I felt weird sitting in this preppy bakery for tourists with two
girls I hardly knew, but one of whom I was mad about, sitting
beside me eating their four dollar croissants and looking utterly
carefree. Outside my window was the valley town of Jasper and the
tall, menacing mountains looming overhead.
girl I wanted-looked
at me, "Are you nervous?"
"Ehh…" I replied awkwardly.
"You look really nervous." Nicole nodded her head and grinned
smugly at me.
I took a deep breath, "Well, I am nervous because if I don't get
this job then I'll probably have to move back to Saskatoon. But I'm
not nervous because I've had 17 jobs in my life." The girls raised
their eyebrows at this and I smiled, "I've done my share of job
interviews and I acted in high school so I can bullshit really
well. I can make employers believe I actually care about their
company, you know?"
"Okay." Nicole kept her eyebrows raised at me. "Just don't say that
in the interview." Her look warned me not to be myself at the
interview but rather to be the man the Fairmont Hotel dreamed I
I trusted Nicole because she worked at the spa out
I found strange. At heart Nicole was this freewheeling backpacker
girl from Germany-A
tall, thin and shapely girl who dyed her hair red and had a
tattoo of Alice in Wonderland on her forearm. And in spite of all
this she took a job pampering yuppies in some tight-ass, luxury
hotel. The company even made her wear an armband over her tattoo
all day, and that should have been the first sign that the
Fairmont wasn't going to like me or my hair.
Soon I left the girls at the bakery and rode my bike out to the
Fairmont, pedaling through the woodlands. Light rays broke through
the treetops, piercing down on the green and brown earth as I raced
forward, hopping my bike over little dips and roots in the earth. I
reached the lakefront and stopped to take it all in. The water was
immaculately clean. It reflected the sky like blue glass. Across
the lake stood the Fairmont Hotel.
I saw the prison-like structures-the
rows of log-sided buildings with rooftops painted green. I also saw
their golf course and parking lot, which were plopped right in the
middle of a wild, coniferous forest. And right away I felt like
this pastoral backdrop-far
from making the Fairmont seem more wonderful-actually
highlighted all that was profane and ugly about the people staying
at this hotel and the hotel itself.
Around the lake, I wove my bike past the maze of "Guest Buildings"
where middle-aged people drifted by me like the walking dead. I
pushed my bike past the tennis court, golf course and parking lot.
I saw many guests wearing the same resignation on their face. Sort
of like, "Well, I guess we're in paradise."
Soon I reached a tall wooden fence guarding the "Staff Only
Buildings." The fence and the buildings behind it looked like
something from a kid's summer camp, only here the aesthetic of log
cabins and of wilderness turned into a makeshift townsite felt more
sinister than charming.
Entering the Staff Only grounds I saw joyous green space everywhere
and noticed how eerily quiet the grounds were. As I pushed my bike
along I passed the occasional twenty-something guy or
girl looked in placid sedation (like the guests) and each guy
looked stone cold serious-with
his crew cut and subtle, scowling lips. It felt like I was in some
Twilight Zone episode where there was an unseen malice lurking just
beyond my perception.
I went into Nicole's apartment building, into the men's bathroom
and took out the hair elastic Nicole gave me. I tied my hair back
as best I could, but a few strands kept falling over my face since
my hair wasn't quite long enough for a solid ponytail yet. I pulled
out a crumpled tie from my backpack (that my dad pre-tied back in
Saskatoon) and I tightened it around my collar. I also wore my
glasses because my eye was infected and bloodshot. The glasses made
me appear less sloppy and as I stared at the bathroom mirror I told
myself, "You look professional." Then, heading out of the
apartment, I practised my white-executive walk: with my back
straight, my pace deliberate, and my head held just high enough
that I couldn't smell the bullshit this place was swimming in.
My heart started racing while I searched for the Human Resources
building. I saw a jaded looking girl smoking on the concrete steps
of 'C' building. She gave me directions and I thanked her. I felt
comforted to see smokers out here. I figured since smoking is
greasy and the Fairmont still allowed it, maybe I could still get
away with having long hippie hair.
I stepped into the Human Resources building. I was hungry and had
been biking all day. My energy was low but my heart kept racing and
my palms began sweating so that soon enough my nerves kicked my
brain into overdrive-giving
me the vitality needed to wow my employers at the interview.
