us both before putting the form back into the folder. She then clapped her hands, saying with an excited smile, “Let’s get started, huh? Oh, Ang, ya waitin’ around, or you got other plans?” Angela nodded, “I’ve got some errands to run. How long will this take, Chrissie? I just want to know when I can pick her up.” Chrissie considered, “Well, because of pictures an’ all that, and given that I’ll be tryin’ a few looks, maybe I’ll be done ‘round five-thirty or six-ish?” Angela smiled, “Perfect! We can stop for some dinner when you’re done. How’s that sound?”

I was a little disappointed that Angela wouldn’t hang around a bit, but I didn’t show it, replying “Sounds good!” She gave me a kiss good-bye, and left. Once again, that weird feeling crept across me, now that I was alone with Chrissie. My stylist squeezed my shoulder, “Ready, kiddo? I love your blouse! So classy! Let’s see what Kendra thinks about your makeup.” We had already started walking back, but I froze in place. “Kendra?” I asked, feeling a pit form in my stomach. Kendra was maybe the only person at the salon I didn’t like. She was the older sister of another girl in my class, Wendy, who was a mean, arrogant bully. Kendra was just like her, and she certainly didn’t like me. She would make those compliments we modern women are unfortunately so known for, you know, those compliments that are really insults. She would occasionally shampoo my hair, apologizing that the hot water wasn’t working that day, even when it was, asking when I was a bit younger if I was taking anything for my acne, etc. So, it was a true disappointment when I saw her sitting in a chair, a cigarette in one hand, and a magazine in the other. She wore her hair in a bright blonde crop, with the sides tapered close to her head, but with plenty of feathered volume on top. She was certainly not dressed in usual salon dress code, wearing a ripped pair of jeans and a white tee that exposed her midriff. Despite her personality, she was also easily one of the prettiest women in town, and she knew it.

She looked up, smiling as she put out her cigarette, “Oh, hey Jan. Did you come straight from church or something?” I smiled, “No, just thought I’d wear something nice.” She shrugged, getting up from the chair. A huge portion of the salon had been converted into a makeshift studio. A single wooden stool was sitting atop a white sheet, which was surrounded by perfectly white sheets that had been secured to the walls. Two umbrellas on stands and a stage light also sat off to the side. It was actually a nice little arrangement, and when Kendra handed me a few samples of her photography work, I couldn’t help but say how impressed I was. The picture of Angela in particular was very enjoyable to see, as it looked like it had been taken out of a style guide. The only thing that made it appear less like her was that my stepmom wore this somewhat muted half smile that was very unlike her usual smile. Kendra took the picture back, saying “Yeah, pretty happy with how they turned out. I’m hopin’ yours will look just as good.” I wouldn’t tell if that was a subtle jab or not, so I just nodded and said “Um, yeah, me too. Er, Chrissie, should I just sit in your chair?”

My stylist was looking through a packet, and looked up, a bit startled. “Oh, yeah’ that’s fine, dahling. Kendra, can ya come here a sec so we can decide what direction we’re goin’?” Chrissie took my hand to her chair and snapped a cape around me. She took out my two barrettes and begin lightly brushing my hair. “So, we’re doin’ a perm, that’s for sure, but what do ya think we should do?” I smiled, feeling a bit more confident, “Well, I really, really like what you did with Angela, and-“ but I was cut off as Chrissie put a finger to my lips, saying “Oh, sorry not you, honey. I was talkin’ to Kendra.” I was a little stunned, but blinked a few times and smiled awkwardly, keeping my mouth shut. Kendra looked at me with a smug glare, then flipped through the packet that Chrissie had been holding. “Hmm. Well, since she’s got a more formal outfit on, I’d say do somethin’ more mature, but with like somethin’ fun, too. Maybe different layers and textures?” Chrissie bobbed her head, looking at me, focused. “Yeah, yeah. I think I know what’ll work. Can ya work on her face, though? She’ll need her makeup done, too.”

Kendra chuckled, saying “Just tell me what sorta look you want. Those caveman eyebrows won’t fit her if you’re givin’ Jan a mature hairdo.” Chrissie chuckled, patting my shoulder. I was a bit hurt, but again, not wanting to make it awkward, pretended to laugh. “I’ll let ya do her face while she sets with the neutralizer later on. Dang, these ends are a bit rough, Jan-Jan! Let’s get ya shampooed so we can start, huh?” She pulled me out of the chair and walked me over to the basins, allowing the water to warm up nicely before gently lowering my head down. I smiled as she began massaging my scalp and thoroughly soaking my hair with the sweet smelling shampoo. I had closed my eyes, but asked “So, tell me what I signed up for, Chrissie. Have you done this submission stuff before?” I opened my eyes, but immediately closed them again as she leaned over my face to grab a bottle of conditioner. “I do this every few years or so, jus’ to see if I can get into one of them smaller hair shows. You can win some good moolah if ya place at these things, too! I think I’ll only do this one more time, and Kendra actually heard about it, too, and asked if she could be my photographer. She’s studyin’ that in school and wants to be a professional photographer, maybe.” I nodded, trying to look interested. Everyone who had met Kendra knew she loved taking pictures and wanted to be a photographer. However as much I disliked her, I did have to respect her prudence in having a backup profession, too, at the salon.

