From the lobby of our hotel, I could see the Venetian, the world’s largest casino. Hell, you could probably seen the thing from Mars. Takayo, wanted to get her nails done, which seemed like a good enough reason to go over and check it out.
The Venetian looms over the horizon like a desert plateau. It has that strange ability to distort distance, making objects appear much closer than they really are. The first thing I noticed upon walking in was not the gold archways or the seemingly endless marble floors. I was expecting that. No, it was the air that impressed me. Sounds strange, I know, but it brought to mind an image of orange blossoms, falling softly upon a baby’s head. God, they must’ve put something in the air for me to go on like that.
We got a little gambling in before heading upstairs to the shops. It’s just like a real city: blue skies, restaurants, and of course a canal full of pool water and Chinese gondolas. We found a nail salon and Takayo decides that I need a trim, “since we’re here anyway…”
The place was brightly lit with techno music throbbing from the stereo. A girl brought over two cups of green tea, and led me to a chair in back. “Tony will be cutting your hair,” she said. As if summoned, Tony stepped out from the back room. He was your typical Chinese hipster -- wild bangs, flashy tee shirt, shredded jeans -- the type of guy who could make anyone over twenty-five feel old.
Tony seemed nice enough, but he never asked me how I wanted my hair cut. It never came up. Maybe it was the air, or not wanting to feel old, but I decided to just sit back and give Tony free artistic range. He’s a professional, I thought. Let’s see his vision. This was the Venetian, after all. They wouldn’t let just anyone work here. That’s what I told myself, feeling a bit like a maverick.
So he starts cutting and tells me that he’s from Hong Kong. I tell him that I’m American but have been living in mainland China for ten months.
“You ever been to Hong Kong,” he asks.
“Nah, I’ve been meaning to visit, though. Went to Thailand over the summer, Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi.”
“Did you like?”
“Oh, yea. It’s great down there, love the beaches, the beer.”
“Did you go to Full Moon Party?”
I smiled. “Nah, wish that I had though.”
He stopped cutting, looked left, then right, and leaned in toward my ear.
“Did you have the mushroom?”
“No, but I heard that they pick them right off the elephant dung.”
He seemed to ignore this, and began cutting again. My hair was dry.
“Do you know what kind of mushroom I speak of,” he whispered.
“Yea. The MAGIC kind.”
“Yea. That’s what I’m talking about. Magic mushrooms.” Still, he didn’t seem convinced, so I recounted to him this quasi-religious experience I had involving a key and a pillow. “The key is your mind.” He stopped cutting my hair.
“In Phuket, you can go to the boy in hotel and say ‘marijuana’ and he says ‘wait here’ and comes back in five minutes with it.”
It had become a contest of one-upmanship, and I could see where the conversation was headed. It was being discussed in seedy college dorms all over the world, but did I really need to get involved with an international drug confession with a stylist? Then I said something that I instantly regretted.
“Look, I don’t do drugs any more. My wife doesn’t like it.” Now I felt really old.
Tony had a glazed look in his eyes, and my head was looking lopsided.
“Once you invent a religion, it’s kind ’a hard to top that.”
He got back to cutting and was quiet for a while.
Halfway through the cut, he brought me over to a sink and washed my hair. With that finished, he asked me about my wife. I told him that she was a school teacher, but his scissors were moving so fast that I don‘t think he was really listening. I’m not sure why exactly, but shortly after he began drying my hair, my head started taking on an odd shape. My top notch was, for lack of a better word, blossoming. I told myself again, It’ll be OK, this guy’s a professional. But now I wasn’t so sure.
When Tony broke out the Aqua Net, I lost all hope. But I was in too deep to turn back. The only thing to do was hold on to the armrests and let him finish. He cupped his hand over my eyes and let the hairspray rain down upon my bangs. Yea, I had bangs now. They were combed straight down to my eyebrows. And crooked. My top notch was in full bloom. With all that hairspray, it would have taken a therapist to talk it back down.
“OK,” Tony said. “It is finished.”
I stared at his wonder in the mirror, and it seemed to stare back.
“Should I sweep it to the side a little,” I asked, concerning the bangs.
His eyes were completely glazed over, brushing individual hairs into place.
“No. The front must stay straight.”
Takayo had her nails in a drying machine, reading a magazine on her lap. I sat in a nearby chair and waited for her to look up. When she finally did, I’d never seen a more confused expression. And then came the laughter.
“What did he do to you,” she said.
“I just let him do whatever. I thought he was an artist.”
“Alright Sebastian. Let’s go.”
“Yea, that’s what you look like. Sebastian, my ‘special’ shopping companion. Here, take my purse up there and pay. I don‘t want to scratch my nails”
Before we left, Tony came up and handed me his business card.
“Gee, thanks.” I accepted it in the traditional Chinese manner, pinching the corners with both hands.
I couldn’t walk past a single mirror that day without admiring the new shape of my head. When we returned the gaming floor, I struck a pose for the blackjack dealer. Yea, there was something in the air all right. There’s no other explanation for it. Why else would I pay good money to come out looking like a mushroom?