Friday, April 20, 2007

Accidental Blonde

I'm a 43-year-old brunette.

When I was 21 I had a bad hair cut by a beautician near where I lived in Surfside Beach, South Carolina. I hated the way she'd whacked my hair and applied this funky gel and coifed it into some bizarre style that I don't know how to describe – she did to my hair something that she wanted to do, not what I wanted. It wasn't the first time a stylist had used me as her own personal guinea pig. I vowed to never get my hair professionally cut again. And I didn't – not for 17 years. I cut it myself, with an occasional assist from my mom.

In the early 2000's I got brave again. I had my hair cut at a professional salon in Seattle that was recommended by my friend Carol at work. But I couldn't believe how expensive the whole thing was. Plus, they pressured me to buy product (what's with the gel push anyway??). I walked away having laid out about $110 and swore off getting my hair cut at such an expensive salon again.

Later, in downtown Bellevue, I found a place that still cut hair for under 50 bucks (one of those chain cutteries), and I occasionally went there to get a trim from Tatiana. I was happy with her, she never did anything dramatic.

I didn't really have my hair cut again until I got a wild hair in January 2005 (when I lived in NYC), took the subway to China town, and got all my long hair whacked off by a young man about half my age for all of 19 dollars. I was proud of myself for saving all that money and trying out a "more professional" look for my job on Wall Street. However, my haircut was so short that the people I worked with at Morgan Stanley indicated that they didn't like it ("Wow, it's really short" was the typical reaction.) Even my doorman Bill hated it, and he made that very clear to me when he first laid eyes on me afterward. Thanks to everyone I knew telling me it was too short, I decided I'd let it all grow out again – all of it this time, all one length. That was two years ago.

Fast forward to 2006. I started getting my eyebrows waxed at a wonderful salon that's within a mile of my house – very convenient, great service, and I love the people there. Then, this spring, I finally broke down and decided to get a hair trim and some subtle highlights. When Courtney trimmed my hair at the end of March I thought she did a good job, although with tip the price came to $60. I figure that's today's rates for a good stylist. Plus, it was worth it just to have someone shampoo my head. It's almost better than sex.

On April 4th, the first day of my mini-vacation and the day before my Miami trip, I went into the salon at 2pm to have my hair highlighted and eyebrows waxed. I described exactly what I wanted to Courtney—subtle, blondish highlights. I told her I didn't want it to look striped, and I didn't want red. I showed her photos. It was the first time I'd ever done this, and I didn't want her to go overboard.

As it happened, her color mixing was off. I ended up with a head full of dark red highlights that were barely noticeable but looked like copper stripes to me (up close and under bright bathroom lighting). Not a soul at work noticed I'd had it done. So after I got back from Miami, I spoke with Courtney about fixing it.

Yesterday I went in at 4:45PM for the color correction. I showed Courtney the same exact photos from their style book that I'd shown her on the first attempt. These women clearly had dark brown hair with a few subtle, caramel highlights blended in here and there. Their hair, overall, remained brunette.

Well, I don't know what came over Courtney because, first of all, it was after 9:00PM when she finally finished. (And I had a trip to prep for and a cat to feed.) She spent way too much time on the whole process, and now I know why.

I got a quick view of my hair on a bathroom break. But it was still wet at the time. I told her with a tone of warning, "That's a lot of color. . . ." She told me not to worry. What irked me was that she wouldn't let me see myself in the mirror until she'd finished drying (and straightening) it, which took like another hour. I finally got a sideways glimpse of it when I was reaching for my soda, and I about had a cow. I told her I feared that it was "too blonde." She kept saying, "just let me finish, You're going to love it." I kept telling her nicely that I was worried about how it would turn out, that I didn't want that much blonde.

Meanwhile, the other four women still on duty (owner and my esthetician included) and a customer all thought it looked great. My esthetician (whom I adore), told me I looked "sexy." She mentioned what a big change it is for me. I was like, "I didn't want change. I don't want to look sexy. I don't want to be a blonde." I really didn't. I just wanted something a little different, and I'm not sure how I could have made my wishes any clearer to Courtney.