As the conditioner was run through my hair, Chrissie continued, “I actually used to go to these shows pretty often, an’ see some wild new looks, even in the 60s! You get into one of these things as a contestant by submittin’ a portfolio of your work, but the key is not to go TOO far overboard, ya know? Ya still gotta try something a little different, though. You still single, sweetie?” I reddened a little, realizing that Kendra could probably hear the entire conversation. “Yes, just like last time you asked.” Chrissie paused, saying a bit more sympathetically, “I didn’t mean t’ annoy ya, Jan-Jan. I guess what I’m sayin’ is no one’s gonna be upset if I give ya a pretty short style, right?” This snapped me out of the relaxing trance fully, and I said, honestly, “Well, I guess not, but I don’t want to go too short, Chrissie. I mean, I still want curly hair, if that’s okay.” She smiled, but said a bit pointedly, “I hate to be like this, but if ya want to get paid, an’ if ya want this to be free, I’m gonna give ya the look I want, honey. Ya still wanna do this? I won’t be mad if ya back out, now.” I knew that was a lie, but the vision of $200 plus a free perm filled my eyes, plus I was now excited, for some reason, at the prospect that Chrissie was now in pretty much total control of this new look! I gave a reassuring nod, and smiled, “Sorry, Chrissie. Yes, I’m still good.” My stylist pinched my cheek, saying “Good girl. It’s not like I’m gonna make ya into a freak! Oh, let me clean your face since we’re here.”

Without much warning, she took a warm washcloth and wiped away my lipstick and makeup with a few motions. While I didn’t wear as much makeup as Chrissie, it was the 80s, and even during the summer, I would use a somewhat decent amount. When I was sat back down in the chair with my hair wrapped up in a towel, and only my clean face showing, I thought I looked a bit plain. Kendra watched with mild interest as Chrissie ruffled my hair, brushed it, and began pinning it in place with a few clips. A lot was pinned up on top of my head, and I hadn’t fully realized how long my hair was until she continued brushing out the sections below the clips. Out came her shears, and working left to right, Chrissie took about 5 inches off in rapid succession, leaving me with hair that fell just to my shoulders. I thought this was a bit strange, seeing as I would have hardly called this ‘short’, but Chrissie wasn’t close to done. We chatted about the normal things, and despite Chrissie being pretty much in control of this cut, it really didn’t feel any different than a normal appointment, at least at first.

I watched curiously as she began cutting the hair around my ears much shorter than the back, and I mean much shorter. For the first time in a while, my ears were now fully exposed, even if barely. Chrissie smiled, “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doin’, Jan-Jan.” I smiled, but as she unclipped the first section on top, and severed it down to length of 4 inches or so, I wasn’t so sure! Using a comb and her shears, Chrissie gradually layered the rest of my hair, filling my lap with long, wavy hair. She was telling me about some of the other stylists, with Kendra chiming in every so often. It was enjoyable to learn a bit of gossip I wasn’t normally privy to, which while not maybe the most wholesome conversation, passed the very quickly. As she moved to the final section, my head was noticeably lighter, now reduced to a shorter crop. Kendra asked, a forced innocence to her tone, “Chrissie, before she gets rolled up for the perm, can you maybe fluff it out so I can get a few practice shots? I just wanna use the polaroid to get a sampling before I use my good camera.” I looked incredulously at Chrissie, but she seemed to think this was a great idea. “Oh, well yeah! This way I can do a nice before an’ after, too! Shoulda thought of that myself! This’ll take jus’ a sec, dahling.”

I stared in disbelief as Chrissie ran a small amount of mousse through my hair before fetching a hairdryer and a round brush. After affixing a small vent attachment the dryer, she used the brush to create some feathered layers along the length of the back, leading up to the front, before gently curling and adding some volume to the top. There was no other way to say it: in a few short minutes, my rather nondescript, wavy permed hair had been transformed, or maybe I should say mutated, into a mullet. Chrissie stepped back, nodding as she crossed her arms, saying “Ya know, this looks pretty good on ya, kiddo. Kendra, her face don’t need to be done for the test shots, right?” Kendra had been silently laughing to herself at my hideous hairdo, as even in the 80s I was repulsed by a mullet, and so said with a hint of a giggle, “Yeah, no problem. You can keep the cape on, Janet Dean Anderson.” Chrissie busted out laughing, and my cheeks flushed as I slunk out of the chair. Kendra sniggered again as she looked at me, picking a few strands out as she sat me down on the stepstool. Honestly, I almost felt like crying. She pulled out a rather well-used polaroid camera, which sat next to an admittedly impressive Canon camera. Smiling a bit evilly, Kendra said “’Kay, now smile, but don’t like, cheese it. Don’t show your teeth. Do it like you’re smilin’ at a stranger.”

I did as I was told, turning my head every which way as the flash of the camera went off. Much to my displeasure, it was one of those quick-printing and drying polaroids, and she insisted on showing me the results. I looked ridiculous, an unapologetic mullet on my head, my plain face arranged in a slight smile that made me look more like I was holding in gas than smiling. I grimaced as I handed them back to Kendra, who handed them over to Chrissie with a quick “Not the best, but I think her right side is her good side, so I’ll focus on that when you’re done with her. I think I’ll really have to paint it on for Jan.” Chrissie nodded, offering me her hand, “Nothin’ wrong with that. Not even gonna ask if ya like it, Jan-Jan, but I think you’ll love it permed.” I was led back to the sinks where I was quickly doused to rinse out the product. Kendra had already moved the perm cart over to Chrissie’s station. Chrissie brushed my hair once more, this time just with a tail comb. She then ran her fingers over her chin, pursing her lips in thought. “How to make this extra bold but respectable. Mm, mm, mm. How am I gonna do this on ya?” She put her hands at her curvy hips, then a big smile crossed her face. “I got it! Kendra, we’re gonna do a regular wrap, but I want smaller ones on top, and medium ones on the bottom, but let’s mix up the sizes a little bit so it’ll look more natural when it dries.”

