wild, carefree, and responsible.

I've wanted a GPS ever since I saw one in action, riding in my friend's car in Washington, D.C. We needed a place to park my car and were looking for a metro station that had free weekend parking. And he just told the GPS what we needed, and the GPS told us where to go. At one point, he took a wrong turn, and the GPS cheerfully figured out where he needed to go to get back on course. It was beautiful. The GPS opens up new places. You can be in a strange town and still find whatever it is you are looking for. Got a hankering for barbeque in Rocky Mount or need to make some copies in Austin? The GPS can make it happen. No more wandering around for hours or stopping at a dimly-lit gas station to ask someone for directions, only to be told "I don't live 'round here." I have been told that by so many different gas station attendants that I wonder whether people say that just to avoid having to think about how to get somewhere.

So, yeah, you don't need to sell me on the concept of the GPS. Unfortunately, my mother trained me to delay gratification. I wanted the price to keep coming down, and I wanted the technology to get better. Two years ago, I was hoping to win one at my company's holiday party. I put all my raffle tickets into the GPS prize bucket. But my stupid coworker won it, as if he needed it for his stupid airplane.

However, my new phone, the Droid, has a GPS system. A beautiful, occasionally quirky, battery-depleting GPS system. It is super awesome. I justify the purchase of the Droid by the fact that I would have spent $100 on a GPS system anyway, and this particular one also makes phone calls, takes pictures, and checks my email.

The GPS is the friend of spontanaeity, or at least of well-organized spontanaeity. When I go anywhere, I always make sure to print out the Google directions to my destination. I am responsible like that. Even if I decide to go somewhere just for the fun of it, off the cuff for no reason at all, I go and print out directions. Taking the time to do that makes me feel less wild and carefree than boring. With a GPS, I can be wild, carefree, and responsible.

The GPS is the friend of those of us are not walking compasses. It's taken me a long time, but I'm beginning to suspect that I do not have a good sense of direction. How does a person even know that, anyway? Having never been inside someone else's brain, I have no idea whether any other sense of direction is superior or inferior. But I suspect it, mostly based on this example.

My high school was a big rectangle, three floors high, with stairways at each corner. I went to that same school for four years, and I never, ever got it straight in my head which stairway went where. So if I went down the stairs to the right of the library, I was always a little surprised to come out right next to the lunch line. It didn't matter, because I was always going to the same place every day, so once I had a routine, that was that. Unless I had to go somewhere that was not on my routine. Then I sort of turned in a circle, trying to figure out which stairway to take. At no point did it occur to me that some people just knew how the upstairs mapped to the downstairs of the building. I never even thought about it, and I was surprised to find that other people did.

So yeah, if I can spend four years in a smallish high school, not knowing my way around, I think it's pretty safe to say that I have a tendency to get lost, once let loose upon the great wide world. The GPS understands this about me, and it helps me, ever so patiently. When I miss a turn, it blithely redirects me, happy to be of service. If I take the wrong exit, it's more than happy to send me clover-leafing without judgment.

Most of all, the GPS is a friend to yard salers. I try not think about how many of my major decisions revolve around my thrifting hobby, from the purchase of a fuel-efficient hatchback to my long-held desire for a GPS. Before the Droid, I would pick out the yard sales, plot a course on Google Maps, and then print out instructions. To save paper, I would often print as many as six pages per sheet, which made for very tiny text (not good for when you're driving and reading at the same time). This strategy worked well, except I could never veer off course, or switch the order of the sales I visited, because the directions were good for one exact course only. So I got lost sometimes, wasting precious Saturday morning minutes trying to escape giant suburban neighborhoods.

Now, I still plot a course on Google Maps, using CraigsList and newspaper ads to find where the good sales are going to be. And then I just email the list to myself. I open the email on my phone, click on the address, and immediately my phone shows me the location on a map. It helpfully offers to navigate there from my current location. Then, once I am finished with that sale, I go back to the email and click on the new location. If I need to stray from the course in the case of a doughnut emergency, I can, and if I need to go to sale D before sale C because sale C hasn't started yet, I can do that, too. It's like my GPS wants me to have a good yard sale day. I wish all my stuff felt that way.


your bearded friend.

