Friday, May 28, 2010

My secret life

I agreed to work the reception desk this morning from 9 to 12. About 11:00 we got a call from someone looking for Susan Schell. She was in Ms. Lisa's class with me and she's still "up the hill." The school policy when a student gets a call is to take message. We are not to give out any information as to wether or not the student is actually there. I told the caller "I can give her a message and have her call you right back."

"This is Sister Gerta from Our Lady of Lourdes, her daughter's school." Now I know Sister Gerta pretty well. She runs the school office and is secretary to the Principal. I know her from when JJ was applying there and because I'm so active in the religious ed program. Of course she doesn't recognize my voice, even though I answered the phone "Western Hill School of Beauty, this is Cynthia, can I help you?" It's just WAY TOO out of context. I quickly dismiss revealing myself and just have her leave a message. I called "up the hill" to give Susan the message -- but found out she wasn't in school today. Normally we're not to call back with this information. With so may gypsies, tramps and thieves it's best if the school doesn't get involved with a student's whereabouts. But it's Sister Gerta, and I know her, and I know Susan and it's HER KIDS' SCHOOL! So I call Sister Gerta back to tell her that Susan isn't in school today. And ask if she has a home or celll number. She doesn't and she asks me for the cell number. Of course I can't give it to her. (I would have had I had it, but I knew the office wouldn't give it to me no matter what). So we're having this whole conversation and she still doesn't recognize me. And I still don't reveal myself.

I wonder if she thought "... that girl at the school switchboard sure sounds familiar." I'll let Susan tell her.

Queen City

Mr. James started two weeks ago. He works Monday and Wednesday days, and Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

I usually stay late on Tuesdays and Thursdays to get a full ten hours booked. But last Thursday I left at 5:00 to attend an event at St. X (being a St. X Mom could be a whole other blog....) And am I sorry I didn't get to stay. Last Thursday night Mr. James got dressed at school for his late-night job as the hostess at a drag queen club downtown! Not only did I miss it, I didn't even hear about it until yesterday. He got the girls to help him with his make-up and wig and was in full drag regalia by the time he left.

Ms. Cathy, who does not work nights, heard about it all from Ms. Mindy. I have never seen her so upset. She asked me "what would your husband say if he heard about this?" "What would your parents say?" she asked another girl. Ms. Cathy is a bit of a homophobe. A fact which makes no sense at all to me given that two of her four husbands were gay and she's a hairdresser. But she's been teaching at the school for thirty years and deeply morns the days when the school had a stellar reputation in the community. And having a drag queen teacher just doesn't fit in with her idea of what the school should be. But of course all I'm thinking is that "this is going to make for some great blog posts. I can't wait!"

On Monday Mr. James told Rhonda and I all about his other job and even invited us down to the club. But I had no idea that he was getting dressed at school. I'm hoping Ms. Cathy doesn't put an end to it.

Class of 2010

With rolling admissions, the Western Hills School of Beauty also has rolling graduation. The rather pathetic thing is that there are between five and twelve students who begin every month and only one or two who graduate. Since I've been "down the hill/on the floor," every graduating student has been a night student. The night students are very different from the day students. They have full time jobs. Some have college degrees. They are older and MUCH MORE professional. The part-time course takes three years to complete. Some students take as long as five.

The graduations are always really moving. The graduate invites family and friends who gather with students and teachers in the break room. There's food and cake (provided by the family). Each teacher give a little speech about the graduate. The speeches are very personal and quite moving. I always tear up. I imagine my graduation. But somehow I just can't picture my family and friends in the extremely ghetto break room. But when I do there's always a big Bonbonerie cosmetology themed cake.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Everyone at the Western Hills School of Beauty and Hair Design takes the "managers course." The managing cosmetology course includes an additional 300 hours of study beyond the 1500 necessary for an Ohio state cosmetology license. Those three hundred hours are spent in the study of how to plan and run a small business including the regulatory laws and codes for a salon. The core assignment is to write a business plan. The plan must include a mission statement, a company overview, a list of products and services, an advertising and marketing plan, financials for product sales, a personnel plan, a financial plan, a floor plan (designed to code), a location map and resumes for the owner and staff. The instruction for this project is very thin (at best) and the resulting plans are essentially useless. But my business plan is not useless. My business plan is BEAST! I got the assignment back in January, did some research and then spent about twenty hours knocking it out. I was back in my comfort zone and it felt really good. Really fun. Really energizing. When the plan was done, I printed it out on nice paper and had it bound at Staples. It looks awesome and is awesome.

