Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cheapskates Get Bad Haircuts

"Ouch." A hair is yanked from its dream follicle on the side of my head by a 30-year-old barbershop buzzer. My Bigdaddy smirks and teases me about taking it like a man, and I grow an inch taller on that butt-punishing, iron stool placed perfectly just outside the garage. It happens again, but this time I just wince.  I'm 7, and this isn't the first haircut Bigdaddy has given. He'd been doing it for years, but that razor was on it's last leg. He must have seen me wince, because he mumbles something about oiling the blades.

I was at his mercy, much like the thousands in his unit who needed buzz cuts during the war. I would sit on that old black stool for thirty minutes, staring at the cars whizzing by on Atlee Road while he buzzed and clipped away at my aching scalp. Haircut Day never failed to be the most gorgeous day of the week to sit motionless on a device intended for torture while your brains constantly vibrated under a tool that can only be described as a jackhammer with scissors. Tiny fibers of distressed proteins rained down past my shoulders and landed in piles on the driveway. 

I couldn't wait to feel that soft brush on my neck that signaled the end of my misery. The existence of those remaining prickly hairs on the back of my neck would drive me to madness every time. As soon as he would unfasten that white cape, I would make for the swimming pool faster than a subatomic particle. It was always emotionally and physically painful and I winced constantly, but I didn't let anyone else touch my hair with a razor until I turned 16.

Although my mother would argue with this, I think I gave up those haircuts way to easily. No one could ever give me a haircut like Bigdaddy... because his were free.
As I grew older, It was a surprise to learn that people would pay money to experience this misery.
$12 for a haircut plus tip.
$23 for a shampoo and a haircut plus tip. 
$18 for a hot towel $10 for a shampoo and $11 for a haircut PLUS tip.
$40 for consultation, head massage and a haircut... PLUS TIP!
Call me frugal or Mr. Scrooge, but I hated paying any amount of money for this tribulation, much less, a tip.

Hair stylist: "Excuse me sir, may I crucify you on this stool and let you watch in this beautiful mirror. In the mean time, I won't bring you any drinks or onion rings to make this any easier on you, so you must give me a tip when I'm done."
Me: "Okay, and while you're at it, can you dangle loose hairs in and around my eyes in an attempt to blind me? Thanks."
No. Not anymore I won't stand for it. So I went looking for a way out.

Coupons gave me some relief, but one afternoon on my way to a raw bar with some friends I found it. The Virginia Beach Beauty and Barber Academy. "$2 a haircut. No tips." I couldn't contain my excitement. Finally, an answer to my faithless prayers. I wrote down the number and made an appointment for that evening.

Work ended anticlimactically, and I hustled over to that Academy like a school boy going to his first coed sleepover. Jittery with excitement, I grabbed a couple of quarters from my ash tray to complete the total required for my haircut. I sauntered toward my destination thankful that I thought to make an appointment, because looking through the tinted windows from outside, I realized I wasn't the only one that had found this "Secret Garden." 


The door opens and a tall, handsome, debonair, young gentleman walks in with a grand smile. He walks up to the front desk.
         My name is, Ben Hornby, I have an appointment for 5:30. 

As his name and appointment time is confirmed he lifts his head to take in his surroundings... 


Someone screams, "Noooooo!" from inside the barbershop.  

I freak out. A mob of small Asian men all dressed in white smocks with black pants are staring directly at me. I'm the only Caucasian, so I'm a head taller than anyone else in the room. An unusual murmur ripples through their ranks as they glance back and forth at each other and at me. This goes on for a couple of minutes until the voice of the attendant behind me cuts through the air and states, "They want you to pick." 
"Pick what?"
"Who cuts your hair."
Suddenly overcome by a desire to flee, I point and say, "Eenie, meanie, miney, moe...; ...catch a tiger by his toe?" My awkward smile turns to a nervous smile as I realize my sense of humor was my last hope. Defeated, I say, "I don't care."

It is then that I notice, how many empty chairs there are to chose from, 30. This barbershop school, the venue I have chosen for the demise of my head of hair, is larger than the largest hair salon/barbershop/killing floor I have ever been in.

Thirty Asian men and ME. You have failed, Grasshopper, only your own ambition. More murmurs. Then silence. All eyes center on me again. The sea of identical bodies begins to part and one emerges taller and more confident than the others. "I will do it," he spoke in broken Engrish. 

