He stared into the distance, his bottom lip tucked beneath his teeth.
After a few moments of silence, as I thought it best not to interrupt him, he turned his gaze onto me. He walked around me in a circle, surveying each tendril, inspecting them from different angles and, with his hands forming a revelation unknown to everyone that wasn’t him, finally settled on something.
“Below your nose,” he said.
Then he got to work.
There are three things you must identify when moving to New York: 1) How to work the subway 2) Which Chinese takeout places near your apartment have the best hot and sour soups, and 3) Where to get a haircut and pay close to what you used to pay in your former, considerably less expensive city.
I’d checked off two of the three, and the third provided a challenge since I considered even the hair salons around Astoria too pricey for my liking. Of course, this is coming from someone accustomed to walking into a no-frills salon, waiting among other regulars and, with no hairstylist to call my own, getting my hair cut by whoever was available. This often meant someone I’d never seen before, someone who spoke very little English and someone who appeared to have been picked up from the street.
“He’s very good,” the owner would say before zipping off to another customer. I suspected she didn’t like working on long hair because it took too long, and I always waited six months to get a haircut. Twenty minutes later, with no wash preceding it, the haircut would be done. Sure, there was often a layer or two out of place, but nothing some styling couldn’t disguise.
Enter Sunny the Hair Designer.
I’d gotten his number from a friend who was satisfied with a pixie cut he’d fashioned for her. Sunny answered the phone, chuckled about cutting hair in a basement and gave me directions to his place. I suppose he could sense I was new to town. The sheer cluelessness of which line and stop to take likely gave me away.
Once I set foot on his block on the fringes of Chinatown, he waved to me from across the street. He led me to the basement, which to my surprise was a legit hair salon. I somehow imagined he’d be working from home on a shoestring budget. He was friendly, with a permanent smile on his face.
“Why?!” He said when I told him it had been more than six months since my last haircut. I could tell he kept his hair, a brown-orange shade, impeccable.
He raved about volume, how wavy hair is in (straight and flat is out, natch!), and flipped through a book to show me the hip hairstyles for 2010.
It was the first time I’d had a real conversation with a stylist about my hair. In the past, my suggestions only resulted in entirely different, skewed versions of what I’d asked for (Cue flashbacks of my choppy, thick bangs circa 1999. Shudder).
Sunny was meticulous. A snip here, a snip there. A quick moment to reflect. He talked little, as if too much conversation would interrupt the process. Afterward, he explained in detail how to style my hair, adamant about the precise amount of cream to apply.
He laughed when I told him it was probably the best cut I’d had.
No. 3. Done and done.