I was glad to see the dancing girls. Before the dancing girls, there had been empty dance floor, a ten by twenty feet space between the stage and the bar where no one stood. There were lots of people at the bar and at the tables in the front of the restaurant, and there were even more people milling around in the square outside. So many people, and yet none of them wanted to stand within twenty feet of the band. Most likely, it was a vote for conversation rather than a vote against the music, but still, it looked bad. I sat alone on a bench to the side of the dance floor, five feet from the stage. I thought about standing in the empty space, a vote of confidence for the band, but I hadn't even finished my first beer yet. Let me have another pint of confidence, and I'll get up there.

I'm actually a very confident person. No, really.

So I was glad when two girls, well, women, got up and started dancing. They weren't exactly the kind of girls that would encourage young men to come closer to the stage. But even if they were a touch overweight and in their 30s, doing interpretive dance, it was better than empty space. One was dressed in all black, a rose tattoo peeking out of her tank top. The other wore a flowing dress and a fake gardenia in her short hair. Could I get away with that look?

One of the women, the one in black, came up and gave me an encouraging rub on the back. "Come dance with us! You don't have to sit here all by yourself!" This was Cheryl. I smiled and nodded. What I wanted to say was that I was actually a very confident person who was not afraid to sit all by herself.

So I got up and danced. It was not the twirly-arm dance that Cheryl and her friend were doing, but more of a gentle bounce to the rhythm. Honestly, it was a lot closer to standing still than it was to dancing. Cheryl introduced herself and her friend with the gardenia, Tammy. Then she asked when my birthday was, which I thought was an odd choice of small talk for someone older than five. But really, it was the kind of question you ask to steer the conversation, and so then Cheryl told me about her birthday extravaganza last month, which lasted four days. She rubbed my back a couple more times. Someone with personal space issues would not like Cheryl much.

She finished the last of her pink cocktail, then asked me whether she ought to have another.

"I can't make that decision for you." Kind of a square answer, isn't it?

In the end, Cheryl decided to have just one more. She offered to get me one, too, and I was tempted by the floating orange slices, but I know better than to switch to liquor after beer. She came back from the bar and told me that the old guy sitting there had told her to get as drunk as she wanted, because he could drive her home if necessary. Ah, a Good Samaritan. She seemed equal-parts creeped out and flattered.

"These guys are good!" she exclaimed about the band. I smiled and nodded.

"Have you seen them before?"


I suppose this would have been the moment to mention that I had seen this very band three hundred million times before. My long-term relationship with the bassist of the band would also have been relevant information. But I didn't say any of that. I can say it was because the music made conversation difficult, but really it was because I didn't want to.

After a little over an hour of live music, the guitarist announced that it was time for them to take a short break. Cheryl and Tammy retreated to the bar to get refills. I waited in the middle of the floor for the bassist. He hopped down off the stage and met me with an encompassing embrace and lingering kiss, which is a poetic way of saying that we made out for a while, just a couple of seconds. I imagine that if Cheryl viewed this scene, she wondered why I hadn't mentioned that I was on a making-out basis with part of the band. Or maybe she didn't see it at all, being busy talking to Trevor, the guitarist, while Tammy seemed engaged with Dave. I couldn't help thinking that I got the pick of the litter. It helps that I put my bid in years ago. Maybe Cheryl had decided to befriend me, because as a trio, we would have more luck collectively hitting on the band. Maybe they'd already picked out which ones they wanted and were going to leave me with whichever one was left, most likely Dave, who is a fine fellow, but the eight-inch beard can be off-putting.

Josh and I spent the break talking to each other and basically ignoring everyone else. After ten minutes or so, the guys got back onstage and the show started up again.

"Is that your man?" Tammy asked. Seems like an obvious question. Or maybe she thinks I have such incredible skills of seduction that I can get a rock star to jump straight from the stage into my arms. Maybe she wanted pointers.


"Good job."

"I know." Heh. "I mean, thank you."

"You can tell he really likes you, that he really loves you because he keeps looking at you and grinning." She is not the first to mention the way Josh looks at me during shows, picking me out among the crowd in between scans of the audience and concentrating on his bass or the other band members. Once, a girl, who was very drunk and very concerned about being twenty-five and single, repeatedly screamed at me during a show, "He's looking right at you!" as if I should have been in the throes of an ecstasy-induced seizure from his glances alone. No, I don't go into seizures, but I do relish those moments. They are like stolen moments between us, when everyone else in the room seems to melt into the background.