Finally Courtney was done. She swung the chair around so I was facing the mirror. My mouth dropped open in shock. I was now something I never wanted to be in my life: blonde.

It was 9:30 when I got home, and I looked in my own bathroom mirror. All I could see was blonde. Instead of having a few highlights added to my dark brown hair, I have a few strands of dark brown underneath this honey-caramel-blonde color, which is more like bleach white just around my ears where she didn't apply enough toner. The rest of the highlights are the right color but, like I told Courtney, there's just way too much of it.

I was going to go back today and have it fixed, but there wasn't time since I had to work and have a flight to catch later. I talked to my friend Ed at work after emailing him a few self-taken digital photos of my hair. He suggested that I wait, be brave, and get some more reactions before I change it back. I took his advice and, as much as I dread going in to work with this shocking change of hair color next week, I will see what other people think before changing it back.

Ugh. This is exactly why I didn't go to a hair stylist for 17 years – they tend to "play" with your hair and do things that they think are fun or might be cool. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The stylist is supposed to do what the customer wants. Are there any out there who actually do that? I'm open to comments here.

This is reminiscent of my Lasik surgery. . . .

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech Tragedy

Today the flag was flying at half-mast in front of the Columbia office building where I work. It's been 23 years since I was a student at Virginia Tech.

Like many Americans, I watched the news reports on and closely on Monday and Tuesday, sometimes pausing from my work to listen to the latest updates on my computer. I keep asking myself, 'What has this world come to?'

I guess none of us has the answer to that. It's a different world than the one I grew up in.

I don't recall ever having a fear of being gunned down at school. Of course, I was in high school and college in the 70's and 80's. The campus shootings in Texas occurred when I was just an infant, so I was never really aware of it. And it seemed like an isolated incident at the time, in 1966. But since the 90's, our society has had to endure multiple senseless school shootings throughout the country.

Although this week's carnage is devastating for these young students who have (or had) their whole lives ahead of them, it's the parents that I really felt for as the news unfolded the past couple of days. I can't imagine the fear that the parents of those 26,000 Tech students went through on Monday and Tuesday this week, wondering if their child had survived the day or not. I wouldn't want to be one of those parents.

It's sad. I wish I could have had kids of my own. But I frequently have to wonder what is the point of bringing kids into this world? You send them to school, you worry that they'll get shot up by a nut job. You send them to work, you worry if a plane or a bomb is going to level the building they're in. You send them to church, you wonder if the priest is going to make sexual advances. You put them in a car, you wonder if a driver suffering from road rage (or drunkenness) is going to run them off the road.

It's no wonder we're all stressed out. I doubt I could handle that much worry all the time. I don't know how parents do it these days. I think they have the toughest job of all.

They say "mother" is a verb, not a noun. That's definitely a truisim for most moms. Here's to all the Va Tech moms. My heart goes out to you.

Monday, April 09, 2007

It Pays to be Nice

Today is the final day of my mini-vacation that started last Wednesday. I had plans to have my hair highlighted (a first!) and my eyebrows waxed that day, at Jolie Tete salon. While I was there, I spontaneously signed up for a pedicure, so I ended up spending five hours in the salon. That's a first for me. After avoiding professional hair cuts for 17 years of my adult life, I'm making up for it now. I'd never had a pedicure before, and it was wonderful. I was feeling quite decadent.

The next morning I had a two-legged flight from BWI to Miami. I have the worst luck flying. We were all packed in and ready to go for the first flight, well ahead of the scheduled departure time when the pilot announced that we had to postpone departure by 13 minutes due to some bizarre FAA regulation that requires that the pilot(s) be at the airport for a specified amount of time prior to flying. So we just sat there at the gate in the stuffy plane. We were told that we would easily make up the time in the air since the weather between Baltimore and Charlotte was perfect.

We finally taxied toward the runway. There, we stopped an parked at an angle and just sat. The pilot told us that there was an air traffic delay of some sort. Meanwhile, we just sat there while other planes taxied past us and took off. Errrgh. Finally we took off, 35 minutes late. The pilot still promised us we'd make it on time. We're all looking at our watches, wondering if we'd make our connecting flights. This is no way to start a vacation--all stressed out and worried you'd have to spend the day sitting in an airport while everyone else was lying on the beach.

