Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Getting my hair cut

I had intended to get a haircut before we drove to Nebraska in mid-December, but I didn't do it. Two months before, the guy who has cut my hair for a couple of years moved to a location that is inconvenient for me ... and takes me through a neighborhood where I do not feel comfortable. The previous place was 10 blocks from home, on Magazine Street; and I loved the walk. The new place is 2 miles from home, and I can drive, walk or take the bus. I had been there once but put off going.

As our driving trip approached I thought of the times I had gotten my hair cut while on the road. It had been an adventure - and fun - to stop wherever I happened to see a barbershop. So, I decided to get my hair cut on the trip; but we never passed an open shop.

As we approached Nebraska, Holly told me there was a hair-cutter in a town near her family's ranch, and I could go there; or I could go to the person who has cut her hair for years. Holly said she would call and see if that person was in town, or whether she and her husband had already gone to Arizona for the winter. It turned out they were already gone. One day when we were in the town near the ranch, I walked into the hair-cutting emporium that had a sign saying walk-ins were welcome. I was welcomed but told that she was fully booked for the day. We never made it back to that town, 10 miles away.

On the drive back to New Orleans, we did not see an open barbershop; so I was back to the issue of whether to go to the guy I like but who is no longer convenient or located in a place I am comfortable. The options apart from him are (1) much more expensive "salon" (and my hair does not justify more expense) or (2) the old-man barber shop that features the aura of every barber shop in the 1950's and earlier. I had been there twice before - over a period of three years - and do not like the feeling of being there. I thought about texting "my" guy and seeing if he had time for me today. He usually does. And then I thought again about going there ... and I decided to go to the old-man barbershop, which is 9 blocks from home.

When I arrived, there was one barber cutting one man's hair and two barbers waiting for customers. I got into the chair in front of the barber who was standing behind it. (The other was sitting in the customer section along the wall. With my great ability to figure out social situations, I gathered that there was a system or etiquette to this, and the guy behind the chair was next in line to receive a customer.) As soon as I sat down the barber (approximately 80 years old) asked the question that barbers and hair stylists always ask - and baffle - me: "How would you like your hair done?"

If I knew what was best for my hair, I would do it myself. I think those with the training and experience are far better suited than me to decide what should be done with my hair. That is never the answer, though, so I tried to tell him what I thought was best. He began to cut. Shortly, he brought a mirror to the side of my head and asked me whether I wanted more hair cut. I can hardly see without my glasses on, especially to the side of my head; and I didn't know whether I wanted more cut or not. So, I lied; I made up that I wanted more cut. He applauded me, thought that was best: "better to take off a little at a time, rather than cut too much," he said.

In ten minutes, the process was complete; I (over-)paid him and walked out. I over-paid him because I am terrible at dealing with the prices of haircuts: union barbers in New Orleans charge $17.00, but this shop gives a $2.00 discount for people 65 & older (of which I am one). Should I ask for $2.00 back from my 20-dollar bill, making it $15.00 plus a $3.00 tip; or is that Scrooge-like? I don't know. My regular (former?) guy offered no senior discount, so I always gave him $20.00, and I was happy with that. Should I, today, ask for a couple bucks back from this 80 year old barber because he was offering me (age 67) a discount? I don't know.

Now my hair is finally cut, and I feel guilty for abandoning my former guy, who I like. And I still have not figured out whether I over-paid the guy today.


  1. Ah, the angst of a sensitive (is this redundant?) liberal! I have always felt a bit guilty for being of German descent even though all my ancestors left Germany long before Hitler came to power. Although recently Angela Merkel’s kind and pragmatic approach to refugees has made me proud of my heritage.

    I too have struggled in barbershops. As a boy in Connecticut, the barber my father took me to recieved many phone calls and wrote on a pad that he kept in the drawer at his station. That was before barbers took appointments so I was puzzled. My father explained that he was a bookie. I don’t know if my father used those services but he did like to play the horses, as do I.

    After high school I let my hair grow long, partly because of my dislike of haircuts. For most of my life I have gone too long between haircuts. About 20 years ago I started getting a shampoo and cut from a neighbor who owned a salon with his wife. It was in an old building and the wash and rinse were either too hot or too cold or both but I enjoyed the conversations with a friend. Unfortunately, they moved to a fancy new building and, the first time I went there, an assistant washed my hair before my friend cut it. The temperature was perfect but it introduced another tipping challenge. The shampoo was not billed separately so how much should I tip? Also, I missed that extra bit of camaraderie with my friend. I have not been back.

    Recently, I have been going to Great Clips (union shops are few and far between around here and I was never very comfortable in them). Great Clips are inexpensive and my hair also doesn’t justify a high-priced stylist. I assume the employees don’t make much of the low cost of a haircut so I tip generously. I also moonlighted as a waiter as a young man and never thought a tip was too big. I always appreciated any tip I got but especially the big ones! For the same reason, I have started to tip housekeepers in hotels more generously. I think it is a shame that so many people work so hard for so little in a country of such abundance. I think it is overpaying only if one can’t afford it. So, if you didn’t cramp your style by giving up that extra two bucks, it was well spent!

    By the way, if you pass near Kansas City on a future trip to Nebraska, let me know. I would enjoy having coffee or a drink or a meal with you, if you have the time. We could catch up on the last 50 years!

    Best Wishes,
    Alan Sunkel