Another girl approached the stage and beckoned to Josh. He leaned down to hear her, and I heard "Can you play..." I groaned. I hate it when people make requests. Would you ask the Beatles to play the Rolling Stones? Of course not.

Tammy heard my groan. "Oh, don't worry about her. She's just some dumb girl."

"Oh, no, it's not that, it's just that she's making a request, and-"

"And look at her dress. Really, nothing to worry about." Again, I felt the urge to reassure someone that I am actually a very confident person. Also, I don't think guys care about dresses.

The show ended a little after 1 AM. Cheryl was sloshed, having renewed her "just one more" policy several times. Tammy was only half-sloshed. Assuming they did not want to accept a ride from Creepy Guy At The Bar, I hoped they had sober transportation. I sat next to Tammy at the bar while I tried to get the bartender's attention so I could close out my check and get some water. A few seats away, Cheryl giggled and talked to Trevor.

"I like their music, but I can see through those boys like cellophane," Tammy said, looking across the bar at her friend, who had put her head on Trevor's shoulder. Who knows how many times she had rubbed his back?

"What do you see?"

"He's trying to get her to say they can sleep at her apartment. And if that doesn't work, he'll try and get her to buy them a hotel room."

"That's...possible," I admitted. Tammy probably thought the guys were after sex, though I was almost certain that they were just trying to avoid having to sleep in the van again. I wasn't sure if Trevor would be so bold as to ask someone to buy them a hotel room, though I had just seen him try to finagle a free drink from the bartender, claiming that he had a "cute face." Does that ever work? Would he play up his cute face to a drunk girl in exchange for a piece of floor to sleep on?

"I hate groupies."


"Yeah. They don't care anything about the guy. They don't care what he likes or that he writes poetry or what his personality is like, they just like that he's on stage." Maybe Tammy thinks that all musicians like poetry. "But my best friend is wasted," she continued.

Josh came over to talk to the bartender about leaving their equipment there overnight and picking it up in the morning. He was accosted by Tammy.

"You tell your bearded friend that he should have paid more attention to me," she said. I guess she thought she was taking a principled stand by not throwing herself at Dave, who may or may not like poetry. There was more of her speech, perhaps a couple more uses of the phrase "your bearded friend," but I didn't hear it. And I hoped that Josh did not relay the message to Dave. I didn't want to think of the uncharitable remarks that boys might make about girls with low self-esteem.

Finally, having been assured that the equipment would be fine, Josh turned to me and said, "You wanna get out of this-"

"Horrow-show? Yeah."

We walked out the front door of the bar, and as we crossed the now-empty square, he took my hand.



I came across a Scentsy booth this week. Scentsy advertises itself as wickless scented candles. It seems we have crossed a line where the point of candles is no longer light, but smell. I would argue that it's time for a new word, since there are times when I'm definitely going to want a candle with a wick. In a power outage, for instance. A wickless candle won't do me any good at all then, not even to set a nice mood for any power outage romance, because you have to plug it in.

For those of you who are still baffled as to what a wickless scented candle is, I'll explain. You buy a little ceramic pot that plugs into an outlet. Inside is a low-watt bulb, 15 - 25 watts. You then put some wax in the pot, and as the wax melts from the bulb, it gives off a nice smell. Basically, it's a plug-in air freshener with a nightlight.

I am not a scented candle person. I've owned a couple in the past, but I never end up using them. I never think to light them, and more often than not, the scents are overpowering. For my birthday last year, some girls recommended to Josh that he buy me scented candles. They were horrified to find out that he was buying me an entertainment center. I guess they expected him to get me something romantic and girly, as opposed to finding me something that I'd actually want and use. Scented candles are what you buy for people that you don't know very well, the kind of generic gift that is sure to both not offend and not excite. If a guy I had been dating for four years bought me a scented candle, I think I'd cry.

The Scentsy booth is fragrant, as you might expect. They had little jars sitting out so you could get a whiff of their different waxes. After a few sniffs, I found that I needed some sort of nose palette cleanser to differentiate. Not only were all the smells starting to run together, the inside of my nose felt vaguely irritated, as if I'd been chopping jalapenos and then picked my nose without washing my hands first.