I normally found the process of being wrapped in perm rods a tantalizing mixture of excitement and a bit of arousal, and despite the horrific cut, I still found this to be the case as Kendra and Chrissie both worked to cover my hair in rods, papers, and pins. It was odd feeling the weight of my head grow more towards the back instead of the usual even distribution, and I noticed this more closely as I pretended to listen to Kendra going on and on about the ins-and-outs of lighting, angles, and other photography topics I wasn’t particularly interested in. The top and most of the sides of my head were covered in a mixture of blue and red rods, which I knew meant a tight curl. That familiar tension now stretched across my scalp, issuing that paradoxical delight of arousal and a bit of pain, and I felt my knees press tightly against each other. The rest of my hair was wound in white and blue rods before the strip of cotton was stuck onto my head. “You’re gettin’ better and better at this, Kendra! Ya know, I’ve actually been dyin’ to try this style on someone, but no one’s been ballsy enough to let me give it to ‘em. You’re givin’ me a real treat here, Jan-Jan!” I wrinkled my nose, and not just because the pungent perm solution was now being soaked through my tightly wound hair. As I looked at my reflection, I became a bit annoyed and worried as the image of the mullet was still burned into my brain, and I wasn’t confident that adding curls to it would be any better.

Chrissie wrapped my hair in the usual plastic cover before escorting me over to a dryer. The noise of the machine seemed even louder, despite my ear covers, without anyone else in the salon. I flipped through a magazine which, much to my surprise, brought a glimmer of hope to me. The cast of ‘Night Court’ was on an add page, and although I had only seen a few episodes, recognized Markie Post, who was shown in prominence. I had completely forgotten about her hairstyle, which was called a ‘shag’, but really was just a more feminine version of a mullet. Of course, someone as pretty as her will look great with almost any style, but I thought she looked especially fantastic with her feathered hairdo. Maybe this was the sort of look Chrissie was going to give me? No matter how curly a perm is, add enough heat, mousse, and spray, and you can shape it any which way! I suddenly had what I thought was a brilliant idea. I would very casually leave the magazine open to that page, taking it with me. I didn’t want Chrissie to think I was telling her what or how I wanted my hair, but maybe she’d see the picture and get a bit inspired? It was worth a shot.

However, and I can still feel the sharp sting of disappointment, this didn’t work out. Chrissie was getting out supplies, and had asked Kendra to check my rods. She lifted my hood and unrolled one of the rods. She smiled, removing one of my ear covers, “Looks good to me, Janet! Here, I can take that.” She took the magazine out of my hands, tossing it in with the others. Kendra walked me over to the sink, rinsing my hair gently with cool water after peeling off the awful smelling plastic wrap. Chrissie walked over, smiling as she came into view. “Why don’t ya go get your makeup stuff, Kendra. I’ll dry an’ get the neutralizer in so ya can do your thing.” Kendra nodded, but added, “I’ll really be able to jus’ do her brows while she’s in the sink. I’ll do Jan’s face before you do the final style, Chrissie.” My stylist agreed with a simple “Mm-hmm” and took out her hair dryer, turning it to a lower setting and running it through my hair. After a few minutes, and my neck already starting to get a bit sore, Chrissie prodded me, and said “Ya know, honey, I know this is not the most enjoyable, an’ I know ya might not like the look you’re gettin’, but I am really, really thankful you’re doin’ this for me. It means so much, dahling.”

I didn’t know quite how to respond, but I felt my heart melt a little at the sincerity and genuine appreciation Chrissie conveyed. After she had dried my hair a bit more, she took out the neutralizer, and called over to Kendra, “Hey, Kendra! I’m about to neutralize Jan-Jan, here, so why don’t ya come over to do her brows, ‘kay?” Kendra walked over with a magazine and a small makeup bag. She handed the magazine over to Chrissie, and said “I was thinkin’ about doin’ her brows like this, kinda like yours actually.” I distinctly recall her saying this, feeling my stomach drop, and then Chrissie’s enthusiastic response of “Ooh, I was hopin’ you’d suggest that! I almost felt like I’d be pushin’ the envelope with that. Yeah, that’d be great! Kiddo, you an’ me are gonna look like sisters when we’re through with ya!” I nervously laughed, then choked on my own spit, as my head was still laying back. I turned very red in the face from both oxygen deprivation and extreme embarrassment. Chrissie quick gave me some water, and I desperately avoided eye contact with either of them as my breathing returned to normal. As much as I loved Chrissie, I sure didn’t want to LOOK like her all that much! Chrissie put a hand on my shoulder, saying “Ya all better now, sweetie?” I nodded, giving a final cough, salvaging what was left of my pride, saying “I’m fine! Sorry, uh, I’m ready for the next step, I guess.”

My stylist patted me on my cheek as I was tipped back into the sink. She snipped off the nozzle of the neutralizer bottle and poured the liquid over my hair. While not as sulfer-like as the perm solution, the pungent, harsh chemical scent of the neutralizer wasn’t much better. I wrinkled my nose, but smiled as both women leaned over. Chrissie and Kendra were both now staring down at me, and I felt a bit like I was on an operating table! Kendra pulled out a small can of shaving cream and a razor, saying rather nonchalantly, “You know, big, full eyebrows are everywhere it seems like, so what if we went the full opposite way instead of just tweezin’ the heck outta these? Oh, an’ I think I have to do her upper-lip, too.” Chrissie considered this, and said, “I dunno, that’s almost a bit much. Jan-Jan, would ya rather have the tweezin’ or the other way?” I was so dumb for saying what I did next, offering “Oh, I don’t like tweezing very much.” Chrissie smiled, “Wow, well, go ahead then Kendra. She asked for it!” Kendra also looked a bit surprised, but also extremely pleased. She skooshed out a small amount of menthol shaving cream, dabbing it over my eyebrows with her finger and the same above my lip.

