Why you should care

Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Kyle Vuong
San Francisco

I came in this morning and had six voice mails waiting from frantic parents wanting to make appointments for their kids today. On average, we see about five kids a day, sometimes as many as nine or 10. From the time we open at 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. when we close, we’re usually slammed. The phone rings constantly; I wear a headset to keep my hands free. I just got a call from a dad asking for a haircut for his son. Occasionally, we get confused for a hair salon. Sort of. We’re Hair Fairies. We do lice removal.

The beginning of the school year is always a busy time. Public schools, private schools — there’s no difference. Every school gets it — usually all at once! There’s been a lot in the news lately about how lice have grown resistant to over-the-counter treatments. Maybe that’s why business has really been booming lately. We just opened our ninth location — one in Seattle, one in Burlingame. Four years ago, we had four technicians here at our San Francisco salon; now we’ve doubled our staff. I’m actually hiring two more people this week. There’s a definite demand for what we do, which is, basically, comb the eggs and the bugs out of kids’ hair. I probably spend about six to eight hours a day just combing. I find it very Zen, actually. It’s relaxing. Well, for us. For the parents? Not so much.

Europeans actually look at lice differently than we do. They’re kind of … lax about it. If they see a bug, they’ll just pick it out.

 

They’re stressed. They’re frustrated. They’re grossed out. We are like their therapists. We talk them down. We tell them: No, you don’t have to throw everything out. No, you don’t have to move out of your home. They’re also annoyed that they’re spending $100 an hour to get rid of their kid’s lice. And it usually takes at least two hours per kid. Depending on the severity of the case, it can get really costly. It’s shocking for me too, to have to bill someone like $600 for a treatment and then tell them, “Sorry, you have to come back for a follow-up, to be sure it’s all gone.”

Once we had a client from London, a high school girl. She was here for two weeks visiting family. She had the highest lice count I’d ever seen — over 2,000 eggs on her head! She had to come in for two to three hours every other day. What a vacation.

Europeans actually look at lice differently than we do. They’re kind of … lax about it. If they see a bug, they’ll just pick it out. It’s not a big issue there, like it is here in America, where the minute people find a bug on themselves, they freak out. But part of my job is education, to let people know that these bugs don’t carry infectious diseases, they can’t hurt your health. They cannot jump or fly or burrow into your body — although everyone thinks they can.

Lice 4

Kyle Vuong has worked at Hair Fairies for seven years.

Source Sean Culligan/OZY

I get it. When I first started here at Hair Fairies, I had no idea either. I had no idea how intricate or interesting these bugs are! We’re like scientists. I graduated from SF State with a degree in consumer family science. Then I went to cosmetology school and learned to cut hair. I’d been looking for a job as a salon apprentice, but then I saw a post on Craigslist that said, “Do you like working with children and families?” So I applied. Out of six people at the group interview, I got the job. I’m not sure why, I think it was because I had a positive outlook. I came in with a smile. I was willing to learn. I started as a part-timer; within a year, I was promoted to lead technician and soon to assistant manager. And now I’m the manager. Seven years and, no, I’ve never gotten lice. Knock on wood.

We moved here from Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, when I was 2. My mom knew about lice — in Vietnam, she’d grown up in a small village and had long hair. She said her grandparents would sit her down and pick out the bugs, the old-fashioned way. When I’d first told my parents about my new job, they just nodded. As immigrants, my parents value education; they wanted my siblings and me to go to college. They are proud of us. My younger sister just graduated. My brother works in IT. My older sister is in banking. I’m quite fortunate, I think, that as an Asian-American, a lot of my friends have pressures from their parents to be doctors or lawyers. But it’s funny — what’s that word … serendipity? — I think I’m meant to do this.

Our owner is expanding the business. She sent me to New York City to help train there. I’d never been — I went to Times Square. I saw Pippin. You know where I’d really like to open a Hair Fairies, though? In Hawaii. Wouldn’t it be great to just comb out lice all day and surf the waves?

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OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.