I'll Have the 'Gringo Starr', Por Favor

I was reminded today of one of life's little truisms: 'If you want a good haircut, then it's probably best not to see a barber who doesn't speak your language.'

Actually, come to think of it, one can substitute 'haircut' and 'barber' with 'dinner' and 'waiter', or 'facelift' and 'surgeon'. Or for that matter, 'oral sex' and 'toll booth operator'. If one happens to be in that part of town.

At any rate, I had my follicles trimmed at the barber shop I always use. It's close to my office, the cuts are quick, and they're dead cheap -- thirteen bucks a head. You don't beat that kind of price. If you can get a haircut for under twenty bucks and walk away with both ears still attached, then you've found yourself a bargain, compadre.

Of course, the downside to this is that the English spoken by the barbers there is not so bueno. They simply don't have the firm grasp of English that you'd like to see in a person standing over you with a pair of sharp scissors, asking, 'How jou want eet?' I've had nightmares that start out that way. Many of them involve Antonio Banderas. I sleep with one eye open, as you might imagine.

Anyway, I went to my barber for a cut. Why? Because I never learn. I go there, crossing my little fingers tight, hoping that I'll get the owner, John. 'John the bilingual barber', I call him. Not while I'm in there, of course, but later -- out of earshot. John really is bilingual -- when John's manning the shears, we often have a little chat about the weather, or the neighborhood, the local sports teams, 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. She's a very nice lady. But the chica, she don't speak the English so well. And me, I don't hablo the Espanol so much, either. So there's a bit of a communication gap between us. Canyon-sized, as gaps go.

First she asked how I wanted it cut. I told her -- not thinking to keep things clear and unambiguous -- to cut it 'sort of short; not really short but still pretty short'. She interpreted this as 'not even remotely short', apparently, and proceeded to snip a few scant millimeters from the tip of each hair. It was impressive, really. The concentration. The dedication. In one sense, it was truly a barbering minimalist masterpiece.

In all of the other senses, though, it wasn't even remotely what I wanted.

Normally, I'd just take my lumps and let it go. Those folks try hard, and they're really cheap, and for thirteen bucks, I should be happy they don't use a rusty scimitar. And a blindfold. And Antonio Banderas.

This time, though, I felt I had to speak up. I didn't look significantly different than when I'd walked in. And I sort of look for that in a haircut. The appearance of my head should change somewhat by the time they've finished. Preferably without bleeding.

So I tried to negotiate with her, but again -- put my Spanish and her English together, and you've got six words, some leftover Rs and silent Js, and a hell of a lot of hand-waving. Our 'conversation' went something like this:

Me: Um, see how my hair is wavy there on top?

Her: Shorter in the back?

Me: No, no... well, actually, yes, but that's not what I meant. My hair's long and wavy, and --

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

Me: Er, no. Here, on the top.

Her: On the top? Cut the top?

Me: Yes, please.

Her: Okay, I use these scissors here.

At that point, she brought out an odd, scary-looking pair of scissors. I'm pretty sure they were featured prominently in the movie Saw, as a matter of fact. One side looked like a jagged metal comb, while the other resembled a tapered bayonet of some kind, possibly with viscera from the last 'client' still hanging on.

I'd seen similar instruments of hair torture before; someone once explained that they make hair less thick. Which might mean less wavy. And me gusta less wavy. Ole!

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

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

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. All righty, then.

She took off another couple of millimeters with the mystery shears. And my hair looked marginally less wavy -- as opposed to completely less wavy, which is what I was really after. Along with 'noticeably shorter'. But by then, my will was sapped. I barely even put up a fight when she said:

Her: Is good, now? You like?

Me: Um, sure. Not bad.

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

Me: Well, 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 no let anyone cut your hair short here. I take care of you.

I didn't know what to say. Well, actually, I knew exactly what to say; I just didn't know how to say it, in Spanish, so she'd understand it. So I got up and paid her, and thanked her, and walked back outside with four wavy pounds of long hair on my head. And all because I coasted through Spanish class in high school, and I'm too lazy to find another barber.

Damn. Somehow, when I put it that way, it almost sounds like my fault.

Charlie Hatton is an overzealous blogger and aspiring standup comedian offering smart, sophisticated humor about life, language, and the size of his naughty bits. He writes semi-daily and mostly randomly at Where the Hell Was I?