Thursday, June 2, 2011

The "R" Word

The house sits on a cul-de-sac within hearing distance of the Cowichan River. It's built of the kind of logs that once forested these parts—logs that mean business. Just like Chainsaw Sally means business. She told me to go around the side and it's there I'm greeted by the platinum blonde hairdresser. It's there I enter her basement cum salon and another world. Every town, I've discovered, has its underground. A people who are tattooed with roses and wear zebra-striped platform heels, who paint their walls red and offer you a seat on a caramel-coloured leather couch.

"This isn't what you were expecting, was it?" Chainsaw Sally says. I admire the antique armoire filled with tubes of hair dye, the silver-gilt reception desk, the funky music. The so-unlike-the-rest-of-Lake-Cowichan feel of the place. "Some people in town are afraid to come here because they wonder if I really use a chainsaw," she laughs. I don't tell her I'd wondered the same thing. I sit down as I'm told. She swivels me around, coldly assessing my greying, unstylish do. "You need to go blonde again." I nod, forgetting about my vow to stay natural. "I'm going to sharpen you up."

Soon her apprentice arrives wearing turquoise ankle boots and a black jumpsuit, her chug (a cross between a pug and a chihuahua) Martin in her arms. Two other dogs and a cat run into the room to greet him. "We have an iguana somewhere around here, too," Chainsaw Sally says and opens the armoire.

While she paints chemicals onto my hair, she tells me about her decision to leave the cold winters of Winnipeg for the mild climate of Lake Cowichan. "I didn't really know what to expect when I moved here," she says. "Me neither," I say and she catches my eye in the mirror. With that one look we know I'm a comrade of the underground. But I try my best not to say the "r" word. Or to talk about the dirt-bikers on the Trans Canada trail or the May long weekend logging-truck parade.  "I love the lake here," she says.

I drink two cups of coffee laced with International Delight Coffee Creamer. I talk like you only talk when a hairdresser is backcombing your hair and you're forced to stare at your unflattering image in the mirror. Chainsaw Sally presses squares of foil onto my head and listens as all the best of her trade do. When I am blonde again, she straps on her studded black leather scissor holster and clips away a year of neglect. Customers come and go: a real-estate agent, a waitress from the Riverside Inn. Chainsaw Sally converses like a chameleon, at one snip discussing The Joint Chiefs (headliners for the upcoming Lake Days), then LED light design, then dreams of a tanning bed business.

Finally it's time to pay the bill. Getting sharpened up isn't cheap. But a glimpse into the underground is priceless. Thank you, Chainsaw Sally.

And thank you for reading.


  1. Would love to see your new do!  Loved the tale of your day underground.  

  2. So true.  Very entertaining.  I wonder if you'd like to be a host on a travel show.  You'd be the best!