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September 06, 2008

The mullet is dead. Long live the mullet!

September 6. Day 68.

Getting my haircut is a lot like brushing my teeth when I'm exhausted. I dread the thought, I have to mentally kick myself to jumpstart the process, but when it's over I feel quite nice. (Unless I end up with a mullet, which is almost what happened at my last haircut, in Buenos Aires. That was a few months before this asking experiment started, or I would have definitely tried to get my money back. I went despite myself, despite every rational and empirical thought churning in my head, after seeing countless mullety haircuts patrolling the streets. But the salon had a good vibe and, strangely or not, I view haircuts kind of like travel souvenirs. I showed up with pictures from magazines, pantomimed 'cutting layers' with my fingers in my hair and resorted to key words, "elegante, feminina, movimiento, sexy," to guide him. When he finished chopping, my well-meaning stylist was beaming. "Ahora eres muy Argentina!" ["Now you look so Argentine!"] After a week of wearing it in a scrappy bun, it started growing out into inconspicuous long layers.)

(a specimen in Barcelona, whose hair stylist probably trained at the same school as mine in Buenos Aires)

Almost five months later. It's time again. I headed to Salon Tonic in Little Italy, which I chose based on internet reviews since it's my first haircut since moving to San Diego after nearly 10 years away. The stylist did a wonderful job. Hands down. She saw I was jittery and didn't brush me off when I explained what I wanted, even talking me through some snips while she cut. In the past when I mentioned specifics, people have kind of nodded to show they're pros, or looked bored, but she was relaxed and listened. And the cut was perfect.

When I went to pay, the woman at the reception desk asked me what tip I wanted to add.

"Twenty percent. How much was the cut, again?"

"So," she paused, "$84."

Left brain: $84? I'm not following. The haircut was quoted as $70, so where did the extra whopping $14 come from? She did spritz some conditioner, but only about four or five pumps. And she let my hair air dry under the big dryer instead of blow drying it. Did they actually charge me for that? And with tip, that will be, what, more than $100?

Right brain: Chill out! You like the haircut, and what's done is done. So they added $14 for something, who knows what, and who cares? Are you really going to dispute it? Laaaame.

Left brain: I should at least find out why they changed the price like that. Whether or not I pay their total, I deserve to know why. Or suggest they tell people before automatically charging them.

Right brain: There are people around. You're seriously going to ask them to itemize the haircut and then deduct the extras because you weren't consulted? And show your face here again?

Left brain: I think so. I mean, don't you hate it how salons add in special conditioners or charge for random a la carte stuff, without checking with you first?

Right brain: Oh my god, you're totally right! What a scam!

"Just wondering, how does the $84 break down?"

I was actually nervous asking this. Now, you've seen I'm not a shy person. I'll ask a guy in a cafe about his political orientation and ask a random stranger on the phone for a free massage. But asking for an accounting of a beauty service struck me as so, izquierda.

"$70 for the cut, plus tip." She smiled. Maybe this is what it means to live on the West Coast. People are actually do smile here, whether or not they mean it.

"Oh, perfect. Thanks." Smile. So I had jumped to the wrong conclusion. I can't calculate 20 percent of $70. I was suspicious. Now who's lame? I felt silly. Silly for asking, and silly for not wanting to ask.

Gained: Even when it feels awkward, I always have the right to know what I'm paying for and not automatically pony up without being consulted first -- something I might not have believed in the past. I also realized (cue girl-writing-college-essay background music) that I need to brush up on my basic arithmetic reflexes, particularly if I plan to negotiate anything on the spot in the future.

PS: For a really cool animation related to the picture above, and a test to see if you're right- or left-brained, check out this page.
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