I arrive while Ginger is wiping down the water cooler and floor. Her moss-colored stretch pants remind me of the pair I bought two days ago. She’s wearing a cream knit top that matches her Chuck’s perfectly. She’s bent over, swiping at nothing I can see as I approach, “Hey you! You missed a spot.” I say playfully. “I don’t care,” she says, coming in for a big hug. I usually dye and cut my own hair, but once maybe twice a year, I need my Ginger fix.
I’m not sure I can possibly do justice to the force that is the Ginger haircutting experience. She’s like fire on wheels. Her dynamic look alone is a lightning bolt to reckon with; I trust few can handle the heat. ‘Pinions? She has ‘em! I’m not intimidated so much by her opinions but by the force of her delivery on certain subjects while I’m sitting down willingly, having scissors near my eye, snipping away at strands I don’t want. She talks with her hands which can lead to many pauses since she also cuts with her hands. It’s the experience I’m paying for as much as the service. I’m paying for the experience of Ginger within a foot of my face for an hour. Her bracelets jingle with the movement of her body as she brushes the toxic gel throughout my hair—part a line, lather hair, part a line, lather hair. I’m getting layered with a dark mass like jelly globs before a carefully placed cotton crown adorns my hairline. “Like a halo,” she comments, smiling. “You finally noticed,” I say, playing along.
Ginger’s all muscle under her long black work apron. Her glasses sit wedged on top of her head of streaked golden curls. The bright orange rims stand out amongst the well-placed chaos. I wonder how concerned I should be that she’s mentioned not being able to see without them and yet, doesn’t put them on her face once. That’s part of the Ginger experience, all or nothing. She leaves me under the heat dryer with my goopy mess of color, and I close my eyes, picturing the hairdressing scene in Steel Magnolias. It’s easier to define what I don’t want in the form of a hairdo than what I do want. I don’t want a football helmet, but I don’t want spikes either. She works my head under the faucet as I brace myself for the strength of her fingers digging the conditioner into my scalp. Am I sensitive? My head seems to think so. She eases up and dries me like a toddler who’s about to bolt. It’s hard for me to look at my face in the mirror when my hair is wet; I feel like all my features are drowning. I look away and remind her of the time I brought in a picture of Joy from the Disney movie Inside Out and told her, “that’s the cut I want.” “That’s a cartoon,” were her exact words. Still, she molded my head like Joy, and I took first place in the Halloween contest at work.
That’s the kind of magic I attribute to Ginger. Hair is an art, and although its meaning may shift with growth, I like to think I pay in part for the magic she gives. It helps that we have history. In fact, we have a long history way before professions were in our hands and labels over our adult heads. My sister and Ginger were close all throughout their teenage years, and I was that nowhere-near-teens little sister. They’d spray their bangs for hours in the bathroom, and I’d sit outside the door begging to see. I like to think I wasn’t the most annoying little sister on the block, but with few little sisters to compare to, I might have been. Everything about Ginger and my big sister was hip. I was the only uncool specimen for miles. Anyway, time rolled out and on, and eventually, Ginger became my mom’s trusty hairdresser for years and occasionally mine too. Mom used to comment that she liked her haircut, but what she really enjoyed were Ginger’s stories. She’s a family item of sorts. The first cut I got after Mom died, we just cried off and on until we eventually had to laugh at our runny faces in the mirror.
When I get tired of cutting my own hair and think it’s time for a real artist’s cut, I make an appointment. Sometimes, even if I’m not tired of cutting my own hair but just miss the sound of Ginger’s full laugh, I make an appointment. This is one of the perks of staying in the town you grew up in; there’s a comfort to any routine maintenance from the dentist, to the hair salon, to the Jiffy Lube. Feeling known and good is one of the neatest emotional waves I can anticipate. Ginger’s got that down. In fact, I might not wait as long next time before getting my Ginger fix.