En garde! Maybe M. Emile was a lousy hairdresser, but he gave his place tone | History | Smithsonian
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En garde! Maybe M. Emile was a lousy hairdresser, but he gave his place tone

En garde! Maybe M. Emile was a lousy hairdresser, but he gave his place tone

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M. Emile was tall and thin, with sparse, pomaded hair. He had traded his upper lip for a little awning of a mustache. He had the incurious gaze of a museum guard. Between clients he took off his white jacket and brushed it hard, as if it had offended him.

M. Emile's accented English was serviceable, but he didn't use it much. I too kept my mouth shut. I was 10 when I was first brought to M. Emile; in two years of monthly visits, I said nothing to him but "Merci."

M. Emile didn't address me at all. He merely extended his palm to my mother, waiting beside me on a folding seat. I climbed onto the client's chair and my mother brought her seat near. M. Emile regarded my head.

My hair was dark brown. I wore it in a Dutch cut-sides and back and bangs ferociously straight.

M. Emile picked up a clean pair of scissors. He held it at arm's length. En garde! I thought. He bent his elbow and began to cut. Touche. I was learning French in "Enrichment" class.

M. Emile snipped. He executed a coup de grace. I blinked through the mirror at my abbreviated Dutch cut. After certain sessions it was particularly uneven. Sometimes what remained of the bangs slanted like a roof.

My mother sighed, just a little.

You may wonder why we continued to patronize M. Emile.

The answer: M. Emile was European.

To my mother, the post-World War II Europeans trickling into town were heroic and wise. The newcomers, many sponsored by the local Committee to Aid Refugees, included my Viennese friend Tanya and her parents (Tanya was in Enrichment too). Also two Czech brothers starting a jewelry business. Also the Armands-Maman and three daughters-who lived in a little flat. All four dressed gorgeously on no money; they drank wine and laughed and listened to recordings of great tenors.

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