Cutting: The Internal and External Crises we go through when faced with Hair Salon smalltalk
I went to have my haircut recently; yet another of those tedious tasks that I perform, partly as a sort of ritual to show that I do (or at least, pretend to) take some pride in my appearance, and partly because my hair kept poking me in the eyes, and it was on the verge of becoming a safety hazard. I went there, already pessimistic about how pointless the imminent twenty minute procedure would be in the grand scale of the universe, and was greeted and seated by a young girl who was so friendly and cheerful that it’s like she’d never even considered her impending death.
We exchanged initial pleasantries and then she asked me what I wanted done, as if any hairdresser in history had ever listened to, and then adhered to anyone’s actual request, as opposed to just doing whatever they wanted, safe in the knowledge that their meek customer will just sit there, silently and impotently too ashamed to protest in the face of having their mane besmirched by a seventeen-year old with scissors. She started by asking me an innocuous question about what I was ‘up to‘ today; which seemed odd, as I was sitting there, quite literally right in front of her. After pointing out that fact, and saying that this was all I had successfully organised for my precious day off, she then countered with a mumbling ‘Ahh, right‘, showing about as much interest as a raccoon would if you were to tell it that there was no god.
It was at this point I realized that she was done talking. She’d made that initial attempt, and I realised that I either had to fill the silence myself and perhaps ask her some questions (hopefully more philosophically potent than ‘What are you up to right now, right this second, as you’re standing there; living, breathing, and cutting my hair?’), or run the risk of allowing the silence to reach such a level of density that neither of us could utter a single syllable without birds falling dead out of the sky and rivers running red with blood.
So there I sat, in a panic, beginning to volunteer random shards of personal information; grasping at straws, and even recalling some anecdotes that were literally just not true in any way whatsoever, simply because I was intent on preventing the silence from devouring us forever, and I couldn’t think of anything interesting (and true) that was actually going on in my life of which to speak of.
As I blathered on, I started noticing a very structured pattern in her replies, always the same trio of responses at roughly ten second intervals: ‘Mmm… Yeah… Oh, right…’ I know them well, because I, as a bartender, have a similar system of automated feedback in my repertoire. This young lady however, was seriously lacking in any sort of versatility or variety. The same three, accompanied by the same look of disinterest (and I think at one point she even yawned), kept repeating and repeating; and I found myself thinking ‘I’m doing this for both of us. If I stop, we both have to endure the silence, and I don’t know if you’re some sort of hardened veteran of awkward, forced social interaction, but in about two minutes, I’m going to start screaming, and it’ll take a lot more than a bland “What are you up to today?” to quell my anxiety.’
Luckily at this juncture, another man came in. I couldn’t see him, as I had had my fringe cavalierly brushed over my eyes by my scissor-armed captor, probably to prevent her from being faced with my darting glances, shooting over at her to verify my need to continue communicating. The man turned out to be either a regular, or perhaps a friend, or quite possibly just a lonely conversationalist who travels around town forcing busy people to satiate his need for human interaction. In any case, he wasn’t speaking for long, before I noticed that, while still standing right next to me, my hairdresser girl started doling out the same trio of gruntish responses to him, as she had been to me. Now, surely if you’re still in the presence of someone to whom you’ve already shown your hand to, you shouldn’t start placing bets with another player?
If I wasn’t already annoyed that she’d thought so little of conversing with me that she had switched to ‘dialogue autopilot‘, the fact that she wasn’t even bothering to alter the feedback to a third party, while party number two, myself, sat there with an eye full of fringe, and ears full of betrayal, was certainly the icing on the heart-breakingly bitter cake; and worst of all, is that I didn’t even want to speak to her. I’m quite happy saying nothing for the entire process, provided that no one starts a conversation that they don’t intend to finish, but in beginning a doomed conversation, the young lady put me in the position of being the conversation ender, which is always awkward. It was immediately reminiscent of a person replying to a text with a single emoticon. They have replied, so even though they’re eliciting no tangible response whatsoever, it still falls upon your uncomfortable shoulders to be the person who ended the conversation, by not texting back; unless you want to go the asshole route and reply with yet another emoticon, but the conversing that results from a challenge like that, is simply madness incarnate.
She finished off my hair, and showed me the back bit with her little mirror and asked me if I thought it was okay, as if anyone in history had ever responded to that gratuitous ritual with anything more impassioned and genuine than a meek nod-and-smile, and I was soon on my way out. As I left, I passed her next client by the door, and I felt an overwhelming duty to grab her by the shoulders and scream ‘It’s all an act. She’s wasting your time, you won’t find the companionship that you desperately crave here. Life is about moments, and this one will add nothing to your soul, to your experience here on Earth, and when you look back on life, this moment will have been for nothing; and as we all race towards our inevitable deaths, should we not always strive to persue true love and happiness, instead of going through the motions of having haircuts and making small talk? Life is too short to cut your hair; it doesn’t matter how long your hair is when you’re watching the sun rise over an African mountaintop glacier in the company of friends and lovers. Run, run away. Persue your dreams and forget about this place and this haircut and all of the trivial attachments you have to this finite and transient life.‘, but she was only about twelve and I doubt she would have easily comprehended the weight and gravitas of my cries, so we parted with little more than a nod of mutual understanding as I left her to her inevitable doom.
Having said that; my hair does look quite good, so I guess that’s a plus.
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About Felix O'SheaFelix is a guy who isn't actually a writer, but calls himself one when he wants to try to impress gullible people.
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I have hated haircuts my entire life, and will never enjoy them. At all.
Hilarious! I too am of the spineless variety when it comes to having to respond to the “how do you like it?” because, honestly, what are they going to do to fix it after they’ve already chopped most of it off? As a result, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been to a hairdresser.
My biped advises pretending to read a magazine and, if forced to speak, ask about the hairdresser’s holiday – this will usually keep them going for sometime and you can just say, mmm, aha etc.
Amazing. This is one of the best things I have read in ages. (ps. I cut my own hair at home.)
Thank God I’m not the only one who suffers through haircuts like that! You captured it perfectly. I would also add the extra hell of getting to one’s 40s and being twice the age of anyone who cuts my hair, therefore making me even more depressingly dull to them. Thanks for following my blog–I’m glad it gave me a chance to find yours. Looking forward to reading more!
Life is absolutely about moments. Spot on.
I always had quite nice, chatty hairdressers when I lived in Scotland, but I can identify with your hairdresser story since living here, in Germany.
Just like you, when nervous I have the capacity to babble a whole lot of nonsense. The more I babble, the more nervous I become and the more nervous I become, the more I babble.
It has led to a LOT of awkward and embarrassing situations.
I love my hairdresser! She’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met and she always remembers what we talked about 3 months ago and asks about it and I keep up with her life and ask about the baby and the husband, etc….in all fairness though, I’m extroverted and highly social!
Wow! Cynical much? I’ve encountered the word “feigning” in your blog, and “detritus” in someone else’s, both used, and spelled correctly, so I’ve obviously had a much better day than you.
I just got my hair cut today and I’m pretty sure that you were reading my thoughts at the time… too funny!
The black void of silence will suck you both in, client and haircutter, with scissors if you don’t fill in the space. I’ve seen this happen. It’s terrifying and never makes for a good cut.
He he he! What a great post! It really cracked me up – I am sure we are going to the same hairdresser and yet we don’t even live in the same country! How scary is that? ;-)
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