Again, I’ll remind you that I know I was being dumb, but I recall thinking “Oh, she’ll just use the cream to shape them,” but that’s not what happened. I tried not to be too embarrassed as she shaved above my lip (which was oddly only an issue when I was a teenager) before moving to the next area. With a quick bit of tugging, Kendra then shaved my eyebrows right off my face with four or five tugs of her razor! A warm washcloth was immediately put over my face, and I didn’t immediately perceive what had happened. Chrissie chuckled, “Well, If we left her like this, would it be too much of a bold look for ya, Kendra?” She then looked at me, her own thinly arched brows raised in a skeptical expression. Kendra, however, looked at me with a slightly evil grin, and said “I think it’d be a bit much, yeah. Boy, Jan, wait ‘till you see the mirror!” She then started laughing, and Chrissie chuckled along, tapping me and saying “You’ll get a kick outta this, sweetie. Just a coupla’ more minutes to let this stuff set.” I didn’t say a word, but felt very vulnerable for the next several minutes. When she finally peeled off the soaked strip of cotton and again rinsed my hair, I was mentally preparing myself for what I would look like.

Chrissie again wrapped my hair up in a towel and took me back to the chair. When she pumped up my seat and spun me around, I gasped, and immediately felt my lip tremble. I looked bizarre. With my hair completely covered by the towel, and my eyebrows completely absent, I thought I looked just like an alien! I whimpered “You said you wouldn’t make me into a freak!” I raised my shaking hands from under my cape, feeling the smooth skin above my watery eyes, feeling not even a trace of the hair that used to be there! Chrissie moved quickly, dabbing my eyes with a cloth, saying “Oh, don’t cry honey! Ya don’t want to be all puffy for your pictures. Now, just calm down, calm down. Here, this’ll help ya out.” She unwrapped the towel, causing my freshly permed hair to spring out, falling a bit over my face and well over my neck. This did, admittedly, improve my appearance significantly. My hair was very curly now, and sprung out prolifically with a slight variety in size and length. However, it was very obvious that the hair atop my head was much shorter than the back, giving me a unique shape, to say the least!

I sniffled, and Chrissie wiped my eyes again, saying reassuringly, “See, not a freak, Jan-Jan! Let’s get your face done before I finish your hairdo, ‘kay? You’ll feel better with ya face done up. Kendra, would ya mind?” Kendra seemed to have been enjoying my panic, but complied without much fuss, taking out her impressive makeup kit and pulling over a stool to sit on as she began her work. Chrissie was gently shaping my hair with her fingers, breaking apart the curls after another healthy amount of mousse was dragged through my locks, while Kendra began applying some foundation. Since my hair was effective naked, Kendra was able to use a brush from my forehead down to my chin quite easily. Even though she was standing right in front of me, blocking my vision of the mirror, I could feel that it was quite thick. I closed my eyes as she applied fake eyelashes, something I hardly ever used. Kendra was quiet, focusing on her work, with Chrissie doing the same. My stylist was brushing, blowdrying, spraying, and constantly prodding my hair with her long fingernails and assortment of tools. All the while, she kept saying things like “Oh, isn’t this fun?” or “You’ll be really somethin’, Jan-Jan!”. Truly, she was excited, but I couldn’t escape the dread I was feeling.

Kendra seemed to be taking her sweet time, working on me with a persistent expression of smug satisfaction. I saw her take out a color palette, and much to my horror, began applying an even more vibrant tealish blue to my eyes than what Chrissie wore. Finally, both women were done with their subject, and I was finally allowed to see my reflection as they stepped out the way. The first thing I thought was “Who is that?” because I honestly didn’t recognize the face that was staring back at me. This lady’s makeup was caked on, thick and a pale beige color, and had big, dark eyelashes. She also sported vibrant tropical blue eyeshadow that extended all the way from her eyes up to very, very thinly stenciled eyebrows, which were pointed in a skeptical or surprised expression. Her lips were a blatantly glossy red, but were stretched in a shocked “O” shape. The hair was a monstrous design, with the bangs arranged in a round, slightly flat ball of tight curls, sitting on top of a triangular shape that reached the base of the neck, also curled, but to a lesser degree. I made a slight gurgling sound when it finally dawned on me that I was looking at my own reflection! Chrissie had combined some sort of horrendous poodle perm while keeping the mullet shape! On top of that, my makeup made me look like a middle-aged woman. I almost cried, but something kept me composed well enough to shift my shocked expression to a tentative smile. I looked almost comical, and while I had fun with Angela putting bow after bow in my hair and creating a funny look, this was too much for me to truly enjoy.

My stylist picked a few stray curls out of my bangs, nodding with approval, “Yeah, pretty different, huh? Ya like it, Jan-Jan?” I cleared my throat, prodding my frizzy bangs, feeling the thick product on them, answering “Well, ah, it’s, um.” Kendra, who had been silently laughing, said “I think that’s a ‘no’, Chrissie. Can we get some pictures, now?” Chrissie looked a bit nervous and saddened, especially as I didn’t contradict the still giggling Kendra, but I did keep my weak smile as I was lowered to the ground. I was very shaky on my feet, and purposefully avoided looking at myself in the mirror. I could feel the crunchy curls brush against my neck as I moved my head slightly, adjusting to the lighter weight. I took my seat on the stool, placing my hands in my lap, and sitting up straight, despite my shaking. Kendra smiled at me, saying in a low voice as she posed my head “I hope ya own a hat, Janet. She really did a number on you.” I’m sure my cheeks reddened, but under the mound of makeup, I’m fairly certain you couldn’t have been able to tell! She turned by face, snapped a few pictures, then had me adjust my smile every which way. Part of me thought that she was just tormenting me, but Kendra did seem genuinely focused on her photography technique. Chrissie was standing behind her, offering me encouraging expressions, but I could tell she was starting to feel a bit guilty.

