Blonde

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On the persistence of the Universe

Published April 3, 2016 by mandileighbean

badbeauty

Some situations in life are unavoidably awkward. Indeed, some moments are socially awkward by definition. For women, I believe this includes any and all visits to beauty salons. Just the other day, I had an appointment for a manicure and pedicure and right off the bat, I was uncomfortable. There’s something inherently unsettling about the setup, about the implied hierarchy. Who am I to show up and demand some other woman (more often than not) try and make me beautiful or more appealing? I’m much too lazy and impatient to paint my own nails so I’m willing to pay someone else to do it, so I’m not passing any sort of judgement. I’m just saying it’s a little weird; feels a little medieval in our modern, wildly progressive world. No? Am I thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I immediately apologized to the manicurist for my gnarly feet. While it is true that my feet resemble men’s feet from the prehistoric era (think “Flintstones”), I’m not actually sorry about it. I’m totally okay with my feet, but I apologized and made a joke about my physical appearance because it’s my comfort zone. Self-deprecating humor helps me to break the ice, chip away at some of the awkwardness of having a stranger rub your gross feet, and lets the other person know I’m not some high-maintenance chick; I’m a commoner, one of the people, I swear! I’m just too lazy to maintain a beauty regimen is all.

For dealing with a self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual, the manicurist couldn’t have been nicer and she did a wonderful job. I love my nails and my toes; perfect shade, elegantly done. I have no complaints and will absolutely go back without hesitation (shout out to Lee Nails in Bayville). You would think such a positive experience would ease my social anxiety about going to beauty salons, but you would be wrong. My neuroses know no bounds, apparently. Upon getting my nails done, I called a hair salon I was familiar with (I’d only been there once, to be fair, and it was months ago) to schedule an appointment to retouch my highlights in an effort to transition to becoming a blonde (which is something else I’m stupidly struggling with, but I’ll save that for another hilarious, highly entertaining, self-indulgent post; I know those are your favorite). I was excited, eager for the appointment, but the receptionist on the other end couldn’t have cared less. Her responses were short and repetitive, like she was offended by making this appointment, as if it were a personal insult or something. I persevered though (because I’m a masochist?) and she asked which stylist I’d prefer. When I mentioned the woman who styled my hair the last time, when I asked if that person was available, the receptionist only tersely replied, “No.” I guess some uncomfortable, tense situation had gone down and everyone was still feeling a type of way about it, but how was I supposed to know? I felt guilty and quickly replied that it was fine, that anyone would do, but the receptionist kept telling me they had nothing opened, that they were straight booked … but offered me three different appointment slots. I picked an outrageously early time on Sunday and hung up. I had a bad feeling and based on my last blog post, I wondered if maybe it wasn’t some kind of sign from the universe, telling me to abort, to abandon ship. So when my mom kindly cut my hair later that day, I called another salon and made another appointment.

From the get go, I felt much better about the whole thing. The woman unknowingly eased all of my social anxiety simply by being nice. She said she was excited I was coming in and offered me all sorts of time slots and asked questions about what I wanted done. Even if such personal interest was inauthentic and all in the name of consumerism, at least it was there. I mean, it worked and I made the appointment.

When I showed up, I was a little uneasy. Obvious and aforementioned social anxieties aside, I always feel like a fraud walking into salons. I always think of that scene from “Pretty Woman” where prostitute Julia Roberts walks into that high-end clothing store and gets treated horribly. And to think she was beautiful! I’ve had bad acne lately, have gained weight and have just been really down on myself lately about my physical appearance (hence all the salon appointments) and I suddenly didn’t want to go. I forced myself inside though, and was immediately charmed. What ambiance! And the friendly receptionist from over the phone was behind the desk and just as friendly as ever. She offered me coffee and water, and the water I requested came in a trendy, fashionable mason jar with an adorable paper straw, decorated with illustrations of branches from dogwoods. I was charmed and felt better … until I had to sit and allowed myself to get trapped inside my own head.

