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Rooster in the Hen House

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Making my departure from the situation at Madison’s was something I wasn’t looking forward to. I initially wanted to work with people who knew me well, and I could be the best supporting staff member as possible. I thought I could find some security in that, but it was too close to my past issues. When I approached my friends to let her know that I no longer would be coming to work with her, she expressed her disappointment and reminded me of what she had done for me. She also said that she knew that I wouldn’t be there for long because

“ I wanted to do my own thing eventually”. She didn’t understand that I was avoiding “doing my own thing”, at all cost.

The other stylist and I developed a bond through this ordeal and vowed to stay in touch. She told me that she would be leaving soon, she just needed a plan. As uncomfortable as that moment was, the light feeling of freedom I received afterwards was worth it. I had removed myself from a bad situation that was most likely not going to end well for everyone involved. My loyalty was questioned, and my integrity put to a test, but above all I needed to live, and keep moving forward.

I was excited to start working at Regina’s Salon, there was hope and promise. An entire clientele that could be built, and a family structure with stability like I had found in one of the salons I worked at long ago called Diorio’s. I knew I was going to be the only male and the only black person working at this salon, and like Diorio’s I expected some weird questions and references about black people or black culture that would be inappropriate, and it came with the territory. Like the time a customer said,

“you look like a monkey with your beard grown out, you look better with a clean shaven face."

I was hoping I could be a support to the black women and men who were attending the college and traveling far distances to get their hair services.The shop was very busy most days. And there was always clamoring from the clients and stylist. The phone was always ringing, and I was trained the first week on booking appointments and answering the phones. It was pretty straight forward like I had worked with in the past, but a couple of the stylists had floating work shifts so that was a challenge to get straight when someone called for them.

I was on laundry and receptionist duty at first, and occasionally I would get booked a kid's haircut or a man’s haircut. Sometimes in a salon these are the clients they give new people, the ones no one wants to do, and when you're new it seems like the worst of the worst, but I have always looked at these types of clients as opportunities to grow. They are usually part of families, and when you can do everyone’s hair, eventually you do the entire family’s hair.

One day I had a little girl with long blonde hair with the smoothness of silk. Her dad brought her in and was very nice as he explained what she wanted. She barely said a word and didn’t make much eye contact. The father explained that she doesn’t like to go to the salon and that she never really likes it. I just talked to the little girl, even though she didn’t respond much. I gave her a shampoo and a haircut, and when I started to blow dry her hair, she spoke up and asked “can I get some curls in my hair?”, the father jumped in and replied " I’m not sure if he has time dear”, I told them that I had plenty of time.

I curled her hair, and when she got out of the chair, she was beaming with joy. The father smiled and jokingly said,

“she hates her straight hair, thank you so much for doing that.” It was the highlight of my day.

Weeks later I started getting request from 8 year old girls, turns out the little girl was popular and sent all of her friend to me, and I even gave the father a haircut after a while. The other stylist made comments of me being a real ladies man and things of that nature. I just smiled and laugh it off, but I knew what the end result would eventually be worth it. It turned out that a 6 of the stylists had all come from the Supercuts that had closed across the street at the plaza mall. They had a chemistry together that was energetic, and when they were all working the shop was buzzing.

One day a young black woman walked in and Regina got excited. She started raving to the girl about me and how I could offer her services. It was an awkward exchange, but me and the woman connected through it. She made an appointment a week later for a wash and set, and was very happy. It was a beginning.

Regina’s husband Darcy came through on his words with the promise of work during slow times.

“Ain’t you tired of folding towels and being a receptionist, come hang with the boys and make some money. It’ll break things up for you”

He wasn’t wrong, I did need a break from being the receptionist and towel boy, and the money he was paying was sweet. We made an arrangement where two days out of the week I would meet him at the shop at 6am to start work. It was not easy work. It was the summer, so most of the work that Darcy had was roofing, gutter and chimney replacements. Darcy would do custom copper work that would restore some of the antique work on the historic homes in Clinton. It was a trade that I got a glimpse of when I was doing welding. But I wasn’t doing any of that. I got “ the grunt work”. Lifting shingles up and down the ladder, shoveling discarded roofing materials into the back of the dumper, and any other labor that Darcy needed. It was physical and dirty. I would go back to the shop filthy and clean up as best as I could in the bathroom.

“You smell awful, like soot. All of that tar, you’re like a tar baby!”

For those reading this, who may not be aware, tar baby is an old racist epithet, I did ignore the comment and go about my day.

I had fun with Darcy and his crew, as hard as the work was, they were methodical and consistent. Sometimes a couple of the guys smoked weed while we were working on the roof, they offered, I declined, and thought how crazy that was. Darcy had an idea that it was happening and talked about falling off the roof and dying. One of the guys had already fallen and survived. He was the one who smoked weed all the time. Darcy and I were close in age, and we started to bond. He found out that I never rodea motorcycle and offered to teach me one weekend. He had been a dirt bike racer and his kids were following in his footsteps. So one weekend I went out with him, Regina and the kids and learned how to ride a dirt bike. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the whole experience.

