"The Cinderella of Sunset Park"
Tonight, I have the perfect venue to show off a new drop-dead gorgeous me – my sister-in-law’s brother’s wedding party. The happy couple got married at Brooklyn Borough Hall three months ago before she was showing and the family is throwing a big bash to celebrate everybody doing the right thing. The buzz on the block says Johnny, the bride’s brother, is coming all the way from sunny LA. Hard to believe Francie’s family is paying for such a big gala to show everybody she’s a married lady now.
I have a to-die-for dress I snagged at H&M. It’s short and sassy with a billion silvery sequins. I have fire engine red stilettos and a statement necklace with matching earrings. I’ll tinkle like wind chimes and twinkle like the stars above tonight. No one will notice the bride and her bulging tummy, just yours truly. I’ve been starving myself thin for weeks.
I spotted the perfect place for my ‘do’ when I was on jury duty last month and I went on a walkabout to shake the boring off me. You can tell it’s a classy place and that’s exactly what I need for my big night. If they throw me out because I got no appointment, so what. I’ll just spit on the floor and disappear. But, I’m feeling totally badass, so I take the subway over and jog in about noon.
The owner nods and smiles when I ask him about doing my hair up to match the magazine page I found at the gyno’s office months ago. It’s a retro-forties upswept style, a boogie-woogie bugle boys’ kind of look with swoops and curls all over.
“I am Boris and this is my salon. Your name, miss?”
“Darlene DiAngelo, but everybody calls me Dolly,” I say.
The thing is, you can’t change yourself up on my street without every freaking busybody butting in, making spiteful comments, and giving you the hairy eyeball, but for a big celebration or a wedding, you could get away with it. You, sure as hell, better be back to the same ol’ same ol’ by the next day.
“You have a special affair this evening?”
“Yeah, a blowout at the Grand Prospect Hall.”
“Nice,” he says.
I’ve never been there, as yet, but I know all about it from the TV commercial where the owners, a lumpy old couple with heavy accents, show you the elegant curved staircases and sparkly chandeliers and promise, ‘All your dreams will come true at the Grand Prospect Hall.’
Boris calls over one of those skinny malinks like my Aunt Carla, who’ll look like a raisin in a few years. He introduces Anna who becomes my torturer over the next few hours. My fairy godmother too since she transformed me like magic.
“Anna will wash your hair now. She is very good at following the pictures. Would you like some green tea?”
Anna sure as hell better be good at pictures because she can’t understand much English. Everyone has some kind of heavy accent here at the Elite Salon in Brooklyn Heights. They might be Russians or Israelis. I saw one of those medusa things nailed on the door jamb. But these folks are very nice, real accommodating.
The shop is on a quiet tree-lined street in an upscale section no more than four miles from mine, but it might as well be on a different planet. That’s Brooklyn for you. It's one borough, but it’s got fifty neighborhoods at fifty price points, rich and poor, every color, tone, and accent you can think of.
There’re plenty of people walking around the Heights, but no smart-ass punks with attitude hanging out on stoops. And no toddlers in droopy drawers splashing in wading pools set out on the sidewalk, just babies in Humvee strollers grabbing power naps on their way to yoga. Different from my hood, that’s for damn sure.
“Your hair color is very unusual. It is very…uh,” stutters Anna.
“Red? Dry? Sister, I’ve lived with this horsehair my whole life. It’s really bad since I colored it Paprika Red. Do you have a hot oil treatment or something? That’ll help. You need to blow dry it straight and then use a curling iron and hair spray.”
I lose Anna somewhere in the middle of my spiel. A big hulky guy, named Noah, whose English skills are decent, listens and tells her something I can’t catch. He sounds like he’s yelling at her, but she doesn’t seem upset, so I guess it’s just their way.
We toddle off to the hair washing chairs with leg lifts like mini-Barker Loungers. La-di-da. Boris recommends the Moroccan oil treatment. Anna applies it and parks me under a heat lamp and I start drifting off.
