By: R. Theodora Appleton
Salsalhair is his name online. His Instagram bio reads: “Sal Salcedo, Mex • SF • LA • Benjamin Salon Arts District • Changing the world one head at a time.” He has a rising 96,300 followers and nearly 3,000 pictures of hair before and after’s. I’d often wonder what it would be like to see my hair on his photo feed.
In the midst of all the Instagram posts, I see an advertisement for a “Hair Tour” that will stop in New York City. “Yes!” I think, “this is my chance to get the hair cut of my dreams!” Hoping that the appointments aren’t all booked, I email Sal about the price and times.
“Hello! I am interested in getting a hair cut in NYC on either of the two days you’ll be in NYC! Do you have any appointments open, and how much it costs?” I write.
In the matter of a couple hours, I receive a reply from someone named Brianna.
“We have a 6:00 a.m. slot and a 7:00 p.m. slot open on Sunday. The price is $300.00 for a haircut.”
THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Who in their right mind would get a haircut at 6:00 in the morning.” I look to my friends and family.
I give my spiel, “This guy I follow online is cutting hair in NYC and I’m thinking about getting mine done. It costs a lot of money, but I’m thinking about splurging because, what the heck! It will be exciting because he’s someone I’ve followed for a while and I love his work.”
I get mixed answers: “I would never spend that much on a haircut!” says some friends or “You should totally do it for the experience” says the others. I dare not ask any men.
Experience wins, and I pick a time and send a confirmation email back to Sal.
On October 16, 2016, I arrive in the city with my sister and we decide to get dinner before my appointment. We find an over-priced café, a typical find in New York City. As we enter the building I lock eyes with the hostess and she is the most stunning woman I have ever seen. Her complexion is as dark as the night sky. She is tall and has buzz cut. She wears a form fitting dress and she looks like she walked straight out of vogue.
She asks me the most normal question ever. A question that I have heard so many times before. This question sounds different coming from her. “How many?” she asks in a foreign accent I can’t name.
Dinner was fantastic and the food had encompassing depth. I leave dinner 15 minutes early to catch a taxi in order to make my appointment. The sun has gone down and the traffic is subsiding, but traveling in a taxi in New York makes you feel like you’re going to be late.
I make it to the salon and the lights are bright, they shine past the construction panels on the building. It reads “Mark Garrison” on the glass. The clear and shining glass is welcoming so I walk up to the door but it’s locked. One second of panic and then a casually dressed woman opens the door.
“Are you here for Sal?” she asks.
“Yes!” I say.
“Welcome! Sorry about the doors. We lock the doors just as a safety precaution,” she says.
But this is the rich part of New York, at least that’s what I thought.
I can’t tell how far back the salon goes. From the front door, it looks like the building never ends. I smell bleach, hair, confidence and change. The woman takes my jacket and gives me a robe. This is fancy. Will they bring me wine and cheese too?
She leads me to the back and I see Sal. He’s a small man but he looks like what I’d expect. He looks like his pictures. He wears a flowery long button up. Stylish and expensive looking crocodile boots. His hair is big and curly. He is working on another woman’s hair and talks in a monotone voice. I’m excited to actually meet him.
A woman named Brianna, the girl from the email and Sal’s assistant greets me and sets me up at a chair. Brianna is born and raised in Los Angeles. She’s short with short hair. She is on her phone the whole time recording Sal. I sit and observe what’s going on. Sal is cutting away to the left of me. When he cuts, it looks like there’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s scary and yet artistic. There are women getting their hair colored behind me. Sal’s colorist is named Cherin Choi who happens to look like she walked out of Rolling Stone.
Her hair is black and pink on the ends, its wild and free. She wears some fringe shirt and sleek black tights. She is the epitome of ‘trending L.A.’ She looks like confidence and self-assurance in the flesh.
I am brought back to the sink to get washed. Then it’s time to dry the hair. An hour has passed and it’ after 8 already. I sit down and the assistant blow dries and straightens my hair. After about one hour and a half of prep, Sal comes to my chair and asks what I’m looking for. He sounds tired. I am his last appointment of the day, and I hope he isn’t too tired to do a good job.
“I am looking for some layers, I have a couple of photos that I love.”
He starts working and I let him. There’s some small talk. He asks me how I found out about him and if I’m from New York City.
“I found you on Instagram, and no, not from the city, I live in a small New Jersey town.” Boring. I feel like the most boring person in existence. I could have said I was from the lower east side. Grew up with rich parents that know style and the city.
He asks if I’m going out after I’m finished with the haircut. Do I tell him I am going to probably go home to watch T.V. and go to sleep? That doesn’t sound very exciting. I don’t know enough about the city to make up a good lie. Why am I lying to a stranger anyway?
The sheer scissors make a constant clipping noise and I wonder what the finished product will look like. My sister sends texts about when I’ll be finished. She starts to get angry at me because it is taking so long. It’s passed 9 p.m.
Sal tells me about how he got a large following. He cut the hair of some famous woman in Latvia. She went home and then thousands and thousands found her picture on Sal’s site and so they followed him. More texts from my frustrated sister come in. There’s a woman that knows Sal who is getting her hair colored. She, Sal, and other workers contribute to a conversation about frivolous L.A. life. They all sound so sure about what they’re saying. They all talk with conviction, with agency.
It’s time for the big reveal. I touch my head and the weight is gone. He thinned my hair out dramatically and gave me a bunch of layers. It looks good and I wonder how in the world I’m going to make it look like this after I shower. For now, I won’t worry about that.
I pay and my wallet cries. An imaginary tear crashes ever so softly on the glimmering tile below. Sal doesn’t take pictures of me. I suppose I don’t have to be on the Instagram page. I pay on an IPad and that just weirds me out.
I walk outside and spend twenty minutes trying to find my sister and friend. The upper east side is nice. There’s no smell of garbage, even though bags and bags of trash are piled along the street. The lights are bright and I feel like a model with my new look. My sister and friend can’t find the car so I stay on the block for a while. I look into the store next to me. It’s a Jimmy Choo shoe store. I imagine the ladies with long fur coats and expensive shoes that shop here. I see a boot and the price tag is unbelievable. It’s fun to imagine the lives of people who can buy and want to buy a shoe that costs $2,000.
It took a while to learn how to style my new hair. If I didn’t do anything to it, it looked like a chopped mess. I still need to wait for the short layers to grow out. I wonder if the people in Los Angeles look like mess when they wake up.