The pilot still told us we'd land on time. With no further updates from him, we landed 35 minutes late and scrambled off the plane to make the next flight. God I hate the airlines. They showed zero concern for the fact that we were all going off on vacation somewhere and had to make another flight.

Well, luckily, I made my next flight after running from one gate to the next. It got us down to Miami on time, at 1:40 in the afternoon. It was waiting for baggage and the shuttle--and then horrible Miami traffic--that caused further delays starting my real vacation. It was hot in that shuttle too. I'd worn long pants because it was cold in Baltimore. In fact, they were expecting temperatures in the 20's back home. I was glad to be headed to Miami, a place I'd never been to before but I knew could guarantee me a tan.

A really nice guy on the shuttle was telling me about sites to see near where I was staying. We had plenty of time to discuss it, after all. By the time I got to my motel, the South Seas on Collins Avenue, I was soaking wet with sweat. When I checked in, I asked the girl at the front desk if there was any chance I could get a view room. Sure enough, she gave me one. The other clerk mentioned that most people don't ask nicely, they come in demanding a view room, and those are the people who don't get one. :)

So I went up to my room, stripped, donned my bathing suit, and was out by the pool in the hot afternoon sun by 4:30pm, almost three hours after arriving at the airport. Let the vacation begin!

Jumping ahead a few days, my flight home on Easter Sunday was such a different experience that I thought I must be living someone else's life that day. The plane was overbooked so they wouldn't let me reserve a seat. I tried to reserve one online the night before. No go. So I called American Airlines and asked to get my seat. They wouldn't do it. Don't ask me why. So I decided I'd get to the airport early Sunday, in plenty of time to get a seat (any seat that's not a middle seat is a good seat).

I set out early, not knowing how long it would take to get back to the airport from the beach. I skipped Super Shuttle and just took a taxi so that I wouldn't be delayed by multiple stops. Well, we got there pretty darned fast. I was second in line for curb-side check-in. Plus the security line was short, so I found myself at the gate exactly three hours before my scheduled departure time. The AA attendant wasn't even there yet, although the area was packed with people scheduled to be on the next flight, to Bogota.

Everyone around me was speaking Spanish. I stood there at the desk, first in line, and waited 15 minutes for someone to show up. A flight attendant came by, wondering why no one was there, and started speaking at me in Spanish. I just shrugged my shoulders to say "I don't know where the clerk is." (If you have brown hair and brown eyes, people in Miami assume you speak the language.)

Finally a girl showed up behind the counter, looking a tad frazzled, as if she'd overslept or gotten caught in traffic. She turned toward me, no doubt expecting a grumpy customer. I could see it in her eyes. I smiled at her and gave her a "Good morning." And that's all it took. The rest of my day was going to go my way. She assigned me my precious window seat near the front of the plane - 12A.

I had bought a piece of artwork that was an oil panting on canvas and wrapped it carefully in a beach towel and two bags for the flight. I asked the girl if there was any chance I could put it in the closet when I boarded. She smiled back at me and told me I could do that and that if she was there at boarding time, she'd even let me pre-board.

Sure enough, 2.5 hours later when she was boarding the First Class passengers, I went up to her and asked nicely if it was "still OK" to pre-board with my painting. She let me go straight on. When I got to the cabin, I told the the male and female flight attendant pair that I'd bought this piece of art. The guy joked with me about bringing him this nice piece of art. Whew! So the flight attendants were in good moods. They were so friendly and were happy to stow it for me.

I went back to row 12 and settled in. I inserted my ear plugs and started the crossword puzzle in the airline magazine while the noisy families clambored into their seats around me. One guy yelled at his boy for being too pushy and loudly grounded him - "No computer for two more days!" I thought, Great. This is the family I get to sit with.

The plane was almost full when I heard the flight attendant say, "Passenger Susan B. please come forward." I knew they were trying to seat families together and were rearranging people. I bent over the empty middle seat and whispered to the wife, "I just hope they don't put me in a middle seat. I got here three hours early to get a good seat."

I gathered my stuff and went to the aisle. Two teenage boys took my seat and the seat next to it. The wife looked up at me and said, "Maybe they'll put you in First Class." I snorted, thinking that's doubtful. But then I looked up the aisle and the woman who had checked me in and let me board early was up in first class, waving me up and telling me to bring my bag that was stowed in the overhead bin. They were bumping me to first class! I couldn't believe it. The flight attendants were all smiles, and I was all "thank you thank you thank you!"

They bumped up another woman (Ellen) who sat with me, and it turned out she made a wonderful travel companion. She was divorced, my age, and lived not far from me. We were both ecstatic about being bumped up. The service was awesome, despite the fact that we weren't "paying" First Class customers. We were given bowls of warm nuts, a meal to choose from, and all the beverages we wanted. They even served my favorite soda (Diet Dr. Pepper). It was just too good to be true.

Not only that, but the plane actually took off on time and arrived 20 minutes early. That's right--early. Ellen was like, "Knock on wood." (I, of course, am thinking I'm going to die in a fiery crash on the way home from the airport because my luck never runs this good.)

I went down to baggage and the wait for the buzzer announcing our baggage had arrived was short. Not only that, my bag was the fifth one off the carousel! I said to the angry father standing next to me (the one who'd yelled at his son on the plane), "Well that never happens - this must be my lucky day! First they bump me to First Class, now this." He laughed and we both thought I should buy a Lotto ticket on the way home.

I went outside with my luggage where the temperature was about 45 degrees. I was feeling it in my Capri pants. The shuttle arrived a few minutes later and--wouldn't you know it--dropped me off at my car first, ahead of the other passengers. I just kept smiling. If one more thing went right with that trip, I think I would've had a heart attack.

Driving home I decided it best not to push my luck so I didn't buy a lottery ticket. I hated leaving warm, sunny Miami Beach, but it sure was good to get home and see Martin.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Lasik Gone Bad

April 2, 2007

For 20 years I've heard from many of my myopic friends and cousins and about how they had this wonderful 15-minute laser eye surgery that had them seeing 20/20 by the time they walked out the door of the doctor's office. End of story.

Well, guess what? It doesn't always work that way. Granted, for most people it does. But this is me we're talking about.

On February 2nd I took advantage of a new insurance benefit I have through my pricey COBRA policy. It allowed me to have the newer "intra-lase" Lasik procedure done on both eyes for the reasonable cost of $2700. The retail value of this type of computerized Lasik procedure typically runs around five grand, so I decided to take advantage of this deal before my COBRA runs out later this year.

First of all, this isn't exactly just a quick outpatient procedure. In December I had to go without contact lenses for two weeks in order to get the exam done that determines whether I'm eligible for Lasik. That was the first step. It consisted of all these "wave scans" and other assorted eye tests done by an assistant with fancy machines, in addition to a regular doctor's exam.

I was amazed at how friendly and smiley the staff was. I just couldn't believe I was in a doctor's office. Employees were asking me if I wanted any snacks and "Can I get you some water to drink?" They bubbled over with enthusiasm. It was eerie--not your typical drab doctor's office where the overweight scrub-adorned nurse wanna-be behind the glass window tells you sullenly to sign in and be seated while you wait for an hour and a half past your appointment time.

It was much later when I realized why hospitality is so rampant at TLC – it's elective surgery. People pay a lot of money for it. They want to sell it to you. Of course they treated me like a Platinum member of their club.

It's all about the money.

In January, I had to endure yet another two-week period of living with glasses. Then I had to go back to see the doc on yet another workday on the day before the procedure for more scans and a dilation. (Have you ever tried driving at night with dilated eyes? I'm lucky I made it home alive and without killing anyone else on the road.)

On the day of the procedure, my friend Rashmi at the FBI was kind enough to sacrifice her Friday morning off to drive me to the clinic in Annapolis (about 30 miles) and wait while I had the surgery. My appointment was for 10am, but the whole thing took 2.5 hours, over two hours of which we spent sitting in the waiting room. Upon arrival, the bubbly receptionist slaps a name tag and instructions on each patient and lines us up for surgery, one after another. (Later on, when I mentioned to my sister-in-law Judy that I thought it was like an assembly line, she called it (not-so-affectionately) a "Lasik mill." That was exactly what it was, I swear.)

Think about the numbers. Say that on "surgery day" this doctor does 30 surgeries at an average of (let's say) $3500 each. That is in $105,000 in procedures. In one day. Schwing! I wonder what kind of car this doctor drives? And why didn't I think of becoming a Lasik surgeon? It's really not that hard because machines do all the work.

Anyway, they gave me a Valium and surgical head and shoe covers to wear about 20 minutes ahead of time. For the procedure I laid down on a table while each eye was operated on separately and quickly. They use a clamp to prop the eye open and they put lots of anesthetic drops in each eye. The doctor moves a machine over the eye, you focus on a light, and within a couple minutes it's over. It really wasn't bad. I had a fear of seeing this knife-like instrument coming at my eye and me screaming in panic. It's nothing like that because your vision goes gray just before they start cutting. At the end, after maybe 10 minutes, I was given a pair of sunglasses to put on immediately, and Rashmi drove me home.

We hadn't even gotten to the car when my eyes started to water terribly. Each eye was its own little faucet. Then in the car my eyes started to burn. One more than the other, I recall. The 45-minute drive home was misery. I felt like someone had poured sand in my eyes and was rubbing it in with a hot anvil. I couldn't see because I couldn't keep my eyes open.

You know how your eyes feel when you have a foreign object in them, and the lids automatically close on you? That's what the next couple of hours was like for me until I finally fell asleep for my requisite post-surgery nap.

When I woke up four hours later, I could read the time on my alarm clock, which was something I couldn't do before. But when I got out of bed everything was hazy. My vision wasn't as great as I expected. It, in fact, got worse over the next eight weeks (which brings us to last Friday). I can read books, but my distance vision is blurry and halo-y. My left eye has a central blur that follows my eye movement. I can't read those big green highway signs until I'm right under them. Street signs are impossible. I went to a play at the National Theatre with my sister-in-law Jacqui several days ago, and all the actors' faces were blurry. (Don't even get me going about how hard it is to drive at night--but that is supposed to improve with time.)

After several visits to the my nonchalant (albeit friendly) surgeon at his office in Gambrills, Maryland, on Saturdays for follow-up, and two more visits to the Annapolis office during working hours (more pay lost), I finally got an answer as to what is wrong with my vision. Prior to that, the surgeon had pretty much blown me off with each visit, saying that it would take time to heal and that I should be seeing fine in a few weeks. He claimed I was seeing 20/50, and to this day I seriously doubt I have seen that well since the surgery. Worst part is, I have no way of correcting this problem without glasses.

So I finally insisted on seeing the other doctor last Friday afternoon (the one who did the original exam), and she actually took scans of my corneas and figured out what was wrong: My right eye was under-corrected, and my left eye was off-center during the surgery.

Whoa. That is two different surgical errors, one in each eye. And they told me that the odds of either happening is 5 in 100. It's especially rare with the more modern intra-lase surgery because nothing is done by hand. And yet, somehow this doctor at TLC managed to screw up both eyes in unique ways. I am really having a hard time seeing my computer at work--and I'm a technical writer by trade, so that makes working pretty tough. It’s been two months of this. After I saw the doctor on Friday, I had to go to Costco with my old frames to order lenses. That's because TLC won't do what they euphemistically call an "enhancement" surgery to correct the problems until at least three months after the first surgery.

So I'm facing at least another month with bad vision (it'll take two weeks for the glasses to come in), and then I have to miss another full day of work and pay to have the surgery done again, followed by the horrible sand-rubbing pain and then several Saturday follow-up appointments just at the peak of the good weather.

If I added up the cost of the surgery, the new glasses, and all the hours of work missed--this Lasik carries a price tag of $4900.

I really can't believe my rotten luck. Optimists (like my friends Ed and Mark at work) like to tell me things like, "It's not what happens to you, it's how you handle it." You know, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Blah, blah, blah. It is what happens to you when it keeps happening over and over and over. I speak from experience.

Anyway, Ed did make me laugh. He sent me an email with a subject line of "I found a picture of your eye doctor." The body of the message contained only this link: