Starting a new life in Podash - Part 2 - Taking the plunge.
”How many replies have we received?”
”Three. Here they are… with their pictures. What do you think?”
”These first two look like a couple of junkies, who’d do anything to get over here and then we’d never see them again. Forget them. The third one might be ok. But, look at her hair! When was the last time you saw hair like that? What’s on her resume? Hmm… nursing and some acting experience. That can’t hurt. Well, I’ll run these up to Jim.”
”Jim? Do you have a minute?”
”Larry? Yes. Please come in. Do you have someone?”
”We have three finalists. One of them might work.”
”I’ll be the judge of that, Larry. Please leave them on my desk. Yes… right there. And please shut the door as you leave. Thank you.”
Well, now… Let’s see what we have here. I spread the photographs and attached resumes before me on the desk, a frown spreading across my mind. What the hell is the matter with Larry? Is this it? These are the finalists? Well, two of them are right off the chart, ridiculous. Long hair in a shabby bun and red lipstick? That’s it? This is their idea of a mature appearance? Why… they barely tried to look nice. The third one isn’t bad. She’s a blond. Her hair is arranged in some kind of poofed, teased bouffant reminiscent of a sixties country western singer. All ready to stand by her man. Well, that’s a good attitude for a war bride. All right, well… at least this one looks like she tried. She’s very, very cute, nice round face, good proportion and features, smooth skin, good complexion… nice smile… nice teeth with a marvelously mischievous little twinkle in her eye. She’s made a serious effort to look older, but the fact of the matter is… those big doe eyes, peeking out from under all that big hair… make her look awfully young. It’s a pretty easy choice, even if the other two didn’t look like total losers. Yeah… the more I look at her, the more intrigued I’ve become.
I flipped through her resume. Twenty-eight years old. That entire UK “form” system of schooling makes no sense to me, but her numbers are high, so I’m guessing she’s educated. I see some minor acting experience… some work as a nurse’s aid… a bit of career jumping… I guess, but apparently not afraid to try new things. Interesting… Karen… her name is Karen Coleman. Good traditional name and she looks to be from good stock. I like her. Yeah… this is my girl!
I’ll have legal draw up a contract. And I think I’ll write her a little personal note of provisional acceptance. This Karen shows promise. I think I’ll push her a bit now, test her grit, and see how malleable she is. I need to know that she’ll be fully committed to this project… willing to leave everything in the UK behind her and commit to starting a new life, embracing a new and different culture and becoming an unabashed, assimilated member in her new community… like any other transplanted young war bride would have done. This Karen might start out thinking this is just a simple character role, but she’s going to evolve… wing it, with no script. She’s going to be absorbed one way or the other and never return to her former life. She’s the one I want, of course, but I won’t tell her that just yet. No… I’ll ask her to try harder… send her back to her hairdresser and ask for another go around. I’d like to see this Karen in an even more dignified and realistic, mature hairstyle. I’d like to see her make the leap and convince me of her sincerity.
Once Karen’s actually over here, she’ll be on her own, though. She’ll have to make new friends and fit in. Karen will have to conform to the unique tastes, styles and proprieties of her new surroundings and the people around her or be shunned and ostracized. It should be a delightful transformation. Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing.
I am pleased to inform you, that you have been selected as a finalist in our search for the central character and I should point out, the starring role, of a war bride immigrant in our forthcoming historical documentary. Attached, for your perusal, is an outline synopsis of our production. Please sign the contract where marked with an X on pages 7, 9 and 10. Enclosed you will also find consent forms and a request of your medical history and physical measurements, plus a certified check, which you may consider as retainer. We ask that you would please sign and return the contract and completed forms as early as possible. Should you be chosen for this assignment, we will return the fully authorized and binding contract to you, along with travel arrangements and funds sufficient to cover any initial expense you may incur.
As you can imagine, this extraordinary project is a great opportunity for the right person and it’s success means a great deal to a very many people. On a personal note. In so far as we do appreciate the effort expended on your part in providing a photographic portrait. I should point out that this organization might be inclined to favor a young woman better able to portray the evolution of dignity and maturity, this character would be expected to display. By way of suggestion, perhaps you would wish to provide us with a more enthusiastic image as we make our final decisions. I’m sure you can still find a more traditional woman’s beauty parlor in all of the United Kingdom.
