CHAPTER 14: MY CAREER AS A SUCCESSFUL HAIR STYLIST

I will never forget the first time I walked into the new salon which had the latest features and fixtures. And the color combination: orange and hot-pink! It screamed at you. The colors seemed to clash but it certainly woke one up when walking in. Mr. Shaw was to be our manager. There were a total of ten operators, two manicurists, two shampoo girls and a receptionist. It was nothing like I had been working in during my nineteen years as a hairdresser. I was impressed but also worried how I would look with my old fashioned hairstyles and basic ideas. Well, I soon found out that I had nothing to worry about. Again, it looked like fate (or whatever one might call it) worked in my favor and that I was perfectly prepared for this challenge. During the grand opening week there was a great promotion to bring customers into the new store. Hundreds of ladies came in because of that promotion. But they did not give the operators any of these new clients. Not only our manager but also the main manager to whom I had talked and even the manager of the Scottsdale salon worked in our salon and took all this wonderful clientele and gave none of us a chance to build up our clientele. Every operator was grumbling. I, too, was unhappy about this situation and tried, unsuccessfully I might add, to talk to the receptionist. Before the first day was over, calls came in from my own clientele and soon I started to book appointments. Now a new challenge faced me: the Scottsdale manager was using the station I had chosen and was in full view of people walking in. I made a quick decision and decided to take a stand. I said very politely but firmly: "Excuse me sir(!), this is my station and I need it to take care of my client." He was a big shot hairstylist and manager. He said: "Well, what do you expect me to do?" I felt I was being challenged for real and I was ready for it. "You can use any other station you wish but this is my station and you are using my equipment which I now need for my customer." Well, I won the first battle of many I had with the managers there and I started working. The first few days I was not too busy but on Friday and Saturday my customers came in one after another. Some even recommended me to friends. Even though I had lost some customers the difference in the prices more than made up for that.

After the first week I started to make some real money and the tips helped out, too. I soon found out that I was the only one, besides our manager, who had a following. Everybody was surprised how busy I was after a few weeks. This was especially noticeable after the grand opening week was over and the other managers went back to their own stores. Mr. Shaw and I were the only busy ones in the store. This caused some jealousy. I soon became acquainted with store politics. The receptionist would not give me any new customers and even sometimes told clients asking for me that I was too busy and that "somebody else would take care of her this time." This of course could not go on for long. I complained in vain to Mr. Shaw, my manager, so I decided to take things in my own hands. Any time the receptionist left the front desk I would stand near the phone. I picked up quite a few new customers that way. Also, I was not afraid to work late or come in early for a customer and during those times I was the only one to answer the phone. I did not make friends among my co-workers that way but I built up a large clientele in a short time. I did not feel guilty about it. After all, everybody had the same chance. The other operators and the manager simply were not all that ambitious and they rather went home early or goofed off during working hours. After one year I and the manager were the only ones left of the original ten operators who had opened the salon.

During the second year I started to make some real money. New operators came and left but nobody managed to do well with that store policy. One day the directors of the corporate office came to find out why the store was not doing any better. They took me aside and asked me to tell them in confidence what my opinion was. After all, I not only was the only one who had survived after one year but I also had consistently increased my intake. I decided not to get involved with store politics. I just suggested to them to spend some time in the salon and to see how it was managed. I felt that, if they were such great corporate officers, they could easily see what the problem was.

It was around this time that poor Shep developed a problem with his hip, a common condition in German shepherds. We went to doctors but after a while they could not help him anymore. The only solution was to operate on him and then, for the rest of his life, he would have to walk with his hind legs on a platform with wheels. We could not see this poor dog, who had always been full of life, going around on wheels and we decided to end the life of this magnificent animal who had been like a member of our family. Anita was the brave one to take him to the Humane Society where they took care of it. I could not do it. I am sure that Shep, who understood practically everything we said, knew what was about to happen. The last time he saw me he literally cried like a baby. And so did I. It was heartbreaking. We later tried to replace him with another dog but it was never the same.

