I always loved the beauty parlor scenes in Steel Magnolias, but I don’t recognise myself in them. Truth is, I do my own hairdos and nails and visit the salon once every few months for a cut. I have this one friend who says this makes me a “functional hippie” – still not entirely sure what that means.
And when I have the time, instead of fancy salons, I prefer going to the same hairdresser -Miriam- who did my hair when I could barely say goo-goo ga-ga.
Going to the salon when I was little was just awesome: The entrance was flanked by kiddie mechanical rides. Inside, the air was filled with hair spray and laughter. The decoration was over the top, including gorgeous salon chairs with white horse heads, and girlie pink walls and furniture. And then there was Miriam, who would do beautiful braids in my hair and, of course, would always give me a lollipop -preferably a red one- when we said our good-byes.
A trip to the salon was always splendid.
The magic of my childhood salon will always remain unchanged in my mind. But as time passed, reality sank in. The salon was too big for the business, and would eventually sell more than half its space… and then would close altogether. A decade ago, Miriam moved to a smaller space in a cheaper area.
What never changed was Miriam. She’s spent her whole life making kids happy with her hair cuts and braids… she even did my hair for my high-school prom. Now she also keeps grown-ups happy with blowdries, colorings and manis-pedis, because la cosa está complicada y debemos diversificarnos.
Everyone in the salon uses hairdresser uniforms with fun little animals, and focus on the service while keeping tabs on the appointments in a notebook with a lápiz mongol, and charging with the same old cash register from the old salon. The air is still filled with hair spray and laughter.
Miriam even took the pink furniture and the white horse head salon chairs. Though time has taken a toll on them, they take me right back to my kiddie days just by looking at them.
Every visit to Miriam’s starts the same way: “Hi… how’s the family?… How’s work?… When will your sister get a bun in the oven?…” My visits to Miriam’s have always been short, but I used to leave with a huge smile. At least until my last visit.
As I arrived to the salon, Miriam moved the horse head salon chair and got me in a grown-up chair. I sat down and after a couple of minutes of Steel Magnolias type of beauty parlor talk, Miriam’s daughter said “Ana’s body should arrive today”.
Ana, who lived in barrio El Calvario in El Hatillo and was a neighbor of Miriam, was found dead. Miriam said Ana had been missing for two months and her body was found only after someone called her son to tell him where it was buried.
The fifteen minutes of “relax while I cut your hair” turned into a “a lo que hemos llegado” type of conversation.
While I stared at the reflection of a little girl getting her hair braided with blue and yellow glitter filled ribbons, while another little kid ran around waiting to get his haircut, and while a lady was getting a pedi and waiting to get a blowdry, Miriam was still giving me details of Ana’s disappearance.
At that moment, the pink furniture seemed more worn-out than usual, the thick hair spray air filled with sadness, and Miriam’s eyes showed me a mix of ¼ arrechera and ¾ resignation.
After I paid Miriam, I didn’t get a lollipop…
But I got a huge smile and an “aquí seguimos… tenemos que sacar el país adelante”.
I’m not much into beauty salons, but I can’t wait to visit Miriam’s salon and hopefully see it come back to its golden era of kiddie mechanical rides and walls and furniture of a very girlie pink. It will take some years, but Miriam’s will see better times.