James Rogers Smith
”Sid! Where’s Sid”
”Right here, Boss. What’s up?”
”Sid, did you locate a place for the girl’s relocation?”
”Yeah, Boss… Nebraska. Podash, Nebraska.”
”Out there in the middle of nowhere. It’s a small ‘burg centered between miles and miles of cornfields. Larry didn’t think anything on either coast was good and definitely no cities. There are just too many distractions and way too many conflicting cultures in cities. We just want two conflicting cultures; Karen’s and Podash. Podash is the right kind of place. A lot of GI’s came from little isolated joints like that. When the war ended, they returned and picked up right where they left off. I’m not saying it’s a controlled environment, but it’s a damn close-knit community, everyone knows everyone else and everyone else’s business. They take care of each other… keep everything and everybody on the straight and narrow and if there’s one place left in the US, where there’s no ambiguity… it’s Podash.
“Wow I’ve almost got it, I’m a “finalist” whatever that means. They want me to go and live and work in the US and they are willing to pay well. I can’t believe it! Contracts, that’s only to be expected…Oh no! They liked the effort on the picture but they want a more enthusiastic attempt at the correct image? Find an old fashioned beauty parlor…. bosses don’t like it. They have said I have to find a “more traditional beauty parlor.” I really want this job so I suppose I must show willing. I’ll find a really old fashioned place and take a few pictures, show them I mean business. I know I’ll cut my hair, it’s not a major step; I’ve changed my look for acting jobs before. I’ll take Shelley’s advice and have it bobbed but then get it set in an old fashioned style. I can still look trendy when it’s straight…first some new clothes.”
I jumped in the car and drove to town. There was an old department store that catered to older clients. I walked into the dress department and looked with confusion at the garments around me. After a few minutes browsing an assistant walked up to me. She looked to be in her fifties and obviously dressed in clothes from the department. Her hair was in a medium length dressy bouffant. She looked exactly how I felt I should. We got chatting and it wasn’t long before I was wearing a blouse, skirt and cardigan ensemble which looked nice and mature. As I looked in the mirror though, I noted my ponytail did nothing but make me look younger. I frowned. “What’s wrong dear?” the assistant asked. “I need to change my hair, get it set or something more appropriate. I thought I might have it bobbed.”
“You should visit my stylist she could sort you out.” I studied her curly bouffant critically. “Without being funny, is hers an old fashioned sort of salon?” She looked a little cross at that.
“If you mean is she a traditional hairdressers rather than a modern salon then the answer is yes. I was only trying to be helpful.”
“Oh no, you don’t understand, that is exactly what I am looking for, an old fashioned place that does traditional styles…” She smiled again at that. “Rita is certainly nice and traditional but she is very good. I am sure she could cut and set your hair for you. Why don’t I give her a call and set you up an appointment?”
At ten to one I was sitting in my car looking at the salon. I fought down the urge to start the engine and drive. I stepped out and locked the car then began to walk deliberately up to the door. As I pushed it open I took a deep breath of the now familiar smells. I stepped in and was immediately greeted by the stylist who smiled and walked over to me leaving her client in the middle of being rolled.
“Hello, you must be Mrs. Coleman, I wasn’t sure you’d come,” she said. “You’re a few minutes early I’m afraid - you will have to wait a little while – I’ve got this lady to get under the dryers then I can be with you.” She obviously wasn’t going to let me get away. I slipped out of my cardigan, which she carefully hung up and was soon wrapped in a cotton gown. I then sat down on a chair in front of the net curtains as she returned to putting rollers in her clients set. I was able to watch and noticed there were in fact two stylists working. Mine was putting rollers in her clients’ hair whilst another lady was securing row after row of perm curlers to an older lady’s head.
Soon the first stylist was putting a net over her client and leading her to the dryers before walking back to me and saying “would you like to come over?” I stood, fighting down my nerves, and went to sit down in front of the mirror. The seat was still warm.
She smiled into the mirror. “I’m Rita” she said. I returned the smile.
“So Karen what would you like doing?” This was it, the moment of truth. I could simply say “a trim please” and walk out with my shoulder length tresses intact. Instead I screwed up my courage and took the plunge, willing myself to take the plunge.