At work I kept track of my own progress and set goals, every month a little higher than the previous one. I always met my goal and often out-performed even my own expectations. Not only did my following grow but I also consistently had the highest average bill per customer. I believe that I can thank this to my experience of twenty years earlier when I had been unemployed for a year after graduating from beauty school and I had gone to the permanent wave and color clinics. There I had received valuable knowledge of hair so that when a person had a problem I knew the solution. That usually involved a treatment of some sort. My clients had confidence in me because they received a great deal of benefit from my advice and I had the benefit because it increased my commission. After a while it became so easy and natural that I received many recommendations through my customers which brought in people with hair problems who were willing to spend time and money to improve their looks. I took this responsibility very seriously. I never took advantage of people or advised anything unnecessarily and the results of my suggestions were always noticeable.

One bright day, during the pre-Christmas season, the manager introduced a challenge: the operator who, during one week, could sell the most services unsolicited would get a voucher for dinner for two in a fine restaurant. He was such a jerk that he included himself in the race! To make a long story short: I sold more services, for which the customers had not made an appointment, than the manager and all the operators combined. It was no problem for me. I had a habit of suggesting a permanent wave or color or "make-over" to any new customer who made an appointment for just a haircut and I always had a high degree of success doing that. The only difference the competition made was for me to make sure that these customers would do it right away instead of making a later appointment for that service. I managed to do that and Anita and I had a wonderful evening out, compliments of Mr. Shaw. The following year he had the same idea except this time he announced openly that I could not participate in the challenge. Of course, I protested loud and clear and threatened to report it to the directors of the corporate office. He relented, I won again and that was the last time we had this challenge. Too bad; I enjoyed the free meals!

Now a new problem arose. The business was going down. Mr. Shaw's policy drove operators out of the salon and by the third year there were only three operators left besides me and one manicurist, who had hardly any work and a shampoo girl who doubled as a clean-up girl. Rumors went around that the manager was resigning. I was told by the receptionist that I was bringing in more money than Mr. Shaw, even with the help he received from her. I asked Mr. Shaw if he really was resigning and when he said that he was, I requested to be recommended to replace him as the manager. This was kind of chutzpa-dicke (nervy) of me but I genuinely felt that I was qualified and that I could build up the business again. He said that he thought that this was highly unlikely because corporate office likes to bring in managers from the outside. And that is what they did. Our new manager was some big shot hairdresser from New York who thought that he could turn everything around. But he did not understand the Phoenix clientele which is quite different from the New York customers. He lasted less than half a year. Our next manager was a famous hairstylist, Mr.(!) Michael. He was well regarded and I learned much from him. But he had one terrible problem. He booked himself every fifteen minutes, which was fine because he had an assistant who did most of the work for him. However, every day he started coming in one to one and a half hours late. Four or five customers were sitting, waiting, sometimes with their hair already washed . They complained a great deal but were afraid to open their mouths when he was there. When he finally started to work he had to rush the customers out of his chair. He would start a haircut and then tell the assistant to finish it. The assistant blow dried the hair and styled it and he put the finishing touches to it. Needless to say, the customers were furious. Besides that, he charged more than our salon prices. But his styling was so great that for a while he got away with it. Eventually he lost many customers and he quit, too.

During my fourth year one of the operators, who had worked for Goldwater's salon at Park Central shopping center, came in and offered me a job in his place in Sun City. His name was Sal, a good stylist. He knew that I had a large following coming in regularly from Sun City. I turned him down because by now I was making good money at Goldwater's and with the great following I had I felt secure in my job. But then the unexpected happened. Another manager, the fourth one in that many years, came from New York. I never thought that I had anything to worry about. After all, I was now the only one who brought in a meaningful amount of money to the salon and I got along very well with the new manager. But one day I was called into the office and Antoine, the new manager, told me to start looking for another place to work. He gave me two weeks notice. He told me that he seriously thought that the shop would be better off without me there. When I heard that I knew that it was time to move on again. I had no fear at all. I called Sal and told him that I was ready to move over to his shop in Sun City. He said he had no chair open now but that his partner had one station available and I should talk to him. I immediately went for an interview but I did not have to say a thing. Benny, the owner of Dino's, a chain of ten salons, knew about me through Sal. He insisted I come to work for him immediately and not to wait for the end of the two weeks notice before moving. Here again, fate(?) put everything neatly together for me. Sal had worked for Goldwater's, had quit in disgust, knew about my success there and got me this wonderful opportunity to work for one of the best known chains in Phoenix and Sun City.

