Waitressing, particularly at a sports bar, was never something Anna saw herself doing. Yet, it was the only real work she could find in Jackson Falls, and the interaction with customers, even if they were predominantly drunk men watching some sporting event she couldn’t care less about, served as a mild distraction from the tumult of her mind. She was required to wear a uniform: dark flats and jeans or conservative jean shorts with a collared top. She liked the predictability of the work, and the pay wasn’t bad, particularly when working a weekend night or a big game. Her plain, generic outward appearance seemed to echo the throbbing numbness she felt inside her mind.
Walking home from work one day through the lazy downtown of Jackson Falls, she came across a huge neon sign reading “MANDY’S HAIR” and, below it, hastily written in black marker, “GRAND OPENING.” The store appeared to be the only one open on the block and, as Anna noticed, there didn’t appear to be a single customer inside. Thinking nothing of it, she shuffled by, until a woman propelled herself out onto the sidewalk.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” she pleaded. Anna turned back to see Mandy: a fish out of water in Jackson Falls if there ever was one. Platinum blonde, long hair ran down to nearly the small of her back, and she wore a halter top with a sleeve of tattooed dark black roses running down her right arm. Below a thick veneer of exquisitely applied makeup, her huge, auburn eyes plaintively called to Anna to respond. No less than seven different piercings adorned her ears, completed by a small nose stud. Her ample breasts were perilously supported by the smallest of straps, leading to slender legs hugged by fashionable jeans with alluring cutouts along her thighs and knees.
“I’m s-sorry?” Anna managed to stutter out.
“We’re having our grand opening tonight, and I’m giving away a styling to anyone today, totally for free. So like, if you wanted to get your hair done, I could definitely do it.” Mandy responded, her voice wavering in the failing light of dusk. Although Anna hadn’t had her hair done in likely months—and, back then, at the cheapest salon she could find near campus—something about Mandy’s plaintive calling and her inexplicably alluring appearance compelled Anna to agree.
“Uh, OK. I don’t really get my hair done very often,” Anna called back.
“Let’s do it! I’ll get you set up, girl, you won’t regret this!” Mandy replied, emboldened.
Anna entered the small shop, festooned with an eclectic array of knickknacks ranging from the functional (hair products) to the downright odd (what appeared to be the wheel of a motorcycle mounted on the ceiling). Pictures of tattooed men and women in “I’m-so-cool” poses dotted the walls. “Uh, is this a hair salon?” Anna asked.
“It is, for now! I’m actually doing everything here—hair, nails, tanning, tattoos, piercings. I just have to get my license for the rest of that stuff. Did you know that this town doesn’t even have a single tattoo place? That’s crazy, right?” Mandy, now uncorked, seemed to be a veritable font of local knowledge and opinions.
“No, er, I guess. I just moved here.”
“Oh me too! We’re going to be besties, then. We’re so alike!” Mandy continued, apparently undaunted at their obvious lack of any appreciable commonality except shared geography. “So are we going a little lighter, or what?” Mandy questioned.
“Oh no, I guess just a cut would be OK.”
“Oh come on, girl! Let’s live a little bit. I know the place looks a little crazy right now, but I actually know a thing or two about hair. I worked in a New York City salon for the past five years. This dark brown color doesn’t go with your skin at all, nor your style.”
“Uh, ok.” Anna didn’t know what style Mandy was referring to, but Mandy was already busy mixing together peroxide and various pastes. Never one to argue, Anna tried to relax, rationalizing that this was the sort of “outside-the-box” experience she needed—even if it was one she never anticipated.
“We’re going to go a little lighter on you, just adding a little bit of warmth here, nothing too insane! You’re going to look so fucking ho...” Mandy stopped herself. “Beautiful!” Mandy said with a toothy grin.
Over the next hour, Mandy’s repeated, incessant questioning about every facet of Anna’s life, ranging from how many siblings Anna had (none) to Anna’s favorite DJ (Anna didn’t have an answer) wore Anna’s guarded persona down. At the end of the hour, Anna actually found herself laughing at Mandy’s anecdotes, her funny experiences working alternatively as a tattoo artist and hair dresser in Manhattan, and her decision to move to Jackson Falls (“cheap rent, and this fucking guy,” Mandy responded). Though they didn’t touch on what was obviously their shared romantic foibles, Anna felt an unexpected, welcomed sense of comfort with Mandy—like two old friends recounting memories, even if neither one of them had actually shared the experiences. Her genuine smile was the first she had managed to produce since the Todd fiasco, and she felt oddly thrilled to have a real connection with another human being, even one so different from her.
