A hairy issue: cutting prices for bald guys

February 14, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

IN ITS long and illustrious history, this column has always stood up for the down-trodden, the oppressed, the little guy who plays by the rules and still can't get a fair shake, etc.

So I was naturally concerned when a handful of readers, all of whom identified themselves as bald, raised the same issue over the past few weeks.

"Why should we have to pay the same price for a haircut as guys with a full head of hair?" they grumbled in e-mails. "You should write about that."

For some reason, I was astonished by this news.

You pay the same for a haircut as everyone else? I wrote back.

"We sure do," they said.

By God, I wrote back, this will not stand!

Then I completely forgot about it. Because, I don't know, the Super Bowl was on or something. Or maybe it was a Terps game.

But the other day, when I went for my monthly haircut at the legendary Sal's Barber Shop in Cockeysville, which has been in business for 36 years, I decided to raise the issue.

Why make these bald guys pay the same for a haircut as everyone else, I asked the guy cutting my hair, Mike Morgan.

"Finder's fee," Mike said.

Excuse me?

"We have to charge 'em more just to find any hair they have," he said with a laugh.

Oh, yeah, barbers can be very cruel. Thank goodness, it's a side of them you don't see too often.

(Memo to my bald readers: I want you to know that I didn't even crack a smile when this joke was told. Honest. No, really.)

Then Mike explained the real reason bald guys get charged the same as guys with more hair: There are so many degrees of baldness.

One guy might only have a tiny fringe of hair to cut, whereas another guy might have slightly more hair, and another guy slightly more hair than that, etc.

So you have to charge a uniform price, Mike said. Otherwise you'd spend your whole day arguing with bald customers about how much hair they have and how much they should be charged.

To be honest, this made a lot of sense to me.

Do you realize how long it would take you to get a haircut if barbers did it any other way?

Every time a bald guy walked into his shop, the barber would have to whip out a ruler and measure exactly how much hair the bald guy had left.

Then the barber would have to consult some sort of sliding-scale price chart, which would look like the Periodic Table of the Elements.

You'd have about 80 prices up on the wall: 2 inches of hair -- $4, 4 inches of hair -- $6, 6 inches of hair -- $8, and so on.

Tell me that wouldn't increase the average time of a haircut. These barbers, they'd all have to be statistics majors.

Even then they probably wouldn't satisfy all their bald customers.

And the last thing anyone needs is a bunch of ticked-off bald guys with access to sharp objects. Because who knows what could happen?

I could imagine a bald guy flipping out, grabbing scissors, and screaming: "I'm balder than that bald guy over there and you're charging me the same price?"

And with my luck, I'd be sitting there reading Newsweek, waiting to get my haircut, and I'd be the one who got stabbed.

So, anyway, you see how this whole thing could go.

Not that Sal Diventi, the owner of Sal's, doesn't sympathize with his more follicle-challenged customers.

Look, the guy's been cutting hair for 36 years. He's given haircuts to so many bald guys they probably paid for the mortgage on his house.

"I see a guy come in and he's bald and I have to charge him the same price -- and I feel bad about that," Sal said. "But you can't charge 10 different prices."

Besides, he said, it works the same way in reverse when guys come in with real long hair.

Michael Diventi, Sal's son and a fellow barber, said a guy came into the shop the other day looking like Rapunzel, with hair down to his waist.

"But we charged him the regular haircut price," Michael said.

Anyway, as I said, I have to side with Sal and his fellow barbers on this one.

So let's not hear any more whining from you bald guys out there.

Nobody said life was fair.

I should be driving a Mercedes, and that ain't happening, either.

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