I am sporting a lousy haircut. The roots of this sad salon saga begin at a swimming pool, or perhaps in a previous life. Who knows?
In late August my local YMCA closed its pool for major repairs for three weeks. Because I swim almost daily to continue to thaw my frozen shoulder, I couldn’t suspend my water workout. The closest option was a middle school, whose public aquatic program is staffed by a mix of town employees and volunteers who receive tax breaks in exchange for their work. I checked their schedule and rates online. The drop in fee for someone my age (under 55) is $5. Or, I could buy a half-year pass for a bit more than what I would spend on fees for those weeks. I decided to pay each time rather than bother with the paperwork for the pass, which I didn’t plan to use once the YMCA pool reopened.
When I went for my debut swim at the school, a volunteer behind the counter asked me if I might be over 55. The question startled me: do I no longer look younger than my age (now 52)? When I asked the volunteer if I really seemed older than 55, they mentioned my grey hair and responded that they were just trying to save me money ($1, in this case). In that moment, it had been more important to me to believe I looked younger than to potentially save $1. Each time I went to the pool, a different volunteer or staff member (and, sometimes, the same ones!) asked me if I might be over 55, in service of saving me $1. Despite their good intentions, the question – posed daily – continued to rankle. I wasn’t able to laugh or shrug it off. I made sure to bring exact change to deflect that part of the conversation. I began to regret I hadn’t purchased the pass to eliminate one of the hurdles of getting into the pool.
Around that time, I decided to get my hair cut after letting it run wild over the summer. In mid-spring I’d visited a new salon which offered, via Groupon, a haircut and a glaze. I wasn’t sure what a glaze was and I’d been open to trying something new. It turned out to be color applied directly to the hair (like glaze on a donut), a faster process than dying and wrapping the hair in foil. I chose a color to match mine and the stylist applied it, then let it sit for several minutes before washing and cutting my hair. Although I hadn’t loved the salon, I’d been satisfied with the results: the glaze had lasted a long time and the shape had held nicely. I decided to return as a regular customer rather than take my chances with a different venue. Perhaps darkening my hair would, temporarily, make me look my actual age if not a bit younger. I phoned the salon to make an appointment and find out the price. The fellow who answered wouldn’t tell me a specific number but gave me a range, which depended on hair length. His quote felt a bit high but I figured it would be worth it. Minutes later I received a text confirmation of the appointment.
From my spiritual practice led by Cheri Huber, I once learned of the story of the Zen cake. The monastery she created often serves a special cake to retreatants. Its recipe is in a cookbook published by the monastery. A student baked the cake at home, reproducing the treat to his family’s delight. When that man made the cake a second time, the results did not match expectations. In the story, this man’s son reminded him that it was a Zen cake: no two moments are alike and each time the cake might come out a bit different. There is no need to suffer over it, problem solve or analyze “what went wrong” or try to “get it right” the next time, unless one consciously chooses to do so from a place of compassion and curiosity rather than self-criticism or relentless perfectionism.
At the salon, I sat in the same chair with the same stylist. She put the same glaze in my hair as before. She let it sit and then washed it. She cut it in a similar way. And, my hair didn’t turn out the way I expected. The color seems darker than it did in the spring. The stark contrast with my skin makes me seem….older! Worse, it looks like someone poured dye over my head, as if I am channeling my late Hungarian great aunt’s bottle-brightened hair. The cut is also not as flattering as I recalled. Perhaps the chemistry of the glaze, or the chemistry between me and the stylist, had not been identical to the first time. Had I been more present to my feelings about the salon, rather than consulting my mind (which foiled me again!), I probably would have looked for another. Strangely, the stylist charged me far less than what her colleague had suggested, a bit of a relief. At the same time, I would have gladly paid more for a better haircut.
Almost immediately upon exiting the salon, my phone pinged with a text from them. The message thanked me for coming and suggested I try a different stylist next time, because they work as a team. I doubt I will return, but it was a good Zen reminder to not get too attached to one person or to a haircut. As for my locks? At least I still have plenty of them! They will grow out, the glaze will fade and, along with it, the memory of this episode.
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