At last, Kendra seemed satisfied that she had taken enough pictures, and I was allowed to leave my seat. I stood awkwardly off to the side as Chrissie and Kendra chatted. My stylist came over to me and said “Honey, how about ya take a seat in my chair again and I’ll give ya somethin’ else, ‘kay? I can tell ya hate it.” A wave of relief swept over me, and I smiled “Oh, thank you, Chrissie. I feel like such a baby, but I don’t think this is the look for me.” I almost started crying again, but she stopped me, rubbing my shoulders. Chrissie sighed, “Yeah, now that I look at ya, it isn’t your look. But, I do think this is the sorta look they’d be lookin’ for, so I had to do it, kiddo.” Soon, I was pumped back up and back underneath a heavy cape. “Now, since I permed ya, I can’t really wash this out, so ya really have two options: shorter or bigger.” I looked at myself, still a bit dazed from my look, and replied “Uh, well, I don’t want the back to be longer than the top. So, shorter I guess. Can I have the curls toned down, too? I want, like, the opposite of what I have now.” Before she could respond, the door chimed, and, a bit to my mingled disappointed and excitement, in walked Angela, carrying several shopping bags. Chrissie laughed, though it was even higher-pitched than normal, saying “Ah, Ang! Wanna see your girl’s new hairdo?”

Once again, I felt my cheeks flush as I was spun to face Angela. My stepmother’s eyes bulged, and she covered her mouth as she gasped. “What on earth did you do to her hair, Chrissie!?! She looks -!” I grimaced and felt my lip tremble, but Chrissie waved her hands, saying “Hold on, hold on! Remember I’m designin’ somethin’ that has ta’ be a bit wild an’ chic. This was all part a’ the deal, Ang. Plus, I’m givin’ her a new ‘do, now.” Angela seemed genuinely bothered, but relaxed at this, and said “Well, you did say you’d be picking the style. So, what’s the new style you’re choosing THIS time, hmm?” I could tell that she was choosing her words carefully, and I would hear later that night that Angela suspected that Chrissie took a little bit advantage of me with my hair, and although I denied it, I did eventually think she was probably a bit right. This was also a little hypocritical on her part, however, as you’ll find out. My stylist answered a bit defensively, “Nothing too wild. She asked me to go a bit shorter an’ tone it down. What’d ya say, hon? The complete opposite of what ya got now? I was actually thinkin’ ‘bout givin’ her a nice, classic set.” Angela perked up at this, smiling “Say, that’s a great idea! I’ve wanted to see her get a proper set for a while, but I could never mange one on my own. Janet, you’ll love this!”

Chrissie’s relief translated into immediate excitement, saying “Oh, that’s right! You’ve never had a proper set, have ya, kiddo? They used to be all the rage. I can give her a nice bubble, Ang. That’s ‘bout as far opposite of this look as ya can go!” This was all I need to hear to say, “Let’s do, can we, please?” I could hear the slight hint of desperation in my own voice, and would have accepted almost any other look instead of what I had. My stylist giggled, rubbing my shoulders, “Yeah, that’s the spirit, dahling! It’s been forever since I got to do one of these on someone without grey hair. I gotta rinse some of this product out and trim this, first.” Kendra, maybe now that Angela was here, seemed less interested, and asked to take a smoke break. Frankly, I was glad just to not see her for a few minutes. Even if she hadn’t been overly unpleasant, it hadn’t been until this point I realized, or maybe blamed, that her presence had been a factor into why this visit had been so much less enjoyable than usual.

As you’re not allowed to wash a fresh perm, Chrissie really was just spritzing my hair with a water bottle and began running a brush through it. The tugging was not enjoyable, and soon my hair resembled an even more outrageous style. Chrissie then took out a fresh pair of shears and began hacking away at my mullet. Dry, stiff curls fell onto my cape, and soon I was left with a very short crop. Almost all the hair had been cut to less than an inch in length on my back and around my ears, leaving my curly bangs and crown the longest remaining hair. Without being too vulgar, the bedraggled state of the curls made my hair resemble something more pubic than not! Chrissie was undeterred by this, though, saying “You’ve got a pretty tight little perm, so I’ll have to use them smaller curlers, but I’ll still make sure ya won’t be too curly, ‘kay? Now, let’s get some holding product in there.” I wish I could recall the brand, but all I can remember about the setting gel Chrissie used was that it was green, and felt very thick as she massaged it through my scalp.

Both Angela and I had used curlers, heated and regular plastic ones, on my hair, but until that day, I’d never experienced a ‘true’ roller set like the women of the 1950s and 1960s. I had always been curious about what it would be like to receive a hairstyle that required both a perm and rollers, but they were out of fashion for almost everyone under the age of 60 by the 1980s. Chrissie carefully secured several spiked yellow and pink rollers into my product-laden locks, securing each with a pin. I was rather perturbed that, with my hair now almost entirely covered in rollers and makeup still so garishly overdone, I looked triple my age, at least! Angela noted this, too, but laughed “Janet, you look just adorable like that! You look like the ladies in the salon when I was your age, doesn’t she, Chrissie?” My stylist was grinning, “Oh, absolutely, Ang! Jan-Jan, you’re gonna pull this retro look off better than ya think!” I smiled, more at the excited expression on Angela’s face than at Chrissie’s encouragement, but for the first time that day, I was starting to feel that enjoyable sensation I normally felt at the salon! I was again lowered and escorted over to the dryers. Now, what happened next is maybe the most bitter example of cosmic irony I’ve experienced.

