Sunday, August 30, 2009

Barber shop butchering

Sometimes you’ve got to know when to cut your losses.

I needed to get my haircut this weekend so I went to the neighborhood barber shop just down the road. Convenient and judging by the looks of it…cheap. Right up my alley. One of those places that was about the size of a large walk-in closet with old paint chipping off the wall. I took a seat to wait my turn. While I waited I blew some dust off a book of Smithsonian pictures of Native-Americans, which I have always wanted to learn more about. Unfortunately I didn’t get to read much because of the exceptionally short wait (Bad sign #1). I was called over to sit down by an older Native-American gentleman. We exchanged pleasantries and then he said “High and tight?” and began grabbing for the clippers. Now at this point in the story it is important for you to know that I am VERY particular about my hair. My haircut must be perfect. So when this barber just assumed what I wanted and then almost started cutting without me getting in my specific orders, well that was bad sign #2. I informed him that I’d like a number 6 on top with a number 2 on the side, high fade. I mean pretty standard in the barber business. He looks at me and says, “Number 6, where do you get your hair cut? I’ve never even heard of a number 6.” It was like I was asking him for some new Hollywood hairstyle that had just come out last weekend. Bad sign #3! I glanced towards his barber accoutrements…holy crap Mr. Barber doesn’t use clippers with different length adjustments! A flash of panic washed over me. But there was no time he was already running the clippers up my head! At this point I decided to try some cognitive strategies to calm my rising anxiety. “Maybe this guy is a master barber who has been cutting hair since the time of Buffalo Bill. He is so good he can intuitively calculate hair length with just the use of a simple comb.” And this started working. My innate sense of hopefulness was having ameliorative effects on my stress level. I was even able to divert my attention away from the intrusive visions of a botched haircut long enough to start watching some baseball highlights on the tiny flickering TV screen. What felt like 10 seconds later, I was being wrapped on the head like Biff would do to McFly in “Back to Future.” Like a broken record Mr. Barber was saying “Look at it, look at it, look at it.” I don’t think I realized he was talking to me because my brain was saying “Surely, he can’t be done already. Surely.” But no, he was done. At this point another surge of anxiety came over me and I hesitantly raised the mirror to my face. I looked into the mirror and my first thought was “Did he do anything?” So in my most polite manner I asked “Do you think we could go a little bit shorter on top?” At which point he starts acting like I have asked him to perform a face transplant on me. “Oh you want it a little bit shorter! I guess I can do that.” Now as he raised the clippers to my head I am literally biting my lip. Dear God, what have I got myself into! A little zip and zap and 3 seconds later he shoves the mirror into my hand demanding I look again. The hair on top of my head looks like its been cut in perfectly random clumps with only a random number table deciding which sections will remain untouched. And here is where I made my biggest error. If I weren’t so cheap I would have just kindly thanked the man and walked to another barber shop to have them fix this monstrosity. But I demanded of the universe that I only have to pay for 1 haircut. So I meekly asked if he could make sure the front of my hairline was straight. He reaches for the clipper and says “I’m not running a stylist shop here. This is a barber shop and I can’t spend all day on your head.” After that comment I knew I’d made a big mistake. I looked into the mirror and realized that he had shaved my widow’s peak down to the scalp receding my hairline back to balding proportions.

Now given that I am cheap, I am always enduring these heated internal battles about the amount of a tip to give someone. At a restaurant I will suffer 3 minutes of self-flagellation after tipping the waitress. And it goes in both directions “You cheap bastard, you should have left her an additional dollar.” Or “You idiot, you didn’t have to tip her that much.”

This was one time I had complete confidence in my tip calculator. Zero dollars.