Picture it: Seattle! 1997-ish! Raw and grungy and barely an Amazon in sight.
Neither you nor I were even born yet, of course, but everyone with a flannel shirt and a full head of hair (barring Billy Corgan) or enough space in a stepmom’s garage to practice in (barring the Green River Killer) or ten minutes of coding class at Seattle Central Community College (barring nobody) was getting rich and famous.
Bill Clinton was in the White House (God and history will judge her later), Courtney had freshly killed Kurt (duh), Microsoft had merely begun its long journey of flooding the planet with disastrous program updates (all the way to the bank), and Starbucks was spreading the nightmare of addiction to every dusty corner of the planet.
The world was all computers and caffeine and gayness and grunge, and Seattle ruled the world.
1997-ish was also the year-ish that a weird little ginger boy fresh off the banana boat from Portland sat his ginger butt down in an old Rudy’s barber chair for the very first time…
This particular chair was manufactured by the Takara Belmont Corporation, the proud “World Leader in Salon and Spa Design”, with offices in Japan, Korea, Brazil. This chair is located at Rudy’s, third from the left, dead center, in the middle of all the action. A haunting aura of curious happenings seems to linger around this chair, the promise of possibly fascinating stuff, past, present, and future. This chair has touched more gay butts than a Key West proctologist, and, Oh! What this battered old chair could tell you, had it tongue or lips to tell its tales…
That old barber chair met its very first gay butt upon the grand opening of Rudy’s flagship store in early 1993, when the place was all “fresh” and “shiny” and “new” (in a “Here We Are Now, Entertain Us”, kind of way). But exactly who that gay butt belonged to has been tragically lost to history.
And yes, we are talking about the Rudy’s that lives at 614 East Pine St. on Capitol Hill, which is the first of them all, the very best, and the only one that ever really mattered, after all.
Rudy’s was (and still tends to be) an indie queer punk carnival of cosmetology staffed by everybody you’d ever want to go dancing with and fuck, and patronized by everyone you’d ever want to go dancing with and fuck.
Rudy’s began with a concept, a vision: it was to be a “cross-generational ‘community center’”, a place where art and culture and community crashed headfirst into the zeitgeist of 90s era Seattle to create a “unique lifestyle experience” or something. They also managed to give some cool haircuts and rake in a metric fuck-ton of money along the way.
“Seattle’s queer bars and clubs could sure take a few pointers from Rudy’s. The place has the coolest music and the hottest boys–and with a two-hour wait for a buzz cut, you have enough time to get drunk and laid if you bring your own Wild Turkey. Rudy’s gets my vote for the best gay club on the Hill!”
That’s how I quite accurately described the place in the very first feature-length piece I ever pecked out for The Stranger in 1997-ish (a queer club guide, please do not die from the shock). And with the regularity of religion, this faux-hawking little ginger could be found sitting in that cheerful leather chair once every two weeks, preparing for “Sophie Lee” (not her real name) to freshen up my follicles.
Yes, I went to Rudy’s every two weeks. Every other Friday, compulsively. I suffered from chronic cowlicks and a crushing vanity that required constant professional attention.
Buzz cuts were $10 a pop, “style cuts” broke the bank at $21, all the cool kids loved it. In those wild gravy days, there was even a live DJ sometimes, and Rudy’s not only “cut heads”, but also had tattoo artists standing by. It was a wildly successful concept.
And so Rudy’s was fruitful, and multiplied.
Rudy’s (Co-)Founder, Alex Calderwood
Alex Calderwood is still a legend in Seattle for many reasons, especially to Gay Seattle, and rightly so. For one thing, he was the father, heart, and soul of Rudy’s Barbershops.
History will recognize that Wade Weigel and David Peterson are just as much to blame for Rudy’s Barbershops as Alex was. Their creativity and craft helped shape the place, too. But for some reason, Alex always seems to get the lion’s share of the credit. Maybe this was due to his adorable floppy mop of curly brown hair, deep, dreamy brown eyes and gigantic charisma, maybe it was all the Ace Hotels. Whatever the reason: among Seattle’s urban create-trepreneurs, Alex Calderwood was king.