I walked up to the reception desk and in a white-executive voice I
said, "Excuse me. My name is Michael Cuthbertson and I'm here for a
job interview. Is Katie available?"
The old-lady-receptionist looked a little stunned by me, "Uh yes,
one moment." She rushed to get Katie, a woman of 30 who quickly
came strolling out of her office. Katie wore a starched, black,
female suit with pinstripes, had the perfect hair length for a
serious businesswoman (being neither too short nor too long to seem
the slightest bit deviant) and she sported hipster glasses, which
at first told me she wasn't simply trying to be the character the
Fairmont wanted her to be. But I quickly sensed that her glasses,
free-spirited as they looked, were just another piece of the
calculated image that she projected and believed would help her
make the most money and fewest waves during her tenure with the
"You're Michael?" She wore a beaming, fake smile that even she
"Yes. And you're Katie?" I shook her hand assertively, still acting
like a white-executive.
"Yes!" She kept beaming. "Can I just get you to follow me this way,
Michael." She led me back through the creepy, empty lawns and into
another building, past a kitchen full of busy cooks till we finally
reached a large, empty banquet hall. She sat me down at one of its
many roundtables covered in white cloth. I sat picturing the
bullshit corporate events that were probably held here every night.
Katie sat down across from me with a fat stack of papers in her
hands and daintily pulled out my resume, placing it on the white
cloth between us. "So Michael," she got down to business, "Tell me
all that you know about the Fairmont?" She spoke peppily yet with
authority and it occurred to me that the interview had begun.
Unfortunately I knew nothing about the Fairmont. I didn't care to
know either. But I said something clever and soon she asked, "Okay,
now what work-related strengths do you have that you feel will make
you a good asset to the Fairmont team?" Immediately I calmed down
and was back in familiar interview-bullshitting-territory: telling
tales of my exceptional people skills, and my being a
"self-motivated" worker whose greatest weakness was liking to take
charge and do all the work himself.
My heart rate was calming down and as I talked out of my ass Katie
kept her perfect posture (like a spoon was up her own ass) and
continued smiling in her unfriendly and authoritative way. Soon she
handed me paperwork to sign and it looked like I was going to get
the job. Then she finally brought it up.
"Now this here is our 'Grooming Policy Form.'"
Nicole had warned me and now I saw that indeed their policy was
beyond obsessive-compulsive. It was even beyond
military-fastidiousness. It was oppressive simply because the
Fairmont had the power to make it oppressive. Girls could only wear
"conservatively-coloured" nail polish. Make-up on girls was to be
worn "Minimally, serving only to highlight the professionalism of
the lady's appearance." As I read this, Katie put her finger over
the subheading "Hair" and looked up at me. I looked back at her
painted-on smile and bulging eyes magnified through her goofy
hipster glasses. "Now you will of course have to get a haircut."
She said matter-of-factly.
I sank into myself. The jig was up. Even my best white-executive
performance wasn't going to save me from the fact that I had hippie
hair and was applying at the Fairmont-which
was about as fortuitous as being a disabled, homosexual Jew living
in Nazi occupied Europe.
"Hmmm," I started massaging my neck nervously, "Like how much of a
haircut?" She smiled less, looking a little unsettled by my
dissent. She looked like the spoon up her ass was starting to poke
her insides awkwardly. "Well," she ran her finger over the text and
proceeded to mime using her own hair, "It needs to be clean on the
sides, ears fully exposed. And on the back hair cannot touch the
collar. And no bangs…"
I exhaled and looked around for an answer. I spoke, no longer able
to keep my white-executive voice, as I slipped accidentally into my
real voice, "Well, uhh, could we compromise? Like workplaces have
made me put my hair in a ponytail before but never, I mean, could I
just get a bit of a haircut?" Katie no longer smiled but kept
running her finger over the subheading "Hair" while staring me down
through her thick, hip glasses. "Well whatever it says in our
grooming policy. As long as your hair abides by that, then it
should be acceptable."
"It's just." I tried slipping back into my white-executive tone, "I
guarantee you I am able to carry myself with professionalism while
serving guests, even with this hair."
"Oh no, I do believe you," Katie said thoughtlessly, "It's just,"
she smiled bigger than ever and started using loud, businessey hand
gestures like people use in political debates, "You must understand
that our guests expect certain things when they visit the Fairmont.
