I was getting my hair cut, and for the life of me couldn’t think of the word “rut.” Using hand motions and offering the hint “it’s like rivulet or something,” my beautician Heinz Pierre came to my rescue. And English isn’t even his first language, though the sprightly German gent has perfected it beautifully since coming to the United States in 1967.
For more than 40 years, Pierre, as he’s affectionately known, has been cutting and coloring my hair. I’ve followed him from a shop that used to be across from the Galleria, then over to West County Shopping Center, prior to its renovation.
When the shopping center got a major overhaul, Pierre sought a new location for Hair Essentials and found one a five-minute drive east on Manchester, where he’s been for 12 years.
Pierre saw me through my wild phase, the days when I worked at Ozark Airlines and danced under strobe lights to the Motown sounds of Screamin’ J.B. and the Peppermint Five at the Peppermint Lounge.
Goodness knows what he must have thought the day I drug in bent like the back end of a quotation from bouncing around downtown St. Louis with a warren of Playboy bunnies, an escapade that necessitated a trip to the chiropractor. The bunnies and I were hired to demonstrate the big Kangaroo balls popular back then — the ones that have evolved into today’s exercise balls.
I couldn’t pass up the chance to make a few extra bucks to spend on clothes, which I loved as much back then as I do now. For the outing, I tied my champagne frosted pigtails in green bows — a 20-year-old as naïve as the day was long — and that day was way overlong.
Later, sitting in Pierre’s chair, I spilled the story of my adventure, as well as concern about my boyfriend Spark’s angst. He wasn’t the least bit happy that I’d participated in the demonstration, which netted me just enough to buy a new outfit for our date that night.
I’ve known Pierre longer than I’ve known my husband of 40-plus years. Pierre’s a few years older than me, but as we’ve aged the gap between us has narrowed. We’re both grandparents now and often our conversations include news about the little ones and sharing photos.
Pierre and I often discuss world events as well, talk of movies and restaurants as he touches up hair gray at the roots that he used to pull through a frosting cap, or arrange in a French twist for a special occasion, like the Christmas party where my boss drank too much and spilled his drink all over my ice-blue cocktail dress with the diamante buttons. Right before he doused me he called me “Satin Doll” in a slurry voice; those really were “Mad Men” days.
Many might think I’m in a “rut” going to the same beautician year in and year out. But those who know Pierre, and his attractive wife Erica, who works alongside him, realize this man is rather special. Pierre has a marvelous way of maintaining a professional distance, yet he’s warm, generous and gentle.
Pierre’s certainly seen me at my worst. A few years ago, when a cancerous tumor had to be removed, leaving me with a gaping hole in my face, I trusted Pierre enough to go to see him because my hair was an overdue mess.
I held a towel over my face, grimacing at my image in the mirror, but Pierre didn’t miss a beat, his scissors sang as he fixed me up, assuring me that all would be well, his matter of fact treatment reassuring. Too much sympathy would have shaken my reserve and he seemed to know this.
Thankfully, Pierre has no plans for retirement — that would be a waste of time — a dismal drag for a man who continues to attend hair shows to perfect his skills, a beautician with high standards that it’s been my blessing to know through the years.