Clubland by HeadBoy
The Place was dark and dingy, just like it was supposed to be – all atmosphere and nuance, free from pretense.
The sound of a trio on stage, playing away at some variation of “The Girl From Impanima” wafted through the air. Jenna knew that this place would be her new home away from home. Hell, in a few weeks, it would be her home period, the other place would just be a spot to change clothes and get messages. Jenna needed a job, but more so, she needed to belong. And belong she would.
The sign at the bottom of the stairs said, “Help Wanted,” and she had served drinks before, but that was in some fern-strewn upscale bistro on the North side of town, where the wealthy mingle with their own, inbred, kind. The tips were great, but the stares were not. The looming sense of superiority the patrons sent her way left Jenna wanting.
Wanting to strangle them, wanting a better life, and wanting to just get the hell out of the high rent district and move into downtown; a place with people her age. A place with people not married and interested in having an affair with a 23-year-old cocktail waitress with flowing, full-bodied hair that brushed her shoulder blades. Jenna wanted to be free of the corporate mentality that required “a conservative, feminine appearance,” which meant long hair, slight make-up and short skirts. Conservative? More like objective.
In a fit of frustration, Jenna turned in her notice, cashed in her 401k and packed up her things to move. Move from her over-priced condo to a studio in what was once the Carnation Ice Cream warehouse. It was a beautiful old brick building, with exterior fire escapes and tall, rectangular windows. She liked the place immediately; the old hardwood floors, the high, vaulted, ceilings and walls with turns and bends all around. It offered up options and possibilities, where the condo offered up an association that monitored how the exterior of your place looked.
She looked at the bartender, he had a kind face, a face with grooves worn in from a hard life. Not the hard kind of life that left a person bitter, but a hard life that left you wiser. Wiser and able to size up a person in a hurry. He knew Jenna wanted a job the moment she walked in.
“The sign said help wanted,” Jenna said, taking a breath to fight the pangs in her stomach. “Who would I talk to about that?”
“That’d be me,” he said, “the name is Ro, I own The Place.”
“Hi Ro, I’m Jenna, and I need a job.”
They talked, Ro opened up to her, and she to him. He had a jazz-man’s cool exterior; all cool clothes, beret worn backward and eyes that told a thousand stories all at once. Jenna had that nervous pang in her stomach held in check, and told the truth about why she left the fern bar.
Ro laughed, a deep, belly laugh that rattled the bottles behind him. Needless to say, Jenna got the job.
“There’s just one catch, girly,” he said. ‘Girly’ coming from anyone else would’ve been an insult to Jenna. From Ro, it sounded endearing.
“We don’t have a ‘conservative, feminine appearance’ here. Understand?”
“Sure do,” she said, looking around at the still sparse crowd, sizing up how the people dressed and looked. Hyper-thin women with Natasha Fatale hair – mid-back, jet black and ironed straight – mixed with the guys in their plaid shirts and two-tone shoes. The Place was a place out of time.
Out on the street, Jenna looked for a thrift store, a way to stretch her money, and adopt a new look. She found one, “Stuff Your Mom Threw Out” was the name.
Inside was wall upon wall of hideous fashion from the past 50 years, and a smattering of things from the ’20’s & ’30’s. Jenna loved the way the Day-Glo mini dresses looked. “I’ll never get lost at sea wearing this,” she thought. She grabbed a pair of clunky shoes, just for anti-fashion’s sake. Big orange and green flowers exploded over another dress she chose. “Conservative my ass!” she said, clearly enjoying the brighter side of the rainbow for the first time in a while.
She tried on a red, checked shirt that cut off at the midriff. It tied in front, and had a distinct 1958 “girl from the wrong side of the tracks” feel to it. The pants that matched it were a size too small, but she bought them anyway. Her little shopping spree netted her enough clothes to only require biweekly trips to the laundry. It also lent her a sense of unique, if somewhat odd, look.
“This mop has to go,” she said, wanting a total break from the North side of town.
Back at her apartment, Jenna changed clothes, out of the somebody-give-me-a-job outfit, and into the clunky shoes, the new/old Capri pants and rock-a-billy bad girl shirt.