The next day, on a Thursday, I went to work with a large suitcase in which to put my personal hairdressing tools. I told Antoine that I had found a job and suggested to him that it would be more comfortable for him and me if I would not stay on for another two weeks. He showed surprise that I had found work so soon. He agreed with my suggestion and so I finished the day and packed my suitcase with my equipment and moved over to the Greenway Terrace "Sun Beauty salon," my new home for the next four years.

In the meantime, a lot of things were happening at home. It is a well known fact that changing jobs is hard on one's equilibrium and so is moving to a new house and, above all, family problems are especially difficult. Each one of these problems can be a cause for a heart attack or a psychological breakdown. What if one has all three around the same time? Well, this happened to Anita and me and only with the support we gave each other did we survive this traumatic year without great scars. Rochelle had left home and left no forwarding address. For a long time we did not know where she was. She was already more than eighteen years old so legally she had the right to do whatever she wanted. But it was a great shock to me. I thought that our relationship had been fairly good. At the same time difficulties with Robert increased to a point that I decided that it would be better for all of us if he were removed from our house. I never really found out the full extent of the problems. One person said one thing and the other had another story. But it all ended up in almost daily great upheavals and when I could not control him anymore, I had no choice but to remove him from our midst. I had heard about possible violent behavior of Robert towards his mother and Rochelle but had never seen any sign of it. One day he became violent towards me and that was the end. He was too big and too strong for me to control and I am by nature not a fighter. We went to psychologists and we had court orders but nothing helped. The uproar effected the relationship between Anita and me and even my performance at work. This could not continue. In the long run it turned out that it was a good decision both for him and for us but at the time it was the most traumatic decision I had made in my life. He was not quite 18 years old yet when I told him he could no longer live in our house. He stayed with a family in our neighborhood, even though I made sure that I had no contact with him. This sounds harsh but the thought of seeing him created great anxiety within me and I could see no other way out. I do not know what contact Anita had with him or with Rochelle but I did not have any. Soon after that Robert went into the Army. To his credit I must say that he kept writing to us during his four years in the Army and I am very grateful that, after many years, our relationship was restored, both with Rochelle and with Robert and that I have close relationships with both of them as well as with Mark, now Naftali. But I am getting ahead of myself.

At the same time as all this happened, Mark left for Israel permanently. A few years earlier he had gone to Israel but had returned to finish his college education at ASU. He was always a good student and he graduated with honors, majoring in English as a second language. For one year he tried teaching English at Crown Point, in the middle of nowhere at an Indian Reservation near the Four Corners area of Arizona, some two hundred and eighty five miles from Phoenix. He did not enjoy working with the young Indians who were more interested in working the fields than in learning English. And he felt that his expertise could be of more benefit in Israel. So he, also, left home in 1977 and became a new and even better person. He settled in Kyriat Shmona, in the Northern part of Israel near the Lebanese border when that town was still regularly bombarded with Katyusha shells from across the border. He became involved with a wonderful group of young Orthodox Jews and a great Rabbi which gave him a purpose in life and much needed confidence. We were worried about him but also extremely proud. At the time when many parents pleaded with their children to return to the comfort and soft life in the States, we encouraged him and supported him fully. We also immediately made plans to visit him as soon as possible.

Around the same time Anita had a problem with her foot. She had a bony growth on her heel which after a while made it nearly impossible for her to walk anymore. Eventually she realized that she had to have an operation. It was a very painful recovery and for a long time she had to walk on crutches. She was very depressed about it and thought that she would never be able to do any hiking or extensive walking anymore which she loved so much. All the things combined would have been enough to crack the average person. I credit it to my war experience and the support of Anita that I survived this most traumatic time without any scars.

