“Before I had a girlfriend, I had no standard for how I should be treated as a human being. She will be like, ‘The bus driver shouldn’t talk to you that way!’ And I’ll be like, ‘No he shouldn’t!’”

 John Mulaney, New in Town

 I used to let myself get taken advantage of.

It all started two years ago when I was completing an internship in St. Louis. My wife and I lived in a neighborhood called Tower Grove South where restaurants and grocery stores were within walking distance. When the time came to get my hair cut, I was excited to try out a place on that chic street so close to home. The barber’s pole was always moving. It was nestled in between an international grocery store and a hookah lounge. The place looked legit. 

When I sat down, the barber asked me what I wanted; I had become accustomed to using non-specific language for situations like this… “Can you buzz it short on the sides, fade, and trim a bit off the top?” I asked. He chuckled at me before asking, in a condescending tone, “You don’t know your measurements?”

After the cut was done, he made a show of writing my measurements on a little business card before handing it to me. The card said that what he had done on the sides was a size 2 which, interestingly, is a larger number than the number of times I set foot in his shop.

When I moved back to St. Louis last summer, I was excited to find that there was a barber within a five-minute drive of my house. It wasn’t the walking distance of the Tower Grove place, and there weren’t any trill hookah lounges nearby, but I was willing to sacrifice for a better experience! Nothing worth having comes easy!

It started out harmlessly enough. 

I could tell early on this dude loved to work out because he asked every client in front of me if they worked out. “Yeah, I do a few things,” I mentally prepared as I got ready. I was ready to chat, talk fitness, and was excited for an all-around better experience. What followed, however, should have lasted only one visit but went on for months because, as you may remember, I am prone to letting myself get taken advantage of.

The next time I went in, a Friday afternoon, he asked me what I was doing that evening.

“Getting pizza,” I replied, expecting the conversation to just keep moving on.

“Oh yeah? Where do you like to get pizza from?” he asked.

“Marco’s.” 

At this, he put his clippers down, walked around the chair, sat down on a bench facing me, and put his head in his hands. He looked at me like a teacher would look at a failing student while debating whether the extra care and effort is worthwhile. He then launched into a list of pizza places in St. Louis that are so much better than Marco’s.

The conversation stopped just shy of me signing a legal agreement never to eat at Marco’s again.

(In his defense, Marco’s has since closed.)

Added to the pizza lectures were similar fitness filibusters; from this barber I was handed unsolicited information about how much protein I should be eating, what weight exercises I need be doing, and how much more weight you can put up in a competition, “due to the adrenaline.” I’ve conveniently left out that this dude is fifty and fat; for a long time, I put up with it, until my wife finally stood up for me and said, “You know you don’t have to go back there, right?”

You’re right, I don’t!

So I left.

My next experience was even briefer than the pizza guy. On my second visit, I waited two hours for a cut despite the fact that there were only two people in front of me and I arrived ten minutes before the shop was set to open for the day. While I was in the chair getting my haircut, my wife was texting me links to other shops, while adding, “There are other barber shops.”

In the end I found my way, somewhat begrudgingly, to Great Clips, which I had previously dubbed “Good Clips” because it’s never horrible but isn’t something you wouldn’t write letters to your relatives about. It was a known commodity, though, which felt like a luxury. Thus, when I walked in, was warmly welcomed, and was asked if I checked in online (no? That’s no problem!), I felt like an American citizen, a red-blooded capitalist, a man with Constitutional rights. When I told my stylist that I was trying to find a good haircut and mentioned the above experiences and she seemed to try harder than previous Good Clips experiences, I felt like a twenty-first century genius. When she told me my fine hair had given her the “challenge of the day” but she figured it out, I felt like a very special boy. When I overheard another stylist rambling about how she convinced her friend that deep fried seafood was good, I settled in like a tiny kitten into a long nap and relaxed.

So, for now, when I need a trim, I’ll be at Great Clips, possibly checking in online, possibly not, and enjoying mindless conversations with people who do not question my taste in pizza.

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