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Her instructions were precise, and issued in the manner of a stern drill sergeant: I was to exit the Port Authority, proceed due left and continue for three blocks. I was to look resolute and confident and not, God forbid, like a tourist.

When I found Amy’s office building, I was to go directly to the bank of elevators designated for floors 59-89. My name had been left with the security guard posted in the lobby in this city where anything can happen – and often does.

All of this to spend an afternoon with Amy, the daughter who has chosen Manhattan as her base, much  to the astonishment of her country-mouse mother. While her home is in North Jersey, New York is her workplace.

Amy was the daughter whose spirit thrived in wide, open spaces, and who hated to visit my sister’s Center City apartment in Philadelphia because it was, to quote Amy at 10, “a little box in the sky.” So yes, it still stuns me a bit to encounter Amy in her own box in the sky, a Manhattan office.

Once we found each other, I was led like a child through the teeming streets of midtown Manhattan. Luckily, Amy, my tour guide, was sure-footed and bold. She’s conquered Manhattan so totally that she’s even able to get cabs in the rain – the highest and greatest accolade one can bestow on a true urbanite.

But this time, we were on foot, dodging pedestrians as they rushed past, eyes never meeting other eyes. And like these strangers, we were hurrying, which is clearly the mode of choice on these streets.

Our destination? A hairdressing studio so revered that its name is mentioned in hushed whispers.

Amy, who once had her college roommate chop off eight inches of her magnificent auburn curls, had graduated. We were heading for THE salon in THE City.

It’s not that Amy is so upscale or so discerning. It’s just that someone who owed her a huge favor had given her a gift certificate for the place, and now, it was within 48 hours of expiration.

Not to use it would be criminal, we agreed, and I would bear witness to this epic event.

The moment we stepped inside B’s, we knew we were on an alien planet. Even unflappable Amy seemed a bit intimidated by the stick-thin, blonde receptionist with the sculptured cheekbones, the long black skirt and the hauteur that silently but decisively announced, “I run this place!”

As we marched through the salon, Amy and I peeked around looking for celebrities. How were we to know that they glide in and out of private “consulting rooms,” while mere mortals are directed to public areas?

Once shampooed and enthroned on the chair of a man with a single name and a startling sneer, Amy was on her way.

The lord of the scissors was miffed at the notion of “just a little shaping,” Amy’s wise self-protection against butchery in this high-fashion world of extremes. He snipped with the air of a symphony orchestra conductor working his way through a challenging and difficult piece. Conversation would have been, well, unspeakable during this process.

Amy’s hair was then arranged in what appeared to be the beginning of a style. And just when I thought the real work would be done, she was dismissed.

Her hair looked – and was – damp. Loose locks dangled. Her beautiful curls had been coaxed away. And “spontaneous” was the word used to describe this ridiculously unfinished look.

Amy handed over her gift certificate, which barely covered the bill, and dispensed gratuities in proper envelopes of creamy ivory. Her lovely head of hair looked…mangled.

Later that evening, Amy hopped into the shower and washed her hair with a supermarket brand shampoo.

A bad hair day was over. Amy’s curls bounced back. And the next morning, I returned gratefully to Moorestown, New Jersey, where I belong.

Thank heaven for small blessings about hair – and home.

October 2011
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