“I was thinking I might have it bobbed so that when I have it set it looks very traditional but I can dry it straight for a more modern look. I watched my usual stylist cut a bob last week and she cut it shorter at the back, she used the clippers even, but left it longer at the front.” Rita smiled. “OK that shouldn’t be a problem” she said obviously pleased by my request. “I want something more mature, more conservative.” Rita smiled and lifted my long tresses off my shoulders. “Lovely” she said again. “I’d love to give you a nice new style. So you are looking for something much more traditional.” Again I gave a gentle nod. “And you want a nice roller set style today…” I managed a little smile.
“OK then. You need a good bob cut and then a lovely set…I’d love to totally restyle you…” I smiled again and saw myself nodding into the mirror. “Now shall we get started?”
“That would be lovely, yes please…” She began to run a brush through my carefully straightened tresses. “How short are we thinking of going?” She asked.
“Erm I’m not sure. After I made my appointment and saw the styles you do, I thought I would leave it up to you, but I thought perhaps just longer than my chin in the front and shorter at the back. Rita grinned. “That’s what we used to call a bubble but is now known as a graduated bob.” She began to run a brush through my hair drawing it all back into a ponytail in her hand. “Its nice to have a lady realize she is ready for a mature style. I don’t like to see long hair on older ladies.” I forced a tentative smile. She picked up a large pair of scissors still gripping my ponytail. “Ready?” I stared in terror but nodded once, restrained slightly by her grip on my ponytail. She began to saw at my ponytail. I felt her tugging and pulling then suddenly it pulled free and hair fell around my face in a ragged chin length bob. She laid the chopped ponytail on the counter and fluffed my hair a little. “There we go we are on the way. Now a quick shampoo and we can get properly started.” I meekly stood to follow her to the sinks, my mind in a whirl.
I returned to the mirror with my head wrapped in a navy blue towel. She took a moment to slip a nylon cape over my gown then Rita dabbed at my hair then before removing the towel completely. She ran a comb through my locks. She began to section my hair then stretched out a lock from the crown. It was a full seven inches long. She slid her fingers down the tress and took the scissors. Schnick I watched as a further two inches tumbled away. In the next chair the older lady was having perm solution applied. She looked at me and smiled as I stared at the locks falling away. “Going short Rita?” she asked. Schnick, another tress was severed. Rita smiled. “Well Janice, you know I don’t do long hair as such but by my terms I’m leaving it quite long.” Schnick. More hair fell. “Karen wants a nice traditional look but it’s her first time so I don’t want to take it too short” she said as she worked.
Janice smiled but paused as her hair was absolutely soaked with lotion. As her stylist finished she spoke again “Are you having it set too?” I nodded as schnick, still more of my silky hair was cut. My new short hair was going shorter still. “Yes, cut, shampoo and set” Rita offered as she continued to chop. I watched as another length fell away from the scissors to land on the cape. The smell of the perm solution filled the salon and the silver scissors continued to snip. My hair was collecting in my lap now as she layered through the top. She paused and combed a section down at the side. My hair hung damp onto the cape. Rita stood to the side then brought the scissors in just below my ear. Schnick, schnick, schnick. She clipped back towards my nape and more locks were severed. “You will have to think about when to have it permed you know” she said as she continued to clip. My eyes widened and she began to comb the back down flat to my neck. “Erm, er permed?” I managed to stutter. Schnick, schnick. I felt the scissors cold on my neck.
“Yes, we can make you an appointment for a perm, it does support the sets so much better.” Schnick, another layer was cropped. The scent of perm lotion was still heavy in the air from Janice at my side. She interjected. “Oh you must have it permed dear, I have mine permed every twelve weeks or so, keeps it nice and smart…” Janice had obviously decided to adopt me. Rita continued to chop away at the back, creating layers up my nape and I finally fully realized that this was it I no longer had long hair.
