"Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
(1803 - 1882)
The very afternoon I was writing about anger, someone was very angry at me. I had had my hair cut the previous day around noon and walked out of a neighborhood salon with someone else's brown down coat.
Here in New York City, you'll see from five to a dozen of such coats on women on every block, and in the back of my mind I've been worrying that one day I'll take someone's coat or she'll take mine.
And then it happened.
I didn't notice that I had the wrong coat until about 6:30 when I found keys in the pocket.
Someone was locked out of her apartment?
I was on my way to a dinner date. I quickly guessed the coat belonged to a friend who had visited me in the afternoon and I emailed right away, the fastest way to reach her.
The next morning, she wrote back that it wasn't hers.
Oh, gee, then the great coat mixup could have happenned at a nail salon, a hair salon, or yoga class.
But I had a big interview that day at noon; I'd been primping to prepare and now I needed to concentrate on other preparations.
To my credit (I think) as soon as my interview was over, and I was back in the neighborhood I walked into the hairdressing salon and asked, "Did anyone report a missing coat with keys in the pocket? I have it!"
It turned out the coat belonged to the hairdresser who had done my hair. She is a tall woman with a big bust and a big helmet of black hair and bright red lipsticked lips. Think big and intense. I'd noticed a bit of anger emanating from her when I had first come into the salon, where I don't ordinarily go.
It was Friday afternoon and the salon was packed with perhaps 10 waiting customers. "Why didn't you call?" she said loudly, so all could hear.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know where to call," I said. "This was just one place of a few it could have been." I didn't feel great about this explanation....given the state she was in, from her point of view I should have called every possibility immediately.
"I''ll go get it now," I said.
I went and returned in about ten minutes. On my return, one of the waiting customers whispered to me, "She's very irritated." Some scene had occurred in the salon while I was gone. I was ushered into the back, where the sinks are. She was washing a customer's hair. She put out one hand for the keys, which I gave her. I put the coat on an empty chair.
"Do you know what chaos you caused?," she said. "You created such havoc!"
"Didn't you notice that the coat was too big for you? Didn't you notice the keys in the pocket?"
Meanwhile, her hands were on the other woman's head. I could just imagine the sensations in her scalp.
"I'm a big girl." She sticks out her bust. "I had to buy another coat!"
It also turned out that she had already arranged to have the locks changed (the keys were to the hairdressing salon)....
I'm thinking, "Well, I'm spacey and this is hard on other people"...And another part of me is thinking, "Gee, it's been about 24 hours, maybe you overreacted?"
But I just kept smiling and saying, "Well, how much did you spend...."
She then told me that the chain that owned the salon was going to pay for changing the locks, and they hadn't yet been changed.
"Well, you don't need to worry that I'll rob anyone. I had no idea where the coat even came from until you told me."
"That's my decision to make." (Ah, I might have had the keys copied and return to rob the salon. Fine.)
It also turned out that she had taken my coat home and had left it at home.
The message was clear: I would get my coat back if I offered to pay for the new one she had bought.
I said, "When you bring my coat back, we can work out how handle the cost of the new one..."
Of course, if she'd been nice about it, she might have made herself a regular customer and created a warm feeling in the salon, instead of making everyone nervous.
You can probably guess how this turned out. It took three more visits before I got my coat back. She either wasn't there or was "busy." I kept asking the other hairdressers to ask her to leave it in the salon. But they told me she wanted to give it to me herself.
My coat was being held at ransom. And I was beginning to understand that she was less interested in my money than in inconveniencing and humiliating me.
A friend told me to just forget about my coat.
The other hairdressers all shook their heads and smiled sympathetically at me. They knew. They worked for her.
I wasn't ready to give up. One day, our moment came, and she insisted that I go to the end of the salon, down a corridor and up a flight of stairs. I asked "Can't you bring it down?" "No," she said.
I was afraid of her now.
I followed her nonetheless. Upstairs, she said, "This is my office!" She was not a mere hairdresser, she was a woman with an office.
She handed me a bag with my coat. It had been there all along.
She said, "Did't you notice it was too big? What's wrong with you? Aren't you even going to apologize!"
Returning to anger.
Yes, If I were more present and less wrapped up in myself I wouldn't have walked out with her coat or I would have noticed the keys in the pocket imemdiately. If I were less selfish, or more organized, I would have taken the time before my interview to look for the rightful owner of the coat.
Her complaints about me, however justified, were just an excuse. By now, from the comments of her staff, I'd gotten to know her a little. She had a child. She had a husband. Her hours were flexible. Her staff was afraid of her. She was a dark and stormy kind of lady and the clouds she made from standing in her sunshine interested her most.
Her new coat was more expensive and glamorous than the coat I'd taken by mistake. It had a fur-trimmed hood, it was shiny and it was long. It was more like mine.
Now my returned coat isn't just another brown down coat. It's a coat I fought for and a coat that was in the hands of a woman with a certain kind of power that I admire.
I admire her for having the guts to retailiate against me. I'd admire her more if she'd made me a customer for life. (It's an excellent hair cut).
I try to give advice in these columns. My lesson from this: iif you ever have a boss like that, don't stay in the job a minute longer than you need to.