Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Hairy Subject

About a year ago I finally had some professional headshots made. As a member of RWA, I am constantly reminded of the need for professionalism. Having that headshot available is a necessary evil.

I got the photos done at JCPenney (never again!) and requested no retouching. I've seen too many portrait photos with awful Photoshopping. Even I could do better!

And I believe I did. (Check my website.) But the sad fact is I had to add an awful lot of hair to my head via the clone stamp. I was losing hair in patches, and it bothered me enormously. Bless his heart, my dad often made it a habit to point this out. Loudly, and in public. I had to keep my hair very short so that the natural curl filled everything in. But when I was too lazy to color my hair, the gray-white against the pale white scalp made things look even worse than they actually were.

A co-worker had gone the wig route but wasn't all that pleased with it, though she looks great. I began to look at wigs. Raquel Welch—now, she had the looks I wanted! Take twenty... okay, fifteen years off her, and that's what I want to look like from beautifully-coiffed top to firm bottom.

Years ago I'd checked out the Hair Club for Men and Women. You know, the commercials have the guy on it who says, "I'm not just the owner; I'm a client, too!" Back then they'd said they could put me on a minoxidil & something else treatment for just $1500 a year and GUARANTEED my hair would grow back. (How could they guarantee medical results?) But did I have that kind of money? Heck, no!

I might be able to dredge up some now, so I hied myself over to Raleigh to do another consultation. They have a camera with high magnification that they run over your head and show you pictures. You compare the bald spots with the hairy ones. The ones on your head, that is. That is, if one has hair on one's head.

Nope, they now told me, these follicles are d-a-i-d, daid. Ain't comin' back, even with minoxidil. (Note: hair regrowth creme is in testing stages, should be available in slightly under 10 years.) I asked, how about a hair transplant? I'd heard that since women have smaller areas to fill in, their procedures are much cheaper than those men go through.

Nope, I was told. Actually, women's procedures are much more expensive AND they aren't guaranteed. (No, I haven't researched these claims. My bad. This is what HC told me.) In fact, they're practically guaranteed not to be permanent, because women's hair is different from men's, and the hormone whatevers don't match up. Most men have "permanent" hair in the horseshoe region of the head that can be transplanted and will grow permanently. Women don't.

But I could try a "permanent" hairpiece. It's actually a toupee, stuck on with really tough double-sided tape so that you can shower and swim, no prob. They told me that if I signed on, I'd never pay more for a hairpiece than I would during this first six-month introductory period. What about continuing the program? Would I be able to afford it? I told them what I could afford.

"No problem," the con... I mean, saleswoman assured me. "We can work with you. We have programs that will fit every budget." Well, how much would it be? "We'll have to see how you wear your hair, how quickly you go through it, and suchlike. Later on, we'll be able to give you prices." How about the hair itself? "We'll sit right here and get it just the way you wanted. You won't leave until it'll be perfect every day you have it."

All these statements were lies. When will I learn? Salespeople will look you straight in the face and lie, lie, lie.

The try-out contract runs for six months and includes three hairpieces. They made a "mold" of my head out of plastic wrap and tape, sent it off, and assured me my hair would be in within 8 weeks. Ten weeks later (this was when we were going through all the mess with Mom and Dad, so I was distracted) I called them up and asked when it would arrive. They told me they'd call me back. A day later I called again. They would look. Four hours later I called again. "Oh, we were just about to call you," they lied. Then they scheduled my appointment—four weeks from that day.

On New Year's Eve I left Raleigh with a new head of hair. They had told me it was made from someone with naturally curly hair, as every head of hair I received would be. It looked great!

Two days later it began to look not that great. Feverishly I followed the shampoo/rinse/enzyme regimen they'd told me about. I watched the DVD, which had a different regimen. Eventually I tried that. But my hair flattened out. (I asked about the "naturally curly" hair, and they assured me it was NOT made of such.) It was dry and ooky-looking.

I had monthly appointments and each time I went I saw a different stylist (the stylists are all very sweet women), who gave me a different regimen to use. Every time I left, the hair looked very nice, except for the times when it was left so wet that you couldn't really tell. And a day or two later... Bleah.

Once I was one full hour out of the salon on a non-windy day and attending a Heart of Carolina Romance Writers meeting. One of the writers turned around and told me, "My god, you look like you just walked through a lawn sprinkler!" ACCK! How mortifying! As soon as I could, I checked myself in the library bathroom mirror. She was right.

For my final wig, they did as much of a perm to it as they could. "If you don't like that," the assistant assured me, "next time I'll perm it on toothpicks!" Don't know how perms are done (having naturally curly hair I've never had to do the perm thing except once when I was a stupid kid and used that awful, stinky Toni home perm. What was I thinking? Everyone was doing it, so I had to as well), so I'm not sure what the actual process is, but for a good month, I had downright SPRINGY hair.

The co-worker with the wig pulled me aside. "It looks just like your real hair," she whispered furtively.

Over time it's calmed down and really does look like my own hair, except that it's less fussy, and even on its worst days (my fault), it still looks 3000 times better than my own hair on a medium day.

The regimen is not that bad now that we've whittled it down. Three times a week I wash my hair in the shower and kitchen sink: shampoo, rinse, enzymes. (The enzymes clean your scalp under it all and keep the itching down.) On Sundays I use a special shampoo to strip all chemicals off, then a special creme to put protein back in, then rinse and enzymes. Because the hair is so short and well-permed, it doesn't require much styling besides lining up the three bottles of spray product I have: spritz-spritz, spritz-spritz, spritz-spritz, go down the line and make sure all layers of the hair get some. (I wet the hair each non-shampoo day and then do this as well.) Then scrunch everything, trying to arrange it around a part-like feature, scrunch some more, and take off for work, hoping for the best.