We definitely do keep a fairly conservative grooming policy here,
but that's what our guests come to expect. We have a certain brand
image at the Fairmont and it's our responsibility to uphold that
I struggled not to frown. I felt physically ill at picturing
myself with a crew cut-but
just from hearing a human being, the most sacred thing in the
physical universe, reciting
such bullshit, towing the fascist party-line so closely that she
started espousing her rulers' false ideals with sincerity. The
phrases she used-terms
like "brand image" and "conservative grooming
all sounded like the Fairmont had jammed some computer program
into her brain. It was like I was no longer speaking to a real
human but rather a computer program the Fairmont designed and
Somehow the interview continued, and I must have said 'yes' to the
haircut because next thing I knew Katie walked me to another
building, right into the office of some man I'd never heard
guy named John who was the Manager of Housekeeping. I sat across
his impressive oak desk. John had the typically stocky build of an
affluent, middle-aged, businessman. He wasn't super obese but bore
that unathletic look that one might attribute to too much paperwork
and steak dinner and not enough exercise. He seemed like the kind
of guy who would play golf, but only on the condition that a golf
cart carry him around all day.
John told me I would have the job of "houseman." He told me I would
be driving to different private "Guest cabins", then starting their
fireplaces, bringing them extra furniture and generally pampering
like Nicole did to rich people at the spa. John made a point of
telling me he just fired three housemen because they fooled around
on the job. He sounded very sorry for himself.
By now in life I'd noticed a trend of service industry managers
getting all self-pitying about how they had to "Get tough" on
workers who didn't perform their gruelling duties quite up to the
company's expectations (even though these subordinates were paid a
very generous minimum wage as stipulated by their local provincial
I spoke up, "Well you don't have to worry about me sir," I somehow
continued playing Mr. Good Employee, "I'm a very self-motivated
worker. I actually get bored if I'm not working hard." John
believed me and after telling me orientation started Monday and
what my hours would be, he off-handedly remarked, "Now I'm sure
Katie already told you that hair has to go. We just don't allow
that sort of thing here."
"About that," I went back to my real self, "I was wondering if we
could compromise?" I saw John, with his muffin-top gut under his
dress shirt, and his nice trim haircut. John looked at me sternly,
"Well we've never made any exceptions before. I don't see why you'd
be any different." My brain started battling itself. One side
reminded me of the life I was promised if I just cut the damn hair.
The day before, Nicole told me that I should be roommates with
the Fairmont hadn't found her one yet and she might get stuck with
a stranger if I didn't move in soon. I couldn't tell what Nicole
meant by her offer. It was probably a platonic suggestion. She most
likely wanted me only as a friend. But I dreamed Nicole could be
everything to me. And here I saw an impossibly perfect chance to
make progress in getting her and making her my significant other.
"Alright." I said reluctantly. "I'll get my haircut." But as I said
this my head also buzzed with thoughts of everything possibly
blowing up in my face at the Fairmont. Of Nicole meeting some other
dude and going out with him. Of me working fifty hours a week,
starting fires with soot in my face while rich people sat on the
sofa behind me bitching about their shitty lives. And me going back
to Nicole late at night, entering the room with my short haircut,
feeling like a sell-out douchebag only to find Nicole on our couch
in the arms of some jackass who had the same haircut as me anyway.
I drifted back to reality. John told me to return to Katie's
office. When I got there Katie said she just received a call from
John that I had the job. "Well Michael, first of all, on behalf of
the Fairmont let me congratulate you for receiving this job." She
held out her hand so I shook it again-more
lacklustre than our first handshake. I thought maybe I accidentally
signed up with a cult. As Katie gave me loads of paperwork to fill
out she kept saying "Congratulations" like it was some big fucking
deal that I, probably the lone applicant for the job, had been
found worthy of their creepy little club. My hunger grew and I just
wanted to leave the Fairmont and think things over.
Katie gave me a pen to sign the contract. I didn't take the pen,
saying, "Actually I'll just finish signing the papers tonight and
bring them back tomorrow."
"Okay, congratulations again."
