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.