She headed up the street, drinking in the only partly familiar area. A place she had hung out in, farmed the nightlife in, woke up the next morning in, but never lived in. Downtown had a very different vibe at 3:00 in the afternoon than 10:00 Friday night. Business people scurried to and fro, like so many ants. Homeless people sat in the shade, asking for money, food or whatever. The prostitutes loitered at the bus stop, watching traffic and waiting for sailors. And the salons on Market Street had open chairs.
The bell on the door shook as Jenna opened it to walk in. She looked down at the folded socks, the clunky shoes, and her newly shaven legs and knew she wanted to completely break from her Girl Next Door image. “One last thing left to do,” she thought as she looked up to see what style photos hung on the wall.
Time morphed into a hyper-kinetic blur. Jenna shook hands with her stylist – a tall, leggy woman with large, comforting hands and very deep, very hazel, eyes named Susan. Words came and went between the two, laughs and the name of “The Place” where Jenna was scheduled to start working at tomorrow night.
“I love that joint,” Susan said, hazel eyes dancing.
“Pretty cool, huh?”
“How did you get Ro to hire you?” Susan asked, “He never gives a total stranger a shot behind the bar. Never.”
“He seemed so laid back and easy to talk to.”
“He is, well, anyway, I know what you need.”
With that, Susan pinned up Jenna’s hair, snapped a cape in front of her with an audible “crack,” and fastened it around her neck. She released the hair from the clip and let it cascade down. Susan’s fingers felt powerful and tender running through Jenna’s locks.
“Trust me?” Susan asked.
“Trust you? I just met you,” Jenna responded, with an idiot grin and a moment of throwing caution to the wind. “Do what you gotta do.”
Hair gathered into a ponytail, then there was the sound of slicing followed by a tug to the back of the head. Then, a sudden release of pressure and weight followed. Jenna felt fingers, strong ones, tousling then wetting her hair, bringing on the comb that drags first then glides through what’s left of the hair. It is much shorter but still below the chin – which looked good, but not great yet, a little ragged but a style was starting to emerge as Susan snipped and tugged away at Jenna’s ever-shortening head of hair, and Jenna looked on in amazement at what was happening.
In a sort of whirl of color and scent that transcended time, leaving her light-headed and slightly hyperventilating, eyes roaming up and down the mirror, looking at the hair fall from behind her head, falling. Falling, falling while the sound of scissors snipped over and over in her ear, coupled with the slight hum of Susan, humming away to Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier,” all the while her tongue was protruding slightly as she concentrated on the head she was fast at work on. Susan was making short order of the thick, ever-so-thick, cascade of hair that she was chopping, snipping, slicing into submission. Careful around the ears, as Jenna blanched at the sight of her ears, then gave a nervous smile, followed by another unsure gasp, then another nervous grin and giggle, then she felt the quick work slide across her forehead, reducing her bangs to 1/2 inch.
She saw her forehead, bangs angling up slightly toward the center, giving a slight “Twiggy Goes To Art School” effect to her hair, leaving her face open for admiration, and leaving her more time in the morning to spend sleeping, rather than applying too much make-up to have that “conservative feminine appearance” that the fern bar so vehemently desired. A desire that lost them a fine cocktail waitress, and forced Jenna into opening up to something new, what was new to her, anyway.
She liked the looks of the new her, partly out of spite for her former boss, partly out of a sense of freedom from the conventions of taking so long to care for it, and lastly, partly because it looked fetching. Susan finished Jenna’s head, spun the chair around, and gave her a hand mirror to look at the back of her head.
Slowly, Jenna tilted her head, raised up her left hand and touched the back. It had a smoothness at the base, graduating to a stubbly feel, followed by bristles, and finally, some length on top. She looked at herself in the mirror, squinting to recognize herself. She looked down at the clunky shoes on her feet, put her eyes back toward the mirror, and smirked. “This will be just fine,” she said.
She said good-bye to Susan, paid and tipped and wandered out onto the street. She saw her reflection in one of the shop windows, looked in like she always did, to check her hair before walking. She did not recognize the person looking back for a moment: the clean-looking sides of her hair, gelled slightly, the angular bangs, the razored edges, the freedom from “a conservative, feminine appearance… Jenna was going to enjoy the new world she lived in.
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