I walked back outdoors to my bike, loosening off my tie and taking
the elastic out of my hair. My locks flopped down on my shoulders
and I felt the wind brush gently over me and my hair. I untucked my
dress shirt and rolled up the sleeves, feeling immediately more
like myself. When I started biking back around the lake I noticed
my handle bars were getting really loose. I had to do the whole
bike ride with them moving up and down. As I pedaled, every bump in
the terrain felt greatly exaggerated and my balance was thrown way
out of wack.
I was rolling cautiously down a gravel road when I saw, on the
horizon, Nicole and the other girl Katelyn coming my way. I sped
up to them and waved but they didn't respond. They seemed to be
having a nice and peaceful conversation when I wobbled up to them
and put my feet down to stop on my bike.
"Well," I looked at Nicole, soaking up her distinctly European
good-looks. I wanted her badly then and I was starting to believe I
could actually get her.
"I got the job." I winced, "But I'm not sure I can take it." Nicole
rolled her eyes at me, "What are you talking about?"
"They want me to cut my hair, like super short, like I was in the
"The Fairmont has a very conservative grooming policy." Katelyn
recited the creed.
"So just cut your hair," Nicole sounded impatient with me, "You'll
have a place to live and a job. Just cut it." I was still enchanted
by her German accent and pretty face. I meditated on these fine
features, trying to convince myself that seeing Nicole everyday
would make my sell-out haircut seem a trivial concern.
"I just don't get it. How does short hair make me a more reliable
worker? Like would guests actually think, oh dear that man has long
hair, I refuse to be served by such a beast! If you ask me, it's
just the Fairmont's way of breaking you down and saying 'you're one
of us now'. It's just like the Army!"
The two girls listened calmly. Katelyn spoke up, "Well I just read
in a magazine something about how most successful business people
all have the same look. You know, with guys it's the suit and tie,
short haircut, no facial hair, and…"
"Oh." I acted pleasantly surprised, "You mean they all look like
douchebags who'd sell their soul to the devil just to make more
money for their company?"
Katelyn stopped to reflect, "Yeah pretty much." She sounded
reluctant to agree. Nicole kept staring at me, looking pretty fed
up with my stubbornness. I suspected she may have also been mad
because, quite possibly, she thought I would look more attractive
with short hair.
don't know a lot about girls, but I know that since I've had long
hair I've had less luck with the ladies. And I myself believe that
most heterosexual people find the opposite sex more attractive when
they exhibit looks typical of that gender (broad shoulders on guys,
curvy hips on women and maybe, now that I thought about it, short
hair on guys.) But though I personally liked girls that looked,
well, "girley", I always thought both guys and girls were cooler
with long hair. It wasn't a sex-appeal thing to me. Long-hair was
more about freedom and rebellion, like the long-haired kids from
the Sixties believed.
I thought about all this while I stared at the ground and Nicole
still stared at me until Katelyn broke our silence, "I think the
only way they'd let you keep your hair long is for a religious
"Hah!" I laughed strangely to myself, "Well I'm Christian, and
Jesus Christ had long hair, so it might as well as be for a
religious reason. Haha, yeah I'll tell them I need it for my
"That would be wrong, don't do that." Nicole scorned me.
"I wouldn't actually." I tried to recover. I twisted my handlebars
nervously then bursted out, saying, "It's funny. With all the
progress certain groups have made today-like,
employers aren't allowed to not hire people on the basis of race or
religion or sexual orientation or gender…" I knew where I was going
with this but I slowed down my rant, knowing I had to employ
extreme caution while discussing minority rights, what with me
being a white 22-year old male and all. Still I continued, "One of
the forms I filled out asked me, 'Are you a member of a visible
minority?' Probably because the Fairmont has certain affirmative
action policies and such. Whatever the case, I got thinking 'Yeah.
I am a minority.' Because I mean, if a company won't hire me simply
because of my hair that's just like any other appearance-based
"Wait, you put you were a minority!" Nicole flipped.
"No, no, I just thought about putting it." I decided it was too
dangerous to pursue my argument any further with Nicole so I went
back to staring at the ground. But inside I was still stewing over
that form. Obviously I faced far less persecution than people who
legitimately qualified as visible minorities. Still, I found it
utterly absurd that we lived in a world that associated shorter
hair-length with workplace competence. Because by that logic, bald
people would make the most outstanding employees of all.
"Anyway," I looked seriously at Nicole, "I gotta find a bike shop.
These handlebars are getting super loose and I can't make it back
up the mountain to the hostel like this."
