Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Hair Salon in the Sky: Goodbye, Pitella!

I was very sad to hear about another death of an old friend of mine from York, PA. I was informed that Fortunata Pitella aka "Pitella" passed away over the weekend. Pitella was my first full-time hair stylist during my teenage years in York, PA. Responsible for keeping my hair on-trend during the fabulous 80's, Pitella's creations included the famous "electrocution" hairdo, the lopsided bob, the long bleached blonde bangs, numerous tight curly perms and the infamous Joan Jett hair crisis. Pitella would cut and color all of his client's hair with their backs to the mirror and I allowed him full artistic license. Being the Jose Eber of York, PA, Pitella was always overbooked so he'd put you under hot lights and dry your hair with the dryer stuck in a drawer while he worked on fifteen other clients. After he finished you off with the curling iron, he'd spin you around to "shake it out" to see his final creation. He once told me that this was just how Jose did it. Pitella always served tiny Cokes in the bottle, which even as a teenager, I thought was very high-class. When I competed in Junior Miss, Pitella bought a ticket to see me and even snuck backstage to ensure that my hair was at its best. As much as I loved Pitella, my sister hated him. Once, as he was working on her, he was simultaneously styling a senior citizen named Doodles and gave them the exact same bouffant. My sister emerged crying from the salon screaming, "Have you ever seen a teenager with a hairdo like this?" Pitella laughed and my sister became the only client to ever be allowed to look in the mirror as he worked on her hair.

Pitella was an old-school Warren Beatty Shampoo era hairdresser who felt that you should always look as you if you just left the salon and his curling irons were always on high. He loved women and he loved to attempt to make them look as close to Sophia Loren as he could manage (he had a photo of her hanging on the wall.) Despite his styling inconsistencies and crazy experiments, I relied on him and spent so much time on my hair I once was grounded for going through too many bottles of Sebastian Spritz Forte in one week.

Before I moved away from York to attend to college, Pitella gave me one last perm so extra curly that it would last for the semester. In my preppy New England college, someone asked me on the first day with disdain, "DO YOU HAVE A PERM? ARE YOU SOME KIND OF TEENYBOPPER?" I never saw Pitella again and found someone else in my college town who wouldn't give me a perm and also allowed me to look in the mirror as she cut my hair. She even styled it holding the dryer in her hands. She never used a curling iron. When I went home for vacations, I always felt guilty when we drove by Pitella's salon and I saw his big silver Mercedes parked outside. I secretly missed him and his crazy hair styles.

Now, having my hair cut, colored or simply washed is the most relaxing thing in the world to me and I'm a salon fanatic. I've never had Jose Eber work on my hair, but I've seen some of the top-hairdressers written about in the glossy magazines Pitella kept in his salon. Pitella taught me at a young age that a good haircut could make any outfit look good and I still believe in this philosophy.

And to this day, I always take off my glasses when I get in the chair so I can't see what's going on. As I witness the final hairdo, I love the final rush I experience as if I'm 16 years old again, back in Pitella's chair, believing for one split second that I just might be beautiful.

Here is Pitella's official obituary:
InYork.com - York's Internet Community

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