Chrissie lifted the hooded dryer and I sat down, settling back into position. She handed me a magazine, and said “Oh, well that’s a cute style. Maybe I shoulda done this on ya, instead, Jan-Jan!” My stylist was holding the magazine picture of Markie Post, and all I could utter was a high-pitched laugh, holding back some not-so-nice language! Still, as the air kicked on and washed over me again, I felt that pleasurable feeling return as I imagined what sort of look I’d be given. My grandma wore her hair in a tight poodle perm, but that wasn’t the look I was receiving. Although I wasn’t familiar with all the retro hairstyles, I knew that ‘bubble’ meant ‘bouffant’, but without calling it that. Chrissie was sweeping up my hair and chatting with Angela, no doubt about the stiff, ugly curls being cleaned up at the moment. I recall feeling especially thankful that I didn’t have school the next day, or even the next month, and I shivered at the thought of having entered into class with my permed mullet! I closed my eyes, feeling the warm air cook my hair, and I lulled into a gentle snooze.

Chrissie’s long fingernails rapping against my hand woke me from my sleep, along with her bubbly “Wakey-wakey, honey! Time to get them curls styled nice an’ big for ya!” Angela was drinking some coffee and watching intently as I was raised back to face the mirror. I still barely recognized the face in the mirror, but as I caught Angela’s smiling features in the reflection, I felt myself relax. “Now, I’m gonna trim up your nape and sides, since those were too short t’ roll up, ‘kay?” I nodded, and Angela spoke up, her excitement very obvious “Give her a really clean look, Chrissie. I bet she’ll look just precious if you give her a real helmet hairdo!” Chrissie chuckled, “NOW who’s makin’ her look so different, huh? I’m jus’ yankin’ your chain, Ang. One helmet style bubble, comin’ up!” I was fascinated as the rollers were removed from my hair, leaving behind perfectly cylindrical tubes on top of my head. Little spots of my pales scalp poked through on the sides, and soon all my hair was free of plastic. I noted that the holding product had left it with a bright sheen, almost like gloss.

Chrissie picked up a tail-comb, brush, and hairspray before getting back to work on me. Although I’d teased my hair before for added volume, and Chrissie had teased it before too, obviously, I’d never experienced teasing like this! She ratted my hair all over into a giant bird’s nest, starting with the front after she broke apart the curls. This was a very tedious process, and despite myself, I did smile at the expanding mound of hair. Using her brush next, she began moving the hair back in sections, saying “This takes me back, Jan-Jan. I used to do this with my hair every day when I was a kid, an’ this was ‘bout all I did the first few years of workin’ in a salon, too! Too bad I cut ya so short, otherwise I’d give ya a nice giant beehive!” She and Angela both laughed at this, but I was strangely intrigued! I was amazed at how differently my hair looked as she backcombed the teased locks into a rounded, bulbous shape. You’d have never know that an hour before, my hair had been a frizzy, poodle permed mess! Chrissie had brushed my bangs entirely back, exposing my entire forehead for the first time in years. I was slightly distraught as I caught a glimpse of this, as I always thought I had a rather large forehead, and the giant brown bubble neatly taking shape above it wasn’t hiding anything! However, I again was soothed by the encouragement of Angela who said “You look so mature, sweetheart! Gosh, you’re so good, Chrissie!” My stylist stopped for a moment to wink at me, saying “Well, at least I can fix my own mistakes, huh? Just a bit more brushin’ and, sprayin’, then I’ll clean this up for ya, kiddo.” After each section was brushed to the desired shape, she’d apply even more spray, almost creating a constant haze around my face.

My stylist finally managed to finish the arranging of my hair, but had turned me completely away from the mirror so that I was facing my stepmom. Angela had a pleased, but almost impatient look on her face, like she was itching to say something. Chrissie gently tilted my head down towards my lap suddenly, asking “Nice an’ clean, right, Ang?” Angela nodded, grinning a bit unsettling at me as she nodded, “Yep, please, Chrissie. I don’t think she’s going to let us do this to her twice!” I digested these words as Chrissie flipped on the clippers, running them up my nape, and causing me to gasp at the shock! I focused on looking at my shoes before opting to close my eyes as she tilted my head upwards to carve clean passes over the base of my nape. My head was gradually turned from side to side as the loud, warm clippers began stripping the short, unset hair to even shorter length. The next question caused me to squirm, and even elicited an excited cackle from Angela. “Ang, my mother would have hers shaved, and I would, too. Ya mind if I do Jan-Jan the same way?” After she laughed, Angela said “Well, of course! But, and just for me, well for her, would you please put a little ribbon on the top? Make it match her blouse, if you have the color, Chrissie.” My stylist laughed “Ya like those accessories, doncha, Ang? I’ll see what I can do for Miss. Jan-Jan, here!”

The salon’s standard warm shaving cream was spread around my nape and sides around my ears. I remember beginning to shake again, but Chrissie but a steadying arm on my shoulder as she leaned in with her razor. Carefully, silently, she scraped around my ears first, and I could feel her alternating directions. It wasn’t an especially moving experience, but it was still exciting to have a new sensation of Chrissie shaving my nape to raise the hairline much higher than ever before. She dapped the shaved areas with a towel before applying some stinging aftershave which had a cinnamon-like scent. I finally looked up from my shoes to see Angela positively beaming at me, though she didn’t say anything until Chrissie returned a moment later, holding a small clip-on bow that was a close enough green to match my blouse. I closed my eyes as she leaned her large chest over my face to affix the accessory before layering me with another ubiquitous cloud of hairspray. She exhaled, putting her hands at her side, “Good enough for ya, Ang? Ya know, if ya worked in a church office or something’, I’d ask ya to hop in the chair to give ya somethin’ just like this, but that wedge is too perfect on ya, huh?” Angela nodded, feeling her nape, “Yes, but I can’t say I wasn’t thinking something similar. Janet, you’ve given me a real treat, honey. Your hair is just darling, and I can’t stand how mature you look! Chrissie, can you spin her around? We’re practically torturing her!”