"Okay see you," Nicole said carelessly and kept walking with
I made it back to town where I had my bike fixed and ate a Subway
sandwich. With my head and stomach feeling less upset, I decided to
call my mom from my favourite payphone in town. It was right by a
train station where trains rolled across a huge open valley. On the
horizon stood mountains that soared above and looked far more
impressive because of the flat, drab valley at their feet.
I called my mom and told her my situation. She simply told me,
"Hair grows back." And I thought yeah, think of this like a tour in
the Army, it's not permanent, I'm only under their authority for a
couple of months. Still I explained to my mom that it was "the
principle" that bothered me. That I wouldn't have been so adamant
about keeping my hair long if the powers that be didn't want so
badly for me to cut it.
My mom said she understood because people doubted her ability to be
a great daycare operator simply because she was overweight. And I
felt sad at that, because my mom was in fact a terrific daycare
operator and far more active than many people who look athletic. I
was stuck in the same boat as her. Clearly I was as professional,
well-mannered and hard-working as any short-haired person out
there. Only society judged people by appearance. My mom said she
agreed and calmly reminded me, "Your hair will grow back." So I
told her I'd take the job-remembering
her always telling me, "All your father and I want to see from you
kids is that you become independent." And I was hell-bent on
becoming independent here in Jasper.
The next morning I came back to the Fairmont to sign my contract.
Nicole met me and followed me to the Administration building. As we
walked down the hall a 40-something lady in a black female suit
with Katie's exact hairstyle waved at us from afar.
"Hello ladies." She said peppily but professionally, just like all
authority figures at the Fairmont. Nicole started laughing under
her breath, grinning at me.
"Oh dear," the lady got closer and covered her mouth. "I'm so
sorry, ladies and gentlemen I suppose." She kept walking and I
couldn't tell if she felt embarrassed for herself or had intended
to embarrass me.
Nicole smiled at me, "Ho-ho, she just burnt you real bad."
I wasn't smiling. I was pissed. And as we reached the receptionist
and waited for Katie it occurred to me what probably just happened.
From a distance that lady really did think I was a girl. Not
because I looked like a girl, but because it was such a foreign
a guy to have long hair-that
this lady's brain simply could not compute the idea. I started
feeling again like this was a cult, or a creepy world from the
Twilight Zone or just a really fucked up place to be and I began
doubting my future here. As it happened Katie wasn't around her
office to witness me signing the contract and I was told to come
back in the afternoon.
I never came back.
The next day, I decided to contact the Fairmont and inform them
that I couldn't take the job. I did this having been taught it was
only proper etiquette. Also I wanted to rub in their faces that I
chose self-respect over their shitty company. Whatever my motives,
I wrote Katie a professional email of resignation, saying:
Unfortunately I will not be able to take the job at the
Fairmont because I disagree with the company's grooming policy. I
wish you and the staff at the Fairmont the best.
Sincerely, Michael Cuthbertson
Of course I didn't honestly wish the best for Katie and the
Fairmont. In fact, I hoped to cause a lot of trouble for Katie and
John by backing out of this crappy job. I knew they were already
short-staffed and counting on my immediate employment with them.
But I felt like it was for their own good that they stop and think
about how they did business with undesirables like me.
Still I appreciated that civil adults are supposed to tell polite
lies in situations like this. Which is why I found it odd that as
the days passed Katie didn't write me back with an equally phony
me luck, saying the Fairmont was sorry that things didn't work out
or some such B.S. I wondered how such a rule-abiding businesswoman
justified to herself not responding to my formal email. She
probably quickly read what I wrote and, in a knee-jerk response,
thought, I'm glad we didn't hire that little brat!
Not like I was surprised to get the cold shoulder from this slick
businesswoman. Unlike the Katies and Johns of this world, I have
long understood that people do not necessarily possess integrity
even if they give you a lot of bombastic "Congratulations" or walk
around with nice hair cuts.
And now as I sit here, reflecting on this rather small-minded
company, I find it funny to think how little the world has changed
since the first great long-haired hippie pointed out the hypocrisy
of certain well-groomed people who, "are like whitewashed tombs,
which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of
dead men's bones and everything unclean."
But what else should we expect? Companies that tell us to make
our insides beautiful and let our hair grow long and free? The
very suggestion is preposterous.
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