Now everyone wants me to help them with their business plan. At first I thought they wanted my help to actually develop and write their business plans -- to help come up with differentiating mission statements and then building all the rest around that. But no; what they really want is someone to type up their crazy-ass plan, make a logo, print it out on nice paper and get it bound.

Isis had to do a salon business plan when she was "locked up." She takes it very seriously because she already has a significant clientele (from doing "kitchen hair") and very much wants to have her own salon. Having run a successful small business in the past (albeit an illegal one) she's one of the few students who has the right skill set to be successful. Because of this I was pretty psyched to help her.

She gave me her hand written plan to review. My thought was that we'd work together to flesh it out. At first glance it looked pretty good. All the headings are there, the writing is way better than I thought it would be, and there are several pages of financial charts. But where I thought we'd work on it, she thought I would just type it up, add a logo, make it look good and get it bound. We're still struggling with this.

She keeps asking me "Do you still have my plan and when you gonna get to that OG?"

We've had several discussions with me saying things like "I thought the whole point was so this could be really good. So you'd be able to take it to a bank and get a loan. Or a grant! You could totally get a grant for this. You're the perfect profile. I found this organization...."

"Yeah, OG, exactly. You just gotta do it."

Well OG can't "just do it" because after a few introductory sentences almost every section ends with "more content to come later." But really, the biggest obsticle is that her mission statement is COMPLETELY UNSUSTAINABLE. But I can't make her see that.

Me: "Do you really think '...providing affordable make-overs' is a good idea? How are you going to make money doing that? Affordable isn't going to make you any money. And a 'make-over' is a once-every-several-years kind of thing. What you need to get the same person coming back every week, and paying big bucks for something only you can give her."

Then she argues with me that she wants to do "affordable make-overs." And asks me when I'm going to have her plan typed up.

I've been hitting my head against the wall on this for weeks. Months really. So now I'm thinking "Oh to hell with it." I'm just going to type the thing as is, make her a logo, get the thing bound and let Ms. Ebony tell her it'll never fly (no matter what kind of paper it's printed on or how sweet the logo is).

Besides, Ms. Ebony totally gets it and wants me to help her with her business plan. She asked me "how much?" "$2,200" I told her. "I will totally pay you that, if that's what it takes." Her plan will be as BEAST as mine. Actually it probably will be mine. I have no intention of having my own business. I want to work at a big corporate salon that charges $135 for a single process color and makes the client blow-dry their own hair. Something like Bumble + Bumble; where I use to get my hair done back in the day when I was writing real business plans.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fight, fight, fight

Janet came to school looking for a fight. First thing in the morning, she was sitting at the sation next to the one where I was setting up. As I bent over to get the flat-iron out of my kit, I hear (in a VERY nasty tone) "Miss Cynthia, that is right in my face!" This was said with so much disgust and contempt that my first thought was that somehow Janet had gotten hairspray sprayed in her face. I turned around really having no idea what she was talking about, and asked: "What? What's in your face?"

"Your ass!" she replied with distain.

Attempting to deflect this with humor I replied: "Oh Miss Janet I am SO sorry. My ass is just SO BIG it gets in the way. It's so big I can't keep track of it. Like when you're eight months pregnant and you don't know how big your belly is and you keep bumping into things. That's my ass." I then put all my stuff back in my bag and moved to another station far away from crazy Janet. (The students within earshot of all this thought I was hilarious, especially since initially there was so much tension.)