Though my appointment was at 11:30, I didn’t get into a chair until around noon, which I’m not even mad about. I understand that sometimes styling takes longer than anticipated, and I don’t understand complaining about having to be patient in salons when it’s all luxury, a luxury to have time and money to spend on something as superficial and fleeting as appearance. I’m not judging; here I am on a personal appearance improvement tour. I’m just saying I wasn’t annoyed and that would never be something to annoy me. I know that’s just me, so I’ll move on.

What did annoy me was that when my stylist went to pull my hair back from my face, she poked me in the eye. She didn’t apologize, and we both acted like it didn’t happen even though my left eye was fluttering and watering. Both her and I kept right on talking like my one eye wasn’t shut and like I wasn’t in obvious discomfort. In her defense, she probably didn’t know she had done it. I could have said something, but I didn’t, and so I was still incredibly awkward and anxious, and now I was in pain (that’s dramatic, I know). Suddenly, the whole experience seemed like a punishment for my vanity, for my sudden focus on not only my appearance but on myself. I thought, this is where being selfish gets you, with a poke in the eye. All my earlier misgivings seemed to be confirmed and I was on the verge of misery. It didn’t help that my stylist resembled an antagonist from one of those “Hostel” movies, all decked out in a black apron with black latex gloves. I gulped; would she be coming for my eye again?

But then I actually started talking to my stylist. Her name is Dana and she’s from Asbury Park. Not only is she a remarkably talented stylist, she is also full of sage advice. As we spoke, I began to consider the possibility that maybe her poking my eye was a symbolic gesture of how my mind’s eye needed to be poked. The conversation we had was one of the most eye-opening (are you sensing a theme yet?), self-affirming conversations I’ve ever had. We skipped over the small talk, the shallow pleasantries, and went right for the intellectual and philosophical concerns of life. She flat out asked me about my stance on the whole “nature versus nurture” debate. She believed it was nurture all the way, that humans are irrevocably shaped by experience and that explains everything. I agreed to a point, but also revealed that I believe it’s more nature that determines who we are as human beings. I offered up the example of my twin sister and me. Both came from the same nurturing environment and have arrived at completely different results. Dana countered, explaining that my twin sister had life experiences without me that shaped her and molded her differently, encouraging me to be empathetic, sympathetic and open-minded. I’ve refused to do so as of late when it comes to my sister. Rage is simple; it’s so much easier to be angry and infantile, but is it fair? Is it right? Why should the focus switch to me the second time around? Shouldn’t I still be concerned with Sammy’s well-being and recovery? Isn’t there a happy medium, some sort of balance between caring for my other half and myself?

During this discussion, a charity for recovering addicts came into the salon, handing out flyers and asking for donations. Dana asked for a flyer and donated a dollar. I was touched. Rather than ignore and dismiss these men who intruded upon her place of business, she was encouraging and kind. She never dismissed anyone. She was so kind, a truly remarkable woman. And she was so humble, paying as many compliments as she received and then some. This woman restored my faith in humanity in the most unlikely of places.

As our conversation continued (I was in the chair for like three hours; I have a lot of hair), I learned that she also has aspirations to be writer, that she has plans for a memoir and a children’s book. I told her all about my struggles and successes, and we discussed talent and how we both believe that if someone – anyone – is blessed with talent, that it becomes necessary to pay it forward, to use whatever blessings (specifically monetary) come from that gift to better the world. A lot of big ideas fell into place and connected with one another as she spoke so that I began to understand and believe that I was given this writing talent – or ability, depending on how you feel about my writing – for a reason, and that because I am not distracted by a love interest or a family, now is the time for me to hone my talent, to focus on becoming published and getting my work out there. What a positive outlook, to give my loneliness a purpose, a reason, a meaning. She confided with me she’d been with her boyfriend for seven years and while she’s in love and it’s all wonderful, it is still limiting. She can’t just do whatever whenever because she has someone else to consider, from the small sacrifices (like eating at Chipotle because she’s gluten free when they’d rather eat elsewhere) to the major ones (time, money, energy, etc.). I’m not a lonely loser unless I choose to be; this time alone is an opportunity to fulfill a destiny and should not be wasted wallowing in some self-created despair.

