I’m walking out of Safeway, had to made a quick deposit at the Wells Fargo. In the window’s reflection, I notice I look terrible.
Figure I’ll get a hair cut. That should fix it.
So I walk into the Great Clips next door. Why Great Clips? Because I’m a guy and who cares.
I’ve been to this place before, I remember the slender young barber up front. She’s got the same long auburn hair, same vivacious personality. She’s warm and inviting, like every day is the greatest day to be alive, and cutting hair is freaking awesome. She did a great job last time, too. But she has a customer at the moment, the only other one in the shop. I’m moving forward to greet her when a low voice greets me instead, from far away.
“Velcome. Vhat ees phone number.”
The voice's source appears from behind a divider, this woman is old. Very old, with ghostly white hair and a Nazi’s cold glare.
I tell her my phone number.
“Thees way,” she says to no one in particular.
I follow her, figuring this lady is just as good as the young girl. They’re both professionals, right? How could I lose? Sure this one’s not nearly as pleasant to be around, but hair is hair. I’ll be fine.
She picks a seat on the opposite end of the room, as far away as possible from her bubbly coworker.
I sit in the chair and she wraps the haircut apron thing around my neck too tightly.
“All right well I’d like a-“
“I see the vay you look at her,” she cuts me off, in an angry whisper.
Her voice was deep and foreign, a thick accent somewhere between French and Russian. Think Natasha from Rocky & Bullwinkle, with a tinge of feminine Dracula. Her face shows long hours, from a job or a lifestyle of disappointments.
“You vanted her, deedn’t you? The young girl. The preety von. I see the vay you look at her. But no. You get me. You get me and you hate eet.”
“I don’t, what no, no! I-"
She grabs my hair tightly with both hands, and pulls my head in close from behind.
I freeze, gripping the chair hard under the apron. We watch each other in the mirror.
“Every day ees the same theeng. They vant her, they ask for her. They like her.”
“Hey listen I’m sorry I-"
“Shh, shh. Don’t speak. I know vhat you vant,” she whispers into my ear.
I watch her boney fingers, the kind of fingers that enjoy long skinny cigarettes held in an even longer skinnier cigarette holder. She weaves them through my hair, closing her eyes.
Then leans in and smells my head. Yes, she smelled my head.
“Hmm. Yes. Your hair. Eets so theeck. Mmm. I saw eet and I knew vhat eet needed.”
“Shh, shh. Quiet.”
She massages my hair some more, so I just sit there.
The phone rings, interrupting her moment.
“Don’t. Move.” She says to the mirror.
I don’t move an inch. Just swallow, wide-eyed, in the mirror.
I wish I was in the young girl’s chair. Where the light is. Where it’s safe and happy.
Where I am, it’s dark, far away, vulnerable, lonely and scary.
Dracula lady returns, this time with scissors in her hand. She starts cutting my hair.
Okay, we’re gonna be fine. I’ll just let this lady do whatever she wants and everything will be f-
“So… are you seengle or?”
“Uh, yeah. Starting to regret that now bu-"
“Shh, shh. Yes. Good. Don’t be stupeed like her and get married so young.”
“Oh I’m not single on purpose or anything I-"
“Shh, shh. No. Stay seengle. You are vhat, een your early thirties?”
“Actually I’m twent-"
“Shh, shh. You talk too much. You are perfect age. Yes,” she rubs my hair some more with her eyes closed, “You are perfect age. Still handsome. But your eyes. They’re… so much older.”
She cuts my hair some more, but the pace is quickening. I listen to her breathing speed up, her face twists into a grimace. Snip snip snip snipsnipsnipsnip!
There was hair all over my face, so she blew on it. It wasn’t a cool breeze, this blowing, no, it was a sloppy wet speckling of cranberry-flavored spittle.
Now there’s spit on my face, and falling hair is gluing itself to it.
We both overhear the distant chatter from the other barber, who’s laughing and joyously telling her equally chatty customer about her wedding plans.
Each word from the sunny coworker seems to burn Dracula lady. Like holy water on a demon, it irritates her somewhere deep inside.
There’s no apparent planning in her snipping anymore, there’s clearly rage in each snip now. Her gaze is somewhere else, angry, frustrated. Chunks of my hair are flying, and my scalp has been jabbed a couple times with the scissor tips.
I have to do something. I have to fix this. Don’t just agree with her sadness, that could be too obvious, too patronizing. She’s old, she’ll smell bullshit. No, be sincere. Challenge her, but in a loving way. I grip my chair even tighter.
“Hey… hey… it’s going to be all right,” I say to the mirror, as if she’s holding not scissors, but a gun.
She stops cutting, and our eyes meet again in the mirror.
“Let’s. Let’s uh, let’s talk about you. Something seems to be bothering you. Tell me about it.”
She bites her lip, her eyes glossy.
“It’s all right. You’ve had a long day. Go ahe-“
“No von understands. My husband, he’s worthless. Thees… thees life. Eet’s meaningless. I should be free, I should be young again. I’ve wasted my chance. Don’t waste your chance,” she whispers harshly.
“It’s never a waste.”
“Yes eet ees. Eet’s a… eet’s not how eet was supposed to be!”
“However it happened, that’s how it was supposed to be. That’s the only way it could have been.”
“You’re wrong!” she crosses her arms.
Silence in the room. Apparently the other couple heard that last bit.
We watch each other in the mirror for a moment, waiting for the others to resume chatting.
When they finally do,
“Are you sure? You can’t always change things. Change the way you look at them instead,” I whisper, "You'll be okay, I promise."
“…No. No I’m not sure. I’m not sure of anything anymore,” she says, barely audible.
The air thickens, tense and cold. I let it hang us both for a moment, then
“Hey, I don’t know if you noticed, but my head looks like sheet.”
She laughs, hard.
“Oh my, eet does. Oh my boy. You don’t need haircut anyway. Your hair ees handsome.”
Half my head is still long, the other half missing chunks here and there.
“You wanna just buzz it off at this point?”
“Okay I buzz.”
She buzzes my head, calmly this time.
“So. You come back, two weeks?”
“I think I’m gonna. Gonna grow my hair out, actually. Starting right now. Think I’m gonna yeah grow it out.”
“Eef you change mind, you come back to me?”
She smiles, and tenderly towels away all the hair on my face and neck.
She rings me up, I tip her $5. She smiles and waves to me as I leave.
This is what happens when you try to save a buck on a haircut.