Dubious Dating Tips From Mean Gene

Friday, September 10th, 2004, 10:42 pm

Not long ago I wrote a silly thing about the role good and/or bad hair plays in the poker world. I mentioned my own tonsorial problems, specifically about a recent haircut where a young lady who looked like she was 14 years old gave me what was pretty close to a hack job. A well-known deviant wrote a leering comment asking for her phone number. Sorry, Pauly–she only looked 14. I’d bet the farm that she was all of 18, the bloom already fading from the rose, right?

But all this dirty-old-manism points to a larger question–should you ever consider dating the woman who cuts your hair? Hey, I said it was a larger question, not a large one. But since I’m a few days away from posting any serious policy pieces, you’ll have to be content with this.

The answer to this question seems to be obvious–why the hell not?. Most men don’t have the luxury of summarily excluding even small blocks of available women from his list. But there are traps and pitfalls that arise when you think about going out with your stylist, ones that don’t even involve the fact that the woman in question often has scissors and other sharp implements in close proximity to some major arteries.

Why wouldn’t you want to date a woman who cuts your hair? Well, remember that your stylist performs what is a very valuable service. Find someone who can consistently give you a good haircut and you’re a step or two ahead in the whole attract-a-mate game. This person has value to you. Perhaps the woman who cuts your hair is not as exalted as, say, your doctor, your dentist, or your lawyer, but you (hopefully) see her more often that those other three, and when you plop down in your chair you’re probably going to have a more pleasant experience too.

So this is not a relationship you necessarily want to complicate with matters of romance. Of course, if you walk into a salon, and you see her, and you hear the ringing of bells and singing of angels and you’d rather shave your head than spend another second without her by your side, then yeah, ask her if she’d like to get a cup of coffee sometime. But if the attraction is less than the strike of the thunderbolt, should you pull the trigger, or keep things professional?

I can only give you my own opinion, based on my own experiences. As I wrote in my previous post, I’ve had some appalling haircuts. But I’ve also had some uncomfortable dealings with a few women who’ve taken on the challenge of cutting my hair, and it’s those difficult days and nights that have shaped my opinion. So let me tell you my sorry tales and perhaps shape your own.

It wasn’t until I was 16 or so that I started going to a local hair salon to get chopped. Up to that point I’d gone to a local barber with very mixed results. My mom went to this place and she regularly came home looking perfectly acceptable. She recommened I try it as well, and when I said that I wasn’t going to a ladies hair salon, she said it was “unisex”. This should have alerted me right from the get-go–the word “unisex” is never, EVER a good thing, in any circumstance. There is no such thing as unisex ANYTHING. There are men, and there are women, and the twain never shall meet.

So I went to this salon a few times, and came out with the best haircuts I’d ever had. I looked good. I looked sleek. I didn’t look like I’d been raised in the 1950s and pushed into a tachyon field that transported me to the present. Each time I made an appointment I didn’t ask for a specific person–I sat in the chair I was assigned and usually left well-pleased.

But then came the day when I found myself sitting in Donna Marie’s chair, and, sigh, the rest of the ladies laboring there faded away. Donna Marie was oh so blonde, oh so perky, oh so pretty. She was probably about 25, I was 18, meaning she was as attainable as the summit of Mt. Everest. She would cut my hair, and of course she’d have to touch me as she did so, and it was all I could do to keep from shutting my eyes and cooing with delight.

We would chat as she snipped, often about her seemingly active social life. I noticed that she often talked about things she and her friends did, but she never mentioned a boyfriend and/or husband, and I pathetically held out hope that this delectable woman might somehow be interested in what I have to admit was a pretty unremarkable high school kid.

