They say that breaking up is hard to do.
Now I know, I know that it’s true.
– Neil Sedaka, American composer, pianist, and singer
We didn’t really break up. He just never called back. Well, in December, the last time I saw him, he told me – when we parted – to “just text” him and he’d get back to me with his decision. But he never did. I know how to get a hold of him. I know where he lives. But as the days stretched into weeks, and I still did not hear from him, I realized the inevitability of our relationship and that this was probably the best time to move on.
Giving this man my hair
I was introduced to Lino in 1991, upon recommendation by a couple of my coworkers who raved about him. I furtively checked out my publisher’s hairstyle – a swingy pageboy style precisely cut. My marketing manager’s hair was layered and softly feathered. It showed me how versatile Lino was. His salon was in the heart of Union Square. His partner in business, who was also his partner in life, enthusiastically greeted me upon my first visit. Lino’s head was shaved. His business card was adorned with a picture of the top of his shiny head, with his eyes just peeking out, and the tagline: “Give this man your hair.”
I had bangs and a bob. Lino wanted to give me a completely new look. I don’t know what possessed me to give him my hair, especially since my appointment was two weeks before my (first) wedding. But I did. Maybe it was because he was charming and so full of bubbly energy. Here’s the unbelievable catch: I had no idea what he was going to do. This was the most spontaneous thing I ever did up to that point in my life. He cut my hair very short – swathes of hair fell silently to the hardwood floor. Thankfully, I wasn’t going to wear a veil that was dependent upon my previous hairstyle. And I loved it. It was the biggest change in hairstyle that I had ever had (save for the bad perm that my hairstylist cousin gave me that ruined my senior year in high school). Everyone loved the new style.
I kept my hair short for a few years until I gravitated back to the bob. Within four years, Lino and Len, his partner, opened up a consignment shop in the Mission District, and picked up a few pieces of our furniture for their shop. Lino moved to another salon now that they had this main business. I followed him, but by then I was no longer married. I moved a few times more and changed jobs along the way. Lino moved yet again to another salon. After I remarried and had kids, I continued to follow Lino to different salons. After my daughter was born and it was difficult to cart her into the City to get my haircut (though I had accomplished this with my son), Lino insisted that I come to his home in Alameda so I could have a stress-free haircutting experience.
All in the family: sons, daughters, and mothers
My daughter loved coming with me to the City to get my haircut these last few years. We had this tradition of getting her a triple hot chocolate drink and a toasted bagel with cream cheese at Borders, on the way to Lino’s salon. (Borders, of course, no longer exists in Union Square.) I would sit across the table from my daughter and smile as she savored her chocolate and bagel, thinking that when she is an adult she will remember this special time that we spent together. I hated having to rush her so we could be on time for my appointments. Lino gave her a big hug every time she walked through the door. He gave her jewelry that he either made or had given to his daughter when she was a young. Whenever my daughter wears one of his necklaces, she proudly reminds me that Lino gave it to her. One time he had one of the manicurists paint her nails bubble-gum pink, and he made sure that the two mannequin heads were available so she could brush and style their hair.
When Lino lost his son, who took his own life one Christmas Eve, it was the first time I had ever seen him subdued. Up until then, he was always in good spirits and was a breath away from laughter, even when he complained about a salon owner or one of his relatives. I sat, shocked in his chair, not knowing what to say, other than how very sorry I was. I hugged him a moment or two longer than I usually did when we said goodbye. He never spoke of that time again, except once in reflection months later when he relayed a conversation he’d had with his daughter – how time seemed to keep going, how people seemed to carry on with their lives, while the two of them struggled to understand what had happened. When I lost my mother at age 85 to complications of pneumonia – Lino’s own mother, the matriarch, was in her 90s at the time – he was quietly supportive. He knows what a Filipino mother is like, how strong she is, how she wears the pants in the family. And with that knowledge, he knew what a gaping hole that loss had created.
Growing old, not growing old together
Time and age started creeping up on the both of us. Lino complained of arthritis, removing the scissors to massage his hands. He kept threatening to retire. He was already in semi-retirement the last few years, into his 60s, though he looks like he’s still in his 40s – in large part, he would say, to having cleansed his diet. (He amazingly had never seen a doctor in decades.) Exhausted by work and late motherhood, I found myself falling asleep in his chair. It was one of the few times and places where I could relax. But it was getting harder to make an appointment, as I had to work around the one week a month that was his schedule. Nevertheless, I refused to look around, even though I knew there would come a time when I would have to face the inevitable. When I couldn’t get an appointment, I would resort to cutting my own bangs until I could get in. A few times I went to some local salons, only to know with the first snip that I wouldn’t be going back to this or that place.
Sometimes Lino was late or completely forgot about me being his first appointment. I’d have to wait a long time, and though I seethed in the waiting area, I didn’t leave. I couldn’t leave. Nobody could do a blunt cut as precisely and reliably as he could. And we had a history together. Then late last fall, the salon owner died of leukemia, and he informed me that the other stylists couldn’t afford to buy the salon and so it would be shut down. He had an offer to rent a chair at another place, but the catch was he’d have to put in more hours, which he didn’t want to do, and then he was going to need to raise his price. (He had never raised his fee for me in the past 21 years, which friends tell me is unheard of.) Because of the increase, he felt it necessary to take a poll to see if he’d lose a chunk of his clients. I don’t know how the survey went, though I told him I’d follow him yet again at whatever price. His other option was just to hang up his scissors and retire – he was already on that path.
He told me to text him after the holidays, and he’d let me know his decision. We hugged and wished each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. When I couldn’t reach him, I began a search for his replacement – with sadness. I checked out yelp reviews and found Jenn Archbold of Florescence Designs (1700 Solano Avenue, Suite C, Berkeley, CA 94707, 510.526.1073). I admit that I was somewhat nervous, not having gone to a hairstylist with the idea that he or she would be the one after Lino. She listened to what I wanted and executed it perfectly. We had a nice conversation, and she was able to talk and cut at the same time – something Lino was incapable of doing, which made haircut appointments longer with him. For a moment, I was hoping that it would be just okay, which would give me permission to reach out to Lino again.
But I made the next appointment before I left. Happy to have found an artisan who can do a blunt cut and work with my cowlick. Sad that an era has come to a close. Such is life.