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Shannon, too, has been doing hair all her life, and now that she has a child to support, she's depending on it to pay the bills. "I'm gonna love the public," she says determinedly. "I'm gonna be freelance and go to people's houses and do their perms so they can be private. Me, when I get my perm, I don't like everyone looking at me."

"I'm not doing hair for the rest of my life," announces Fredda. "After this, I'm going to school to get a Ph.D. in exercise so I can be an aerobics instructor and inform people that you have to be in good shape. I am going to touch people in many ways," she decides. "The sky's the limit."

Margie, who probably is the oldest student in the class by a decade, hopes this will prove to be true. "I was laid off as a supervisor, and I decided to get good at this instead," she says. "I'm one of the few who never cared that much about my looks until now. I have really had to learn about today's fashion. The poof on the top of the head. The buzzcuts. I have just absolutely had a blast so far."

Margie has her heart set on a job at Fantastic Sam's when she graduates in November, but she's already practicing on her husband's hair at home, because "a barber cut his ear once and he won't go near one now. And I minister to people who are poor, from my church. I cut their hair, which is nice for them. I will continue to do that."

"I've wanted to do this since I was 13," says Heather, who at 21 is raising two children on a gas station attendant's salary. Still, she felt discouraged about her career until the previous day, when Ultima brought in motivational speaker/hairdresser Kitty Victor to address the freshman class.

"She was the most wonderful woman in the whole world," Heather says. "She owns her own shop, and she's so full of energy, and she travels all over the world. `If you want it,' she says, `you can have it.' And I thought to myself, oh, I want it."

Jeanette wants it, too, especially after ten years as a bartender. "I miss parts of that life," she admits. "When people have a few beers in them, they listen up, boy. But at least what I do for these clients will make them look better instead of worse."

Out on the floor, the clients are beginning to back up. Lured by extremely low prices, they come--by appointment or just walk-up whim--for all salon services. One elderly woman seems to be here for the day, enjoying everything from a Marilyn Monroe bleach job to a complete pedicure. Right now she is splayed out in a manicure chair, a beatific smile on her face. The reception area, watched over by a pink-smocked attendant with even pinker acrylic nails, is packed. But none of this fazes Miss Robin, who carefully observes as a student installs a spiral perm on a tiny teen mother with several patient kids parked about her chair.

"You gotta watch it with those loopy-doop rods," Miss Robin tells her charge. "Take your time."

A young man--one of just three in the current class--stops by to complain that by switching from night school to day school, he's lost two regular clients. "If you run into them," he says, "maybe you could tell them..."

"Run into them?" Miss Robin repeats incredulously. "You cawll them. Cawll them."

"But I can't--"
"Sure you can. And put on your coat. And if you're not busy, go blow-dry yourself. Or blow-dry somebody else. Or go watch a beauty video. Stay busy. It's practice for the real world."

Now another student arrives with one of the female wash-and-set clients who are the mainstay of salons everywhere. On the way to the chair, the two become stuck in a conversational lull. Miss Robin swoops in to save the situation.

"May I take your coat?" she asks, slipping off the client's raincoat to reveal a yellow sweater. "My, we're bright today! Won't you have a seat? Hey," she hisses to the student, "get your coat on! Be professional!"

Professionalism is not a problem for Dedra and Thomas, a young married couple getting their beauty school degrees together. Thomas, who became interested in hair when he heard that Great Clips hairdressers can make $8 an hour, is smoothly chatting with, and T-parting, an eighth grader. Dedra has brought her Mary Kay sample case along, hoping to make a sale during the lunch break.

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff