It's time to worry when the hair stylist begins to converse

January 16, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

The problem with getting a haircut is that I never know what to say during the act. This used to be fairly basic.

The barber, whose name was Joe or Bob and never Cristophe, or, in fact, any name that required more than one syllable, would lead off with something about the weather. Like: "Hot enough for you?" That would generally be during the summer, of course.

In the spring, he might change it up. You'd get maybe a "Rainy enough for you?" You get the idea. So long as there continued to be seasons, you were OK.

Then, he'd ask what you'd want done to your hair. You'd say something about a little off the sides, which was pretty much the only available option at the time unless you were Elvis or Yul Brynner.

Once the cutting began, you naturally fell into conversation about last night's game or, if you were feeling particularly adventuresome, you might talk about the new line of cars. You also used the words "buddy" and "Duke" and "Brylcreem" a lot.

At some point, that all changed. It changed when a haircut began to include a shampoo, a blow dry and, instead of a !B barber, a hair stylist. That was around the same time spaghetti became pasta.

You don't just stop by for a haircut. You make an appointment. You get strapped into a chair -- what, you don't use straps? -- and are expected to converse. (You are also expected not to get change back from a $50 bill.)

Some people (mostly men) are uncomfortable in this position. I learned this essential lesson at work the other day. I see two men, pretty good friends, greet each other in the morning. They nod. They nod and they purse their lips in that meaningful way. You've seen it. The meaning is: "If I'd wanted conversation, I would have gone to a bar."

And yet, I know people who tell their stylists everything. It is cheaper than a shrink, and besides many psychiatrists won't wash your hair.

I'm a little more reticent. Not because I'm a repressed male. Or because I'm uncommunicative. Or because I'm not in touch with my inner self. I don't because I worry if I reveal my deepest secrets to a complete stranger they'll be videotaped and end up inside a week on "Hard Copy."

I had this problem pretty much resolved with Jeanine. She cut my hair for years.

She has two kids, but she never bothered me about them. She got a divorce in '89, but we didn't talk about it much. She drives an old Chevy that leaks oil, but after I once asked her, "What kind -- canola?" she never mentioned it again.

Jeanine knew nothing about me, except what I told her, which is I'm CIA and therefore not allowed to use either a general anesthetic or hair mousse and am also under strict orders not to reveal anything about my private life other than my name, rank and frequent-flyer number.

This worked very well. Until Jeanine disappeared.

I'll never forget the day when I walked into the Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow salon and asked for Jeanine and just got the most mournful look. Jeanine had moved to another state. For a few brief moments, I considered following her. Then they told me it was New Jersey.

Since then, my life has been a living hell. I've gone from hair stylist to hair stylist trying to find the right person.

First of all, they all want to change my hair. I've had this hair since sometime soon after the Beatles, and if it was good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me. Besides, I'm always afraid if I change hairstyles, I'd come out looking like Ross Perot.

Then, we have to talk. Each time, it's like a blind date, including the part that I'm the one who has to pay. She listens to . . . Barry Manilow. She reads . . . Tom Clancy. She likes . . . Sally Jessy Raphael.

The next thing you know, she's telling you about how her son got married in a fire station wearing a samurai outfit.

What can you say then?

8, I say, of course, "Cold enough for you?"

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