A trip to the barber

This is the second in a three-part series about the everyday places we go.

Jim Morrison, lead guitarist for The Doors, is attributed with saying, “Some of the worst mistakes in my life have been haircuts.”

Given that Morrison was later found dead in a Paris bathtub at the age of 27, probably due to a heroin overdose, it seems that perhaps there were bigger mistakes than the haircuts, after all.

At the same time, though, the man had a point. Do you know anyone who consistently walks out of the barbershop or salon absolutely loving their new look? Whenever possible, I know I usually try to get my hair cut when I know I won’t be seeing many people for a few days… just to be on the safe side.

Today, in the middle of a short series that’s rapidly beginning to feel like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, we take a trip to the local barbershop, another place we visit fairly frequently but probably don’t give much thought. I would suggest that a simple trip to get a haircut actually reveals quite a bit about who we are and what we think of ourselves—before, during, and after the fact.

Consider, for example, the lead-up to The Haircut. The initial suspicion that we need one may enter our mind in any of a number of ways: a longer-than-usual glance in the mirror one morning, a comment from a friend or co-worker, or (for the ladies) a realization that you can no longer see through your bangs. But if you’re anything like me, this initial realization is only the beginning of a long chain of hemming and hawing that could last for days, if not weeks.

It’s so expensive! And they always want cash; I never have that much cash on me. I’ll have to go to the bank… and when do I have time to do that? Anyway, it doesn’t look so bad, and I don’t have that [job interview/date/family gathering/concert/photo shoot] until next month. There’s still time. Why rush it? In any case, I probably won’t be able to get an appointment before next week… I’ll just worry about it then.

I could go on. (Frequently, I have… to my detriment.)

What’s with the procrastination here? What are we really putting off? Is it that we dislike change? Is it that we’re risk averse? Maybe, like the old saying, we prefer the devil we know to the devil we don’t (that is, with regard to our hairstyle), or maybe we just don’t like to be stuck in a chair for so long without the ability to check our voicemail.

Consider, too, what we say when we finally get ourselves there. I just want a little bit taken off. Not too much, you know? Just a trim, really. NOT so much that it looks like I just got a haircut.

Again, what are we worried about? Getting our money’s worth?

Then there’s the chair chatter. Now, because a woman’s experience in the chair is vastly different from a man’s, I have to be careful what I say here. I go to a salon that serves both men and women, so I do get a chance to hear how the experiences differ.

For instance, if the stylist and the customer are speaking to each other at all, the customer is probably a woman. In fact, it seems to me that many women go to the salon for the express purpose of talking to someone who just so happens to snip away some of their excess hair during convenient breaks in the conversation. Women also seem more likely to view The Haircut as something to look forward to—an opportunity to try something new, change things up, adopt a new look. Correspondingly, their stylists encourage them to go out on a limb. Have you ever considered [highlights/a pixie cut/being blond/dreadlocks/extensions/just chopping it all off]? No? Well, no better time than the present! It’s the new you!

For men, it’s a little different. At least in my experience, we view The Haircut as something to be endured. We usually know exactly what we want, because it’s the same as the last time, and it can usually be described in ten words or less. Short on the sides, little longer on top. Clippers all around, leave the sideburns. Just gimme your “going home for Christmas” cut. With the exception of an elderly man and his equally elderly barber, who can gab with the best of them, conversation will not usually resume until you hear those two magic words—That okay?–and you know you’re done. If anything, a man in the chair will talk about sports, but unfortunately that luxury isn’t available to all of us.

Finally, there’s the aftermath. Even if you instructed your stylist very carefully, people almost always notice—and proceed to ask one of the great pitfall questions of the human experience: Did you get your hair cut?

How to answer? Here are few of the usual suspects:

The shameless denier: Oh, no! It’s been this way for weeks.

The passive aggressor: Yes, two days ago. Nice of you to finally notice…

The self deprecator [this is me]: Yes, and I can’t stand it! They never get it quite right…

The humorous dodger: No; actually, I got all of them cut.

The affirmation seeker: Oh, you noticed… I mean, is it okay? Do you like it? I know it’s a little different… I just can’t tell sometimes, you know?

Each of these responses says a lot about the speaker and could be explored more fully in its own right, but (alas) space does not permit. However, let me leave you with this final thought:

I still remember my first (commercial) haircut. It was at the Fantastic Sams in a strip mall immediately across the highway from my childhood home. Before going in, my mother told me 734 times to sit still and not to be afraid of the cutting, buzzing machine, so I did a pretty good job when the time came. Because I was very young—probably four years old or so—I got a red balloon and my own comb.  And, again because I was very young, I didn’t care a bit what the haircut looked like. I just had fun trying something new and feeling like a grown-up… which, on whole, is not such a bad approach.

After all, even if the haircut turns out terribly, there are (as Jim Morrison might tell you) bigger mistakes.

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1 Comment

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One response to “A trip to the barber

  1. Andrea

    I personally dislike haircuts, as I can never decide whether or not to change the look I have or keep it the same (regardless of the hair-cutter’s advice). And while I procrastinate on making that decision to go in to the salon, my hair will bug me for weeks. Then, I finally commit to a day and time and that morning I will get up and it looks perfect, leaving me wondering why I am getting it cut in the first place… I leave the salon loving the way it was done, feeling great that someone else had to deal with it for a change… only to dislike it the next day when I have to try to make it work myself. Thus, I put off haircuts as long as possible, as one can do with long hair…and I continue to decide against going back to short hair (as much as I loved it) so as to be able to avoid this dilemma (and the cost) altogether. 🙂

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