The story may have continued on familiar lines (boy pines after gorgeous girl, gorgeous girl ignores boy, boy develops minor and common psychological problems) except for one visit I made a few weeks before Halloween. Donna Marie and I were talking and she asked if I was going to a big Halloween party that would be held at a local fire hall. I said no, and she looked at me in the mirror and said, “But you HAVE to go! I have this costume that’s so cute, I’m going as a cowgirl, I have a little outfit with boots and a cowboy hat and…”

She went on and on describing her costume, which sounded more and more like a outfit a stripper might wear while twirling around a pole to the song “I Wanna Be A Cowboy”. What was odd was that she kept asking me if I’d go, and if I’d go what I’d wear, and didn’t I want to see her in her cute cowgirl costume?

Was it possible, possible, that this sexy, beautiful, and apparently non-vision-impared woman really wanted me to meet up with her at this party? As she finished and she led me to the front of the store, she said once again, “I hope I see you at the party!”. They say hope springs eternal, but in this case hope would have to spring like a kangaroo on ‘roids. She was just being friendly, right? I mean, come on.

In the days leading up to Halloween I wondered what I should do. In the end, inertia, cowardice and common sense won out. Going to the party meant I’d have to get a costume; going meant I would have to seek Donna Marie out and…then what?; and, again, come on–no way was this girl really hot for me.

I didn’t go to the party, and a month of so later there I was, settling down into her chair. The very first thing she said was, “It’s too bad you couldn’t come to the Halloween party, we had SO much fun”. I told some lie about having three other parties to go to, and then she said, “The only bummer was that my boyfriend couldn’t come up.”

And I noticed that, for the first time, she’d cleared space next to the mirror for two tiny picture frames. In one picture my blonde goddess was hugging a guy who looked to be about eight feet tall and twice as wide and twice as mean as he was wide. The other picture showed the same guy in an Army dress uniform, looking like someone I wouldn’t want to spill my Kool-Aid on.

“Uh, oh, why couldn’t he come to the party?” I asked.

She sighed and turned on the clippers. “Well, he’s an MP, and the day before Halloween he and his partner responded to a burglary call on their base. The burglars had guns and shot my boyfriend’s partner, so my boyfriend got out his gun and shot and killed them both.”

I tried to swallow and failed. “He…he killed them?”

She sighed again and nodded. “So they have to have this big investigation and he’s confined to the base. He’s not going to get into trouble or anything, he’ll probably get promoted, but it’s just like with a regular cop, they make sure it was justified.”

I managed to ask what happened to his partner. “Oh, she’s OK, she was shot in the shoulder, it looked bad at first but she’s going to be all right.”

I was horrified. Here I was, thinking about dressing up like a spaceman or a clown or something and making a move on this girl, and while I’m scheming her boyfriend is shooting and killing people. Totally in the line of duty, of course, which actually made it all a lot worse. I think I would’ve felt a bit better had she been dating a drug lord in the middle of some territorial dispute. I certainly had nothing to fear personally–I don’t think her lethal beau would have considered me much of a threat.

I didn’t get many more chance to sit in Donna Marie’s chair. Soon after she decided it was time to move South to be with her extremely dangerous boyfriend. I was both sad and relieved to see her go. Sad because, in addition to her aesthetic charms, she did a nice job cutting my hair. But I was relieved too because every time I saw her I was reminded of how far I had to go before I could reasonably expect to attract a woman like that. I just wanted to show up and get a haircut, not have yet another session of existential sexual misery. That’s what high school is for, after all.

I went off to Penn State, having a few horrible haircuts along the way but no potential pseudo-romantic entanglements. I even found a very good barber shop, though not until my junior year. But when I graduated and came back to Pittsburgh I started going back to my old salon. Until I had what was, without a doubt, the worst haircut of my life. At first I didn’t think it looked too bad. It didn’t look good, but not off the scale. But then I caught a glimpse of myself from the side, and saw that I wasn’t so much shaved back there as scalped. She’d cut the hair around my ears so hight it looked like the aliens who make those crop circles had taken a detour and landed on my head. The back of my head, where the majority of my cowlicks reside, was a catastrophe. No matter how I tried to tame it, with comb, brush, water, mousse, gel, spray, and prayer, my hair refused to negotiate.