Anita's operation was so successful that after a year we started training for our hike into the Grand Canyon. Now I had to overcome one of my problems: an extreme fear of heights. Any little drop off alongside a trail would cause me to break out in a cold sweat and sooner or later I would feel as if I would fall over the edge. It took me three years to overcome that fear. Here is how I did it. Every Sunday morning, as part of our training, we hiked up and down Squaw Peak mountain on a trail which twists and turns one thousand three hundred feet up from the bottom of the trail to the top. It included lovely views of the city in all four directions. But for a long time I could only go about half-way up because there was a drop off I could not pass. I often had to sit down for a while before I could go down while Anita continued to the top. Furthermore, every year we went to the Grand Canyon and started hiking down as far as I could. But right near the beginning was a turn around a large cliff on one side and a blind turn around the cliff with a sudden drop off of some five hundred feet on the other side. I could not get past that point. I tried it several times a day while we camped at the gorgeous canyon.

The third year, while trying again ( I was so anxious to succeed) I was talking to some man and before I knew it I had rounded that corner and had passed the drop off without any fear. That same day we decided to come back a few weeks later and to make a day hike to the Indian Gardens, less that half-way into the Canyon. We enjoyed it so much and I totally lost my fear of heights to the degree that I was not worried even when I was on the drop off side of the trial while smelly donkeys laden with tourists passed on the inside of the trail. I was thrilled and the following year we made reservations to go down all the way and stay overnight at the bottom at the Bright Angel Lodge near the Colorado river. I enjoyed the hike down. I seemed to walk with my head in the clouds. It was one of these once in a lifetime thrills which you never forget. The minute you start hiking, the trail drops off steeply and the cliffs tower above you. From then on you hike through a different world. It is so serene and quiet and beautiful. With every turn the scenery changes, sometimes rugged and harsh, sometimes surrounding you with lovely red formations and at other times you hike through pastoral country. It took us nine hours hiking down with several stops, one for a picnic lunch. When we finally arrived every bone in my body hurt. We were assigned to comfortable dorms (men and women separate) and we had a wonderful dinner. The lodge is run like an army base. The man in charge gave orders like a master sergeant. But I could well understand why. All kinds of people hike down and stay at the lodge and a little disturbance would be major there. Everything at that lodge had to be taken down by helicopter or mule, a very tedious and expensive undertaking. They had told us before our hike down, that if we could not make it back up, the helicopter would pick us up at a cost of four hundred and fifty dollars per person! We were in such pains that night that we thought that we could never start hiking back to the top the next day again. But we had a good night rest and a lush breakfast.

At about six thirty in the morning we started our hike back up with the added weight of a lunch pack, compliments of the "master sergeant" and four quarts of water. It took us more than twelve hours to get back up on a longer but a little less steep trail. We hiked for thirty minutes and rested for ten minutes. When we finally reached the top of the trail it was brutally hot and the last three hundred yards were extremely steep. But we were thrilled, Anita because she thought she would never hike again and I because I had overcome the fear of heights. Several people had watched us for the last hour from the overlook as we struggled to the top of the canyon wall and they gave us a cheerful ovation when we reached the end of the trail.

With all three children now gone we did not like our large home anymore. Three of the four bedrooms were empty and our large family room, which had always been filled with activities, seemed now too large. It was all too quiet and cavernous for us. We started looking for a smaller place to live and soon found a lovely three bedroom townhouse on Rose lane, just south of Bethany Home. Now all this happened within the same year when I sold my house and quit working at Goldwater's department store beauty salon. It is a small wonder that I did not end up with ulcers. It took more than a year until I felt comfortable under these new conditions. I must say that, besides the great support I had from Anita, the success I had at work and the wonderful customers who told me all their problems gave me renewed confidence.

Next -> CHAPTER 15: PUTTING OUR LIVES BACK TOGETHER

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Contents & Images, Copyright 2000 Fred Greenwood. All Rights Reserved.