Outside those mirrored walls, the customer may be a harried mother of six, a neglected wife, an overworked secretary, a bullied clerk, or merely a woman bored to the screaming point, but within them, she becomes a royal heroine. Her word is law, although she may have to explain it now and then. "Let me get this straight," growls the hairdresser, a young man in well-tailored banker's gray with a no-nonsense accent. "You want a big roller in front and a small one behind it. Like this? Well, how, then? At an angle. OK. So then what? Pin curls in front of the ears. In front of the ears? But, Madam, where do we go with the rest of it?" There is a pause full of feminine mutterings. The hairdresser's voice rises again, resonant with scholarly outrage. "I'll do anything you wish, Madam, but we don't usually follow Miami. They normally follow us. I doubt, myself, that it will stay up."
After this momentary protest from the loyal opposition, Madam gets her rollers and pin curls, and thanks to pride of craft or underestimation of Miami, it does stay up. Everything stays up.
A girl whose hair has the texture of cotton candy and is colored an impossible but becoming pink is having it combed. There seems to be a great deal of it, and it swoops out behind her head in a twist that must surely be cantilevered. The last lock, which the hairdresser stands back to consider, is three inches wide and ten inches long. It stands alone, rising straight up from her forehead like the horn of a unicorn. Once it is flattened into place, the whole astonishing confection is set until the next morning, when the owner will come in to have it combed all over again. She works in the neighborhood. Presumably the hairdo is a business necessity, but it is constructed with a pantomime of leisurely admiration and courtly concern worthy of the old regime.
Washing, cutting, setting, drying, and combing out her hair will cost the customer about fifteen dollars. Rinses casually alleged to accomplish various unlikely wonders will add two or three dollars to the bill, and a permanent wave, coloring, or pattern bleaching will send it skyrocketing. Technically, the work will be excellent, and in the course of it the customer will be given several compliments and all the coffee she can drink.
There is a considerable difference between the carnival-barker claims of cosmetic advertising and the underplaying of the Caracalla staff. Advice is rarely offered unless it is requested, and, when given, includes no mention of the company's products. The woman who spends forty-five minutes massaging the customer, which seems a lot of effort for ten dollars, allows that her work can ultimately improve the shape but will not decrease the weight by more than a few ounces. The facial, involving another ten dollars and four or five unguents, removes everything superfluous from the customer's face, including, probably, the top layer of skin. The results are spectacular, but no attempt is made to peddle the lotions, nor are there any promises of easy rejuvenation via powdered plankton or cream of ant's eggs.