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.


  1. Virginia WasserbergApril 18, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Ben, this is AWESOME!

  2. This is one of my favorites.
    You didn't say anything about suspenders, and I definitely see suspenders.
    "Tiny fibers of distressed proteins rained down past my shoulders and landed in piles on the driveway." = favorite line!
    My mom used to cut my hair with a straight razor. I swear she was pulling it out half the time. But I was a sucker for marshmallows, so I kept going back.

    1. ahh, yes. you figured it out. the photo you see is a dramatized reenactment. I took it, yesterday, after writing the blog, because a friend of mine begged me for a photo. no actual photo exists of said event, unfortunately. and yes the hair pull, is all to familiar

  3. It couldn't have been thaaat bad, could it?

    1. ohhhh! it was Lu, it really was. I actually, died then came back to life in that barbershop. it was thaaaaaat bad.