After lunch, suddenly a fight broke out. Janet and Simiko. It was sudden, vicious and loud. Scary. Janet was screaming and going at Simiko (who was also screaming). Darina who was standing about two feet in front of me, went towards Janet to put a hand on her arm and calm her down. But she'd been doing a cut and had her comb and shears in her hand. Super Scary. As this was happening some students were moving in closer, teachers were running in. I'm wondering "is any one calling the cops?" (and since we had about seven clients at the time "we are NEVER going to get any more clients.") But as soon as I saw those shears I ducked down the hallway and around the corner to the Spa Room. So I missed most of it. Both Simko and Janet got expelled. I had just completed Simko's resume with her that morning. She only had about 200 hours more to go; was going to graduate at the end of June. Everyone is saying it was Simiko's fault. I'm not so sure.

Only once have I ever heard of a violent fight in advertising. A rumor of two secretaries in the traffic department at Y&R. The key is when you see a weapon, get the hell out of there. One evening I was coming down the escalators in the Met Life building into Grand Central and saw a man running at full speed across the concourse. Behind him were three cops with GUNS DRAWN. Behind them was a crowd running to see the action. When I got to the bottom of the escalator, I turned around, went back up and returned to my office for an hour or so.

Yesterday one of the girls told me that "there's a fight every Friday. That's why I don't come on Fridays." She may be right. The Friday before all this happened there was another bad fight up the hill resulting in the Police being called and an expulsion.

Stay tuned and find out what will happen tomorrow. It could be me and that new teacher, Mr. James....

Happy Clients

Marianne was so excited yesterday after she passed her drivers test, that she came in to get her hair done. She had been really, really worried that she wouldn't pass. As the test date approached she had put off paying her gym and pool membership 'cause she wasn't sure she'd be able to get there this summer if she had to depend on someone else for a ride. Weeks ago she went to the eye doctor, who ordered new lenses for her glasses. She picked them up yesterday and went right to the BMV. After she passed, she drove right to the club to pay her dues, then wrote a check for her car insurance, made plans to go out that evening, then came to get her hair done. She was SO excited and happy it was infectious. We got to talking.... she told me about her college graduation three years ago. She majored in theology. I said "I majored in theology!" We had a lot in common.

As she was leaving she told me that she'd be back a week from Thursday because her birthday is on Saturday and she wants her hair done for the party. She told me "I'm going to be 80. Just hearing myself say that seems so weird. I can't believe it." "Oh-my-God" I replied "I feel the exact same way about being 50."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tea Party

I almost got into a beauty school fight myself yesterday. Sara has the most right-wing, tea-partyish political views of anyone I've ever seen or heard. She's probably crazy and I have now vowed to just ignore her, and leave the room or move my station. Yesterday, in the break room she was going off on how "Obama isn't really an American because he wasn't born in this country, he refuses to produce his birth certificate, born in the middle of an island, or Africa..." on and on with a good amount of anger and passion. Also thrown in there was how he's going to take everyone's money away, put you in jail if you don't have health insurance and make you go into the military to pay off your student loan. So I asked "where do you get this information, FOX News?" So she goes off telling me that she reads everything and watches all the channels and comes to her own conclusions. I then insisted that the president is an American and always has been. She went nuts.

Later, one of the teachers asked my "what the hell was going on back there with you and Sara?" We agreed that she's nuts and marveled at how a young, black woman can have such a twisted view of the political and economic landscape. A part of me wants to engage with her to find out what it is exactly that she thinks about this stuff and why. But I realize I'm better off just keeping my distance.

The Tea-Partiers sure would love to get a hold of Sara. She could be the next "Joe the plumber."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hair Scare Part 3

When Last we left my f'd up beauty-school hair, I had a blueish streak that I color-corrected back to brown. All was well (except that a hunk of my hair had been fried off). But when I needed a "tint retouch,"(known in layman's terms as "getting my roots done") the color was left on too long (at the teacher's insistence) and my hair was black. (That would be a number "2" on the color scale of 1 to 12, "1" being blue-black and "12" being platinum blond.) So we stripped out all the black and for twenty minutes my hair looked like the picture at the right. Carrot top!

