I Should Have Known

We are all surrounded by stuff.  And there are certain things in life that always seem to be close at hand.  Empty boxes and ink pens and Ziploc baggies and scraps of paper and gas stations and Elvis impersonators. So prevalent that it seems as if you are marinating in them.

Until, that is, you desperately need one of those things.  Then finding one is akin to trapping a Sasquatch.

Not long ago, I was on a business trip, driving around for nearly a half hour one evening looking for a discount hair salon.  You know what I’m talking about.  The kind of place that bastardizes the English language by spelling everything with a “k”.  Kwik Klips.  Kid Kuts.  Kustom Kurlz.  The shops I like often feature incredibly low prices and beauticians with, shall we say…

Kwestionable Kredentials.

I finally found a spot tucked away in the corner of a strip mall next to a dollar store and a now vacant yogurt shop.

I should have known.

When I entered, the place was midway through a makeover of its own.  The carpet was torn and stained like they had staged it as a crime scene on an episode of Law & Order.  Some of the baseboards were missing.  The walls had been tattooed with scuffs from chair backs and swinging handbags.  There was even a streak of paint brushed on the wall to show what the new palette would look like.

Strangely, I couldn’t find the sign that said, “Please pardon our mess.”

I approached the register and signed my name to the list.  I was third in line.  I sat down with the other patrons and instantly adopted the anticipatory energy of the group, which hovered somewhere between “root canal patient” and “defendant awaiting sentencing.”  There were three stylists on duty.  The room was silent, save for one chatty clipper.

We had waited for a considerable amount of time before the one stylist finished with her client.  The customer walked to the register without fanfare and paid his bill.  She then called out a name, and one of my cell mates stepped forward to hear his verdict.  Now there were two of us.   The wait was long.

I started to get a bit irritated, having now invested 45 minutes in my quest for a cheap haircut.  My mood lifted a bit when the very perky stylist finished with her customer.  Though she tried her best to engage the guy, he said few words as he paid his bill.  As he left the shop, she called out,

“Richard!  You’re up!”

A young guy in his mid twenties was seated near the door.  He looked up from his cell phone at the stylist, paused, and then gazed in my direction.

“Um.  You go ahead.  I’ll wait for the next one.”

I should have known.

Crystal was a bundle of nerves, likely fueled by the 24-ounce energy drink I spied on the counter.  We made small talk as she wrapped the drape around my neck.  I’m in town on business.  Corporate consultant.  I have two kids.  She has two kids.  Blah blah blah.

“So, how do you want your hair cut?”

“It’s been a while, so take about a half inch off all the way around.”

“Do you mind if I just scissor cut the whole thing instead of using the clippers?”

“No problem.”

“OK.  Good.  Those clippers can be hard to use.  Some of the girls here like them, but I think it’s hard to get them just right.”


The clippers she is referring to are the ones where you attach a guard that assures you cut every hair the exact same length.  You can choose a #1 guard, which delivers a buzz cut, all the way to a #8, which is leaves the hair about an inch long.  This is the same tool used by the groomers at PetsMart.

I know I have a limited haircutting vocabulary, but it sounds to me that in the evolutionary chain of barber shop implements, the sophistication required to produce a haircut with clippers is only slightly more advanced than using the Ronco Flowbee - that wacky contraption that you hook up to a vacuum cleaner to suck your hair up into a tube attached to a rotating razor.  For three easy payments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling, you can run your own home hair salon.

I should have known.

Crystal sprayed my hair with water, combed through my coif, and then went to work.  She seemed to have an unorthodox style, jumping from one part of the head to another, without much rhyme or reason.  A little from the side.  Then some from the back.  Then a clip right in the middle.  Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I interpreted this in a positive way.  I pondered several thoughts:

Brilliant artists are known for throwing caution to the wind and ignoring conventional wisdomDoing it their own way.  With flair.

Meanwhile, Crystal chatted about her challenging children and her lack of sleep.  Then she moved to the delicate part of trimming around my ears.  I felt a sharp pain and winced.

Crystal reacted with, “Oh!  I’m sorry.  I just sharpened these scissors, but they just aren’t cooperating.”