Dana told me I was an amazing person, and told me she could figure that out after only an hour of conversation.

At one point, she said, “You can’t control your heart, but you can – and you have to – control your mind.” She encouraged me to choose to be happy. What else can we do?

Needless to say, it was the best experience I’ve ever had at a hair salon. Ever. My sincerest gratitude to Dana at Shear Glamour.

newhairnewme

 

On changing.

Published July 9, 2015 by mandileighbean

“If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have gotten to me sooner.”

“She doesn’t even take it out on people when she’s having a bad day; that’s character.”

I have an appointment on Friday to have my hair cut and colored. It’s going to be a dramatic change, but I feel like that is what the summer is for. I also plan on getting my first – maybe my only – tattoo before returning to school.

My friend Christine and I traveled to used bookstores in Manasquan and Belmar. The one in Belmar featured a truly amazing woman working the register. Christine mentioned that I was a writer and the woman asked some follow-up questions. She told me about Belmar’s BookCon and asked me to e-mail her. It’d be one hell of an opportunity to network and market myself. The only issue is that she wants current releases, but my first novel came out three years ago, and my second has yet to find a home. I sent her an e-mail anyway, because if I’ve learned anything it’s that you always have to try. She said she’d let me know and I want to be optimistic, but I also want to have realistic expectations – boy, that would be a first.

I spent the holiday weekend with family in Pennsylvania. It was incredibly relaxing to disconnect from reality. The first day, Dad and I went into the tiny, one stoplight town for some bags of ice. We ended up purchasing delicious soft serve ice cream. We sat together and the back of the flatbed, watching some locals play softball. The weather was gorgeous and it was a perfect snapshot of small town life. Dad said he’d only ever ate ice cream in the bed of a truck with one other girl and it wasn’t even Mom. It was quite the moment until Dad made me feel like we were dating.

The parade was rained out, but I was still able to see fireworks between the trees and above the mountains surrounding my aunt’s farm. I couldn’t remember the last time I sat and watched fireworks. I loved hearing the soft, faded pops in the distance.

Weekly Writing Prompt #24: “An army private learns that he has to go back for a second tour.”

truckbeach

Cory had parked his battered pickup truck in an utterly deserted parking lot along the shore. He was surprised by how empty it was. It wasn’t too late, barely even dusk. The sky was a wonderful shade of orange and everyone was missing it. Cory had made a resolution to not miss anything upon returning home two years ago from a year’s deployment in Iraq. He’d walked off his job at a store selling auto parts in a dying town. He’d driven across the country with his best friend, sleeping on rooftops and somehow living those cliched adventures Hollywood constantly chronicles, and returned home smiling. He’d visited with family members he hadn’t seen in years and years, but had been kind and thoughtful enough to keep in touch while he served overseas. It had been a pleasant 730 days back on American soil, but Cory was restless. He was plagued with a persistent urge to move, to never be settled. Cory knew he could rest when he was dead, and so he would, but only then.

And that was why Cory had been relieved when he learned that he was going to Afghanistan for a second tour. He sat in his truck with the windows rolled down, listening to the waves crash against the shore. It was a soothing sound and it was constant. Cory reasoned it might be soothing because it was constant; very few things in life were that way. He was reflecting upon his reaction, trying to rationalize it, understand it as an outsider might try to understand it, as someone who had never served and could never possibly understand might try. Cory drained the can of cheap beer he’d been drinking. All this thinking, this extraneous use of one of the most important organs in his body, required hydration. He needed to stay hydrated because he needed to keep thinking, needed to figure out a way to explain this to her mother without her falling to the kitchen floor in convulsing sobs. Suddenly frustrated, Cory chucked the can out of the open window, then slammed his palms against the steering wheel, flattening them. He exhaled deeply.

Cory supposed he was fortunate there was only one woman in his life he had to consider, had to disappoint and devastate. He was too young to be married, too young for a lot of things, but not too young to die apparently. Cory didn’t believe that, but he was anticipating his mother’s arguments. His dad might have understood, could have possibly been an ally, but he had left some time ago, had walked out a long time ago. It wasn’t something Cory thought about much, so he was surprised he was thinking of that now. His mood shifted from frustrated to simply exhausted. Cory ran his cracked hands along his haggard face and kept breathing.