What made things worse was that I was leaving for a beach vacation with about 10 of my friends in a few days time. We were supposed to be guys gone wild, chasing anything in a skirt or bikini, and I looked like something that escaped from the freak show. At work I mentioned to a friend that my haircut had been a disaster, and an opinionated woman who sat across from me sat up, looked me over, and said, “Yeah, it is pretty fucked up”.

I called the salon back, told them of my displeasure, and they said I could come in and they would try to salvage the situation, free of charge. I thought about it, but I had to pack, we were leaving the next morning, and I didn’t see what could be done. There wasn’t enough material to work with. I remember that vacation as the one where I wore a baseball cap all week. Even in the ocean.

When we came back home I decided it was time to find a new place to get my hair cut. I couldn’t risk putting myself through that hell again. My mom had switched salons, this time to a rather tony chain in our local mall. I was surprised to find that, although they charged women what I considered an exhorbitant price for a snip, they were quite reasonable when dealing with the menfolk. I decided to give them a try.

The atmosphere was considerably different. At my previous salon the women wore jeans or slacks and listened to rock on small radios sitting by their chairs. This new place had techno and New Wave music piped in, and the stylists dressed in, well, dresses, and miniskirts and high heels and other funky and fetching ensembles. I felt a bit weird, as I was almost always the only male in the place, and the place where you sat and waited was faced by huge plate glass windows that let the passers-by gawk at you.

But I got a good haircut there, and then another, and pretty soon I felt comfortable enough in my masculinity to sit in the waiting area and stare down the jackals who dared look at me through the windows. Unlike them, I cared enough to look my very, very best. And I was looking pretty good, I have to say.

What’s a good way to pick a hairstylist? I’d say that one sure-fire way is to pick someone who has great hair themselves. I mean, someone who cuts hair for a living should know who amongst her peers is an artist and who is a walking weed-whacker. She should know what is tonsorially possible, what new techniques and technologies are at her disposal. It’s not a sure-fire rule–my mom quaked when she sat down in the chair once and found that the woman about to take up the scissors had spiked hair dyed bright purple. But Mom got such a fab ‘do that she kept returning to her punked-out stylist.

But when I showed up one afternoon for my haircut and found that Janine would be operating on me, I was pleased for multiple reasons. One, Janine had absolutely fabulous hair, tight auburn curls that fell to the small of her back. Two, she was absolutely gorgeous, I mean, she was a show-stopper. It was true that she had a nose that somewhat resembled the prow of a Soviet icebreaking vessel, but as with so many strikingly beautiful women what might be considered a flaw served only to bring attention to how spectacular all the other features are.

I received a perfectly acceptable haircut from Janine. She wasn’t much of a talker, which was fine by me, since my tongue would have been pretty much tied. Our transaction completed, I thanked her and we said our goodbyes. Nothing else of note occured.

A few nights later my buddies and I went to a local bar to do what you do at a local bar–drink local beer and look at local women. It was a big place and it was crowded, but my friends and I carved out a space where we could talk and lean over the counter to ask the bartender for refills. While I perused the scenery, my eyes fell upon a girl with curly auburn hair. Sure enough, it was Janine. I admired her from afar, because she was worth admiring, but then I returned to my beer and conversation.

A wee bit later she walked up right beside me, trying to get to the bar and order a drink. She saw me, I saw that she saw me, and I smiled and said hello. Her reaction caught me by surprise–she smiled and said hello back. She even remembered my name. We soon fell into a typically banal conversation, “Boy is it crowded”, “It sure is”, “Have you seen the bartender”. I leaned across the counter and got the dude’s attention. I ordered a beer for myself, some mixed drink for Janine, and suavely paid for them both. I said something along the lines that I owed her at least one drink because of how good everyone said my hair looked. She thanked me and said that this was one of the few bars she could get into with her fake ID. Turns out she was only 20, and she pulled out a license that belonged to a friend’s sister. The girl in the picture compared to Janine as a Thomas Kinkaide seascape compares to the Sistine Chapel. I said something along those lines, wittier no doubt, and she accepted my compliment.

