“You very handsome now. You look very cool. You look 26, not 62!” Cheryl laughed her low, deep laugh. If Cher had a Malaysian counterpart, she would sound like Cheryl.
“You go to wedding. You give me picture. You send to my phone. I give you email phone number when finish.”
She snipped the top of my head. I had been going to Cheryl for a year, since we moved to Flushing. They call it the Chinatown of Queens, NY. Full of Chinese people. They are wrong. It is full of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Filipinos, Malaysians.
I go back to her because she is fun. We sing Elvis and Everly Brother songs while she buzz cuts my sides. From her singing, I figure she learned as a hospitality girl in Malaysia, drawn to the cities around US bases, a cabaret girl making dollars in a back room to send home to her dirt poor family.
We sing along together, “izza one for da money, two for a show, tree to get ready a go go go.” We laugh. I admire my new do.
“How’d you start cutting hair, Cheryl?”
She pauses, scissors in hand. “You know those girls over on 39th.” She points with her head to the next block. “You know, they always ask ‘Massagee. Massagee?’ They not give massage. The give pulled noodle! Not lo mein noodle, the man noodle!” She laughs and laughs. “When I come over from Malaysia, I pay to get me here. The man, he put papers together, visa, passport.” She snips here, there. Finishing touches. “I get here, no job, got to pay that man back. How I do it? I become massagee girl. Hand pulled noodle. And this too.” She pulls out the blow dryer, puts her lips together and laughs. She blows, the loose hair away. “I hate that job. But watch you gonna do?”
“One day, this guy. He very mean. We go upstairs, he hairy all over. His back like mohair sweater. He beat me, he hurt me. Not a little. He hurt me, very, very big. He a hairy monster. I say got to get out now, no good. I get back at hairy monster. This America, right? You can do what you wanna be. Uncle Sam say so. I become barber. I cut hair! When I see hairy monster, I cut off all his hair. Snip, snip.”
She pauses, “I have to hide for a while. I hear from the masagee girls, the police hairy monster. He no more. Me and some other girls, we open barber shop. We cut hair! Snip Snip.” She sings another Elvis song, “You ayn nothin buh a howin dog, cryin all da time!” This time, I don’t sing along.