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I’ll Have the ‘Gringo Starr’ Style, Por Favor

I was reminded today of one of life’s little truisms:

If you want a good haircut, then it’s usually best not to go to a barber who doesn’t speak your language.

Actually, come to think of it, you could probably substitute ‘haircut’ and ‘barber’ in that sentence with ‘dinner’ and ‘waiter’, or ‘facelift’ and ‘doctor’, or even ‘handjob’ and ‘hooker’.

(Though that last one is debatable. I’ve never had occasion to try asking a foreign national for a sex act via some elaborate game of charades, mind you, but it seems somehow easier than trying to get across ‘duck in a white wine sauce with asparagus’ or ‘pull back the cheeks and make my nose a shade thinner’ to those other folks. Just seems less complicated, is all I’m saying. Less choices on the menu, and all that jazz.)

Anyway, I had my follicles trimmed at the barber shop I always use. It’s close by, the cuts are quick, and they’re dead cheap — thirteen bucks for a trim. You don’t beat that kind of price, people. Not on this side of Ohama, anyway.

Of course, there’s a downside to all of this — there’s always an oily black lining to that silver cloud, people. There’s just this wee little problem with this place, which you’ve already guessed from the first bit above — they really don’t have the firmest grasp of English that you’d like to see in a person standing over you with a pair of sharp scissors, and asking you ‘How jou want eet?‘ I’ve had nightmares that start out that way, frankly. Many of them involve Antonio Banderas. Some nights I don’t sleep at all. Eep.

Anyway, I went there today for a cut, before my show tonight.

(What’s that? Show? Why, yes — at the Comedy Studio. Yes, that’s right — eight o’clock, thanks for asking.)

And I go there hoping, crossing my little fingers tight, that I’ll get the owner guy, John. ‘John the bilingual barber’, I call him. Not while I’m in there, of course, but later — out of earshot. But John really is bilingual — when John’s manning the shears, we often have a little chat, talk about the weather, and the neighborhood, that sort of thing. It’s nice to get John.

I didn’t get John today. That’s problem number uno.

No, today I got the woman who works there. Nice lady, very nice. There’s also a younger guy who works there — he’s nice, too, if a little shaver-happy from time to time.

(Senor, I’m a person, not a sheep! No mas, por favor! Ay, chihuahua!‘)

These two, they don’t speak the English so well. And me, I don’t hablo the Espanol so much, either. And so, there’s a bit of a communication gap occuring in the old barber shop when I get one of them. And today, as I said, I got the woman. Oh, boy.

So, first she asked how I wanted it cut. I told her — not thinking to keep things clear and unambiguous, of course — that I wanted it sort of short, but not really short. She interpreted this as ‘not short’, apparently, and was careful to take only a few millimeters off each hair as she worked. It was impressive, really. The concentration. The dedication. In one sense, it was truly a work of art.

In every other sense, it wasn’t at all what I wanted.

Now, normally I’ll just take my lumps and let it go. These guys try hard, and they’re really cheap, and I don’t really care if my hair looks perfect, anyway.

(Frankly, I think that would be bad, even, if it did. Then it would be the one shining example of how a body part should look, sitting on top of this mish-mash of remnant and irregular and more-than-slightly used parts called ‘the rest of my body’. And I don’t think I like the comparisons that would encourage. So an ‘enh‘ haircut is just peachy fine with me, thanks so much. Takes the attention away from the hunchback and the peglegs, don’t you know.)

This time, though, I felt I had to speak up. Honestly, I didn’t really look significantly different than when I’d walked in. And yes, I know they don’t work miracles in these places, dammit — I wasn’t hoping to walk out all ‘rawk star’ and shit — but given how long I go between haircuts, my fricking hat should fit different right after a trim, okay? And we weren’t there yet.

So, I tried to negotiate with her, but again — put my Spanish and her English together, and you’ve got six full words, a bunch of leftover consonants, and a whole helluva lot of hand-waving. So our ‘conversation’ went something like this:

Me: Um, you see how my hair’s kind of wavy there on top?

Her: You want it shorter in the back?

Me: No, no… well, actually, come to think of it, yes, but that’s not what I meant. My hair gets all wavy when it’s long, and —

Her: I cut the hair for you. In the back?

Me: Er, no. Uh, here, on the top.