Yesterday was also the closing prayer service for Religious Ed. Teaching that class was such a challenge, but I am so glad I did. It was such a gift to have the time, and to be asked to
do so. The parents, and even the kids, were so appreciative.

It was so crazy to one minute be in beauty school, putting up pin curls on a mannequin head, listening to the girl next to me tell a story of giving her boyfriend head in the bathroom of a UDF (United Dairy Farmers -- a 7-11 like store for all you non-Cincinnatians); and then literally TEN MINUTES LATER be sitting in a meeting with a bunch of women wearing sweat-shirts with teddy bear appliqu├ęs talking about what music we need for the prayer service. Totally surreal; but at the same time, so real it's gritty.

The other thing that happened yesterday -- Mars (remember Lamar, from "up the hill?") got expelled. Something about a big fight, girls ripping the weave right off each other's head, cops called and on top of all that it seems he frequently cusses out the Faculty and Administration.

And, did you know, they make Jordon's with high heels?!


Towards the end of the fall I got bogged down in the culture of blogging; and pretty much stopped writing. I spent time figuring out Google analytics and then checking it all the time. I spent time reading the blogs of "successful" bloggers looking for clues as to what made them popular. I spent time reading books and articles about how to blog and how to monetize.

What I didn't do was write.

Part of not writing is the pressure "to blog." And that pressure, combined with the overwhelming nature of this journey that I am on, had me thinking about what I would write, but not writing. This journey is often funny, some times dark, some times uplifting, frequently spiritual and once-in-a-while deeply disturbing.

Today I am committing to writing. Actually, I am committing to Journaling. Just jotting down what happens every day. If I can tie it all up in a nice package every day that would be nice; but if not, at least I'll have a record of all the joy, intrigue, inspiration, sadness, nostalgia, creativity, learning, disgust, wonder, craziness and FUN.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"What you do for the least of my brothers, you do for Me"

Last Friday I volunteered to cut hair at Haircuts from the Heart at the Franciscan Center in Over the Rhine. ("OTR" has been dubbed "the most dangerous neighborhood in the country." small salon provides haircuts to the very poor and homeless. The day we went, there was a special event honoring veterans. Clients didn't have to be a veteran to get a haircut, they just had to walk in (and register at the desk.) Normally the cost of a hair cut is $2 or a bag of crushed aluminum cans; but last Friday, all haircuts were free. (There was also free lunch provided by Lee's Chicken.) At the same event last year, Haircuts from the Heart gave close to one hundred haircuts in five hours.

I'm not sure how many cuts I did. Eight? Nine? I know that the four of us students did a total of fifty cuts between 9:30 and 2:00. And I did more shampoo's than cuts.This mission is run by one Sister Bonnie -- a tough cookie who is genuinely full of grace. Her mantra is speed, speed, speed. She wants 'em in and out. Quite different from school where it's all about client service, consultation, creativity and precision. Sister Bonnie wants it done right, and done FAST.

It was a transforming experience for everyone involved. Both practically and spiritually. The salon is small, with only two chairs, but we pulled in a couple more for the event. It was crowded, but so happy. These guys were so happy and pumped to get their hair cut and washed, to have us talking to them like salon clients. And, like anyone getting a much needed hair cut, they left feeling great.

In a down moment, I asked Sister Bonnie if she was a cosmetologist or a nun first. She told me that she had been a nurse (and a nun) for years and years before she heard the reading from the Bible "before you pray, wash your face and comb your hair;" which was the inspiration for her mission. As we're talking, she pulls her iPhone out of her pocket and starts checking her email. I said "Wow, you're a cosmetologist nun with an iPhone! That is awesome." She is, truly awesome.