Alex’s pie-fingers were also responsible for, well, many of Seattle’s best things, like the gay dance club ARO.Space (Alex helped form the “Art and Revolution Organization” which bought the legendary old grunge staple Moe’s Mo’ Rockin’ Café, gutted it and utterly transformed it into a sleek and stylish disco for the ‘mos. Today, Neumos’s lives at that address), Ace Hotels, Tasty Shows, and even a record label called Sweet Mother.
Alex was a charming, brilliant, renaissance freak, and he was deeply loved. He died of an overdose in London in the Autumn of 2013 while opening a new hotel. He was only 47.
“Sophie Lee” (Not Her Real Name)
Sophie Lee was my very first stylist at Rudy’s, and our relationship spanned years. She was queen of that old leather chair, and she ruled it with a certain confused-but-chaotic grace. She was always baked as a birthday cake, but so much the better—the higher she was, the better her cuts. After a visit to Sophie Lee, I’d sail up Broadway and get catcalled like Kimmy Schmidt at a construction site.
Sophie Lee (Not Her Real Name) was a most beautiful disaster. She had a remarkably deep, stuffed-up sounding voice, bottle-black hair that changed on the daily, and the soul of a nickel bag in love. She gave the greatest head-cuts ever known to man—or, at least to me. I’d sit in her leather Takara Belmont barber chair every other Friday and say, “Sophie Lee! Get me laid!”
And Sophie Lee would. And she did.
She was like a really spaced out sister to me.
The Secrets of Sophie Lee
Common wisdom would have you believe that hair stylists often act as a combination ersatz therapist and bartender; amateur psychologists that constantly have their ears bent by their client’s personal drama.
Sophie Lee was the exact opposite of that.
The minute my butt hit her chair, the most wonderful and scandalous secrets would come spilling from her lips. Sophie Lee was up to her elbows in the grunge scene, and she knew all of the resident grunge gods personally. She partied hardy with Novoselic and snorted who-knows-what with Pearl Jam. Or so she claimed. And all of her cuts came with a complimentary tale about a fourgy in some bathtub with the members of Jane’s Addiction.
Sophie’s penchant for local gossip was a boon for my Stranger column, Celebrity I Saw U. She was a constant font of fodder. But her stories also resulted in one of the most regrettable professional gaffes I’ve ever made…
Celebrity I Saw U began getting emails from readers wondering where the heck Layne Staley from Alice in Chains was hiding—he hadn’t been seen nor heard from for months.
I shared this information with Sophie Lee, who was friends with Layne, and she said (in her deep, stuffed-up voice), “Huh-huh-huh-huh! Adrian, he’s fine! I just brought him lunch last week!” and she provided me with an itinerary of all his recent doings. Her report resulted in this paragraph appearing in Celebrity I Saw U the following week:
“Layne Staley! Astute readers will recall that no one has heard a peep from the reclusive Alice in Chains lead for ages, and fans have been getting all worked up. Well, an inside source reports that Layne is “doing just fine,” and most recently has been busy with Columbia’s release of Alice in Chains’ Greatest Hits (though their 1999 box set, Nothing Safe, covers basically the same friggin’ body of work for less dough–go figure) and their video compilation (featuring a rousing KING 5 documentary!). Layne has also been making frequent visits to Artist & Craftsman Supply in the U-District. Whew, I was beginning to think he’d been kidnapped and sold to horny Japanese businessmen.”
Lane was found dead in his U District apartment not long after. It was horrible. I struggle to put it out of my mind to this day.
But after a few years of sitting in Sophie Lee’s chair, our relationship evolved far past the point of peddling tales of grunge rockers making out with each other while huffing Whip-Its in a dumpster. She REALLY began to open up and get personal. I’ll give you a fairly compelling example: One fine day, apropos of nothing, Sophie Lee confided that she augmented her cash flow by moonlighting as an honest-to-Hard Candy Christmas madam (god bless her), overseeing a house of businessman-pleasing prostitutes… an operation that she had devised and spearheaded herself. She was secretly a bona fide Miss Mona, and allegedly quite successful for some time. But the cops eventually caught on and shut Sophie Lee’s DIY whorehouse down…
Charming! In other words, we had arrived at that point only truly good friends can ever come to: she simply couldn’t shock me anymore.
