As featured in Medium / The Age of Empathy
When You Overhear Something You Wish You Didn’t Hear
Eavesdropping at the hair salon
It was an ordinary Saturday at the hair salon. Sounds of scissors snipping and the scent of shampoos and hair sprays filled the air. The overhead track lighting cast downward shadows, making my nose look huge and the circles around my eyes dark. A new -do would make life a little brighter.
A salon assistant asked, “Would you like a cup of coffee, Ayurveda tea, or a glass of water?”
“Water, please. That would be lovely.” To be adventurous, I recently asked for Ayurveda tea. It tasted like drinking a cup of melted butter. (Nauseating.)
I had just come from the testosterone-loaded Mavis Tire to have my wheels rotated and found comfort in the female babble now surrounding me at the hair salon.
Until the woman in the next swivel chair started yakking about vaginas and vulvas. Like no one else could hear!
I gave her a side glance. Even though it was January and the temperature outside was hovering in the lower-40s, I noticed her wearing a strappy conservative-heel sandal. Strips of aluminum foil dangled from her head and I wondered whether she was getting blond highlights or channeling Martians.
With earbuds in place, she spoke loudly as if no one else was in the beauty salon. The woman’s conversation seemed to linger on the “V-” words.
“Here we go.” I casually looked at my fingernails, then feigned reading my magazine.
“I mean, it’s the same information, but it’s not a true inflammatory disorder.” (Pause.) “Let me go back to the beginning.”
Perhaps she was talking to her co-writer or editor. The woman continued, briefly touching upon vaginal gels and exclusion.
“The word ‘exclusionary’ should be in the text, too,” she continued. “These are the primary facts to consider. We don’t want to lose the meaning. What I’m not crazy about, though, is the sentence. Can we change it?
“And is the perception of engorgement pertinent to this paragraph on genitalia? First, let’s make sure it makes sense.
“These are all theoretical,” the woman said as she futzed with an earbud that was popping out. “But what we do know is that it’s the engagement that creates sensitivity. They’re not ideologies. We need more sentence.”
The phrase “We need more sentence” was like the SNL skit in which Christopher Walken tells Will Farrell that they “need more cowbell.” The words “engagement” and “engorgement” were so confusing.
“Clinical conditions may contribute to many things and cause peripheral engorgement,” the woman continued.
Although I considered myself an enlightened woman, I had never heard of some of these physiological concepts. Then grammatical technicalities started rolling in.
“Should ‘vagina’ be lowercase? I mean, it should be the same in all the tables?” the woman asked. “Let’s move into inflammatory infections of the vulva. People are afraid we’d be changing evidence, and that’s what we don’t want to do.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“We’ve sure gotten to love sexual medicine, haven’t we?” the woman asked jovially. (I always love overhearing people talk on their iPhones with earbuds. Like WTF?)
I glanced over again. It sounded like the woman was finally closing in what sounded like the last paragraph. Also, the dye had started to drip down her forehead. Flashes of the movie “Death in Venice” came to mind.
“We just need to distinguish between vulva and labia,” she continued. “This is one of the cornerstones of our research. So first, readers should know whether the words are singular or plural, and then whether the female reader actually knows she has one vulva or two labia.”
I was almost positive I had both of these and reminded myself to check later.
When I was finally ready to leave, the hairdresser gave my tresses one last tussle. “Perfect,” she said. (I think she says that to every client.)
When I went to pay, the receptionist said the same thing. (I think they say that to everyone.)
“Would you like to book your next appointment?” she asked.
How could I politely say never sit me next to someone writing an article or chapter on vaginas and vulvas, engorgement and engagement?
Or better yet, I’ll know next time I see that woman at the hair salon to move to the swivel chair far enough away so I can focus on what I’m reading and not on vaginas and engorgements.
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