I stay awake, I text my BFF, Krystal with a play by play. She knows all about my ultimate secret motive, named Johnny. We’ve been buds since second grade when I thought she dissed my little brother and I had to get her mind right. Her black eye faded pretty fast and we’ve been soul sisters ever since.
It’s very spacious and elegant here. You could easy get twice as many chairs in and still have plenty of room. On my block, you’d get a family of six living in the back and run the shop out the front. Boris must be raking in the cash with four girls on hair, a massage lady and Noah, they’re cranking it out making beautiful people more beautiful than they have any right to be.
The music’s crap though. It’s some classical shit. No hot beat or pulse. And there’s no yelling or horsing around like the NuYu Salon on my block in Sunset Park. No way you’d nod off there. You got to stay on the ball, in case something comes flying your way, such as a hairbrush or a curling iron.
The reason I came here – no one knows me. I’d get smack-talk the whole time at NuYu. The ladies would start in on me and I’d get pissed off and god knows what all. I want to make a huge surprise reveal, so I want it top secret.
We shuffle back to the regular chairs to get started on the main business. An older lady sits down by me. Everyone’s so nice to her; I figure she must be a regular. She smiles a lot and seems relaxed and comfortable like it’s her house or something. Boris chats with her about her son and their vacation. I just tune them out and chill.
Now it’s time for the most critical stage of my hairdo. Anna carefully combs and dries each two-inch section of hair. She’s not gentle. My scalp is sore as the heads in a whack-a mole, but it’ll be worth it.
Little Dolly, the drone at the cube farm, who rushes off to work every day in my business casual suit and who nobody ever notices is breaking out big-time tonight. Johnny’ll be there for his little sis’s bash. Will he remember me, a snot-faced 9tth grader when he went off to college? God! I hope not. Back in the day, I used to babysit Francie and ask her about Johnny’s girlfriends and make myself sick mooning after him. Just my luck, he’ll look like his old man – bald and shaped like a lawn gnome. I send up a quick prayer to St. Jude.
Dear Anna continues to toil away on me. I glance up at the big pink and black clock. Godammit! I’ve been here over two hours and I still have a real strong Bride of Frankenstein vibe. I must be home by five or I’ll have to rush the great transformation when I turn myself into a beautiful butterfly.
The curling iron is next. If we don’t move this along a bit quicker, I could miss the ideal moment for my grand entrance. I’ve pictured it for weeks, me standing in the doorway like a sunrise, a hundred eyes gawking at me in awe.
Booya! This hair is starting to shape up. It looks all shiny and shimmery. I do believe it’s going to look great. I knew finding this place was fate. My luck’s changing tonight. I can feel it creep over me like angels’ wings.
The lady next to me is onto her blow dry. Boris’s still hanging all over her and asking about her kid, the Golden Boy. He just graduated from college, yadda, yadda, yadda.
I’m a college graduate too – Manhattan Community College. When I got my Associates in Business, my Aunt Bunny knew someone whose boyfriend’s cousin knew somebody at an insurance office on Beaver Street in lower Manhattan and got me an interview. They gave me a try and I gave them a try and I’m still there three years later. I get two weeks vacation, paid holidays and all the insurance I’ll ever need. I show up every day and do my job better than the wacko owner’s son who’s always hanging by my cube.
I know what he’s looking for. But he’s sadly disillusioned. I have a rock-solid master plan and nothing’s going to stop me. I wore hand-me-downs my whole life, but I’m starting a savings. I’ll be running that office in a few years, buy myself a one-bedroom co-op near Williamsburg and furnish it with all new stuff. No secondhand crap for Dolly. I’m getting a Jennifer Convertible sofa and a Raymour & Flanagan dining set. I’m good at waiting and always keep my eyes peeled for any fresh opportunities that may come my way.
Boris is done primping on the old lady. She has great hair, smooth and shiny with perfect blondish highlights. She heads for the reception desk all beautified.
“Color, highlights and oil treatment, that will be $250.00,” Boris tells her. She signs the credit card slip like she does it every day.
I swallow wrong and start coughing up a lung. Two-hundred-fifty? I am screwed. Jeez-Louise! How much’s this going to cost me? I have seventy-five cash. I’m sure that’s not going to cover my ‘do in this joint. And my plastic’s maxed out. Think, girlfriend, think.