And Then I invented the Word “Fauxhawk”
WARNING: failure to believe what you are about to read will result in the automatic vaporization of your brain. Worse: The Adrian will think you are a great big poopy head. And trust the Adrian. He means it, god dammit
So anyway, I invented the word, “fauxhawk”. I basically eat neologisms for breakfast, and I’d had sported my signature, “not really a Mohawk” haircut for ages, so the eventual miscegenation of “fake” and “Mohawk” was pretty much fait accompli. And it finally occurred to me while I was sitting in Sophie Lee’s chair.
It was a remarkably busy Friday afternoon at Rudy’s. The place was packed with more gays than a Karaoke night tribute to Madonna. I sat down in the leather chair, as usual, and Sophie Lee asked, “What am I doing for you tonight, Adrian?” as if we hadn’t done this a million times before. And I responded, “Oh, you know. Just my usual fauxhawk…”
Sophie Lee paused, scissors and comb suspended in mid-air. “Huh-huh-huh-huh” she laughed in her signature style. “What did you call it?” “A fauxhawk,” I answered. “I just thought of it.”
Sophie Lee repeated herself, “Huh-huh-huh-huh!” and then turned and yelled over my head to the two stylists to her left, “Hey, Franco!”, Sophie Lee hollered over my head. (Franco was the next stylist over, a lovely and eccentric creature who swore he was abducted by aliens in a bathroom stall at a hair show in San Francisco once, and totally never returned my DVD copy of Shirley MacLaine’s 1987 ABC miniseries, “Out on a Limb”.) “Hey, Eric!” (Eric was the very sexy next stylist over from Franco, who very recently styled Michelle Obama for a White House event). “Listen to what Adrian just called his haircut!” and she gestured to me like a doting stage mom demanding a performance on cue. The room’s roar seemed to fade to a murmur. People were looking at me. I answered, “Fauxhawk?” and everyone in the place busted up laughing… Franco, Eric, the crowd of gays waiting for cuts, everyone.
No one had ever hear the term before.
I used “fauhawk” in print the following week. In no time at all it seemed that the term was on everyone’s lips. A few months later, even my trusty hair product, some expensive blue horse glue called “ICE”, started using it on its label. I should have demanded royalties.
So I totally invented the word, “fauxhawk”. Right there in Sophie Lee’s chair on that busy Friday afternoon at Rudy’s.
And just try to tell me that I didn’t. I fucking dare you.
Sophie Lee’s Last Stand
One Friday afternoon, Sophie Lee came lurching into Rudy’s over an hour late. (Her chair and I were getting very worried.) She was obviously out of sorts when she came shaking in from the rain—even more so than usual. And she was higher than a Himalayan hairdo and hotter than a jalapeño hotcake.
“Adrian!” she said. “Adrian, Adrian, Adrian!”
For whatever reason, she seemed incapable of not repeating herself.
“Adrian!” she repeated, “I got pulled over on my way to work! They found a little bit of pot in my car, and now I have to go to court!” This was in the dark age before legalization.
Sophie Lee began cutting my hair and railing against the unfairness of it all. As she did, I couldn’t help but notice that she sort of seemed to be shrinking. It was as if her spine was suffering a slow leak and she just kept getting lower… and lower… and lower. Her eyelids were heavy, and she seemed to be dissolving like a pile of brown sugar in a warm rain, but she continued to rail. In triplicate.
“Adrian! Adrian! Adrian!” she railed in triplicate. “I just, I just, I just HATE the fucking Seattle police so bad… I just hate, hate, hate them so bad! We should just… we should just… we should just…just…just…just…”
I waited with wide eyes and bated breath to see what we should just, just, just, just do. Stage an uprising? A protest? A coup, coup, coup?
“We should just…MAKE IT RAIN!”
Um… my good friend Sophie Lee (Not Her Real Name) had totally lost her mind.
