By Ed Staskus
“Don’t you need to get ready and go register for school?” Alma Campbell asked Maggie, hands on her hips, elbows splayed out, scowling at her daughter.
“Yeah, but I’m not going,” Maggie said.
“What do you mean, you’re not going?”
“I’m not going back to school. I’m not cut out for it. I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Hair, I’m going to do hair.”
Alma got excited. She loved it that her daughter was going to be a hairdresser. If a woman doesn’t have a hairdresser, then she has no choice but to let her hair go to hell. There’s no future in that. Alma started looking up cosmetology schools.
Maggie was 19 years old. She had been going to Tri-C Community College for a year studying to become a special needs teacher. When she was a lifeguard at Bay Pool, she used to teach them how to swim. She loved those kids.
But, at Tri-C they showed movies about teachers teaching special needs kids and the movies bummed her out. The whole thing came down to seeing the women’s faces, the teachers, and how their faces were hard, and she could see they were frustrated. She thought to herself, I don’t want to be like that around special needs kids.
“I don’t want to become angry and jaded,” she told her mom. “The thought of getting frustrated with any of the special needers kills me. I don’t want to ever get angry with one of those little faces. When I told you I was going to become a hairdresser it came out of the blue. I didn’t know I had been thinking about it. You can only do what you want to do when you know you want to do it.”
Maggie cut hair when she worked at Bay Pool, even though she wasn’t supposed to. Nobody liked loose hair floating in the water. Other teenagers would ask, “Do you know how to cut hair?”
“I don’t know, maybe. I cut my own.”
“OK, can you cut mine?”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll cut it.”
She used to pierce ears, too. “Do you remember the time the electricity at school went out and we were all bored and you pierced my ear with your own earring?” a friend of hers asked at one of their school reunions. “No, but it sounds great,” she said. The way she looked at it, even if I don’t remember it, back then he wanted his ear pieced, so I pierced it, dark or no dark.
By the time Alma was done, the next thing Maggie knew, she was enrolled at a beauty school in Fairview Park. It didn’t always go as planned. She had to spend many hours writing “I will not swear in front of clients” on the lunchroom chalkboard.
One day a lady was in the bowl, soap in her hair, and she decided to sit up.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Maggie blurted out. “Lay back down!”
Her teachers were flabbergasted. “Did you just swear at her?”
“No, I didn’t swear at her.”
“Are you lying?”
They made her write “I will not swear in front of clients” 500 more times. It was ridiculous. Her fingers got dry and dusty with chalk dust.
“I’m paying you to go to this school,” she said. “I’m in charge.”
“Keep writing,” they said.
She was always in trouble. She didn’t even know she was saying anything vulgar when she was saying it. The words were just part of her vocabulary. “It’s been that way my whole life,” she said. “My mom would come home from work at the hospital, we’d sit down at the dinner table, and she was off to the races, fuck that stupid doctor, fuck that idiot nurse, and that fucking patient who gave me so much trouble. That was our dinner talk.”
Have you ever talked to a nurse? Nurses swear like truck drivers, on and on. Alma painted the town with curses. She wasn’t just trying to get her point across by using harsh language, although it helped. It became part of the word world at the Campbell house.
“I grew up in a house full of swearers,” Maggie said. “I swear a lot in front of everyone, all the time. My mom and I went to Put-In-Bay one weekend. It’s a small island in Lake Erie, the best walleye, and the third tallest monument in the country. We were waiting in line to get into the roundhouse. We were talking and I was swearing up a storm.”
“Nice mouth,” a man behind them said to her. “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
Maggie whirled on him. “You know what, asshole, my mother invented the word fuck. You want to see me kiss her? I’ll kiss her right now.” She kissed her mom on the mouth.
“Mags, what are you doing?” Alma asked. She hadn’t been paying attention to the eavesdropping man behind them.
Halfway through beauty school Maggie got into a car accident when she hit a cement truck. She was out of commission for months. When she came back, she had four months left. Those months became her dark days. She thought she was a hot shot and that she knew best. She was always goofing off. She never paid attention. She was her own man.
“I thought I knew how to do everything, do it all. Once you get out of theory, they put you on the floor. I don’t want to do haircuts is what everyone else said. I was the daring person. It wasn’t about playing with scissors.”
She was the first one to go on the floor. She didn’t mind standing all day. She could do it all week all month all the time with no problem. Maggie had cut hair before, so she was on fire, raring to go. She couldn’t and wouldn’t quit. She had to finish beauty school because she couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to Tri-C.
Maggie didn’t enjoy cosmetology training, but she got through it, and got her first job at Cadillac Cutters in Rocky River. It didn’t go well, not because of her cursing, but because, in the end, she didn’t curse enough. If she had she might have washed them out of her hair sooner than later.