All the different scents had names, of course. Some of them were pretty standard - you can predict from the name what Baked Apple Pie and Cinnamint might smell like. Others were a little more questionable. Is French Lavender very different from, say, Italian Lavender? And while Satin Sheets certainly evokes a nice feeling, I'm not getting much of a smell memory from it.

But the majority of the names gave you absolutely no indication of what the scent inside might be. For instance, Autumn Sunset, Welcome Home, or Oxford. I have no idea what those things are supposed to smell like. And Echo? Really? That sounds like a thought question in a crappy new-age self-help book: What does an echo smell like?

My favorite Scentsy name (not to be confused with my favorite Scentsy scent, which was Thunderstorm) was Hemingway. It's part of the Scentsy Man collection, made to appease husbands who object to their wives buying candles that don't do any good in a power outage. The catalog describes Hemingway thus: "Rich, ripe apples and warm, woody accents of sandalwood and cedar with hints of spice." I smelled it, but I don't remember all that. However, I had sniffed half a dozen jars by then and my nose was very confused in general. In any case, it was nothing like what I expected Hemingway to smell. I expected tobacco and scotch, with accents of gunpowder and a hint of dead fish. It would be a manly smell, maybe a little too manly for the likes of a wickless scented candle. I imagine that ole Ernest would not be particularly pleased with the idea of being the namesake of a Scentsy wax, any more than I would be pleased to receive scented candles as a gift from someone who ought to know me better.

Here's your thought question for the day: What would your Scentsy wax smell like?


the disappointed one.

I've been developing a theory about The Golden Girls. It's similar to my ninja turtles theory, wherein one's favorite childhood ninja turtle indicates something deep and meaningful about you. Do you choose the leader, the smart one, the fun one, or the sarcastic one? Except the Golden Girls are not divided up the same way. Instead, there is the slutty one, the stupid one, the sarcastic one, and the old one. Bonus thought experiment: if there had been a slutty ninja turtle, which one would it have been?

I watched The Golden Girls when it was first on, and then again when it went into reruns. I even remember seeing a couple of episodes of the short-lived spin-off, The Golden Palace, which sounds like a Chinese restaurant. Actually, I think there was a Chinese buffet in Lenoir that was called that, which lasted about as long as the show. Whenever I see the original series now, I'm surprised to find that the show has held up reasonably well. I mean, it's dated, what with the shoulder pads and the laugh tracks, but it's still pretty entertaining. This is not something the show has in common with Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.

When I was young, my favorite Golden Girl was Blanche, otherwise known as the slutty one. I was watching this show when I was about ten, and sex was a mysterious and taboo subject. My fascination with Blanche was really just my curiosity about sex. I don't think I even got all the sexual humor in the show, and there is a fair amount, but I could tell when a joke was dirty, even if I didn't understand what was dirty about it. As I got older and started to see Blanche as less exciting and more...slutty, I started to wonder what her problem was. Big Daddy issues, most likely.

Then, in my late teens and early twenties, I learned to appreciate Rose, the stupid one. My love for Rose came from her wholesome naivete, the fact that she never got it (though she occasionally had out-of-the-mouths-of-babes moments). I particularly loved her St. Olaf stories. The best thing about Rose is her unintentional funniness. Dorothy and Sophia made jokes, Blanche was a joke, but Rose did and said things that were funny in their own way, and then funny again because she didn't know it was funny. Some of the Rose jokes are just plain boy-is-she-stupid jokes, but the best of them are about her unique childlike perspective of the world. A lot of shows had a cute kid; The Golden Girls had Betty White.

One night recently, I was watching the show, and I began to feel a strange closeness with Dorothy. I never really cared for Dorothy before. She had some great lines, and she filled an important niche within the group. But how could Dorothy be your favorite Golden Girl? She often just seemed like a huge walking ball of bitterness. She's very smart, but got pregnant as a teenager and had to marry Stan Zbornak, the loserly one. Zbornak, really? She went through the rest of her life feeling like she could have been a contender, if only, if only. Dorothy was the smart one, the tall one, the vaguely masculine one, and the sarcastic one, but mostly she was the disappointed one.