She hadn’t cut me.  Her scissors were no finer than a butter knife.  When she had to trim very precisely, it felt like she was using her molars to chew the hair from around my giant ears.  Several hairs would get stuck between the blades, so when she pulled the scissors away, they would get plucked out by the root.  Crystal definitely resembled an artist now, in a crazy, Van Gogh sort of way.  I told her I would leave my sideburns “as is.”

“I’m growing them out,” I said.

The ear trim ended quickly, like getting a series of vaccinations.  She spent the next ten minutes “touching up” her work.  She ran her fingers through my hair, checking the length, making sure it was just right.  Paying special attention to my double crown and cowlick.  Then she handed me the mirror and spun me around so I could see the back of my head in my reflection.

“Is that short enough?”

“Oh yes.  I think that’ll be fine.”  At fifteen feet away it was acceptable.  I took a quick look at the job she did  on the front of my head, and it looked OK.  I was in a rush to get back to my hotel room after the ordeal.

Crystal poured copious amounts of baby powder on a big, fat brush and dusted my neck.  She then unbuttoned the drape and pointed me toward the cashier’s desk.  When it was all said and done, I had spent twelve dollars on the haircut, and three more dollars on the tip to feed Crystal’s Red Bull addiction.


When I got back to my hotel, I went into the bathroom to check Crystal’s work.  The bright lights surrounding the Marriott mirror painted a very different picture than the flickering fluorescents at the salon.  I let out a shriek followed by an audible gasp.  The hairdo staring back at me just two feet away was both comical and embarrassing.  I looked as if I had been attacked by prehistoric men using stone tools.

Maybe I just need to put some more stuff in it.

I stuck my head under the faucet and rinsed out the clippings.  After a quick dry using the towel, I reached into my travel bag and filled my palms with a generous helping of hair wax.  When I massaged it into my scalp, it only served to give my bad haircut that “just woke up from a long night sleeping in a food processor” look.  I hoped Gabby could help me to find the humor in this situation.  I took a picture with my camera phone and sent it to her.

I should have known.

The phone rang within minutes.

“Dannemiller!  How many times do I have to tell you?  You can’t trust those places!  Remember the time you came home and you could see the cut lines on your head? “

“Uh huh.”

“And the day before our wedding when you came out looking like you had joined the military, with your bumpy scalp showing through the close-cropped hair?”

“Yeah.  Ruined all of our photos.”

Then she put her foot down.

“You’re not allowed to waste any more money on bad haircuts.  If you’re going to look like that, at least I can be the one that does it,” she said with confidence.  “I know I can do a better job than that!”

Three weeks later, Gabby was hovering over me in the bathroom.  My shoulders were draped with a towel.  She had done her homework.  It’s amazing what you can learn when you Google “how to give a haircut”.  She supplemented her self-study course by asking my brother-in-law for some pointers.  He’s an expert at the craft who works at one of those high-end salons that offer everything under the sun to make you look fabulous, stopping just short of plastic surgery.

They don’t hand out balloons, though.

I was skeptical.  Filled with doubt.  And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my first home haircut was an adventure.  Gabby was excited by the challenge, and I was intrigued by the novelty.  We had lots of laughter mixed with critique and questioning.  Second guessing.  Debates.  In the end, my head required some post cut touch-up, and I had to hold my own ears out of the way, but our marriage survived.

The second cut was an improvement.

Now we’re on cut number three, and my guess is that the general public is none the wiser, with the exception of the three or four folks who read this blog.

I never would have believed that I would now revert back to the old days, when mom used to sit me on the bathroom vanity and cut my hair, and be happy with the result.  And I’ll bet Gabby never thought she would actually enjoy doing it.  And it’s a welcome departure from sitting in front of the TV or working on the computer.  Who would have known?  Our little problem has been fixed, and we’re both a bit better off or it.  Who would have believed it?

But when I really take the time to think about it, that’s the usual outcome when we take a look at a problem situation, stop complaining about it, and start tasking action.  Whether it’s haircuts, the homeless, or human rights, when we get off the sidelines and finally get involved, the situation always turns out for the better.

I should have known.