But as the sands of time slip through the hourglass, so goes my tolerance for small talk. My old man is the king of small talk; he will start a conversation with anyone he encounters. I couldn't begin to count the number of times I had to wait for my dad in Wegman's or at the mechanic's or at the doctor's office because Chatterin' Bob would strike up a conversation with some random person. It usually only lasts 3-4 minutes, but it always left me uncomfortable, standing to the side while my dad would follow a conversation to its natural conclusion. He treats a conversation with a complete stranger the way most of us treat running into someone we know at the store. But my dad is a master of conversation: he is engaging, funny, and he treats anyone he talks to like they are the only person in the room. He has a gift I could only hope to attain. And female medical professionals love him, for some unusual reason. He has a cult following in that vocation.
I, on the other hand -- and I know this is going to sound awful arrogant -- do not suffer fools gladly. I have a very low threshold for someone who doesn't interest me. It's not that I'm the arbiter of what is interesting, or that somehow I'm some highbrow elitist who needs to be entertained on a constant basis. Far from it. I enjoy foolhardiness and trivial matters as much as anyone. (I once got into a half-hour argument with a coworker of which one was a "slash" and which one was a "backslash.") But I also can't stomach people who go on and on without any semblance of self-awareness, or that for some reason feel that I asked them to prattle on and on. I know that I likely fall into this trap too sometimes, but I think maybe I have a good idea of when I'm overstaying my welcome. Some of you, I'm sure, may disagree.
So today I look in the mirror and realize that my hair looks like Wolverine, and not in a hot way. I am in the enviable position of being seriously balding on top, and yet having an amazingly lush head of hair in the back and on the sides. I look like Paul Giamatti but without the bugged out eyes or acting chops. I know, I won the genetic lottery, thanks for your congratulations. Anyway, I decided to go get my monthly-or-so haircut.
I went to a salon that shall remain nameless, because I still need three more punches in my card before I get a free one and if they find out I'm dogging them here, they might tear my card up. I can't risk that. I decided to forego the "barber shop" with all its machismo and testosterone about a year ago, in favor of the more convenient and customer-friendly atmosphere of a larger haircutting chain. I do not regret this move, because now I can actually go get a haircut at 8pm instead of having to wake up at 9:30 on a Saturday morning to try to beat the rush to the mall and end up waiting 45 minutes for some bald dude with a Yankees tattoo to buzz my head for 5 minutes. Although they did give the best straight-razor neck shaves ever. I do miss that.
I walk into the salon, no waiting. Perfect. Ready to sit down and become gorgeous again.
The stylist (I call her this only because I don't know of a better name, but I don't like having a "stylist" cut my hair because it makes me sound dumb -- because there is nothing there to style -- and super gay) asks how I want my haircut. It's a common question, but I have a stock answer: "Short." It's not sarcastic. Some people like a little clip job, some like a buzz. Some like it parted or styled in some way. I like it short. Short on top, shorter on the sides. Make it happen, toots, let's go! But the stylist -- let's call her Lorraine because I'm feeling more gay than ever -- says "Well Duh!"
She didn't say it in a mean way, but it was kind of a douchey response to a valid answer. She then proceeded to giggle and say things like, "Well we can't make it longer!" and "Obviously you wanted it shorter! Can you be more specific?!" I just sort of laughed it off and said, "Yeah, ha ha, well I guess short on top, really short on the sides." And then it began.
"Well I always like to start with a joke cuz I'm all about customer service and I like to get my customers on my good side early on but when you're a hairdresser you don't really always have to be nice to everyone because it's like I'm cutting your hair and I'm the one holding the clippers so I have a lot of power ha ha but seriously I would never do that cuz I've had a lot of jobs like I was a cocktail waitress for a while and I used to make the jerks wait at the bar on one end or just avoid that part of the bar and I worked a bank once but I never did anything with people's money and when I was a waitress I saw all sorts of people do lots of mean things to other people but I would totally never do that so don't worry but people don't really think about that when they go into like a store or somewhere and they don't realize that these people who work at these places could like really screw you over cuz like one time I had this mechanic that I really liked and he used to give me the best deals but then I made the mistake of dating him ha ha but so then ....."And I could feel that feeling of awkwardness that you feel when you are in a room alone with someone you don't know or don't like and don't know how to start a conversation or don't even want to. It's like blood boiling and crawling up my neck.
