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Typically, when you walk up to a stranger and begin with the caveat “This is going to sound really stupid,” you hope they frivolously dismiss your concern and completely reassure you. “Not at all, dear.”
That’s not what Symbol, the receptionist at Drybar, did. She concurred. “Yeah. That’s pretty stupid.”
She was right. It was stupid. I felt so stupid explaining why the reservation she was trying to find wasn’t under my name, David, but rather Davia.
“I thought it would seem better if I put myself down as a woman.”
That was the reasoning I’d used the night before, when I secured a reservation at Brooklyn’s first Drybar. I didn’t want them, the next morning when they checked their system for appointments, to come across a guy’s name. I didn’t want them to see it and then, I don’t know, be pissed I was coming. I wanted them to be open-minded and willing to give me the full Drybar experience, the one everyone raves about, where you leave the boutique buoyant and exuberant and your fullest self. I didn’t want to miss out on all that simply because I was a man. It was stupid on so many levels.
Symbol asked what my plan was when someone figured out I was a guy — like how she discerned right away.
“I dunno. I don’t know.”
“Well. don’t worry about it,” Symbol proclaimed. “We’re happy to have you.”
She was so nice, so very nice, and she did assure me, telling me there was nothing wrong with my wanting to be there.
“We do get some guys. Normally, they have long hair. But don’t worry.”
“Take a seat. Please, take a seat,” Symbol said, walking me to a firm white leather chair, which faced an oversized French wall mirror, the kind with the perfectly beveled edges. I took a look at myself, taking in what I saw.
“Would you like some champagne?”
I did, but… well, drinking was sort of the reason I was there. Not really, obviously, because getting your hair air-dried by a professional and consuming too much alcohol have no correlation whatsoever, but, you see, I lost my job over a month ago.
There’s no other way to put it than that I’ve been miserable. Like how you feel after a high school breakup. That kind of bad where you hate everything about yourself, all the time. I’d been, for a month, counteracting those feelings with a lot of booze, which only served to worsen things. Now I was waking up every morning feeling not only emotionally awful, but physically terrible as well.
One morning, with that filthy hangover sheen all over my body, I saw crow’s feet around my eyes for the first time. Not lines that sprouted out of nowhere in the past week, but bad, entrenched ones I’d never noticed. I spent five minutes staring at them in the mirror, my head throbbing, trying to squint and contort my face to make them look as terrible as possible, giving me the true, hideous patina I knew I deserved. That was all I could think about. How ugly I looked.
It sucks so much. When you have a pillar of your self-worth taken away (it is so damn frustrating that a job is one of those, but it is), what happens is the opposite of when you lose one of your senses. Instead of your other attributes becoming magnified in a helpful manner, everything turns to shit. It’s like going blind and your sense of smell simultaneously crapping out.
This past month, I’ve been feeling plain monstrous. Unlovable, honestly. I didn’t want that anymore. If even only for a minute, I wanted to feel happy and good, and I knew of a place that everyone spoke so highly of, where they entered in blissful states — getting beautified before big events — and left with an even greater high. Happy, carefree, eager, excited. Not just about the evening, but about life. About their life. Without the aid of some mood-altering substance.
I could do that, right?
So what if I was a guy?
And so what if they were out of champagne, as Symbol informed me upon her return. I didn’t need alcohol to enjoy this.
I took her offer of white wine instead.
Halfway through my glass, idling in the soothing whites of my surroundings (walls, chairs, counters, ceilings, fermented grapes all an immaculate ivory — is this why they paint mental institutions this same color?), I lost my apprehension from earlier.
Sure, it was the wine, but everything felt warm. Inviting. Carefree. Symbol walked me to the back for a washing and treatment, taking such delicate care of me throughout, asking with everything she did — a readjusting of my chair, a wrapping of a towel around my neck — if it was comforting.
It all was.
“You have great hair,” she said, too.
She really said that, and I think she meant it. Because she didn’t stop there. She said it had a lot of volume, and that it was nice and straight. That the natural blonde notes I had would mesh perfectly with the Bay Breeze hydrating treatment she was about to rub into my hair.
As Symbol began massaging my scalp, as I closed my eyes and really stopped worrying about everything else, the sounds of a Fifth Harmony song played. Symbol’s fingers, thick with whatever Bay Breeze is, went up and down and around my scalp, soothing, pleasurable, but damn if the jam wasn’t the best part.
You see, the song has this refrain about how “you don’t gotta to go to work, work, work, work, work, work, work,” which was so right. I didn’t have to go to work. I don’t have a job, and that’s okay. Great. It’s awesome, really. I don’t ever have to go to work. But it continues immediately after, about how I still “gotta go to work,” which is also true. Just because I’m unemployed doesn’t mean I don’t still need to apply myself and do the things necessary to land a new job.
I wasn’t there with five of my best friends getting blown out before hitting the town for a joyful night of dancing, but I could picture it. Us happy, laughing, getting our hair done, getting ready, elated in that moment. That didn’t make me sad like I thought it would, because I didn’t have something like that going on in my life. It just made me happy that all that joy does exist.
Seriously, the songs they played just put me in a mood.
Then it was time for my blowout.
I went back to my chair and grabbed the menu. Should I get the Manhattan and be a sleek and smooth David when I walked out the door? Or what about a Mai Tai? That’s probably closest to my style — effortless, you know. Or maybe the Dirty Martini, tousled and textured. I used to drink dirty martinis. I could definitely wear that hair. I could rock that hair. I was brimming with possibilities when my stylist arrived.
“What can I do for you today?”
I thought for a minute, trying to settle on what I really, really, really, really wanted.
“Could I get the Dirty Martini, but like for a guy?”
She shook her head.
“I can’t really do that for you.”
“No? Okay. What about the Mai Tai?” I was still holding the menu, eagerly clutching my future beauty.
“No, those styles are really all for longer hair.”
I was momentarily so crushed and so defeated.
I think she saw that.
“Well, how do you normally do it?”
That was the problem. I don’t. I wear a hat a lot. When I go inside, I take it off and run my hands through the matted hair to give it something someone who is very nice and very polite might call “lift.” It ain’t a standard to live by. It’s certainly not a look to give your Drybar stylist, I explained.
“I don’t want that. Could you, like, just, like, make me look cool?”
She smiled to that standard, with a bit of bemusement in her eyes, but not in a demeaning way, and said of course she would, beginning by rubbing leave-in conditioner in my hair. From there, she teased it with her hands and a radial brush as hot air blew across the brim of my forehead and down on the top of my head. I wasn’t there for more than a minute when she said she was finished, flipping my locks one last time and asking what I thought.
It looked fine. It wasn’t anything elaborate, or even expensive looking, or even something cooler than what I would have done had I spent the same amount of time on it. But it had what felt like depth, what looked like texture, what seemed effortless but was really carefully crafted.
That I didn’t look like some stunning beauty star leaving wasn’t bothersome. It was at first, when I first looked in the mirror, but quickly it didn’t matter. Because more than looking good, I left there feeling good. With that buoyancy of soul I wanted.
I earnestly did not expect that to happen, because, come on, how could that even work? My mood being changed by something as frivolous as a someone else spending some time on my hair? That’s not what makes me happy. That’s silly. Yet the whole time, everyone there was just so nice and so pleasurable and so relaxed and so welcoming. They treated me like I was beautiful, like I deserved to be, and I left there on a high, feeling good about myself for the first time in awhile.
Even better, it stayed with me the rest of the night.