Really, all signs point to Dorothy, because in every group of friends I've ever had, I've been the smart one, the tall one, the sarcastic one, and yes, fine, the vaguely masculine one. The funny one because I couldn't be the pretty one, the uptight one because I had too much confidence to be the slutty one. However, I don't want to be the sad one. I don't want to be Dorothy, I don't want her to be my favorite. When Blanche and then Rose were my favorites, that meant that I liked the show the most when they were onscreen. I never actually related to them. But I can relate to Dorothy, the disappointed one. After all, I have found life to be sometimes, just a little bit, well, disappointing.

Aw, crap, I'm Bea Arthur.

Which makes me wonder whether, when I'm 80 years old, shrunken and crabby, Sophia will be my favorite. I've always found her to be a bit annoying. I feel sometimes that she is unnecessary, redundant even. Dorothy could have made good on her promise to take Sophia to Shady Acres, and I never would have missed her. After all, what other show has "the old one?" But being the old one is about being the wise one, the Master Splinter, to continue the ninja turtle comparison, and Sophia has her moments. Sophia is Dorothy after she got over her disappointment. Sophia knows that life is frequently not what you were hoping for, but that it's pretty neat and often quite wonderful in ways you didn't even think to expect. Disappointment with life is a problem with expectations, not with life.

Anyway, all of this is to say rest in peace, Rue McClanahan, and belatedly, Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty. You were in a silly sitcom about sassy old broads, and I miss you all.


hair destiny.

Can you stand another entry about hair?

When I was in my college roommate's wedding, we had our hair done at an ungodly hour in the morning, and then I was expected to keep my hair looking pretty until mid-afternoon, when the wedding actually happened. This seems like an unreasonable expectation for someone like me. Would you dress a five-year-old for his pictures seven hours early? Of course not. Yes, I am considerably older than a five-year-old, but I also once ruined a pair of suede shoes from sitting perfectly still. I can probably avoid getting messy or dirty, but let's not push our luck here. After getting my hair done for that wedding, I went to an outdoor flea market. In July. So I ended up sweaty and dirty, my hair lost about 50% of its volume, and I had a great time.

Last July, I was in my niece's wedding. Our hair was to be done at 11 am, while the wedding was at 3. This was much more manageable. It was also not on a Saturday, so the flea markets weren't even open. The girl who was to do my hair was not a professional hair-doer, but a family friend. In fact, there were two family friends doing hair: girls who had long and lovely locks themselves. They were just good at hair. I am good at math, which has never come in handy at a wedding before. You know how in sci-fi movies there's always a guy whose good at math, and he tells everyone else that their risky plan has a 3.52 billion to 1 chance of working? Math people are never appreciated.

The bridesmaids were to all have the same hairstyle, a pretty updo with a silk flower pinned in. I'm going to go ahead and admit that I had been looking forward to my turn in the chair for a month. At the previous wedding, my hair went all the way down to my chin, and there was not much the hairdresser could do with it. Her solution was to spray a can of hairspray into it and give it lots of volume. I looked like a TV news anchor. It wasn't a big deal, and no one cared, but I felt unfeminine. I also had a strange urge to say "Back to you, Phil."

But this wedding would be different. Someone with skill was going to do something magical with my hair. Because I had hair going all the way down to my lower back and I never let it live up to its potential. It was long, it was thick, and all it ever got to do was sit in a messy ponytail on my head. When I played volleyball, I would put it in a long braid a la Xena, Warrior Princess, which Josh called "battle hair." Sometimes I even braided it in pigtails, but the most attention I ever gave my hair was with the intention of getting it out my way. But today, TODAY!, it would finally fulfill its destiny. I like to pretend that inanimate objects have destinies.

I sat patiently while a woman named Stephanie that I'd never met before did mysterious things to the back of my head. I had no idea what she was doing. I knew that she pulled sometimes, asked me to tilt one way for a while, then sprayed hair spray, molecules of which probably ended up in my Mountain Dew. A lot of bobby pins seemed to be disappearing. And then after twenty minutes or so, she was done. I was afraid to move my head, for fear that it would all come cascading down. Yet it seemed oddly secure. I gave my head a couple of test shakes and whatever was keeping my many hairs in place seemed to hold. I could probably go to the flea market and sweat and it would still hang on. This was battle hair with style.

