THE 24-HOUR hot line was my idea, someplace people could blow off a little steam and talk about the trauma they'd just been through by simply dialing 1-800-BAD-HAIR.
One thing I want to make clear is that we're not judgmental. We tell our counselors: "These people are not crazy. They just got a bad haircut. Well, maybe they're a little crazy, too. But treat them with respect.
"Above all, try not to laugh when they describe the haircut, because then they'll hang up and there won't be anything for us to do except empty the wastebaskets, which we do 20 times a day anyway."
We've been in business about a month now, but as I recall, we didn't do such a swell job with our first caller.
This was a woman in her mid-30s who sobbed hysterically that her life was ruined. She'd had her hair done at the Snip 'n' Sizzle off Rt. 9 for her 20-year high school reunion, and some dizzy dame (her words, not ours) cut the sides too severely and shaped her head like an anvil.
Upset? You have no idea.
Anyway, our counselor, Bret -- God knows what he was thinking -- said: "If you're going to cry like a little baby over a bad haircut . . ."
Well. Sure enough, the woman started wailing and hung up.
I said to Bret: "Hey, man, you have to lighten up. These people need our help. Here's a woman who has a big event coming up and now she looks like Arsenio in drag. The top of her head is flat enough to land an F-10 Tomcat and you're barking at her."
Bret said he was sorry, but that crying really got on his nerves and maybe he wasn't suited for this crisis intervention stuff. Which was certainly the case.
The guy knew more about hair and its legal ramifications than anyone I know, but we had to let him go. Last I heard he was working over at the Kustom Kar Wash, where they say he regularly blows up at customers who won't spring for the interior shampoo and wax special.
It's funny, when we started this, people said: "A hot line for bad haircuts?! I never heard of anything so stupid!"
Hah, I said. That's what you think. I've heard of lots of stupider things. Besides, I don't have the figures in front of me, but something like 90 percent of the population has had a bad haircut recently. These people come from all walks of life, too: students, longshoremen, teachers, Gypsies, carny workers, you name it.
As soon they get a load of themselves in a mirror, they freak out. That's when they're most vulnerable. And that's when they need someone to talk to.
One of my first nights on the job, I had a caller who was positively distraught. "Greg" (not his real name) said he had stopped at Hannah's Hair Boutique at the Mid-Valley Mall for a "trim" and wound up instead with a buzz cut and his sideburns shaved off.
Now, he said, he was going back to Hannah's and punch the woman who did it (I think it was Hannah herself) in the snoot. Said he didn't care if her husband was in the store, either.
"What good does it do to take a swing at somebody?" I said. "It won't bring your sideburns back. Why not channel that aggression into something positive, such as our local "Toys for Tots" campaign?"
Whether the guy took my advice or not, I couldn't say. All I know is, I ran into Hannah a few days later at the Kwik-Mart, and she didn't look any worse for wear.
Another caller was actually suicidal over a recent perm and frosting, although we didn't know she was suicidal at the time. The counselor who took the call put her on hold while we ordered out from Dominos (one large cheese pizza, one small pepperoni and mushroom), which we do every Monday.
See, Dominos has this deal on Mondays where you can . . . well, never mind. Luckily the caller was still on the line when the counselor returned and had, in fact, calmed down considerably, suddenly deciding that her new cut made her look like Joey Heatherton, a long-time idol.
Another question I get all the time is: What do your people say to someone who's just had a bad haircut?
Well, without getting into trade secrets, we train our counselors to say a variety of comforting things, among them:
"I'm sure it doesn't look that bad."
"Have you thought about a hat?"
"No law says you have to leave your house."
"Look on the bright side: Over 200 species of mammals don't even have hair."
We're not even sure if that last statistic is accurate, but it sure is heartening to many of our callers.