"....so I couldn't believe it that my ex-boyfriend's new wife asked me to do her hair for her wedding and I was like um hello do you know what our relationship used to be because were together for like 6 years and I'm like there might be something he's not telling you honey and then of all things I'm at the beach one time and I'm sitting at a picnic table and what do you know there they are and my son's like Mom do you see who that is? and I'm like oh my God you can stay but I'm gonna leave ha ha..."At this point the small talk itself isn't what was getting to me. It was the fact that she would take three snips of hair, then stop, make eye contact with me in the mirror, and continue the story while waving her hands around. She actually turned off the clippers a couple times so she could continue her scintillating tale.
"...and it's not like I have a lot of money cuz I cut hair and it's not like we make a lot ha ha but it's okay because it's customer service and it's what I do and it's what I love and people always come up to me and say wow you gave me the best haircut a few years ago can you give me one again and I was like sorry I moved to Florida ha ha...."It's all I can do to not say something like, "Hey, could you hurry this up? I have a movie to catch?" or fake that my cell phone was ringing. Or just leave the goddamn place with my hair half-cut.
But finally a break. She goes back to the cutting and takes a breath. Ahh, shorn locks here I come!
"So what do you do?"Oh no. I have to actually interact. I could have -- and probably should have -- made up some kind of bullshit answer to at least entertain myself. I could have said something like taxidermist or assassin. I briefly considered stealing a page from my old buddy Slim Colt's playbook and tell her that I was "Johnny Unitas: Gay Journalist." I doubt she would have recognized the name. That would have been fun, telling her I was writing about my super-gay adventures. Or whatever, I would have thought of something. I would have enjoyed it at the very least.
But instead I chickened out and gave her the honest, though misleading answer. "Insurance."
"Oh my God see I don't even have insurance cuz I'm a hairdresser and it's like the worst health insurance in the world cuz I could like pay $70 a month and still have to end up paying at the doctor's office or I could just save up that money and put it in the bank and let it collect interest and then if I ever need it I could just take it out of the bank because I have a fund like that in my savings account but I only use it for like TRUE emergencies like if the roof collapses or going to the hospital or if my car breaks down or whatever and one time I got really really sick and I mean like I'm-gonna-die-sick and I had to go to the hospital and I couldn't pay and they sued me and that's fine cuz I'm alive right? ha ha so finally they asked me for $50 a month and I said fine and then the x-ray people asked for $50 a month and then the nurses and then the suppliers and everyone and eventually they had to go into my state taxes and take it out of that and that's fine because it's all paid off now and they never touched the federal taxes thank God but I was like..."Fascinating. Would you please CUT MY FUCKING HAIR WHILE I STILL HAVE IT!
Finally, after this the most awkward haircut of my entire life -- and I've had some doozies, trust me -- she tells me I'm all set and asks if I want any "product." I normally jump at the chance for free product done by a professional who knows what they're doing. But you would have thought I had a spring attached to my ass trying to hustle out of that chair. I grabbed my glasses and stopped short her attempt to brush the excess hair off me.
And as I walked briskly to the register to settle up and get the hell outta Dodge, Lorraine said, "Well, at least I'm entertaining!" which is of course the first thing that non-entertaining people would say about themselves. I paid up and signed the credit card receipt. Lorraine said, "Just hold on a sec hon it takes a few minutes for the receipt to print out." I waited for an awkward second before saying, "Ah know what? I don't need it. Thanks!" before running out the door. I think she could see that I wanted out and I think it hurt her feelings, but at that point I didn't care. The presumptuousness that I could take another minute of her howitzer-like banter was too much to bear.
All I know is that this goddamn haircut better get me laid.
[Update: No such luck...]