He took my hand, and I was a lamb, a tiny little lamb being led to the slaughter. The mob follows, closely behind me, as I land in a cushy chrome chair. I sit and look at my face in the mirror. Every last pore has opened and sweat erupts from me. I am glistening. They turn me towards the student gawkers and then the torment begins. 

However, not the torment I'm used to, an excruciating torment that reminds me of the fourth level of Hell. The last thing I see before shutting my eyes and splintering off into a thousand personalities as a coping mechanism, is one man standing before me with a pair of scissors in one hand and a razor in the other hand visibly shaking because I must be his very first paying customer ever.

I kid you not, two hours later, (yes, two hours later) smiles begin to emerge on the faces of the onlookers. The sculpture is beginning to take shape and I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My phone is now buzzing every 5 minutes because I forgot to tell my wife I had stumbled into a Hunter S. Thompson nightmare. 

The smiles ripple through the audience and just before a round of applause arrives, I am spun around to observe the masterpiece in the mirror. Everyone takes a deep breath. Something is weird. All the faces stare back at me through the mirror waiting for me to rejoice, then I look into my own eyes. I don't recognize myself. And then the horror of it sinks in to my numb skull. I look like... them, like the Asians. With my white cape, my black pants and now my Asian haircut, I look like them. I am now an American-Asian.

I want to be clear here. I love the Asian people, Asian food, and Asian culture but I don't want to be Asian. So naturally, I begin to feel a little ridiculous. I smiled, then hummed and hawed, admiring the absurdity of it all, then I asked him to take a little more off the top, because that's what customers sometimes do. He does, and I nod, and accept his mild offering. Another awkwardness ensues as I wait for him to take my white smock/cape off and finalize the deal. After waiting long enough I reach for the snap myself and hop out of that chair. 

They all bow and nod and thank me for coming in as they escort me to the front desk. I continue smiling and reach in my pocket for the two dollars. I pull it out. And then God Almighty slaps me in the face. There in my hand is four quarters and a receipt for a Pepsi that I got at 7-11 during lunch. AUGHHHH! I apologize profusely, run as fast as I can over to the ATM across the street, withdraw twenty dollars, walk back in, hand him the twenty dollars, then wait for my change.

No change. I. am. the. only. paying. customer. 

I turn and walk out the door leaving Alexander Hamilton laying face up on the counter in front of thirty Asian men who are no doubt bouncing off of the walls. Then I call Jenny and tell her I am going to Hair Cuttery down the street to pay $20 dollars for someone to fix my fool-headed fool head.


I tell this story because you may be like me, a curmudgeon. Stop it. Don't let it ruin your life. Someone once said, "You get what you pay for." I would like to amend this by saying, "You get what you pay for, unless, you try to get something that you didn't pay for then you end up paying for it twenty times over."
Yes, I still pinch pennies, but not as many as I used to.

*This may or may not have been what I looked like.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Your Digital Estate

Log In information. Usernames and Passwords. Trillions of them flooding cyberspace on a daily basis. We all have them. I almost have too many to remember now. Financial accounts, social media accounts, business accounts, hobbyist accounts, online retailer accounts, email accounts, smartphone accounts, and the list goes on.

I can't tell you how many times I've been locked out of one of my accounts because I can't get the right username and password combination. It's almost like trying to crack a safe that's sitting at the bottom of the ocean guarded by a troll-like mermaid firing phosphorus flames from her flippers.
Accessing a piece of my digital life shouldn't be that cumbersome. But it is, and it doesn't help that my online footprint is everywhere, from Facebook and GoDaddy to the DMV and the NRA. And once in a while I have to go on that epic online journey in search of the ever elusive "Contact Us" link to get a hold of someone that knows who I am, because I haven't got a clue.
There it is! "Contact Us" buried in the smallest font imaginable under the "play video games for life" ad. I luck out. This actually has an 800 number and not some obscure texting rigmarole.
"Beep Boop Beep Beep Boop Boop Beep Beep Boop Boop."
"Halo, This is Raji, from tech support for Hot Pink Pajamas dot com, can I help you?"
"Umm...I can't seem to remember my password?"
"What eese your username, sir."
"Umm...I can't remember."
Stupified by my stupidity, Raji says, "Ummmm...," which completely unmasks his ethnicity, because on the other end of the phone line I picture him cross-legged with his eyes closed transcending time and space. "Let me transfer you to phone call purgatory and see what they can do for you."
"Thank you, but no. Is there anyway YOU can help me?"
"What eese your social security number?"
"Nice try, Bucko. Go chase yourself."
"Very well, if dere's nothing else I can help you with, have a nice day." *Click*
Other than a feeling of ineptitude, a slight twinge of rage, a pinch of vulnerability and a tablespoon of shame, my personhood is intact.