Her: On the top? Cut the top?

Me: Yes, please.

Her: Okay, I use these scissors here.

At this point, she brought out this odd, scary-looking pair of scissors, where one side looks sort of like a metal comb, and the other side looked normal. They’re some weird kind of shears, and I think someone once explained to me that they help make hair less thick, which — again, based on my understanding of barberage, which is only slightly less impressive than my understanding of Spanish — could make hair less wavy. Which is what I wanted.

So, I thought that just maybe she’d gotten the idea, after all, and understood. So I had another go at talking with her, trying to get info to use for the next time.

Me: So, um, what are those called? Do they have a special name or something?

Her: Yes, these are very nice.

Me: No — I mean, yes, they’re nice. But what do you call them?

Her: It’s two thirty, about.

Me: Oh, um, thanks. But I meant the shears you’re using.

Her: Yes, they’re very nice.

Me: Yes. Nice. Okay, then.

So, she took off another couple of millimeters with those things. And my hair looked marginally less wavy — as opposed to entirely less wavy, which is what I really look for in a haircut. But that’s okay, I thought to myself. I’ll just come back a week earlier or so next time, and get it shorter then. It looks more or less okay now, and I can deal with it for a while — just so long as I can get what I want later… so long as this isn’t the haircut I’ll always get here… so long as I don’t actually fricking have the part of the conversation that we had next:

Her: Is good, now? You like?

Me: Um, sure. It’s good. Not bad.

Her: That’s right — you don’t like it short. I remember. You don’t like that.

Me: Well, I mean, it could be shorter, a bit, really. I just —

Her: That’s right — you don’t like it short. Don’t worry, I know what you like.

Me: Yes, but it’s just —

Her: It’s okay. No short for you. I take care of you.

Damn. I didn’t know what to say. Well, actually, I knew exactly what to say; I just didn’t frigging know how to say it, in Spanish. So, I got up and paid her, and thanked her, and walked back outside with four pounds of hair still on my head. And all because I coasted through Spanish class in high school, and I’m too lazy to find another barber. Somehow, when you put it that way, it almost sounds like my fault. Bah.

Anyway, it looks better than it did. Better-ish, at least. Maybe I’ll go back in a couple of weeks and have more of it sheared off. Only this time, I’ll buy a Spanish-English dictionary to take with me, so there’s no confusion. Unless my pronunciation sucks, in which case I might walk out with a mohawk, a black eye, and a can of shaving cream down my pants. But really, isn’t that what haircuts are all about?

Permalink  |  7 Comments

7 Responses to “I’ll Have the ‘Gringo Starr’ Style, Por Favor”

  1. #Debi says:

    “…a person standing over you with a pair of sharp scissors, and asking you ‘How jou want eet?’ I’ve had nightmares that start out that way, frankly. Many of them involve Antonio Banderas.” Dude, I’ve had those dreams, too, only there were no scissors, and they weren’t nightmares… ;^) Hope all goes well at the comedy club tonight…

  2. I made the mistake of going to a ‘foreign’ salon to get my eyebrows waxed. She asked, “You want little or lot taken off?” I just wanted them tidied up, ya know, so I told her “Just a little.”

    Well, she SCALPED me. I looked so ridiculous.


  3. Lois Lane says:

    Those were thinning shears she used on your melon. Trying to communicate with a person about something that important is… well, important. Next time use a phone a friend option. Call ahead of time and make sure John is free. Just hope she doesn’t answer the telephono. ;)

    I was glad there wasn’t a crazy twist at the end where she wound up going too short, making you look like a Holocaust survivor. Because the would be very not funny.

    Lois Lane

  4. Debra says:

    Yo dude, next time take a picture of your freshly shorn head with you so they can SEE what your want. Or, go to and get a free translation.

  5. Jade says:

    If you haven’t already heard it, you need to get it. Ray Stevens “The Haircut Song”….if you’ve heard it before, listen to it again! LOL

    Great story. This is why I cut my own hair!

  6. chasmyn says:

    You know, I sat next to the class clown in Spanish class myself. As a result, all of the spanish I know I learned on sesame street when I was little.

  7. sunShine says:

    LOL! I love that story. I hate going to a new hairdresser. You may come out looking like a poodle at the dog show. SCARY!

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