Finally happy with her cutting Rita dusted the chopped locks from my shoulders. She picked up a jar of setting gel and began to smear it through my substantially shortened tresses. She ran a comb through, combing my hair all straight back from my face, the gel slicking it to my head. I could almost still have long hair seeing it drawn back like that as though I had it in a tight ponytail. She pulled over a trolley containing a collection of rollers. She combed the front section n out over my face then eased the hair behind into three sections, down over the sides and back. She then ran the comb through the front once more before twisting it firmly about a bristled roller. As the roller reached my scalp she firmly anchored it in place with a plastic pick. I watched intently as she worked to wind the rest of my hair onto the rollers. The top sections still seemed long – I suppose that was the bob shape, over my ears however where before I had long lengths reaching my shoulders the hair was abruptly terminated. Even so there still seemed to be plenty for Rita to wind tightly onto the plastic tubes in a row running back from my face vertically. The rollers all in place she took the time to firmly tie a net over the ensemble then to slip earpads underneath. She removed the nylon cape and invited me to follow her to the driers. I sat down between two other clients who smiled their greetings.
Forty minutes later and I returned to the mirror. She took a small clean blue towel and laid it on my shoulders before she pulled free the ear pads then carefully unfastened and lifted the net. My hair looked very light twisted tightly on the rollers. She pulled a pick free with her right hand and speedily untwisted the roller with her left. A heavy curl fell loose. She worked very swiftly removing the rollers until I was left with a head of heavy curls hanging around my face. Rita smiled, “Don’t worry I know its untidy but we will soon have you looking nice and glam…” She lifted a curl at my nape and held it vertically. Sssss she gave the roots a quick spritz then her hands moving incredibly quickly she backcombed them for about half of the seven inch tress. As she removed her hands to ready the next section I stared at the way my hair stood up on top of my head. Ssss – a quick spritz and the next layer too was backcombed. Soon I was left looking at a wild haystack of hair. Rita began to smooth and coax the unteased sections into a smooth shell over the bouffed locks. As I watched her expert hands manage to ease and coax the wild mass into a full helmet like bob.
She carefully eased and twisted the sides until they stopped just above me earrings. My hair most certainly looked short now although this was compensated for to a degree by the huge bouffant finish she had created. She poked and prodded with the tail of her comb a little then reached for the can of hairspray. She stood at the front and pulled one or two errant strands into place before ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. Normally you spray your hair in bursts, Rita just kept the nozzle depressed. Sssssss she soaked the front with its huge climbing fringe then moved around the side. I could see the spray literally wet my hair she was using so much. Sssssssss, with sweeping motions she moved around the back and over and over the top then to the right side. Ssssssssssssssss, still holding the nozzle she moved back, over the top once more then around the left and to the front. I hurriedly closed my eyes as the front received a last dousing. I fought back the urge to cough and gasp and opened my eyes as the cloud began to dissipate. She had been spraying my hair for a full twenty seconds – far, far more than I might have done. She set the can down in front of me and I was able to read the label “Salon professional hairspray – Extreme Hold for difficult to control hair”
“Now you said you wanted clippers on the back…like your neck tidying up dear?”
“Erm er, I just said that my normal stylist used the clippers on her clie….”. Click bzzzzz. I heard a small set of clippers begin to whirr. She pressed my head forwards and rearranged the towel over my neck. I stared into the sink, compliant yet horrified. I felt the clippers hard on my neck. Bzzzzz they swept up gently. I tried to judge the distance, perhaps an inch, maybe two. Bzzzzzzzz. Again and again up my nape – I could feel how the back of the clippers pushed against my new curls, the heavy spraying making them move as a mass. At last she seemed satisfied and the clippers fell silent. It was true horror in my eyes as I followed the small mirror swept in behind me. The clippers had denuded my nape, shaven the lower part of my neck bald under the curls. “There, that’s better!” she said as she whisked a soft brush over my sensitive nape.