That picture shows the hair still a bit wet, shot in the reception room of Hair Club. I'm told that my hairpieces don't have to be this length at all. I can go to shoulder-length or longer if I want. This is what I want:

So we started to approach the end of my 6-month intro. Each time I went in, I asked what the fee for continuing would be. "We have to wait to see how your hair works," was the answer I got every time I called, even though the program turns out to be quite standard. Three months to go, and the con... I mean, saleswoman told me that the prices were on the booklet I'd been given in my introductory packet, a booklet she personally tucked into every packet.

"If that were so," I replied, "you could have given me prices when I first signed up. Besides, I've received two introductory packets from you all, and neither has contained this pricing booklet."

The next time I showed up, lo and behold, the pricing booklets were on the coffee table in the waiting room. (They have not been there since.) "I can't afford this," I told them.

"We can work with any budget. You can afford this." They pointed to the $300/month lowest level of membership.

I then got out a notebook and pen, and asked them how much it would cost to get the hair taken off on my last appointment. Yes, just taken off, I assured them. And if I brought a wig with me, could I get it applied and styled by them? After all, it would be my first time with a wig, and I'd be leaving from the place to go out in public.

Within eight minutes, the con... I mean, saleswoman came into the salon room. "I talked to my manager," she told me, and then named a price a bit under the $300/month.

"Sorry," I said with a sweet smile. "Can't afford it. I told you what I could afford before I signed my contract. You said that would be fine."

Five minutes later she comes in with a new price. What was this, a used car dealership? I thought. And thought some more. At that time I thought I'd have to buy about three non-Hair Club wigs during the course of a year (wrong; since then I've been told it would be just one a year, unless I wanted a range of styles), and I knew what Raquel's wigs cost, plus their maintenance materials. Still, not having to apply a wig every day would be a better experience. If I scrimped and scrimped some more...

We signed the contract. It's an "unlisted" program, but I found out later it's also a "lie" program. Within the month, the con... I mean, saleswoman called me to ask if I could shell out an extra $100 just for that month (like she wouldn't be calling for the same thing month after month), because someone was doing an audit, and you know, they'd signed this new program for me as if I were a man, because men's programs are cheaper, and changed my name on the contract to "Carl."

"No, I didn't know that," I said. "You never told me. Can't afford the extra C-note. So sorry."

So I'm signed up for another year. Actually, it's just 11 months, since they screwed me out of a month with doubletalk, but they gave me an extra salon visit, which I thought was an acceptable substitution as long as it was just the one time. I'll be seeing them every 2 months now, and I'll get 3 heads of hair over the contract period. Product costs extra, of course, and said product is offered only by their company, no generic form available. (One of the stylists proudly told me, "Our products are chemical-free, unlike everyone else's." Yet the products' labels show lots and lots of questionable chemicals.)

I have extra glue and tape (tape works better, I've found) for when the hair loosens before it can be reapplied. Yes, they shave the part of my head that's under the hairpiece (they asked permission first) so the tape gets a better grip. I stare at myself in the styling mirror and make Lex Luthor jokes as I wait for the re-styled hair to be returned.

If you compare the cost to the cost of going to a hairdresser and getting your hair professionally dyed every month or so... Okay, and styled with maybe a manicure thrown in, it comes out close to the same, so that's a consolation. Only thing is, I was used to getting a box of dye from Walmart for under $10 and going to Great Cuts every 6 weeks for $12.

But part of the profits go to giving free wigs to kids who, for whatever reason, find themselves balding. That's worth shoveling out a little extra, thinks I. Too bad I can't write it off my taxes. And I do notice that it's close to impossible to get an appointment at the joint. Six weeks out is not enough time to guarantee you your choice of times. People come up from Wilmington and down from Virginia to find an office.

The thing is: yes, it costs a lot. But (despite the pic up there) it looks a helluva lot better than my regular hair. I used to worry about 13 hours out of each day about how my hair looked (that is, if I was out in public), and now that's down to maybe 1/2 hour, if that much. If I were really serious—and I plan to get that way soon—I'd repair my hair a few times a day like normal people do, and then it would be JUST FINE.

So if you're balding or facing an upcoming time of balding, you might want to check out the Hair Club. Just be sure to get everything in writing and doubt whatever comes out of a con... I mean, salesperson's flapping lips. And whatever you do, insist that they note that Carol A. Strickland of the Raleigh office recommended you visit. They'll give me some $$ credit for referrals!


EilisFlynn said...

Oh, man, what a terrible experience! Good luck!

Nancy Northcott said...

How aggravating! You were smart to bargain them down and to hold firm on what you would pay.

The photo looks cute. I hope the ongoing effect will be one you like.

Carol A. Strickland said...

Note from April, 2013. I went in to get my final wig. My contract runs out next month. When I signed it, I told the manager that I did NOT want a continuing program, that one year was IT. After a short argument, she agreed. She wrote it down and we signed.

Last night they started to make a form for my next wig. "Hold it," I said. "I'm not getting any more wigs. My contract runs out next month."

Turns out it isn't! They now say the note on my contract we signed was for the special price, not for the program itself. #$!!!

So then they said, oh hurry hurry, you have to mail in notice so it arrives in the main offices (in FL) by the 15th because we require 30 days notice! Actually, according to the small print, the notice is based on the postmark. So I mailed off a cancel order to them this morning—with a note on the back about what I thought about businesses who encourage their managers to lie, lie, lie.