“Never get a street motorcycle, peopledriving will kill you, I was hit on my street cycle and never did it again. Stay on the trails on the dirt bike. It’s dangerous enough!”

He told me this and then did a ramp jump 30 feet in the air with his legs extended. I thought to myself, “I’m never doing that shit!” I spent some quality time with Regina, Darcy and the kids, and it was nice. They respected that I didn’t drink and never offered. We had cookouts and dirt bike rides and Darcy took meout and let me drive his antique refurbished Porsche 911.

Corey on a motorcycle

As fall approached, my business started to grow behind the chair and I didn’t go out to the worksites as much with Darcy, but he still always offered and checked to see if I was making enough money. In turn, I noticed some things that needed repair around the shop that Regina used to complain that Darcy didn’t have time to get to. So I volunteered to do them on the weekends. I patched some holes, tacked down some loose baseboards and painted the shop for them. They paid me for the work, even after I insisted they didn’t. I really just wanted to help them, they went out of their way to make me feel welcome.

As things were really starting to take off for me at the shop, as the black clientele started to grow and my fame from the popular little girl grew into moms and dads asking for me, some tension started to build with some of the women that worked next to me. Subtle at first, but noticeable by me. This one stylist would look me up and down every morning, shake her head and comment

“Is that what you’re wearing? Is that professional?”

I’ve always been fashion conscious and take pride in my appearance and every morning when this one particular woman was working, she would kick up emotions that I only experienced with my ex-wife, who would say the same things to me. After so many mornings I brought it up to Regina who insisted that what I was wearing was fine and instructed me to ignore her. This same woman would talk badly about Darcy and air out Regina’s marriage issues in the shop.

“ I know you like him, and he’s your buddy and all, but he hasn’t been that nice to Regina.”

I wondered how she knew this, and came to the conclusion that Regina had said something at some point. I then noticed that when Darcy came into the shop, I was one of the few people who spoke to him. This made me sad, I had spent time with this family and didn’t see anything that would warrant me talking in public about their relationship. I asked Regina what was up, and she said they had a rough patch a couple of years back when the girls first came to work at the shop, but got past it. So Regina had forgiven him, and the women of the shop had not. It’s easy to judge someone else’s issues and not look at your own, I knew this too well. I decided to grin and bear it, because Darcy, Regina and the kids meant too much to me. I was doing the whole family’s hair, had clients from the college, and things were good. Regina and the family went on vacation for 2 weeks, and she had me take care of her clients during that time. Regina's clients were all very sweet to me and trusted my work since they had been watching me for months. During those 2 weeks, the women in the shop were blatantly disrespectful to me.

“Now that you’re busy, you still have to do towels and answer the phones you know, you haven’t come that far”.

“ You're quiet today, you must miss your buddy Darcy, I hope he’s not being mean to Regina on vacation “

“ That’s not the product Regina was using on that woman’s hair, you shouldn’t change that, I would never let you touch my clients.

“Is that what you’re wearing?”

“Make sure you book my lunch break if you're going to make appointments for me “

“I heard you painted the shop, areYou going to go paint their house next? You’re a brown noser”.

It was taking everything to keep my past experiences and my anger at bay. My ego was being bruised, and I wanted to lash out. My sponsor told me to be patient and tell the owner when she returned, and I agreed.That week is we a busy week, I tried my best to take care of my clients, Regina’s clients, answer the phones, book appointments , and wash and fold towels. I made a mistake on an appointment booking for one of the stylist who had a complicated schedule, and she came in the salon and started screaming at meAnd berating my ability to make appointments, I kept trying to explain myself, and she wouldn’t let me get a word in and was yelling at me like I was one of her children, my temperature rose high, and I don’t even remember what was said, but I do remember saying

Bitch, you need to get out of my face!

And all I heard was gasping from the entire room, then crickets. “How dare you call me that, who do you think you are?” I replied, “who do you think you are?” “Book your own appointments, I don’t work for you, I’m not your personal assistant that you can do and say what you want. We are colleagues, I’m not lesser than you”. It was tool late, calling her a “Bitch” cancelled out any reasoning , and I figured it wasn’t going to be good for me. I decided not to call Regina and tell her about what happened while she was away, but everyone else did. So when she returned, we worked a full week, and she wanted to meet with me that weekend.

Her, Darcy and I sat down, and she asked my side of the story. She told me that she was very disappointed with what happened, and I told her all the things they said to me during that week and she said

“I’m In a tough spot here, all of these women came as a team, if I say something to them, and they all leave I’ll be screwed”

Darcy was clearly upset and offered me work in the spring, it was winter by now, and the crew was smaller, and I told him I appreciated his offer, but I would need to work right away. Regina apologized several times as she fired me, and as I packed up my things to leave I told Regina

“As soon as you tell them something they don’t like, they are going to walk out on you"

I left the salon that night uncertain of what I was going to do. I had no prospects or ideas. I had just started to get up, and I was back down again.

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