Why For Art Thou

I started my career at J. Cunningham & Co. in the late 80’s. I worked there for about 4 years. 4 years of perms, 3 to 4 perms a day. God, the humanity.

Then a friend and I had the great idea to open our own salon. We got pretty close, we were trying to secure funding, and were about to tour storefronts. We even had some drawings in process, when for some reason we stopped. After the idea of a salon dropped (thank god-as future events proved, we apparently weren’t that good of friends, story of my life). Somehow after the salon fell through she convinced me that I should work with her at a J. C. Penny hair salon very near where my wife Laurie, new son William, and I lived. The thought of having a regular income, health benefits, and literally a 5 minute walk to work, was too good to pass up. As we often learn in life, something that’s too good to pass up, should often be passed up. I managed to convince myself that I wasn’t risking a downgrade in my work, and that I would be busy enough to make a good commission on top of the minimum wage I was being paid.

I learned a tough lesson on considering all of the angles. I’ll admit I am still learning the finer points of this concept, but at the time I was a naive, fresh faced working dad. The thing that makes J. C. Penny’s popular is their affordability. That means cheap. That means no matter how hard you try you can’t make enough money to earn commission and raise your pay above minimum wage. At least that was my experience. So at least I had the benefits, right? Well, sorta. If I earned enough money to justify full time sure. Ya, that wasn’t gonna happen. That commute looked better every day.

And so I took the last $400.00 left on my charge card out in cash for the first months rent at the Davis salon I would work at, and at times own, for the next 15 (on and off) years.

I stayed there for about 5 years I think. I was pretty happy, but that commute was taking its toll, and my Sacramento clients were really whiny about driving to Davis, so when a friend of mine opened her new salon in Sacramento I jumped at the chance. There you go again not checking the angles. I didn’t consider the fact that my Davis clients wouldn’t drive to Sacramento. I was shocked, I learned a lot about business, and the difference between work/friend relationships, I also lost almost half of my clientele.

I should have expected it. After 10 years working there I had heard hundreds of times, “Oh no, I never drive into Sacramento. I hate driving over the causeway.”

So I found myself with some free time on my hands. I decided maybe it was time for a change of careers.

I had enjoyed spending the last few years landscaping our cottage in east Sacramento. As it turns out I loath grass, and I won’t take care of it. It Reminds me too much of my step-brother and I mowing the lawn at 6 o”clock in the morning in the summers at our Mesa, AZ house. You had to get up early to beat the heat. It was usually about 80 something by 8AM. So the small putting green Pete and I acquired on the side of our new house became a rose garden, the back dog-run was completely re-landscaped three or four times over the last 20 years, we replaced the rose (and daylily by that time) garden with a patio and french doors of my design off the dining room (love those drafting classes), and so on. I had some failures, but felt I had actually become a gardener. Maybe if I enjoyed it so much I should become a professional. Do what you love, right? So I went back to school to study landscape design, and I really liked it. I loved learning about horticulture, I really enjoyed the people in the classes, I took drafting. I thought, “This might work”, until I had a friend use one of my designs for her back yard, but completely mess up the installation. I still have the original drawings. They felt like art to me, and they had been distorted in the installation to the point that I didn’t even recognize it. In that moment I knew that I would have to be in charge of the whole enterprise, a contractor. That wasn’t really what I had in mind. Fortunately I had decided somewhere along the way that it would be a good idea to learn some basics of drawing. Since I couldn’t even draw a very interesting line drawing I thought it would be nice to learn how to sketch at least.

I hated the teacher (don’t get me started, maybe later), but I loved the class. It gave me an excuse to draw, fail, learn from it, and grow.The true benefit of an art class, of any kind, is that it forces you to produce work that you might give up on in other circumstances. It allows you the permission to work on something that you know you will most likely throw away. It helps you push yourself where you wouldn’t normally go.

Well, despite what that stupid art “teacher” thought, it turns out I’m not bad. I had a rather jarring déjà vu moment at some point as well. I remembered the time I spent living with my Nana for about 6 months when I was 13. She was a painter, and I came across her paints and easel at some point and asked her to teach me to paint.

There had always been something magical to me about exploring my Nana’s houses; it always brought back the memories of spending summers and Christmases with my sisters and cousins at her two story house in Westwood (Northern CA, not Southern). The house had a truly magical, to a 7 year old, closet that went undisturbed from one end of the house to the other on the second story. There was another one on the opposite wall if I’m not mistaken. Those closets scared the hell out of me, and to walk from one room to the other was something I don’t think I ever managed. There was a large dark space from door to door; I don’t believe there were lights in the closet, actually. But that could have just been my sisters and cousins tormenting me as usual. So I would often ask my Nana to teach me how to use things I found. It’s the reason I asked her to teach me to sew. I couldn’t resist the antique sewing machine in the corner of my room. Well, though she seemed to do a good job teaching me to become a seamstress, she was a terrible art teacher. She set me up with the paints and easel (I couldn’t tell you if they were oil, acrylic, or water) in the back yard, and said, “Paint what you see”, and walked back into the house. I tried a few desperate stokes on the canvass, realized I knew zero about what I was doing, decided I was not a prodigy, and never tried another art project again until the day I found my talent. After a few figure drawing (the best class in the universe, I could easily sit in a figure drawing class for an 8 hour day) and painting classes (very close second, but I can paint at home, so…)  my painting hobby began. Unfortunately, I tend to be a little light on the manic and heavy on the depressive, so I don’t produce much. Shame on me, no talent should be wasted. But I have to be creative all day being a haircolor and make-over specialist, so get off my back.