She finished my cut, but that was the end of my darling Sophie Lee at Rudy’s Barbershop. I was her very last haircut in that chair ever, in the chair that she had ruled with graceful chaos for so long. She gave me a devastatingly gorgeous cut, of course (high), but then she vanished from Rudy’s, from Capitol Hill, from Seattle, and I never saw poor Sophie Lee again…
There were rumors. I don’t want to share them.
Zak, The Wonderful Wizard of Hair
I went back to Rudy’s now and then after that, but for me the magic was over. My dear Sophie Lee was gone forever, and no one was able to charm my troubled keratin the way she could. Not Franco, not Eric, just nobody.
And I never got my damn Shirley MacLaine DVD back either.
I wandered from stylist to stylist, salon to salon, for years, like a frizzy lost tribe in desperate search of a decent fade. I almost resigned myself to the notion that my naughty ginger locks would never again attain the glory (or discipline) they had known at the hands of my poor, lost Sophie Lee.
But they say when you stop looking for something, it appears. And that’s when I stumbled upon Zak the Barber. Or as I like to call him, “My Hair Wizard”.
I first met the beautiful Syed Zakaria Ibrahimi (Yes, His Real Name) when they (Zak prefers the gender-neutral pronoun) were working at Sideshow Salon on Capitol Hill.
Zak was a Seattle native, mere 25 years old, and was already Hair Stylist to the Stars—gay Seattle’s creative community flocked to Zak. I am convinced that this was not merely due to Zak’s formidable talents with the shears. Zak is one of the most warm and fascinating people in all of Gay Seattle.
Zak had close to 500 clients by the time we met, including Jinkx Monsoon, Ben DeLaCreme, etcetera, etcetera: at least half of Seattle’s burlesque, drag, and theater scene (and, as of May 1st, 2013, me) go to Zak.
Zak is without question the most talented hair stylist that has ever touched my fussy follicles. (Sorry, Sophie Lee. Wherever you are.)
Zak often seems to be more magic than person–a trans-human celebration of color and creativity. Zak is deeply engaged in the queer community, creativity, social justice, and art. Zak is also a blossoming burlesque performer who will be graduating from Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque just this Saturday, April 30th, in a spectacular graduation recital lead by Waxie Moon and Ernie Von Schmaltz. Zak is also a drag artiste called “Oil Money”. You’ve seen the pictures, I’m sure.
“Ten years ago,” Zak tells us, “I had my first salon job at Scream Barbershop (now owned by the fabulous Nikki Page). Over the years I’ve been doing a bit of fine tuning to explore the ways I can aid people in seeing how fucking beautiful they already are.
“I feel like my gift to my community is honesty, openness, compassion, and communication. We all deserve to be tended to and cared for, and I’ve got my own way of doing just that.”
Zak didn’t stay at Sideshow Salon for long, and in 2014 he took all of his clients (including me) uphill to the Red Chair Salon on 15th Ave E. But Zak was unhappy—The Red Chair just didn’t suit their style, either. So Zak moved again. To somewhere else. To somewhere totally unexpected.
To Rudy’s, god dammit. To Rudy’s.
And yes, we’re talking about the Rudy’s that lives at 614 East Pine St. on Capitol Hill, the first of them all, and the only one that ever really mattered…
What’s more, Zak took over Sophie Lee’s old chair. The one we’ve been talking about. This is not a drill. And although my fauxhawk has long since gone to hair heaven (R.I.P., old friend) and something more sophisticated sits on my scalp, my little ginger butt still finds itself sitting in that goddamn, wonderful, memory-soaked chair every two weeks like a slave to habit and unmanageable cowlicks… again.
“Working for Rudy’s is a dream,” Zak adds. “I love cutting hair. It’s so odd to be removing pieces of someone’s body for a living.”
Today there are 20 Rudy’s Barbershops, in London, NYC, Portland, LA; places like that. And in these other Rudy’s I am sure there exists a lot of barber chairs. But there is only one barber chair anywhere that will ever haunt my dreams: the one that bore witness to it all. It’s the only one I left a solid piece of my life in, a whole lot of memories, and a wee small piece of my heart.
And my little gay ginger butt will find itself sitting in that chair again, just Friday after next.