I’m not a high-maintenance girl by most standards: I don’t get manicures or pedicures (or facials or waxing), I don’t buy expensive shoes or clothes (I actually rarely buy clothes, period) or jewelry, I don’t buy a lot of hair crap or accessories or makeup or other beauty products. The car I drive now is the car I’ve been driving for the last nine years, and I will likely continue to keep driving it until every last replaceable part can no longer be replaced. Most of the items on my credit card bills are devoted to household things and food (more grocery than dining, because I prefer to cook than to eat out).
This is less because I’m cheap and more because I’m practical. I don’t do manicures or pedicures because the way I go about my life, they would last a day, maybe two at most. I don’t care about fashion and as far as shoes are concerned, I only need five pairs: gym/running shoes, dance shoes, knee-high boots, dressy heels and flip-flops (confession: I do have a lot of dance shoes and flip-flops, but only because they’re inexpensive and this way I can keep a pair in my car, in my travel bag, etc.– just in case). I tend to lose jewelry like it’s nobody’s business so I stopped buying it, plus I rarely remember to wear the rings I do still own, the only necklace I’ll wear is the one I’ve been wearing since I was 12, and I don’t care much for bracelets. And I simply can’t bear to give up my car (okay, so this is more sentimental than practical).
That being said: since April of 2007, I’ve been dropping between $60-80 on haircuts, which I suppose isn’t entirely unreasonable (compared to, say, $200) until you consider I used to only get my hair cut twice a year for like twelve bucks. But that was when my hair was long and I only got the ends trimmed, so it was really hard for that to get screwed up but even if somehow it did, I could curl my hair or tie it back until the disaster grew itself out.
But then I cut it all off, and since I neither care to wear hats nor look particularly appealing in them, it suddenly became crucial that my hair be cut in a not-unappealing style that required little more than my wash-and-go tendencies in order to look okay. The woman who initially took my hair from shoulder-length (it was mid-back-length a week before this) to an inch-and-a-half long, Elena, did such a fantastic job that I continued to go back to her every three months for touch-ups/re-styles. And for me, the price was totally worth it. I trusted her completely– often, I’d just go to her and tell her where I wanted it taken up, and she decided everything else– and she took her time, from the time at the sink to the time at the chair (cutting, blow-drying, styling). Hair appointments with her took an hour at least, sometimes an hour-and-a-half.
The last time I had my hair cut, though, was back in September, in D.C., with a woman at Celadon. The whole affair took nearly two hours and was $90, pre-tip, but she styled it so well and was extremely pleasant and enjoyable, and over time, the price justified itself more and more (because of how she cut it, the style grew out nicely).
Cut to: recently. I’d been aching for a hair cut since late December, but I either wasn’t home or I was preoccupied with other things and never got around to scheduling an appointment with Elena. Plus, I’d received this thing in the mail from Hair Masters for $5 off any service, and having just paid for my semester tuition and books, a $10 haircut was suddenly sounding very tempting. Plus, it wasn’t like I was going to get anything fancy done; I just needed the hair in the back taken up.
So I went. I called and made an appointment for late this afternoon, and I went and the woman who was going to cut my hair was at the register taking care of her previous
client customer (an, um, elderly lady) and she smiled and said she’d be just a second and told me how cute my boots are and how she’s been looking for a good pair of boots like mine. About five minutes later, she took me to her station and asked what I was looking to do.
I explained to her, I just needed the back taken up, then angled down to the front (the winged bob look, which is more or less how I’ve had it cut the last couple of times). I didn’t have a picture handy because I never take pictures to Elena and I didn’t take one to the woman in D.C., and that’s never been a problem because they usually understand where I’m trying to go with my descriptions, and if they don’t, either I end up liking what they’ve done instead so much that I don’t care, or they happily get their scisscors out again to give me the style I was originally aiming for.
But, whatever. I tell this woman what I want done, she says okay, let’s get you shampooed first. I say, actually, I just washed my hair a few hours ago, so– she says, well, I’ll at least need to spray your hair wet because there’s too much of it to cut dry. I say that’s fine (I would be skeptical if she did try to cut my hair dry, anyway).
