Monday, September 29, 2008

Less Hair Is More

As your hair recedes and you start to go thin on top, a paradox grows above your brain. The more hair you try to cultivate to conceal the fact that you’re losing it, the less hair you appear to have. The growth only serves to accentuate the parts that are blank. The only solution is to get your hair cut very short. The less hair you have, the less you appear to have less hair.

You’d think it would be easy to get your hair cut short. Just go into a barber’s shop and say, “I’d like my hair cut very, very short, please.” But American barbers either don’t understand this instruction, or they refuse to understand it. It’s as though there is a single American male haircut mandated by the government, and they are forbidden to deviate from its preppy, comb-over norm. Or they are all solid members of the Barbers’ Union contriving to keep hair long, so that people have to come back more often. Or the Marines have forbidden pink-livered pacifist cowards like me to have short haircuts so that come the day when they have to exterminate us all to ensure America’s safety, they’ll know which hirsute-headed commie bastards to take out first.

The first time this happened to me, the barber snipped away for a few minutes, held up a mirror, then asked me if I was happy with the haircut. “No,” I replied. “Like I said before, I’d like it really, really short, please.” He snipped away for another 20 seconds and stood back again, smiling. We’d already had one long and confusing conversation when he’d asked me, “You like Turkey?” and I said I’d never been, until eventually I worked out he was just making pre-Thanksgiving small-talk. So I paid and left and didn’t give him a tip, and never went back.

The second time, I explained to the barber that I wanted “what we used to call in England a Number Two Cut all over, please.” I always say please, because you should, even if it doesn’t help make your average barber understand that you want your hair cut really, really fucking short. He nodded and said, “Of course, sir.” And then he cut my hair for a few minutes and held up the mirror. I asked him three more times to continue cutting my hair until it was really, really short, “like I asked for,” which visibly annoyed him. That made two of us. In the end I gave up there too. No tip, never went back.

Finally, I found Hannah’s Barber Shop, which deserves to be patronised for its name alone. Hannah really is the owner, though it was a young bloke who did my hair. He got it all wrong, but when I kept asking him to keep cutting it really, really short just like I asked for, he kept laughing, like I was the most comical customer he’d ever served. “Are you sure?” he wanted to know. “Oh yes, I am very sure,” I replied. We stopped to check another four or five times, with the barber bemused and incredulous at my apparently outrageous request asking him, a barber, to cut my hair off.

There finally came a moment of clarity as he thought for a moment and said, “So what you want is a Number Three Cut all over?” As though no one had asked for such a thing since the 1930s.

“Is that what I need to ask for? I thought no one understood the numbers system here.”

“Yes, that’s all you need to ask for. Next time you come.”

“I’ll be back,” I promised. He got a six-dollar tip on a 14-buck haircut. Better still, he didn’t once ask me where I’m going on my holidays. Or about my taste in roasted poultry.


No Good Boyo said...

Welcome to my world, brother Pop.

I had the same problem in the Glorious Soviet Union. Hairdressers (barbers had been banned in 1921) insisted that anything that hadn't been modelled by some ponce out of Spandau Ballet was "nekrasivo" (ugly).

I managed to get something approaching a number 2 in the Metropole Hotel, where staff had been specially trained to act like lackeys before well-born Western gentlemen. Even then I'd get "Gosh, my clippers are overheating" and other such sub-porn-film nonsense.

The only Soviets with decent haircuts were prisoners, and the cost in terms of being bummed by Armenian blackmarketeers was too high.

The hardcore answer is to buy a pair of clippers and do it yourself. Then buy a plaid shirt and hang out at Civil War sights in Georgia.

Any major dude with half a heart said...

More outrageous than the quality of haircutting personnel in the US are the prices. $14 for a bloody haircut? I frequent a fashionable salon (for convenience; they are across the road from my office), and a haircut goes for less than half that.

And I didn't know you're supposed to tip the hairdresser/barber.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

In America, major dude, everyone gets a tip. I even make my kids tip me for making their breakfast in order to train them up for the outside world (and to earn myself some extra pocket money). The hardest thing is convincing visiting Scottish relatives to tip the barman every time they buy a beer. Even harder than getting them to buy the beer in the first place.

EdTheRed said...

You just need to teach them the magic equation: generous tips = generous pours + occasional free rounds. Works for me.

Evan said...

Major Dude, $14 for a haircut is a good deal. I go to the crappy Supercuts near my house, and that's $17. Women's haircuts are more.

I have no idea what this number system refers to, but I want to find out more.

EdTheRed said...

the numbers refer to the various attachments to the electric clippers, which determine how close to the scalp the clipper gets as it buzzes along. The smaller the number, the shorter the cut. A 3 is pretty darned short (it's generally what I go with, too).