I decided shortly after my fourth figure drawing class, and my third painting class, that I needed money more than school, and I ended up full time back in Davis. Within a year I purchased the salon and gave up on the art classes altogether. I have to stop letting women lead me astray (don’t get me started).

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Call Me Barbara

I was relating this story (again apparently) to my wonderful client Tanya Perez, when she stopped me and told me that she had actually gone home and re-told it to her son (the last time I told her :/ ). I figured maybe it was something that more people would find useful. Enjoy.

As 90% of the civilized world did in the eighties, I had a perm. It looked quite good on me, if I do say so myself. My hair takes a perm well, and doesn’t relax much, it always seemed to me to feel very natural. In fact, when I cut it all off my senior year, numerous people commented that they always assumed it was natural.

You never realize how good you look when you’re young, until it’s too late.

The perm was part of my plan to reinvent myself. I started high school in my sophomore year instead of my freshman because my previous school went from grade 7 through 9, and so a transfer to a new school district (which started high school at grade 9) blessed me with never experiencing the joys of freshman year of high school! I was determined that I would not be the shy nerdy kid I had been for the past few years. Not being a freshman might be nice for missing the hazing, but it also makes you a new member of an established tribe, friendless, and surrounded by people who aren’t. But still, a fresh start is a fresh start.

Towards that end, one of my more daring moments was on the first day of class. PE to be precise. We hadn’t been issued uniforms, and we were pretty much told to do whatever we wanted on the PE field to pass the time. So when the other boys in the class decided to ask me to play touch football, I steeled myself for humiliation, took a deep breath, and said OK. This is probably one of the single bravest things I’ve ever done in my life.

Now, teenage boys are not known for their common sense. So it will amuse, but likely not shock, most people when I point out at this point that we decided to play on the basketball court (I assume the grass was wet), the asphalt basketball court.

As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that I’m actually quite well-coordinated, but since I detest almost all sports, I was convinced at the time that I sucked at them. So when the first play commenced I ran for all I was worth, turned to see the ball headed straight for me, and jumped to catch it! Unfortunately, instead of the awesome catch, and touch-down I was imagining, I stumbled, fell, slid forward on my knees, and in the process shredded my pants, and the knees inside.

I was a bloody mess, but actually (along with the very intense pain) I was more amused and embarrassed than anything. The other thing I was, much to my surprise, was a hero. The other players were in awe that I was so dedicated to the game! Blood was pretty much the coolest thing to adolescent boys of my generation (probably all generations). What a great start for the new me!

Ya. Congratulations. I think band must have been later in my schedule. We met on the multi-purpose room stage. Pretty standard for most school bands of the time. Band was after lunch. It was one of the things that usually helped to get me through the day. Usually.

Her name escapes me, but she was a bitch. A fairly cliché bitch I might add. For some reason she decided I was her target. I think these things are usually triggered by jealousy, but I can’t imagine what it was she coveted. For all I know she had a crush on me. Nevertheless, the one drawback of the perm for me, was the unintended similarity to one of my life long idol’s. This wonderful little ball-breaker noticed that with my curly hair, and rather pronounced, somewhat Jewish seeming nose, I bore a very strong resemblance to the fabulous Barbara Streisand. And so her nickname of Barbara was bestowed upon me, with absolutely no thought to the consequences of a teenage boys high school social life. Don’t get me wrong, if I had to live my life over as a woman, I would hope to god it would be the freakishly talented Barbara Streisand. However, I didn’t want to be a boy version of her in high school.

In a fateful second she changed my life forever. Of course the only thing you can do to combat a bully they would tell us, was to ignore them.

Now, I have to take a time out here to discuss this option. IT BLOWS. Nobody should ever ignore a bully. If nobody will help you, talk. Try to befriend them, don’t run away. If they won’t talk and you feel threatened, jump their ass and try your best to beat the hell out of them. I don’t give a crap what anybody tells you, your self-esteem is way more important than your physical health. If you get knocked down, you get up until you no longer can. They will never bother you again, and you will love yourself for it.

So I ignored her, and the others who laughed with her, but the damage was done. From that day on some random jock, or group of popular kids would smile and say “Hi Barbara” when passing me in the halls, and I would act as if I heard nothing…you always ignore a bully.

High school passes quicker than you expect, or in some cases fear, it will. The magic of college is the once again promise of recreating yourself. Hopefully by this time you’ve learned the lessons that adolescence burns like scars into our very souls. Or at least you’ve learned it never pays to be a weeny. So on my first day of class, who should walk in, sit down right beside me, and say “Hi Barbara”? One of the very popular people who I had hated for the last three years. He was not only popular, he was handsome, voted best dressed our senior year (an honor I coveted, but could never afford), and now attending my very first college class. I wouldn’t put up with it. He was not going to come in and ruin my college career, too!

In a rare moment of chutzpah (not seen since the dreadful events of first day PE), I looked straight at him, and said “Don’t call me that”. To which he replied “What?”. “Don’t call me Barbara”. “Why not?” he responded. “Because it’s not funny”, I replied. “Isn’t Barbara your last name?”, he asked.

Apparently all of the jocks who had been calling me Barbara for the past three years thought it was my last name. Oops. Turns out they were actually all being nice. Guess who was the snooty one who had ignored them all through high school?