I try to calm myself down to let Anna finish. Otherwise, I’ll look like a freaking troll doll, the extra-large economy size. I shove another stick of Orbit in and starting chewing like a crazy bitch.
A batch of new customers starts streaming in – a whiny little brat, a couple of jocks, another old lady and a teen angel! I watch Boris’ bobbing bald spot as he greets the new rubes.
It looks like Anna’s on the home stretch, at last. I look wicked good. She’s done a really great job, even if it’s taken almost four hours. A masterpiece!
“Miss, I think I am done. How you like? Is OK?” Anna gives me a hand-mirror and spins my chair. I’m a shimmery vision, a fucking duchess. It’s better than the picture.
“Not bad,” I say. “Let’s do a selfie, you and me.”
I smile at her and slip her two fives, so she knows I like it. She takes the cash and slinks off to collapse.
So I stroll up to the reception desk to find out what the damage is. I snap my gum and look around. Everybody’s busy with customers and nobody notices me. How can they ignore a five-foot-eight sassy redheaded momma like me?
But they do.
I count to twenty real slow, take a deep breath, do a 180 and disappear out the door.
I scamper across the street and slip between the townhouses walking fast, not running. I get on the Brooklyn-bound ‘A’ train, sink into the first empty seat and let out a sigh.
What the fuck have I done? I‘m worse than a dirty rat leaving a sinking ship. But there’s no time to cry over spilt milk.
I’m back at my place to shower and switch into my party threads in fifteen minutes flat. I do a ‘sexy-smoky-eye treatment with-candy-apple-red lips’ for a complete and total Dolly-fide makeover. I’ve been practicing every night with MissChevious on YouTube for weeks. I call Uber and arrive in style for my Big Reveal at the Grand Prospect Hall, where dreams do come true.
I climb the grand staircase just like in the commercial and pause in the doorway. It’s all glistening gold and silver and smells like heaven. There are eight chandeliers lit up. Every table has a cloth down to the floor with a centerpiece of white Gardenias tied in violet ribbons. There’s a platform with a five-piece band wearing baby blue tuxedos and black bow ties. There’s a big-ass crowd chilling about, but little by little people turn their heads, a few get poked in the ribs, and hear their voices lag. The room goes dead silent.
I melt their faces off.
There are two-dozen chins hitting tables and eyebrows meeting hairlines. Half the crowd doesn’t even recognize me at first, I can tell.
Even though I dreamed it’d be good showing up like this, it feels great! I’m usually part of the wallpaper; hell, I’m the glue on the wallpaper. I grew up the fourth of seven, skinny with frizzy hair, tiny eyes, and big teeth. I was never first or best at anything; even my family forgets me half the time. Now I stroll in and I got the whole fucking package. I’m the Cinderella of Sunset Park.
I snap a quick selfie with the crowd behind me.
Someone taps my shoulder and I turn, expecting Johnny. But I’m dead wrong. It’s two policemen with Boris and the hall owners. No one is smiling. My heart sinks into my stilettos and my makeup melts.
“You Darlene DiAngelo?” one asks. “Nice hairdo!” I nod. “Boris, here, filed a complaint against you for alleged petty theft. You hotfooted it out of his beauty shop this afternoon. We gotta take you down to the station.”
I’m mortified in my moment of glory. I’m whisked down the beautiful curved staircase with a cop on each arm and I lose a shoe. They stuff me into their squad car, drive to the precinct and book me. I’m given a desk ticket with a $1,000 fine.
I’ve never seen that kind of money. The cops are really nice to me though. I can tell they feel bad about my situation, but there’s nothing they can do. Everyone I know is at the Grand Prospect Hall. I don’t want to call and be more notorious than I already am, so I don’t.
They put me in a cell, give me a clean blanket and I sleep sitting up to protect my valuable hairdo, which is the root of my demise. In the morning, I call Aunt Carla who posts bail. The cops return my purse and shoe and I go home alone – back to the same old Dolly with the same old hair.
And Johnny? Never saw him.