The hairdresser looked at my hair, not me, as he started to explain a little bit about himself.
"I'm from Arizona..." he said.
I looked up at him in the mirror. "Really? Where?"
"Oh, around Tucson..." he said, vaguely, pulling my frizzy ends toward himself with the comb, clipping.
I laughed. "I'm from Tucson. No one in New York is from Tucson."
He stopped cutting and stared at me. "Wow."
"So where did you grow up?" I said, knowing he would give me the specifics now, now that I would understand.
"Nogales," he said.
"Mexico or the Arizona side?" I asked.
I smiled. I had a friend who had lived in the little border town, who I had gone to visit a couple of times, had a great time with her friends and family. I told him this. Told him she had worked at the Walgreen's, that my family used to park in the Safeway parking lot and walk across the border to shop, to buy Marionnettes that got instantly tangled and little chicle from the kids on the street.
"My mom's favorite flavor was the violeta," I explained, shuddering at the memory of the purple gum that tasted, to me, like chewing flowers.
He shook his head. "It's all changed," he said. "The Walgreen's is gone, the Safeway, no one really goes over the border to party anymore since they cracked down on underage drinkers and since the drug fighting has gotten so bad. Somebody gets killed every single day."
I shook my head. I had heard this from a lot of people, warnings about the Mexican borders. I was sad to hear that it was true, not just an exaggeration of xenophobic fear.
"That's terrible," I said. "My friends and I used to drive down for the day to go to this department store that had a liquor license on Saturdays from noon to four and sold these great, strong fruity drinks in little clay pots that you got to keep. It was so fun."
Here I was, walking down memory lane when I had really just come in to the Antonio Prieto salon on a Sunday afternoon as part of a fundraiser for my sons' school and to get a much-needed cut and color. This was unexpected and great. My new hairdresser thought so too.
We chatted about our separate paths out of Arizona to New York City, out of the constant sunshine into the iffy world of seasons, out of small and slightly more predictable into huge and scary and full of possibility.
He had started down the safe road, the one moms encourage, going to school for accounting. But it hadn't felt right. Two years in he pulled the plug and caved to the pull of his creative spirit, heading to school for cosmetology instead.
"Then," he said, "it all started to fall into place." He began working for a salon in Scottsdale then decided one day to sell everything and move to NYC. He loves doing hair and makeup and, I have to say, he is the first person who has ever done my hair where I haven't wanted to take matters into my own hands, grab the gel and do it all over again. I loved it. It was exactly what I would have asked for had I not purposely exhibited a rare bit of self control and let him have at it.
He has been in New York three years, struggling, like most artistic people, to make his way to wealth and fame in the Big Apple.
"It's hard, isn't it?" I said.
He nodded. "But you have to try..."
We both are a long way from home. We came here, like so many people, to give it a try. Gold star to him for going for it!! And, also, of course, for giving me fun springy curls!