Mandy was right about the hair. “Fucking awesome girl, you’re a bombshell,” Mandy said, approvingly, of her own work. Anna didn’t quite agree with that assessment, but Mandy’s treatment had added a few lighter, golden tones to her hair. Anna loved it.
“Wow Mandy! I’ve never gotten my hair done like this before. This is awesome!” Anna exclaimed.
“You deserve it girl. I’ll need to see you back in a few weeks for touch ups. And by that time maybe we’ll have the rest of the, uh, features here open,” Mandy replied.
“Ok!” Anna said. A few weeks sounded like not a lot of time for another hair appointment but, Anna thought, good for Mandy for hustling. And it’d be fun to catch up again soon.
Though no one at work seemed to notice her new hair, Anna was emboldened, beaming at customers as she took their orders for hamburgers and Bud Lights. As football season rolled around in the fall, business at Max’s seemed to be booming, and the whole town seemed to slowly lurch to life. The closest NFL team had recently relocated a few miles closer to Jackson Falls, and, with it, came a younger, more excitable crowd looking to watch the game, and celebrate (or bemoan) its results. A new community college campus had similarly just sprung up, drawing in a younger crowd.
The owner struck a promotional deal with a nationally distributed liquor company, and, one Saturday, asked all the wait staff (which was, as it turned out, was exclusively women) to wear “shot whistles” (whistles worn around their necks with the name of the brand), and form-fitting tank tops and jeans as they promoted the drinks. Although Anna usually worked taking orders from tables, she was shuffled around behind the bar, where she would blow her whistle when anyone ordered a drink from the brand. She wore a tank top branded with the company’s name and logo—revealing, for Anna, but, she thought, all in good fun, and to help the bar out. By the end of the night she even took a shot of her own, purchased for her by two guys at the end of the bar. Intoxicated by the event, and perhaps emboldened by her hair, she quickly downed the shot and gave a wink to two guys, before blushing in embarrassment and rushing off to clean a table that didn’t need cleaning.
The tank tops proved to be an increasingly popular wardrobe choice for management. In October, the owner purchased the neighboring restaurant—a struggling Thai food joint—and expanded into it, almost doubling the size of the bar. After engaging an expensive brand consultant, the owner invested significant cash into a brand new, top-shelf bar, fancy new logos and new menus, and an audio system that seemed more rightfully designed to vibrate the ice cubes in the freezer than for listening enjoyment.
Part of the re-branding effort centered on the waitstaff. Anna noticed that essentially all of the older wait staff then employed when she started had been uniformly replaced by younger, bubbly, vapid-seeming 20-somethings drawn from the nearby community college. Almost uniformly blonde, their mere presence changed the tone of the bar from a sleepy, locals-only place to a destination in the resurgent downtown. Giggly and excitable, their broad, beaming smiled increasingly welcome young, single men there to watch the game, as opposed to the 40 or 50-somethings Anna had become accustomed to serving.
“I guess I’m lucky I’m still here,” Anna thought, grudgingly shuffling to and from work as Fall gave way to Winter.
Mandy’s was picking up business too. Although she didn’t stick to Mandy’s prescribed “a couple week” schedule, in mid-December she wandered over to Mandy’s, still dressed in tank top and jeans from work.
“Girl, I knew it was you!” Mandy yelled out. “You’re looking great! You lose some weight?”
“Hi Mandy!” Anna said, excited to see what, in the context of Sleepy Falls, was the only person she could arguably call her friend, “how is business? And, er, yea, I guess.” Anna had lost some weight: being on her feet all day, and her daily commute to and from Max’s, had led her to shed a few pounds from her already thin frame.
“It’s OK, but—great news—I just got my a license to do piercings, and tattoos here!”
“Wow, uh, cool!” Anna responded, not sure of what the appropriate response to such news might be. The closest Anna had been to a piercing shop before entering Mandy’s was to the local Claire’s at the mall next to where she grew up, where she got her ears pierced and a free set of cheap earrings as a right of passage orchestrated by her Mom on her 14th birthday.
“So, you want to be my first customer? I mean, you were already my first salon customer!” Mandy intoned in her familiar enthusiasm.
“Oh, uh, I don’t think I’m really that kind of person.” Anna’s face grew red with embarrassment at the thought. It sounded like the sort of thing that bimbo slut Todd was fucking would do, she angrily concluded.
“Come on! Live a little, a piercing never killed anyone. Look at me, I have, like, uh...” Mandy seemed lost in though. “Well, I have a lot, and they’re fucking awesome.”
“I don’t know Mandy,” Anna tried to control her growing rage at Todd’s nameless sorority whore, while stopping herself from offending what might be her only chance at a friend.
