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Oct. 30, 2006

Ellen has often said that there's nothing wrong with me that $200 in clothes and a proper haircut couldn't fix, a diagnosis that reveals either her charity or her lack of imagination.

A few visits to Banana Republic have addressed the first problem, but the hair ... the hair ...

In the 25 years since I last hopped onto the kitchen stool for a haircut from Mom, I've patronized white man's barbershops exclusively, independent joints with baseball on the radio, ashtrays by the coffee pot and porn under the Newsweeks. I've been seeing the same guy for six years. He isn't interesting or funny or even very good, but he is as close as he is cheap, and the end result is always adequate for me. I don't have to look at it, after all.

But Ellen does, and in six months she has earned the right to veto certain grooming and lifestyle decisions. (See also "beard, off-season" and "whities, tighty.") Thus when I returned from the barber a few months ago with a speck of blood behind my ear -- it was just a nick; didn't even notice it myself -- she promptly vetoed any further visits to my guy, barbers' proud heritage of bloodletting notwithstanding.

Last week, then, I made my first appointment to a salon. Ellen's hairdresser recommended a spot near the Belmont El, a trendy place where one can also get tattoos, dyes and whatever it is that the goth kids inflict upon themselves. It sounded intimidating. (It's true: I'm 31 and am still frightened of the cool kids. Zombies? Mummies? Amway reps? Pish. It's student-body presidents and punk rockers that keep me up at night.)

I was nervous from the first step up the narrow stairway to the second floor. Given a choice, I'd climb the gallows with greater mirth. Entering the salon, it was clear that, as is often the case, I was the square in the room. I fidgeted in the waiting area, as if I were waiting for a dentist or a first date. As I was escorted to my stylist's station, I bumped into someone I knew -- someone who has always had very good hair, it should be noted -- but I was too jittery to make conversation. "Hey! Good to see you! Gotta go!"

My new stylist had a shaved head himself and looked like the type who ate live bats for lunch, but he was jolly enough. He asked what I wanted.

"Short and low maintenance. And my girlfriend says what I need is 'texture.' I assume she's talking about my hair."

"Don't worry," he said, patting my shoulders. "I'll take care of you."

"What kind of product do you usually use?" he asked a few minutes later.

"'Product?' None." I didn't volunteer that I usually shampoo with Suave, don't own a hairdryer and use conditioner only when I am the guest of someone who owns some.

"Don't worry," he repeated. "I'll take care of you."

And so he did. After a while he commented on how quiet I was. "My girlfriend says that, too." But I wasn't sure what commonalities we had to discuss. I could only presume he didn't care to hear about my cycling, and I wasn't all that curious in what he used to wax his eyebrows.

The rest was fine. He even washed my hair, something I like but that my guy doesn't do. All in all the experience wasn't that different from any other haircut. The main difference was that it cost twice as much as my guy. He certainly didn't take twice as long, nor did he cut it twice as short. Is it better? Sure. Probably. Maybe. (I'm not a very good judge of new haircuts.) But is it twice as good?

At least he didn't make me bleed. Now, however, there are ominous rumblings about something called "product." Sounds high maintenance to me.

Photo taken: Oct. 25, 2006