I know, I know. You get what you pay for. But I’ve had some very good Cuban haircuts for five bucks. Unfortunately, Paco pissed me off so royally some years ago, (for non hair-related reasons), I swore never to return. And I haven’t. Yo sé, yo sé. Cutting off my nose to spite my face (seems like my penchant for quotes, axioms, and aphorisms is carrying over to this post). I also got a tolerable $2 cut in the Merida market.
But I hold the Cubans to a way higher standard than Rosa in the Mexican mercado. Cubans have what we call “swing” here in Havana – a kind of tropical taste and sensibility that’s captivating in a smutty, unsophisticated kind of way. We’re talking Spandex, Daisy Dukes, and Lucite stilettos (usually all at once), plus Dolce & Gabbana knock-offs so bad the t-shirts look like they say D&C – which is something else entirely.
Nevertheless, there’s a strata of Cuban women who favor linen over Lycra and maintain some seriously stylish ‘dos. These fashionistas led me to the private-salon-that-shall-remain-nameless in question. The owner had lived abroad for nearly a decade – surely some of that sabor internacional had rubbed off. Indeed, the salon was the fanciest I’d seen here outside of a five-star hotel: there were fat issues of not-too-outdated French Vogue lying around and the two stations were crowded with expensive Italian product. There was even a professional hair washing sink – improperly mounted so it gave you a wicked crick in the neck, but it was the first I’d seen in a private Cuban salon (see note 1).
Needless to say, I was encouraged as I flipped through Vogue and the owner lathered up my husband’s voluminous locks. I noticed the framed photos of hot hair models on the walls, the professional photo lights standing off in a corner awaiting the next shoot, and the matching, logo-emblazoned aprons worn by the owner and the hairdresser (see note 2). I did notice, however, that Anabel – henceforth referred to as ‘the hairdresser from hell’ – didn’t have a particularly attractive hair cut herself. Red Flag #1. And she was steamrolling my husband (no small feat) with her opinions about how to control his wild child hair – most of which involved expensive product. Red Flag Número Dos. When he rose from the chair looking like the bastard child of Prince Valiant and Ronald McDonald, I got that sinking feeling.
I admit I have a bit of a Sampson complex. No doubt it took root at the age of 8 when my unlovable grandfather thought it a good idea to take scissors to my head (cocktails were surely involved). With a few quick snips, that viejo wrecked my third grade and threw my fledgling self-esteem askew. This is the same man who locked me (briefly) in the trunk of his car and told my mother (his daughter), that her ‘life would improve immeasurably if she got serviced by a man.’ Since then haircuts have made me uneasy, queasy even – as if I were headed for the stirrups and speculum instead of the snip, snip of the salon.
I also remember when I was 11 or so, Laura – the tough talking, coke snorting Italian broad who cut my mom’s hair in Manhattan – refused to cut my hair again after I unleashed a string of invective on her (see note 3). Years later, as an adult no less, I made Honaku cry when I lambasted her for the ‘generic white girl bob’ she had just given me. I didn’t care how swanky her downtown salon was – I let that poor Japanese stylist have it.
So I’ve got a bit of an historic problem with the hairdressers. And it doesn’t matter the cost or country. From Guatemala to Greenwich, two dollars to a hundred – I’ve bitched and bickered about haircuts no matter the place or price. (No wonder hippie philosophies so appeal to me).
And it’s not about the cost, though the pragmatist in me much prefers to pay $25 or less for something that a) takes all of 15 minutes and b) should be done every 4 to 6 months – although Havana’s hairdresser from hell recommended every 2-3 when I asked (Cubans can be such shameless capitalists). At the same time, I’ve got this wacky idea that paying more should translate into higher quality goods and services. Honaku proved me wrong on that one with her $110 bob and Havana disabuses me of the notion on a daily basis. From where you’re sitting, I’m sure $5 sounds outrageously cheap, but consider this: that’s more than a week’s salary for the average Cuban. Who in their right mind would pay a week’s salary for a haircut (see note 4)?
And now, five dollars later, I’m living yet another haircut nightmare. I was going for rock ‘n roll. Unfortunately, Richie Sambora wasn’t what I had in mind (see note 5). Serves me right: when you want a ham and cheese sandwich, you don’t go to a Kosher deli and when you want cool, you don’t go to a hairdresser with Julio Iglesias on the hi-fi and the Playboy bunny logo blanketing her ass. I think the BeDazzler also might have been involved somehow.
All right. I’ll stop. I know it’s all relative and we have Honduras, climate change, and health care to worry about. But I’m damn glad I had the author photo for my forthcoming book squared away before the butchering and thank god hair grows. Until then, I’m avoiding mirrors and embracing hats.
1. Usually hairdresser here just spritz your head wet and get to cutting. That’s how Paco handled it and though his ‘salon’ was just a chair facing a mirror in a crumbling Centro Habana walk up, the man had moves. The “spritz and go” method was also employed by Javier, another fantastic hairdresser who had no salon but something better – he made house calls, all for $5.
2. At this point, I should have been mindful of some of my other favorite sayings: “all sizzle and no steak”; “all hat, no cattle”; and as we say here “más rollo que película” – literally “more roll than film.”
3. They say cursing is a sign of limited vocabulary, but I’ve found it can be quite effective in the hands of a writer, even at the tender age of 12.
5. I always wanted to be a guitar god, but not necessarily look like one.