I nervously looked in the mirror: Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you! This was beautiful: feminine, classy, not me at all, but that's what was great about it! Feeling incredibly silly and shallow, I went into the bathroom and took pictures of my hair so that I could remember it forever: the culmination of five years of growing pains.

The next week, I went to a salon and had my hair cut off. All those years I'd been growing it, I knew that I was not a long-hair person and that I would want to cut it all off at some point. But how would I know when the time was right? I kept having dreams where I'd cut my hair and I would always wake up in a panic, relieved to find that it was all still there. As much as I was tired of dealing with it, would I be sad when it was gone? I guess I decided the time was right after the wedding. My hair had fulfilled its destiny, and I could let it go now. Maybe my decision-making process needs work.

Honestly, it was easier than I thought to be rid of it. For years people had told me that I should cut it gradually so the shock wouldn't be too great. I had begun to think that this haircut would be some sort of trauma, despite my initial feeling that it would probably be a relief. But once it was done, I knew I should have trusted my instincts. I put it in a plastic bag and mailed it to a company that will make a wig for a bald kid. The bald kid will be grateful, even though the color is mousy and it won't hold a curl. People were shocked, asking if everything was okay or if I needed some counseling to help me through my loss. The men at work seemed proud of themselves for noticing that I looked different at all.

It was not traumatic. I grew my hair to see if I could (as it turns out, I can). I knew that once I cut it, and I would cut it, I would probably never grow it out again. Donating it was pretty cool, and having a mass of thick locks was fun for a while. I'm glad that my hair had that one bright moment during the wedding. But it was time to have short hair again. It was...destiny!


jiffy lube of hair salons.

I got a haircut last night, and it was fantastic. I go to one of those walk-in, flat-fee places, because I don't care about my hair. Of course, that's not true. But I only care about my hair about $15 worth, and no more.

The main problem with those places is consistency. You're likely to get a different person each time, and there is no guarantee that any of them really know what they are doing. Sure, they're licensed cosmetologists, but I'm not sure how much of an achievement that is. What do you have to do to get your cosmetologist license? Take a short exam, where you answer questions about split ends and perm solution, then do a brief practical test, where you have to cut the hair of an old, mostly bald man?

Those places are the Jiffy Lube of hair salons. There might be someone trustworthy and competant working there, but then again, there might not be.

Growing up, my mom would take us to Marilyn, who was a lady that had a one-woman mini-salon in her basement. While Marilyn cut my mom's hair, I would play with the assorted toys she kept in a big box in the corner. Two things about Marilyn fascinated me: one, her husband had a Corvette, and I would check the driveway as we drove past to get a glimpse of it. There were not a lot of expensive cars in my hometown. Two, she had a tiny personal black-and-white TV in her shop. It had a six-inch screen and was usually tuned to either game shows or soap operas, depending on the time of day. This was back before everyone had big TVs in every room, and no one had those really cute TVs. Either Marilyn was cutting a lot of hair, or her husband did something that paid very well.

The best thing about having Marilyn cut your hair was that she had really long nails. She would use incredibly hot water to wash your hair, and then lather the shampoo, those long nails grazing your scalp. It was awesome. I promise I'm not a masochist who likes to be alternately scalded and cut, but I do enjoy a good head massage.

At some point, I outgrew Marilyn. I asked my girlfriends where they were going, and they directed me to a tiny place in town, where two women in their early thirties cut hair. Once I started going there, I had a revelation about hair. Nothing against Marilyn, who is a very nice lady, but she was from an older generation and some of the new-fangled styles were a bit beyond her. And so when I started wanting styles more complicated than straight bobs, she was a little out of her league. So I went to Cindy, and she introduced me to the concept of layers. Do you know about layers? They give you the illusion of volume.

I'm not sure how I ever made the jump from Marilyn to Cindy. It's not like I have ever in my life known what I wanted for my hair, other than in the second grade (and the sixth grade), when I wanted a perm. Maybe I just noticed that my girlfriends' hair always looked much better than mine, and I hoped that a good haircut would make the difference between limp, straight, brown hair and full, voluminous red hair. It couldn't hurt, right?