“OK Karen, all done.” She picked at one or two wayward strands. “We’ll make your appointment for a perm next week – give your hair some permanent lift and make it easier to handle. Shampoo and set weekly after that. Don’t worry about your neck ‘cos I’ll tidy that each week too – you don’t have to wait for a cut appointment.” She picked up the spray again. “Just a last drop of lacquer to keep it in…” Sisssss she began at the front, I only just closed my eyes in time. Sssssssss around the side then the back. Finally the other side then twice over the top. Another thick heavy spraying. I opened my eyes to stare through the cloud of spray seeing my hair looking wet and shiny. I could even see individual droplets of spray where certain curls overlapped. She pulled the gown open and I stood up to follow her looking to make my escape from the salon. I paid her and accepted a completed appointment card for the following week even though I had no intention of returning for a perm. I recovered my cardigan and slipped it on, then it hit my. My hair was short! I had had it cut off. I no longer needed to lift my hair from under my cardigan; in fact with the shaven neckline my hair did not even touch the collar of my cardigan. I thanked her and stepped to the door. Rita turned to the other stylist. “Nice lady” she said as I fumbled in my bag checking I had my car keys before I left. “Yes Rita, you did her hair really nice, she looked so much smarter once you had cut all that length off.” “I think so, and the set wasn’t too glam for her?” I pushed open the door to step out. “Oh no, bouffant really suits her…”
As I closed the door behind me I could resist it no longer and my left hand shot to my head. When I had walked in I had had a soft silky ponytail, now my hand tentatively pushed at what could only be described as a stiff plasticy helmet of hair. There was a gentle breeze but not a single strand moved locked stiff as it was with setting gel and spray. I tentatively laid my palm on my neck and slowly moved it upwards. I felt a tickle of bristles where the clippers had done their worst then felt the turned under rigid curls at my nape. What had I done? I had better get the job now…
I am pleased at the promptness with which this Miss Karen Coleman responds. She has signed our contract, included the results of her physical examination and meticulously provided all the additional measurements and personal history we have requested. I am pleasantly surprised and I should add, quite impressed with her new photograph. Well done Miss Coleman, very well done.
That previous, coquettish coyness is gone. Now she looks straight into the camera with pride and self-assurance. She’s obviously acquired an elderly woman’s dress and by the dated pattern and dainty trimming of lace around the neck opening, I’d say… one that has survived from the nineteen fifties or possibly the forties. The hair though… that is what captivates the most. She’s certainly taken my suggestion seriously and sought out an experienced traditional hairdresser.
She has a lot of hair. I cannot tell if she’s had it cut or not, though that hardly matters at this stage. Her coiffure… there is no other word to describe it… is swept out and away from her face in a magnificent array of carefully arranged, long sweeping waves that completely frame her head, though none is visible below her covered ears. The height is astounding. Curious, I place her photograph down on my desk and open a side drawer to retrieve a ruler. With the scale I conclude that the height of this bouffant confection, from her hairline to the very top, is equal to the distance between her hairline and the bottom of her nose. That would roughly translate as six inches of volume rising above her scalp and given the additional length required to sculpt those immaculate waves, her hair must be at least twice that long.
The coupe-de-grass, as it were… is black and white. Miss Coleman has submitted a black and white photograph. The effect is dramatic. I have to chuckle… this Miss Coleman is no dummy… she’s drawn on her theatrical experience to craft an image, that on the surface, is the portrait of a sophisticated, forty year old woman, taken many years ago. I applaud you Miss Coleman, very well done.
I tack her picture to my corkboard, next to her first and return to my desk. I am about to draft the acceptance letter, when my gaze returns to the new photo and I am struck by a sudden similarity. Margaret Thatcher! Of course! She looks like a young Margaret Thatcher! I don’t know if the resemblance to her hair is intentional, but the likeness is uncanny. I have to chuckle again… well, Miss Coleman, you are quite the picture of high society and upper class privilege. I don’t know how well that will play in the middle of corn belt USA, but one thing is for sure. We are going to find out!
”Who is meeting Miss Coleman in Podash?”
”Brenda Jean Zybeck. “
”How’s she getting there?”
”Miss Coleman, Larry… Miss Coleman!”
”Right. Jet from Heathrow to New York to Omaha, Greyhound to Grand Island, then she transfers to some local bus line and then northwest to Podash. Brenda Jean will meet her at the drop off, with a cardboard sign and I think, they’ll both just pile into Brenda Jean’s son-in-law’s truck and take her out to the Silver Lake Community Estates.”
“Estates? I thought you said Podash was in the middle of corn fields?”
”It is, that’s just what they call it. It’s the only place we could get her a room. I think it’s mostly elderly. It's called an assisted living community, but I think it’s more like a trailer court on the edge of town. I thought you said Karen was a nurse or had some training. Maybe she can help out. She’s going to have to do something out there, right?”
”Ok. That’s good, Larry…that’s real good!”
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