She spritzes me like a prized plant and combs the water through, firmly arranges my head into place, then begins cutting. Snip snip here, turn my head, snip snip there, turn my head, etc. She comments, a few snips in, how she can’t stand how my hair was cut before, and at this, my heart skips a beat and I suddenly feel my hackles rising because however unintentionally, she is offending the woman in D.C., and I really liked that woman in D.C. She continues to make little comments about how pooly my hair was cut the last time, then: have you ever been here before? she asks. Oh, once, I think, maybe a few years ago, I respond. And five, maybe ten minutes later, she hands me the mirror. Well, that’s all fixed now. What do you think?
I look and can’t see much of a difference. It’s certainly not anything close to what I wanted. I ask, politely, could you take it up a little more in the back? and I show her with my hand about how high I want it. She replies, with entirely false cheer and forced laughter: well, I don’t want to, but I can!
She starts cutting again. I get the feeling that she’s irritated and I honestly can’t understand why. Was she offended because she felt like my post-trim request was an insult to her vision? But she’s starting to move my head into place using a little more pressure and she’s definitely not talking to me anymore, and even her snip!s sound a little angry. She pauses at one point and says, take a look at this and tell me what you think before I continue on to the other side.
I look. The side is angled right, but there’s still all this hair in the back. I explain that I want it gone. She stares at me reproachfully and snappishly informs me that what I’m describing is an entirely different style. I continue to silently and warily look at my reflection, passively resisting her. She goes on to tell me that this is an A-line something something, with layers something angled something to meet up with the sides, and so on. More passive resistance. I look at her, finally. I really don’t want that hair, I say. She huffs, says okay, and without any further words, digs through her drawer for an attachment for her electric razor, somewhat unkindly pushes my head down and begins having at the back of my neck.
And, I mean, she is *really* having at it. I suddenly envision those kids from my high school days who wore the long trenchcoats and massive army boots even when the temperatures got in the upper 90s, who shaved their heads from the neck up to the tops of their ears, but had long hair from there to the tops of their heads. I’m having heart palpitations and I’m aggressively fighting back tears because I’m so afraid that this woman is mutilating my hair, and I’m frantically making emergency mental notes to CALL ELENA as soon as I get to my car to schedule an appointment with her ASAP so she can fix me. Someone walks in– an (um) elderly guy (the other
client customer in the chair next to me having her roots done is also of the elderly persuasion, so, whatever that means)– and she calls to him, I’ll be with you in just a bit, okay?, again with the false cheer, and also with a hint of exasperated apology (as though to really say: I didn’t think this chick would take so damn long). This woman, she is pissed. I watch the scene unfold in my head: she does something disastrous to me, and when I finally see it I begin weeping in horror and she spitefully sneers at me: well, that’s what you asked for. I continue to silently lose my shit as she continues to do things to my hair involving razors and scissors, and I’m afraid to look up until she is done and says: so?
I look. It’s– actually not bad. It’s actually kind of exactly what I asked her to do. I half-smile (half because I’m still unwinding from the panic attack) in approval, she cleans me off and takes me to the register, announcing to no one in particular: whew! that little girl wore me out! At the register: and that’s three haircuts for… $17. I’m still quiet, working Big Eyes and all sweet proper Asian girl politeness, and I give her the card that came in the mail, asking, do you still take this? (They do, and I know this, but I ask out of courtesy for whatever retarded reason.) More false cheer, more forced laughter: well, not for you! She takes it, applies it to the bill; I give her my card, she hands me back the card and receipt, and because I am a coward I actually apply a tip to my card charge, and then that’s that.
I leave. I check my phone. The total time I spent in her chair was under a half-hour, and it was the most stressful experience I’ve had in a hair salon in probably the last four years.
And so, I don’t care if Hair Masters offered me free haircuts for the rest of my life. I will not go back there, ever again. Even though I know that she is not the only hairstylist representing Hair Masters, that she may not be representative of overall Hair Masters customer service whatsoever. I don’t care. My hair is one of the very few things about which I am highly sensitive, and it is easily worth the $80 every three months  to not have to go through horrific experiences like this.
 Incidentally– that last time I had gone to Hair Masters some years back? I sat in the chair and (passively) argued with a woman (I don’t know if it was the same one; it very well might have been) about how the style I wanted required my hair to be parted on a different side, and according to the woman, it was not possible for me to change my part. (Fact: yes it is.)
 Even my mother, who is the Queen of Frugality , after I relayed this story to her, told me to go back to Elena and never do this again. (And fumed that the things this woman said were entirely unacceptable and she should be written up. Which I guess, in a way, she now has been.)
 Side note: Cheap versus frugal, written by a Stanford grad/author/really interesting guy.