That is, essentially, how I was feeling, and Chrissie must have been able to tell, as she immediately spun me around to face the mirror. This time, I laughed when I saw my reflection! I looked like an old lady! Well, sort of. My brown hair was in an even, tight, rounded shape that was perched almost an inch over ears, which were complimented by tiny, pointed sideburns. I almost resembled an upside-down snowman, with my somewhat round face having a perfectly round shape stuck directly on top of it. My bouffant bubble was easily six inches tall at its peak, if not a bit more. All of the curls had been coaxed together into one cohesive arrangement, a rounded, smooth shape with only the smallest hint of curl. The small bow sat smack dab in the middle, like prize ribbon. “I gotta show you the back, dahling,” smiled Chrissie, reaching for her large hand held mirror. I gasped as I looked at her handiwork, reaching up to touch the freshly smooth skin the reached all the way up to middle of my ears. She had used the clippers and a comb to gradually blend the short area between permed and unpermed hair together, opting to give me a perfectly straight line as the starting point. It created a very harsh look, but feminine and unapologetically retro, too. “This is, wow, it’s like one of those old magazine styles! I mean, it’s really old-fashioned. But I kinda like it!”

Chrissie squealed, “Oh, I’m so relieved! Most gals woulda screamed if I gave ‘em a bubble bouffant. Ya look just like the cutest little thing, dahling. Would ya mind havin’ your picture taken again?” I considered, but before I could say ‘yes’, Angela said, “Chrissie, wouldn’t you say she deserves a little extra, considering all she’s been through, today? Plus, you are getting more material for your portfolio, right?” Chrissie pursed her lips, but then spread them into a big smile, saying “Well, I suppose you’re right, Ang. How’s an extra fifty bucks sound, kiddo?” Now this, I was able to reply to before Angela! “Okay, yes!” Angela nodded at me behind Chrissie, who was now a little frustrated “Where’s that girl? Helluva long smokebreak if ya ask me! I’ll see if she’s around back, then we can get your picture an’ call it day, ‘kay?” She stamped off, allowing me to relax momentarily. Angela walked over, smiling as she got a closer look, “I couldn’t help myself, Janet, I hope you don’t mind. I’ve wanted to see you with a classic hairdo for some time, and I just couldn’t explain it. You certainly don’t have to keep it like this all summer, but let me show you to a couple of my friends and your grandmothers; they’ll just eat you up!” I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of serving as a display piece, but Angela was so happy in that moment I could hardly refuse her!

A moment later, Chrissie’s loud footsteps were heard, along with some rather harsh tones from her directed towards Kendra. What a turnaround this salon trip had enjoyed, after all! “How was I supposed to know you were givin’ Jan another style, Chrissie???” Chrissie held back to spare her coworker’s dignity, but her loud voice made it a useless gesture as she said “Look, I’m payin’ ya out of pocket to be with me the ENTIRE time, capiche? Now, take some good pictures; Jan-Jan’s ready an’ waitin’.” Kendra sulked as she walked towards me, but then burst into laughter as she saw my new, well, maybe not new, hairdo. “Oh my god! Ya gave her a BOUFFANT, Chrissie?! Well, good thing we got that first one for the portfolio. Can you get her cape, Chrissie?” I didn’t say anything, but I could see Angela scowl slightly in Kendra’s direction. It felt good to stand, and I saw for the first time my full look, with my makeup, hair, and clothes all combining to not only make me look a bit retro, but easily older than Angela, and not too much younger than Chrissie. I found it strangely exciting, maybe because the mullet had been so egregiously bad, maybe because I’d actually wondered about actually wearing a retro hairdo for a few years, or maybe some combination of the two, but Kendra’s sniggering didn’t pierce my bubble (pun intended!). Kendra again posed me in a few different ways, photographing me from a couple perspectives. Because I enjoyed this style infinitely more than the previous two, I did have more fun this time! However, after about ten minutes of this, Kendra announced that she thought she had enough material for the portfolio. “Thanks, Janet. You look just swell!” cooed Kendra in an artificially sweet tone and she helped me off the stool. I knew what she was insinuating, but I only smiled and said “Gee, thanks!” in as close a mimic as I could manage.

“I’d say we’ve had enough fun today, huh?” said Chrissie as she fetched her purse. Angela stepped behind me and ran her fingers up my bare nape, causing me to giggle. “I’d say so. Is there anything more you need from us, Chrissie?” My stylist shook her head, “No, just follow me up t’ the desk, ladies.” Chrissie had removed an envelope from her purse, and slid me a stack of $20 bills, all crisp from the bank. “I think ya earned an extra ten bucks for everything ya went through, kiddo. $260, and it’s all yours, Jan-Jan. I’ll gladly see ya later this week so I can show ya how to wear your hair besides this bubble, ‘kay? We can schedule somethin’ right now, if ya want.” I nodded, “Yes, please, Chrissie. As soon as Angela’s done showing me off, well, I can’t say I’m keeping my bubble all summer.” Angela made a dramatic “Awww, really honey?” remark, and while I could tell she was kidding, she would later tell me that part of her was hoping I’d make a fashion statement be keeping my bubble! Chrissie, however, didn’t echo Angela’s remark, as she was just relieved that I wasn’t firing her as my stylist! Of course, after receiving my money, I would have felt very, very bad about NOT returning to her. She penciled me in for a Thursday afternoon appointment, which, more to Angela’s delight than mine, meant that I would be sporting this hairdo for the next few days.