“How about this, I’ll do your hair, and we’ll do a little cartilage piercing on your left ear. Put in a little stud. If you don’t like it in a week, we can take it out. Two second of pain. Please? It’d really help me out!”
“Uh... alright, I guess.” Anna had no idea how getting her ear pierced would help Mandy out, but, by this time, Anna been ushered into a waiting chair, and Mandy had already begun to mix up a concoction of chemicals destined for Anna’s auburn locks. Her thoughts of Todd quickly dimmed as Mandy launched into her practiced routine of hair dressing.
“What is a cartilage piercing?” was all Anna could muster to substantiate a conversation, prompting Mandy to launch into a seemingly well-rehearsed explanation of the apparently multitudinous vagueries of the human ear, and its various accessorize-able locations.
As with before, Mandy and Anna soon slipped into the sort of mindless, yet endearing, conversation Anna felt oddly drawn to—discussing topics ranging from their thoughts on local politics, sports, movies, cute guys, and favorite outfits. And when it was over—an hour and a half of chit-chat and Mandy wrangling her hair, completed by 30 seconds of a small pinch in her upper ear—Anna found herself with what Mandy described as a “fucking hot” hair style at least a shade or two lighter than what she walked in with, and a cute, small stud on the top corner of her left ear. Anna felt naughty at even the thought of her new earring: defiance from Todd, defiance from her family, and an adoption, even in the absolute slightest, of the so-bad-it’s-good lifestyle she envisioned Mandy inhabiting. A pang of something unexpected—lust, arousal, or something similar—shook her from head to toe.
As winter progressed into spring, management at Max’s increasingly promoted their waitstaff—by this time, exclusively women under the age of 25—as the selling point of the restaurant. Girls were encouraged to wear shorts, and, even, denim skirts, and to be “experimental” with their tops, which Anna quickly learned meant, in the eyes of her fellow waitresses, scandalously ripping the company-issue tank tops (there were now a variety, with slogans, pictures, and similar that were permissible uniform wear) to reveal midrifts, bra straps, and as much skin as they could reasonably get away with. Far from prohibiting such behavior, management instituted a “hygiene check” every morning, in which girls were subjected to a check by the shift manager to ensure that they looked “presentable” for work, which Anna learned meant coiffed hair, expertly applied makeup, and enticing (and company-branded) clothing. A de-facto locker room had sprung up next to the kitchen, where girls would primp, preen, and change into clothing prior to or during shifts, quickly becoming an admixture of Victoria Secret perfume, shorts, skits, tops, and heels.
Fearing for her job, and wanting to fit in, Anna soon learned the fine art of applying makeup—and not without some substantial help from Mandy. Anna was now a regular at Mandy’s, coming in every two weeks for hair touch-ups, which Anna found to mean seemingly more and more complex shadings and colorings. A few months in, Anna’s hair was a classifiable shade of dirty blonde, differing markedly from her natural auburn coloring. Mandy said it “opened up her face,” whatever that meant, and “complimented her skin tone.” The dramatic makeup: dark eyes, rosy cheeks, after-dark lipstick, was all Mandy’s invention. Anna balked at first but, finding almost immediately a correlation between the quality of her makeup and the amount of her tips, quickly adopted Mandy’s strategies hook-line-and-sinker.
Anna was changing in more ways than simply appearance. Although she initially wore the most conservative denim shorts sold in the women’s section of Macy’s, one day, she spilled a customer’s beer over her shorts, requiring a change. A co-worker ending her shift volunteered to have Anna change into her shorts. Though Anna’s size, the shorts fit tight, the legs extended just below the butt, and were low slung over Anna’s hips, revealing the most thigh Anna had ever revealed in public, and a tantalizing strip of midriff between her shorts and top.
Anna was almost paralyzed in fear to walk onto the restaurant floor. Her fear, however, quickly turned into a new sensation: a confidence borne of desire and spite for Todd, as she noticed men ogling her over their beer glasses, craning their necks as she walked by to check out her, well, ass. Far from being disgusted, as she might have in the past, Anna felt emboldened: flicking her dirty blonde locks to reveal her pierced cartilage, elongating her steps to be more seductive, and consciously batting her eyes in her best “come hither” look. The pang of feeling she had felt at Mandy’s after getting her ear pierced soon became a recurrent theme—revealing and reinforcing itself when she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror at Max’s. If her parents, or Todd, could see her now—what would they say? What would they think? For the moment, Anna didn’t care. “Maybe Mandy was fucking right!” Anna said aloud to herself. “I am hot!”