Yesterday my hair stylist and I were chatting whilst she was pushing some sheep shears through my hair. Yes, I use a stylist and I’m not at all embarrassed by that. I always comb my hair straight back so you might not think it takes any skill to cut, but after a few disasters at the local generi-cut shop I visited my wife’s stylist. This was 15 years ago and I’ve been going there ever since. I say “cutting” but my hair is so think it’s more like shearing, which was part of the problem. This girl can cut anything, and that was our topic of conversation on this visit.
That morning I had cut the grass at my in-laws’ house and as I passed by the jungle that was the front facade of the house I realized that I’d been so busy I never finished trimming all the bushes. Some shrubs will grow to tree size if unkept. They even have a word for this: tree-form shrub. My in-laws’ house had become a living experiment in discovering which varieties of flora remain shrub-like and which become tree-form shrubs. If there was a prize for most tree-form shrubs, I’d have won it. All the shrubs around the house are now tree-form. No exceptions. It might be easier to rip them out with a tractor, put new bushes in the root holes, and start over.
“Ya know,” I remarked to my stylist, “if the hair cutting business ever tapers out you could go into landscaping. I picture you as the person who trims all the bushes into those big animal shapes. I could use someone like that right about now.”
My stylist is Vietnamese and immigrated when she was about 10 years old. She has retained a thick accent which normally isn’t a problem for either of us. She tells me where the best Pho restaurants are and I tell her about American things like building a fort from the couch cushions – something neither she nor her two children had apparently ever heard of.
My policy is to not belittle people for their names, how they look or how they talk. I used to do that as a kid because people did it to me and I didn’t know any better. How people think or act is another matter. Anyone who thought or still thinks Sarah Palin is presidential material deserves what they get. But there’s a fine line between using someone’s speech deficit to make them feel inferior, or me feel superior, versus simply enjoying unintentional humor when it happens. For example, the comedy that ensues when someone who hasn’t got the hang of plurals discusses landscaping.
“Oh, I am very good at it. At my house I trim all the bush.”
“I should have known,” I replied. “I can see you using a landscape rake like a comb and one of those swordfish blade trimmers as the shears.”
“Yes!” she enthused. “We have Mexican landscape crew do almost all yard in neighborhood. They very good but not good as me so they not do my yard.”
“Do your neighbors ever try to hire you to take over for them?”
“No but my neighbor she ask ‘Why you no let husband trim your bush? Why you no let Mexicans trim your bush?'”
At which point I about fell out of the chair trying not to laugh. I’ve known this girl since she was literally just a girl, fresh out of cosmetology school and starting a new career. I feel a bit fatherly toward her. I was turning beet red and ready to switch the subject but a new customer had walked in on the tail end of this conversation and wasn’t quite sure what she’d just heard. She sat down and picked up a magazine. The little devil sitting on my left shoulder said to keep going.
“They should understand. After all, it’s what you trained for.”
“No. I went to cosmetology school. They no teach how to trim bush.”
Bingo. The new customer’s ears perked up. I could tell by the reaction and the confused look on her face that she was listening.
“So the Mexicans must feel a bit of professional jealousy? Do they ever leave flyers in the mailbox trying to get your business?”
“Yes. But they no do good a job as me. My neighbor say they do good job on her bush but she show me and it not look good. No-one else trim my bush. I only one.”
“Not even your husband?” I was trying very hard to word questions so as to avoid using any plurals that would give me away.
“Oh especially him,” she said rather sternly. “He not trim bush good. He get lines all crooked. Top not flat. He did once. That it. I not let him near my bush ever.”
If you’d been in the room and didn’t know we were talking about landscaping you would have felt very sorry for her husband. The waiting customer was now actively fidgeting in her chair looking embarrassed and still pretending to read. She had the presence of mind to hold the magazine right-side up but I doubt she had any idea what it said. She was an older woman with white hair and a very proper Southern Matron look about her. She didn’t look like the type to be reading Sports Illustrated but hey, you never know.
“He must be real disappointed,” I said. “You ought to let him take a whack at it now and then just to be polite,” I suggested. “After all, he is your husband. Father of your kids and all. Maybe you could teach him how you want it done.”
“No, he dangerous around bush” she assured me. “He engineer, not artist. He no do it right.” She seemed very adamant about this point.
The conversation began towards the end of the cut and we had finished up by this point. The calendar and cash register are situated by the waiting area and as we checked out the waiting customer was about three feet away from us. My stylist had been hilariously ambiguous through the whole episode and I was about to leave so I figured it was time to go for the gold.
“Well, if you ever want to make some quick money the hard way I could always use you at my house,” I offered.
At this, the customer didn’t know whether to be more indignant at me or the stylist. She clutched her purse and magazine to her chest and looked alternately at each of us making low “hrrrumph” noises. I thought she might walk out.
“I only trim my bush,” the stylist said with a laugh. Her laugh fills the air like the joyful notes of a thousand wind chimes in high register. It’s one of the reasons I keep going back. “You get someone else trim your bush. I stick to hair.”
“My loss I suppose. But Angie’s List is full of good landscapers so I’m sure I can find someone. Just so you know though, you were my first choice.”
I gave her a hug and turned to leave. The waiting customer was looking much relieved and but still more than a little confused at this point so I broke character and misused the plural.
“She keeps all that talent to herself,” I confided to the customer. “It’s up to us customers to break her out of her shell. See if you can get her to trim your bush. She’s rumored to be very good at it.”
And with that I walked out of the shop. The worst part of all this is I now have to wait a month to find out what happened next.