He cracked open another beer. The constant waves that Cory had found soothing so recently now irritated and annoyed him. He turned the key back in the ignition and switched on the radio to some mind-numbing soft rock station. He left it playing low as a background noise, as a distraction. He didn’t want to get stuck inside his own head, but he guessed he should have thought about that before he isolated himself in his old pickup truck that was so old the engine was embarrassingly loud. People could hear him coming from miles away. But then again, that made sense because Cory had never been talented at deception, had never been good at hiding things. When his commander told him he was going to be redeployed, he barely hid the smile on his face, could hardly contain his excitement. Cory was ready to go, ready to return. Cory knew that sounded strange, utterly inconceivable, but he had people over there, he left people over there.

The truth of the matter was that Cory had two families he would kill for, and be killed for. Both were small and close knit. They were equal that way, but the one at home was safe and would be okay. The other one, the one overseas, needed him. It was simple for Cory – they needed him and so he would go. Sure he was scared; hell, he was terrified, would be crazy not to be. But he wanted to go back. At home, he felt useless. There was a definite lack of adrenaline in his day to day routine, and he realized that being a soldier on active duty during wartime was like an addiction. Politicians vying for election would pontificate about the nobility and patriotism of sacrificing all for one’s country, and that was all well and good – Cory did not disagree – but war was bad. Horrible and horrendous things happened, but he would go back. He was returning without hesitation. He wouldn’t say it was because of something noble like patriotic duty, but he would argue that it was more than that. It was partly the addiction to adrenaline, partly the strong desire to stop feeling restless, and partly something else, something Cory was unable to explain.

Other soldiers would get it. Other soldiers would definitely get it. He remembered one mission, a snatch and grab gone awry, where a wounded soldier being transported on a gurney, most likely fatally wounded, had sat up and returned fire upon the enemy. Cory thought that was so cool, that a dying man’s last moments were spent doing his utmost to protect his brothers in arms. Cory wanted to be like that.

Things were bad over there. Enemy combatants were using American equipment to kill American soldiers. Now Cory didn’t have much of a mind for politics, would never willingly enter into a debate, and while some found that ironic or disappointing or whatever, Cory knew it wasn’t about that, about the politicians back home. It wasn’t about anyone back home, really, no matter what Hollywood or CNN tried to sell the American people. Soldiers kept fighting because of the guys to their left and because of the guys to their right. Brotherhood and loyalty called him back.

He thought about his buddy, John. They had just come back in from patrol. They all assumed they were safe, back on base. The atmosphere was relaxed and the squadron had gathered at a picnic table. John had just finished telling some hilarious and wildly exaggerated story from boot camp. He was drinking soda from one of those classic glass bottles, so with laughter surrounding him, John raised the bottle to wet his whistle so he could continue entertaining. That was John’s thing – never serious, always on. It eased the tension and though they claimed it was obnoxious and knew it was just John’s defense mechanism for the anomaly that was life as a soldier, his buddies greatly appreciated it. So they all watched John drink from that bottle with admiration gleaming in their eyes.

So they all saw the sniper’s bullet enter the bottom of the bottle. The glass shattered into thousands of shards, exploded. They flinched, some faces were cut, but they didn’t exactly look away, so they saw the bullet exit through the top of John’s skull.

Cory missed John. He missed everyone he had served with, those surviving and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. That’s why he was ready to go back, that’s why he would go back – always, no matter when he was asked. He would forever fight for the guy to his right, and the guy to his left.

That’s what he would try to explain to his mother.

Three U.S. soldiers pay their respects to their fallen comrades after a service held Saturday at the Iraqi National Parade Field to honor eight soldiers from the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division and three journalists who lost thier lives during the U.S.-led war against Iraq.  A helmet, rifle and pair of boots represented each soldier while three helmets marked "press" on the front represented the journalists lost during the war.

 

 

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