Psychologists call it participant observation. Your mom calls it people watching. I call it judging and it is one of my favorite things to do. Making snap decisions on a person, place or thing based on a few superficial qualities they possess is a great way to sharpen your gut instincts and your comedic chops. It also makes me feel superior in a Simon-Cowell-without-the-age-inappropriate-plunging-v-necks-and- excessive-chest-hair kind of way.
I had a prime opportunity to judge just two nights ago whilst getting my hair cut at the Carsten Institute at Union Square, a beauty school run by Aveda that has never done me wrong (though I wouldn’t go there for a dye job; that’s too advanced). It’s a grab-bag of people who are learning to become hairdressers; a chocolate box of personalities.
My lady’s name was Sandra, a 40 year-old woman with what had to be implants in both breast and lip. Her jeans were bedazzled and her glasses were of a hipster bent. Her baby voice kept conjuring images of Jessica Rabbit and Kim Kardashian’s laryngeal love child. I thought she might be a former stripper, aging out of the pole. See: judging.
I’m not super anal about my haircuts. It’s just hair and it will grow back. But this experience really tested my mettle. Sandra’s hands were shaking as she took the first snip; never a promising sign. She was slow and methodical, second guessing herself aloud and making me very, very nervous. Her blow-drying technique was so bad I thought I was being punked. I kept reassuring myself that I have a very smooth head so that if it all got sucked up into the back of the blow dryer and burned completely off I could pull off a really cool shaved head. People could sign it like a cast. I would be a trend-setter. And save a fortune on shampoo and conditioner.
Finally, Sandra turned my chair around to the mirror. After all that panicking and throwing S.O.S. eyes at everyone in the salon, I was prepared to have bangs that looked like the top of a lego, and layers that resembled Alice’s from Dilbert, I’ll be damned if I didn’t have one of the sexiest cuts of my life. Then she gave me a free manicure.
Turns out she wasn’t a stripper, but an actress (fulfilling my irony quota for the day). I learned that bedazzled jeans and a baby voice don’t mean that someone can’t be super skilled. Next time I encounter someone who is a little different from me, I will stop, remember Sandra and try to approach with a more open mind. Maybe.