Monthly Archives: March 2007

Never Again #1: Alhambra Beauty College

It was the winter of 1998, and I was but a wee lad living in Pasadena, and humbly eking out an existence from the rough terrain of medical education, when one of my classmates mentioned to me that she had just had her haircut and she had paid only two dollars. Two dollars? Two dollars? Who ever heard of such a thing. Well, the Alhambra Beauty College lets students cut your hair, as part of the learning process, and for this service you pay only a pittance. As a student whose education relies upon the patience of others, and more particularly their willingness to submit themselves to my inexperienced practice, I immediately liked the idea. Not only am I getting a haircut, I am providing a service, giving back if you will, doing my part to train the hairstylists of tomorrow.

So I went, and it wasn’t the best haircut I had ever received, but it also wasn’t the worst. I grew having my mom cut my hair, and generally maintaining a shaggy mop that covered my eyes at least as much as I could get away with. Even after I graduated from mom-salon, it was always the $9 mall haircut for me, or the barber in college. On and off, over the years since then, I have returned to the Alhambra Beauty College, never with high expectations, but also not with an impending sense of dread. In the last few months I have visited twice, and that is enough for me.

First of all, the price has gone up to four dollars (2 more if you want your hair washed). I know, I know, 6 dollars is still an unparalleled bargain. Or is it? The Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica also offers student haircuts, and if you have a student ID the cost is only $10. For your $10, you actually get a very good haircut. The instructors manage (some might say micro-manage) the students, and though the experience can drag on for up to three hours, it is a pleasant experience all around, and you walk away looking good. The same cannot be said for the Alhambra Beauty School.

For the $4 you get to hold on to, you give up any sense of well being you feel during the process, and any chance of being able to communicate with your hair-cutter in English. I’m not talking about holding a conversation here. I’m not one of the people who likes to chat while their getting a haircut, quite the opposite. But, I do expect to able to say words like “longer” and “shorter” without having to charade their meanings. It seems to me that if someone were to start cutting hair, those might be the first English words they learn. Apparently this is not always the case.

What I will say, in defense of the Alhambra Beauty school, is that they give a wonderful hair washing. The process usually lasts 15 to 20 minutes and includes a thorough scalp massage. Well worth the $2 fee. The haircut, and the whole haircutting experience may be a mark overpriced at $4. It’s a schlep to get out to Santa Monica to Vidal Sassoon, and using their services may mean I go longer between haircuts, but mark my words: I WILL NEVER GO TO THE ALHAMBRA BEAUTY COLLEGE AGAIN.

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Jesse’s Mitvah Bar

I’m in New York for the weekend, celebrating the 31st birthday of my dear friend Jesse Oxfeld. For his birthday this year Jesse decided to throw a Bar Mitzvah themed birthday party (at 13 he had a Bar Mitzvah, at 31 he had a Mitzvah Bar). It was, of course, not a religious event but a cultural one, echoing the social traditions of upwardly mobile jewish suburban culture. Maybe I’m overstating it. It was a birthday party, in a bar in Manhattan (I think the neighborhood is called Tribecca, but I’ve grown New York-ignorant over the years) laced with the accoutrement of our culturally bereft adolescence.

At the door was a sign-in board, a large poster board decorated with a picture of the birthday boy. At bar mitzvah’s it’s usually a baby picture, in this case it was Jesse’s bar mitzvah portrait. Attached to the board are usually some silver paint markers for guests to leave their messages, ideally, or deface the honorees image if things get a little punchy. I think, traditionally, the parents frame the thing afterwards and hang it up in the kid’s room, or maybe the basement rec room to oversee inevitable experimentations with alcohol, drugs, and awkward sexual stumbling.

The other key tradition was the lighting of the candles on the cake. Customarily, the bar mitzvah boy invites up groups of friends and family members to light each candle. Jesse did this in snarky, rhyming verse, as he had 18 years earlier, and we had prepared musical cues to accompany each group: for his parents, We are Family, for his partying brethren, I Love the Nightlife, for his former coworkers, Get A Job, for his gay buddies, It’s Raining Men. Compiling the music for the event was my job, including a smashing playlist of bar mitzvah classics, circa 1990. For anyone interested, here was the playlist.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bar mitzvah boy, Jesse Oxfeld:
Jesse Oxfeld

This trip marks my last respite from studying for the next few months for sure, but likely for much longer.

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