Sunny the Hair Guy

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.

The writer in chief

Photo by Beth Rankin on Flickr

With Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize (and all its criticism: “Peace?! How can someone who wages war win an award for peace?!), I thought it would be the perfect time to share this GQ article about the president’s writing background. Instead of arguing for or against this prize and whether Afghanistan is a just war, I’d rather talk about his speech, which, in all its six-page splendor on the NYT, is an excellent read. I found myself stopping at certain parts to admire passages or to absorb exactly what I’d just read.

We are all aware that the man knows how to deliver epic speeches. What this piece does is give a glimpse of the process. It touches on his background as a fledgling writer with aspirations for social change and community organizing. A friend even surmised from a conversation he had with Obama before he became senator that he yearned to write another book.

Fortunately for him, he gets to use his writing chops in office. He usually conveys his thoughts to his speechwriters, revises their drafts and finishes just in time to deliver it. Sometimes he doesn’t even run through it.

The most interesting part to me is how the author suggests Obama’s writer self is both a strength and a weakness:

As readers of “Dreams from My Father” are aware, Obama’s personal story is a good one. And as the writer of that story, Obama is more attuned to the power of narrative and is more in control of it than any president in recent memory. Yet this same attention to narrative can also seem the source of Obama’s psychological and political shortcomings; they are the writer’s classic failings. The story that obsesses him is his own story: He tells it over and over, stamping it into the larger American narrative and often conflating the two, a feat of authorial arrogance that’s simultaneously an outsider’s plaintive quest for belonging. In the telling, he shades and edits as a writer does, employing straw-man characters (those who would rather do nothing than fix the economy; the villainous Bush administration) to set a backdrop for his own heroic odyssey. Most perilously, Obama believes more strongly in the magic of words, especially his own, than perhaps any of his recent predecessors. His default option is to give a speech, and he’s maybe too prolific at doing so, since a disproportion of words to deeds is what ultimately undermines a politician.

But to the Obama White House, words are deeds. This belief that the president can swoop down and save the day with a game-changing speech has become a cornerstone of the administration’s political strategy.

When Obama delivered his speech today in Oslo, he was clearly responding to his critics. He addressed several points — universal human rights, the notion of a just war, fighting for something despite the odds — and prompted an emotional reaction from me.

I suppose that’s why people, liberal or not, are enamored with his speeches. Whether or not you agree with him, he speaks in a way that forces you to look at things a bit differently, even if for just a fleeting moment. Or at least until the speech is over.

Latest: Band Q&As

Photo by flickr’s Ferrari + caballos + fuerza = cerebro Humano

I’d never done band profiles before, so I was at a loss for questions when they were first assigned to me.

There’s something intimidating about talking to musicians as opposed to public officials or school administrators (which are the kinds of people I used to deal with). Musicians don’t have to be formal, so they can say whatever they want. I was afraid my attempts to appear nonchalant might actually backfire, leaving me as the rambling idiot wielding a pen and notepad. Still, I took comfort in their unfamiliarity. Like government officials, musicians have their own jargon — What makes sense to them might sound abstract and nonsensical to me — and, after covering education and local government, I’m used to that.

Fortunately, the bands (the fearsome sparrow, Aeroplane Pageant and Horse’s Mouth) were pleasant to talk to, gave insightful answers and, in most cases, made sense. Ultimately, I approached them the same way I approach all my interviews: I loaded them up with questions with a nod and a smile. The biggest challenge was probably deciding whether to hold an alcoholic beverage or a voice recorder.

Good news for my editor, I chose the latter.