By Bart Walters from Ban Ampur, Thailand
“Manicures, pedicures, facials and assorted services to serve one’s vanity are dirt cheap in Thailand. My bi-weekly trip to Estee’ Salon sets me back a whopping 400 THB ($12) for the best simultaneous mani/pedi a person can get. I used to fall asleep during the process, but on a busy Saturday afternoon, the people-watching is just too good.
Estee’ is a big popular salon on Pattaya Beach’s second road. On this particular Saturday all 12 chairs were full of Russians, Vikings and Yanks. Expat Madame’s were in getting a cut-n-color or touching up their acrylic nails. A big Russian biker came in a leather and cut-off jeans outfit that made him look like one of The Village People. He had an appointment for some kind of “waxing”.
Sitting in the corner, sipping my café Americano, getting my hooves trimmed and watching Pattaya’s psychedelic human aquarium … that’s what I call entertainment!
The star of today’s matinee walked through the door like he was walking into a saloon, not a salon. A long lanky, closer-to-sixty-than-fifty American pushed through the double glass doors and timidly approached the hostess/cashier.
In a baritone West Texas drawl he inquired, “ ’Scuse me, ya’ll cut hair?” After three more futile attempts at verbal communication and a little sign language, one of the all purpose staff grabbed him by the arm and said, “Yes, cut hair on head, cut hair on nose … more handsome sure”. In his wrinkled up shorts and mismatch Hawaiian shirt, the man shuffled zombie-like behind her to the barber chair. He sat stoic staring at his own reflection in the mirror as if he were waiting for the executioner.
My two attendants and I took stock of Tex from our corner perch. His hair was shoulder length and unkempt. His big Yosemite Sam mustache was comical. And the baggage under his eyes would exceed the carry-on weight limit on most airlines. My manicurist raised her eyebrows and said, “For sure this man in the right place”.
Then, as happens so often in Thailand, just what the doctor ordered magically appeared. Bounding out of the back like a big playful puppy came Lek, a 20 year old Thai girl in Jennifer Lopez’s body. She would be Tex’s stylist du jour. He looked mortified.
Lek speaks just enough English to be hysterical. I’ve been to restaurants where the waiters are also singers; but by her mere presence, Lek turned Estee’ into some kind of novelty salon where you get your hair cut by a comedian.
Within 60 seconds Tex was completely under her spell. Lek drew the man out of his crusty shell, and very soon everyone in the salon learned that he actually was from Texas, divorced, almost-retired and visiting his brother who lived in Thailand. Since his mother had died and his kids moved to other towns, his brother had invited him to come on an extended holiday. He had only arrived two days ago. “The people seem n-i-i-i-ce” he drawled.
Lek talked Tex into a much shorter cut than he had envisioned. My guess is he just wanted to sit in the chair and be fussed over a little longer. I’d bet it’s the first time he has seen his ears in three decades. He even let her chop about and inch and a half off that giant cookie duster he had hanging under his nose. She finished him up with a straight razor shave and a little eyebrow trim.
When she was done, Lek exclaimed, “Oh mister Clooney … Sorry I don’t recognize you before … please can I have your autograph?” The other stylists and salon staff applauded and wolf-whistled with approval. Tex chuckled and you could see that he actually had dimples and a nice smile. Young Lek had shaved ten years off the gangly American; even his clothes seemed less wrinkled. Upon standing up he seemed taller somehow
Feeling some kind of magic connection to Lek, and not knowing what to do next, Tex reflexively gave her a big tip and his business card. Lek giggled, wrote her name on the back of the card and handed it back to him. “When you want handsome … come see Lek … guarantee handsome okay?”
Tex sheepishly grinned and acknowledged everyone in the salon on his way out. As if he knew I was watching, he shook his head and held up the card with Lek’s name written on it and marveled, “Guaranteed handsome … you can’t beat that”.
Welcome to Thailand Tex.”