But then I moved to Boone, and Cindy was too far away. I'm sure there are inexpensive places to get a good haircut in Boone, but I don't know them. All I could see were places like Haircut 101, which was around the corner from my house and looked shiny and expensive. I think that salon turned me off completely from the "101" suffix. There has never, ever been a class called "Haircut 101." Why would you want to imply that your employees were students, anyway? The other week, I saw a restaurant named China 101, which makes even less sense. Guys, let's end the 101 thing.

So there were the Haircut 101s, and then there was SmartCuts, which was only $8, and you didn't even have to make an appointment. So I started going there, and after a few times I forgot what it was like to be really happy with my hair. I got $8 haircuts, and I probably looked like it. Well, sometimes I looked like I had a $10 or maybe even a $15 haircut, depending on who was working when I wandered in. But it was fine, because I pretty much ignored my hair, no matter how it looked. I moved to Winston, and then to Raleigh, where they didn't have SmartCuts, but they have Great Clips, which was a $12 place.

A year ago, I got a major haircut, like twelve plus inches of a haircut. I knew I wanted to take the plunge, but I didn't know where to go. Because there are times when a $12 haircut doesn't seem to be enough. I was going to be taking off a foot of mousy brown hair, and I wanted someone who knew what they were doing. So I looked up shops in the area, and they all seemed to be in the Haircut 101 mold: stupid names and high prices. As important as I thought this particular haircut was, I couldn't bear to spend $50 on it. In the end, I ended up going to Famous Hair, which also has a stupid name, but the prices are better. It's a $14 place, and I reasoned that it was bound to be at least a little better than the $12 Great Clips I normally went to. That was my splurge, an extra two bucks. Are you getting the idea that I don't care all that much about my hair?

The hair gods were smiling upon me that day. They ignore me most of the time, probably because I make so few offerings to them. But they were helping me out, in two ways. One, that I happened to go on a Thursday, which is when Jeff works. And two, that Jeff was the stylist that happened to be next in the rotation for receiving walk-ins. You can request a particular stylist at this shop, but I'd never been there, so I just took whoever was next. I don't remember who else was working that night, and it's possible that they would have done a bang-up job, too. But that's not what happened, and so I thank the hair gods for Jeff, who reminded me what it was like to be happy with my hair. Not just okay with it, not merely satisfied, but actually happy. Thrilled even.

Becuase I had such a good experience at the $14 place, I kept going back. Jeff was never working when I went, maybe because I did not go on a Thursday. I didn't pay attention to the day, because I now had confidence in the whole salon. Each time I went, they did a good job. I never felt like I got a crappy haircut, which I cannot say for the $8 place in Boone or the $12 places in Winston-Salem and Raleigh.

Then last night, a Thursday, I went again and saw Jeff. I requested him, even though it meant I had to wait an extra 20 minutes. It wasn't that I had anything against the two ladies working, but I was still so grateful to Jeff for doing such a good job the first time that I wanted to give him the business. He first washed my hair, and I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sweet-smelling shampoo, the hot water, and the head massage. My only complaint about Jeff is that his fingernails are not long enough.

Once I had clean, wet hair, he asked what I wanted, and I panicked. I hate this question, because I don't freaking know what I want. I wish I could say, "Just make me look good." So I told him to just give me a trim, to make my hair land right at the shoulder, and he got to work. He did the basic cut, and then he started doing the layers. Layers are a pretty standard trick nowadays, but he did things the other people didn't do. I was watching him, and I could tell that he knew other tricks.

Theoretically, I walked in last night with the same haircut that he gave me a year ago. Each time I've gotten a haircut, I've told them to just trim it and keep the same style. So it should be the exact same thing he gave me, only a little longer. But that is not true at all, because the other stylists do not know the Jeff magic. I'd suspected as much, but I don't know anything about hair, so I couldn't be sure.

The haircut last night cost $14, just like every other haircut I've received at that place in the last year. But it looked way better than the other cuts. I looked like someone who actually cared about my hair. And I remembered what it was like to have a preferred stylist, someone that you can trust to do a great job every time. That's all I want - someone who knows that I don't know anything about hair and just makes me look good. At last, I now know the secret to a good haircut: always go on a Thursday.