I was talking with a friend over the weekend and she was telling me about all of her exploits in the town where she grew up. As the daughter of a police officer, she grew up in a very blue collar household. Yet all around her, friends had access to amazing privileges and luxuries that seemed disproportionate to the working class neighborhood that they hailed from. As a close friend to many of these girls, my friend got to tag along for some very cool stuff. Front row seats, limo rides, back stage passes. The stuff that teenage dreams are made of. As a kid, she never questioned why these things were available to her friends. Many years later, long after they lost touch, she connected the dots and realized that her friends were "connected". For those of you that are slow on the uptake, think Goodfellas.
Her story left me reflecting on my own teenage past and some of the experiences that I had. As I looked at them in retrospect, I tried to imagine what they would sound like to someone who did not experience them firsthand. Maybe they were worth telling.
Here's one of them -
When I was 19, my mom and her friend Louise made the decision to open up a hair salon. Louise was a sharp wheeler and dealer, and she had located an empty salon on the fringes of a bad neighborhood, where the equipment had been left behind a prior owner (who left in a hurry) and the rent was reasonable. So, with a little bit of work, some cleaning and painting, we had ourselves a salon.
I had been working in salons before I even graduated from beauty school, so I already had three years of experience under my belt when my mom and Louise offered me the position of salon manager. It's funny, I had no fear or concerns about running the salon. I walked right up to it and faced it squarely, like the cocky little shit that I was. I just went ahead and did the same things that I had seen half a dozen salon owners and managers do in the places that I had worked. I ordered supplies, placed ads in the Pennysaver, answered the phone in my best faux -professional voice and dove right into the business of day to day operations of the salon.
Things were very quiet for the first few weeks of business. We would get the occasional lookie loo peeking in the window to see what was going on, but it wasn't until my mother and Louise's started sending their co-workers to the salon that things started to pick up. I would give them haircuts, color and perms at a discount rate and the locals, seeing the activity in the salon, started to wander in. After a couple of months, I began to develop a strong following. I did all kinds of hair, but I really caught on with the local teenage boys in hair metal bands (Hey, it was the eighties, I cut a lot of mullets too. Dark times in hair, I tell ya). Once they knew they could trust me to keep their hair long, the way they liked it and that I was willing to experiment pretty wildly with color and other chemical services, they sent all their long haired friends my way. But because of the marginal location, I never built up enough clientele to warrant having another hairdresser on staff. You know what they say about location, location, location? Well they can't say it enough. It's not a cliche, it's a FACT.
After a year had passed, the landlord raised the rent. We were just barely meeting our overhead with the business that I was doing. On a couple of occasions, my mom and Louise had to dig into their pockets to cover expenses. We clearly needed to bring more money in. But what could we do?
A couple of my friends were in a band and they were always at the shop, getting their hair done and hanging out. One night one of them asked me if we had a basement. I said that we did and we locked the shop, went out the back door, and down into the basement to explore. The salon was located in a strip mall, which meant there was one external set of steps behind the row of stores which accessed the basement. These steps led to a common area, then each storefront had a private, locked area that lined up under their space. We unlocked the door to our private room and flicked on the light. To our surprise, the room was empty, fairly clean and had electrical outlets along the walls. At that moment, an idea was born.
Part II Wednesday - Hair Today Gone Tomorrow - Things Get a little Shady