Believe it or not, this happens more than you might think. Keeping your cyber life organized is only about as difficult as balancing a checkbook or slaying a mammoth, depending on how you look at it. Here are a few ways you can turn this veritable bucket of chum into a well crafted German automobile.
Option One: Put together a list or spreadsheet with five headings: Company, Username, Password, Secret Question, Secret Answer, then fill in the blanks for all your digital accounts. You can do this on a Word Document, Legal Pad, or piece of papyrus. Then store said information in a safe place. However, not so safe you yourself will forget where it is, Mr. Griswold.
Option Two: Make all usernames match. Make all passwords match. Make all secret answers match, no matter what the secret question is. Don't make it to easy, you wanna make it easy on yourself, but as difficult as possible for identity thieves.
and finally,
Option Three: Send me all your usernames, passwords, secret questions and answers. I'll organize them, make a photocopy and give them back. End of story.

Each option has it pros and cons, which you have to measure carefully. Whatever you end up doing the goal is to inevitably make you easier to be around, because if you are constantly talking to tech support or reading emails about how to reset passwords and usernames then you are probably not the epitome of frivolity and pleasure.
The second reason you need to do this if for your loved ones. In the unlikely event of your untimely death or relocation as a result of the witness protection program, your loved ones will need an easy way to successfully secure your digital estate. (Yep, that's right I'm makin' it super real up in heya!)
While your making your way to the pearly gates, your friends and family are trying to figure out how to stop that weekly subscription to Fancy Cats or those automatic location updates to your social media profile.
"5 minutes ago at the Hospital." / "10 minutes ago at the City Morgue." / "6 minutes ago at Finnigan's Bar." Whoops!
Fun Bobby "likes" this.

It's tough enough in this world when someone passes; why not try to make it a little easier on everybody. Organize your digital estate and make it manageable. Tell someone you love and trust where all your information is, so some unsuspecting family member doesn't get a call from the Jane Fonda Fan Club trying to find out why you haven't been attending the online meetings.

In death and in life, your property is your property. Whether virtual or actual, you own it, and you decide who gets it when you're gone. And although Raji may seem like he's happy to hear from us, he's not, which might have something to do with that clandestine "Contact Us" button he doesn't want us to find. If we have that much trouble trying to get our own log in information, imagine getting it for someone else. Raji doesn't want to hear from us because he knows he'll just make us angry. He'd rather just play solitaire. I'd rather just blog about it.

For more information about what Digital Estates click on the following links:
(This is a crazy story about a woman's son who died and Facebook wouldn't allow her to access his Facebook profile)


***This blog post is dedicated to my friend and fellow artist Andrew Todd, who passed away last week. He showed me how to pursue my dreams by pursuing his at all costs. He helped get me my first job in media and mentored me through the mine field of mass communications. I will forever be grateful for his kindness and friendship. Here's to you Andy.***

Monday, April 2, 2012

Top 15 Things I Learned from Reading The Hunger Games

1. I can read books without pictures very fast.

2. My son does not like being neglected.

3. Suzanne Collins hates coal dust.

4. Child violence is way more exciting than spell casting or Vampire hunting.

5. I can literally weep over the death of a fictional character.

6. Distopian societies are the pits especially for those on the fringe.

7. Any simile involving a dead slug is a great simile.

8. Cake decorators are naturals at the art of camouflage.

9. One-eyed squirrels have more meat on them, than squirrels with both eyes intact.

10. You can sleep much better strapping yourself into a tree during the first night of the Hunger Games than you can on a comfortable bed the day before the Hunger Games begin.

 11. Bowhunting and snare rigging sound much cooler when girls do it.

12. Iodine is still the most archaic way to purify water for drinking.

13. Tracker Jackers probably have a love/hate relationship with smoke.

14. Never put your explosives and your survival supplies in the same vicinity.

15. Cornucopias can and do incite dread. Thanksgiving will never be the same again.