I did give Chrissie a hug before leaving, with her saying “I jus’ can’t thank ya enough, Jan-Jan. Maybe I shoulda done things a bit differently, but it’s always fun stylin’ ya, and I ‘preciate ya being’ a good sport, sweetie.” I couldn’t resist her, and said “Well, I always enjoy sitting in your chair, even today, Chrissie. Plus, it seems you made my stepmom happy today, too!” Angela smiled, “What can I say? Chrissie’s simply the best, and I like seeing her work. Have a good night, ladies.” Even though it was early evening, the first steps outside still allowed me to feel warm air on areas of my head that hadn’t seen sunlight in years! As soon as we sat in the car, I immediately pulled down the mirror to inspect myself closely. “Oh my god, I look so old!” I laughed, though a slight panic began to set in, too. Angela chuckled, nodding “You do, but also really, really pretty, Janet. How do you feel about seafood?” I sighed, “Fine, I guess I’ll fit it better than usual, huh?” She laughed, agreeing.

The restaurant where we’d go for seafood was very good, but Brianna and I were almost always the youngest people there by a wide margin when Daddy and Angela would take us out for dinner there. Apparently, the demographic was always older, as Angela had been going there since she was a kid, too, and said retirees always were the largest group of patrons. As we were greeted by the hostess, she said “My, that’s quite the hairdo, miss! Haven’t seen that in a few years on a young lady in several years. You look very darling.” I blushed, and said “Oh, thank you. It was her idea.” I said, pointing to Angela. The hostess nodded, “Hmm, really? Well, you have good taste, ma’am. Someone will be right over to bring you drinks.” Three other women stopped by over the course of meal to make remarks on my hair, two of which sported similar hairstyles themselves, albeit in grey and white. I will admit, it felt very good to have my ego boosted by this, and Angela could tell, leaning across the table to say “See? Maybe you should think about keeping this for a while longer!” I shook my head, “No way, Angela! Still, it is kind of fun. I feel like I’m wearing a costume dressed like this.” My stepmom smiled, “Well, with that much makeup, you almost are. Speaking of which, I’ll show you how to do your brows tomorrow morning. I’m disappointed your Daddy doesn’t get home until Tuesday. He’ll love this, I’m sure.” We both laughed, as he tended to have very expressive reactions to when either of us changed our hair.

My grandparents, particularly the grandmothers, did really get a kick over my ‘new’ hairdo, with Angela’s mom, Grandma Polly, saying that we looked very similar. As she pulled out an old photo album, she was quite correct, even wearing a similar bow to me! Angela was able to give me a couple of roller sets before bed, which while not as enjoyable as braiding, was still very fun for the both of us. The kids I babysat for where shocked when I visited them that Wednesday, and were not the biggest fans. It was a nice foreshadowing for my own motherhood in dealing with kids who haven’t yet developed a filter! I only saw a few of my friends before I visited Chrissie, and while they pretended with compliments, I told them they didn’t need to worry, as I’d be ditching it later on, much to their relief. Daddy’s reaction was somewhat different than I expected, as he said it reminded him of his mother when he was little, which I took as a compliment. Managing my eyebrows every morning quickly lost its charm, though thankfully managed to regrow by the time school started again in the fall.

As Chrissie cut my hair even shorter into a smaller, curlier version of Angela’s wedge, she asked if I enjoyed wearing such a retro hairdo, and I was honest. “It’s, like, fun to stand out and have your hair so big and formal, but the constant spraying, sets, and upkeep, I don’t Chrissie. I’m almost surprised they were popular for as long as they were!” Without recapping the whole conversation, Chrissie provided an interesting perspective: “People used t’ have less goin’ on, it seems like. Ladies would go to the salon once a week to get their hair timed and styled, and nobody would think anything of it, ya know? I think we’re already startin’ t’ see that with shorter hair bein’ more popular again, and same thing with perms. When I was little, it was rare not to have a perm AN’ a set, and now ya just get a perm, brush it out, add some spray, and’ you’re good to go! Speaking of which, I hope ya don’t mind havin’ such a short hairdo, Jan-Jan. Your hair’ll take like five minutes for ya each mornin’.” Admittedly, I was unprepared for how short Chrissie made my wedge, but I did enjoy it, if nothing else for how convenient it was!

Before I left, though, Chrissie and Kendra both showed me the developed portfolio pictures. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy them, and sadly, I was right. I didn’t even look like me in the final photos, and maybe that was for the best! I regret now not asking for copies, but at the time, I would have almost been insulted to ask. Chrissie did later show them to Angela, who also regrets not asking for copies, as confirmed last week when she and I happened to talk about just this whole experience, but she also didn’t think that they were the most flattering. However, it was ultimately worth it, and not just for the money, but because Chrissie did end up not only qualifying for the local show, but placed in the top ten, too! She kept the certificate hanging by her station for the next several years, and almost every time thereafter when I’d sit in her chair, she’d point to it and we’d laugh about it together. So, in the end, was it worth it? Looking back now, with those rose-tinted glasses, It’s not like I had my hair radically changed the afternoon before a date, and like I said at the beginning, my Senior portrait was already taken. Could I have done without losing my eyebrows and sporting a terrible mullet? Well, I’d answer yes to that, too, but my bubble bouffant set was a fun experience, and I know it meant the world to Chrissie for me to model for her, and my stepmother and I will still reference that day on occasion, so I know that her answer would be a resounding yes. And so, my answer can only be the same. I hope you enjoyed this story, and thank you for reading!

5 responses to “The Perm Portfolio

  1. Wonderful story Janet, thank you so much for sharing it. I always love reading about your hair adventures with Angela and Chrissie, and the classic / retro bubble bouffant is *right* up my street 🙂

  2. Thanks a lot f35h! I really appreciate your praise. I’m very happy you enjoyed the bubble bouffant section; it was a real pleasure to have received it. I do wish Chrissie could have given me a beehive hairdo at some point, but it never came to pass. The next story/recollection I’m working on doesn’t feature Angela or Chrissie, but I do have one more story of of note regarding perms! Thank you again for the compliment! 🙂

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