The madcap hairdresser
A creative essay on the love of a long marriage.
The name swings in bright red letters outside his salon—JOSEPH’S UNISEX HAIRSTYLING. Instead of dealing with wood like his patron, this Joseph deals with hair.
Promptly at 9 he opens his door, facial hair handsomely trimmed, thick hair in a boyish cut that takes 15 years off his 62. We flock to his chair hoping he will do likewise for us. And he does.
He is Edward Scissorhands with shining blades sculpting hair not bushes. He colors, perms, curls, blows, and combs. He braids, coils, frames faces with long strands in front and little in back, sweeps hair over to one side, and trims thick, gold strands flowing down like Rapunzel. When he’s done, our madcap hairdresser takes a hand mirror and dances 360 degrees around the newly coiffed to show off his work from every angle.
Some of us walk gingerly into the salon. Others are wheeled in by faithful daughters. Cancer patients come in fashionable wigs. Joseph massages slow growth, promising beautiful, natural hair in a few months. There are piles of magazines showing the latest styles. Take your pick. In little time, it’s yours. Men and women alike. If you prefer a cut from 20 years past, you walk out looking the way you always did. If you are a young man wanting a bun, it’s yours on the top of your head.
There is always coffee steaming, an array of fresh baked goods, and music that is pleasantly upbeat. Not so the stories people tell. These are dire news bulletins of hurricanes and tornadoes and buildings collapsing just before the owners return home. Ceiling lights suddenly explode in garages empty of cars. Sometimes storms with 60-mile-an-hour winds lash our area, and one time the salon itself. In every case tragedy is averted and everyone walks out into a brave new world rinsed and bright.
But this is only half the story. And if you listen closely while he works, you will hear the other half.
Promptly at 6 our hairdresser closes shop, picks up supper from a nearby restaurant, and returns home to his wife. Evelyn’s hair is beautifully set and combed so no thin spots show. She wears colorful, comfortable clothes. She suffers from an operation on her lungs gone wrong and spends most of the day in an easy chair watching PBS.
She knows every opera, the hairdresser tells us, from Puccini to Wagner, taking heart when the Valkyries raise the bodies of the fallen and bring them to Valhalla.
She has watched the Lucille Ball show a hundred times. She has seen a barefoot, antic Lucy stomp grapes in a wine vat and then join Ethel at the chocolate factory. In vain the two try to wrap chocolates, stuffing their dresses, their hats, their mouths as the conveyor belt speeds past. Evelyn watches these shows every day and laughs every single time. These are the stories she tells her husband over supper and he laughs with her.
Once a year the salon is closed. The madcap hairdresser and his wife fly to New York City where he wheels her gingerly through congested avenues over to the Metropolitan Opera to see Puccini’s La Boheme live. The next day it’s the Radio City Music Hall and the Rockettes with their famous kick line—eye-level, mesmerizing. Evelyn taps her footrest and all’s right with the world.
Before they return home to the salon, our hairdresser wheels his wife into St. Patrick’s Cathedral and over to a quiet alcove. There they light a candle, he says, and renew their marriage vows in hushed tones only they can hear. I take you, Joseph, to be my treasured husband. I take you, Evelyn, to be my dear and loving wife. One sits, one stands quietly at her side. Hand in hand they thank God for the conveyor belt of smiles and tears that is their marriage.
This article also appears in the August 2019 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 84, No. 8, pages 30–31).
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