We talked a few minutes more, and then she said she had to go back to her friends. I wished her a good night, and turned back to my buddies, who were chomping at the bit to find out who that scrumptions redhead was. I clued them in, making light of the incident, and we started talking again.

But not for long, because suddenly Janine was there at my elbow again, asking if I could snag her another drink. This one she insisted on paying for. I handed it over, and she said her friend’s boyfriend was boring them to tears by talking about his new hobby, racing cars. I liked the fact that she found such macho posturing irritating, because I didn’t do much posturing back then.

We talked for about 45 minutes, about nothing serious, but it was a good conversation. We could talk to each other, and that’s a good sign. She finally said she had to get back to her friends, and I asked if I could have her phone number, give her a call so we could go someplace quieter some time. She said sure, and I grabbed a pen and scribbled down her phone number on a piece of placemat. NOW my friends were impressed. So was I. Not in a million years would I have walked up to her in a bar and asked her out, yet here I was, in possession of her phone number. Mean Gene was on the prowl.

A question that men discuss with almost Talmudic complexity is, When should you call a girl after getting her number? There are those who say you should always call her the next day. Then you have the camp that says you shouldn’t appear so eager, that a few days should elapse before you pick up the phone, giving the girl time to develop the doubts and insecurities that will make her more vulnerable to your pathetic lines and moves. Then you have the guys who say you should never call a girl after she gives you her number. Either she’s a total nut (who else but a nut would give YOU her number?) or, if she is indeed a catch, you should make her abase herself and crawl after you, putting you in the dominant position in this budding relationship. Its games like this that make you wonder how any children get born, ever. Oh, yes, I forgot about alcohol.

Anyway, I decided to give Janine a call the next day. Got her answering machine. I thought it over and left what I thought was a friendly message. Didn’t get a reply that day, or the next. Well, that’s not a good sign, but maybe she was busy, out of town, incarcerated. I had another problem–it was late summer and once again my friends and I were heading to the beach later that week. So I wanted to get in touch with her before we left, because I didn’t know if I’d left such a powerful impression that it would survive two whole weeks. So I called her again. Got the machine, no message. I was starting to think that I was about to cross the line from showing interest to humiliation, but then I remembered that she wasn’t just some girl, she was a GORGEOUS girl, and I gave it one more shot.

This time I got her. I said hello, introduced myself, and reminded her of our conversation. Dead air. I reminded her again, and this time I managed to extract an, “Oh, yeah” out of her. The conversation went downhill from there. It was obvious that she had no recollection of me whatsoever, or, if she did, she’d deleted it from her hard drive. After a minute of pulling teeth she said she had a call on her other line, I said no problem, and we disconnected.

Ugh. Pretty ghastly stuff. I played back that night in my head…no, she hadn’t been drunk. No, she hadn’t been high. Yes, we had made meaningful eye contact. Yes, we had conversed for the better part of an hour. I thought it over…and decided this was just one of life’s little lessons. I didn’t know what the lesson was, but you live and learn. We’ve all been there, you meet a girl, think things are going to work out, and abruptly they don’t. Live and learn.

But I had a problem. A month later my hair was getting a bit shaggy, and what was I going to do about it? Did I really want to go back to where Janine worked? Uh, no I didn’t. Good God, what if I made an appointment and SHE was the person assigned to cut my hair? That was a gnarly situation I didn’t want to put myself in. Do you see know why such romantic entanglements can lead to ruin? I needed a goddam haircut…but did I dare? I could try some place else, maybe come out looking like Don King…I didn’t want to find another salon. I decided to gamble.

That first visit I got very lucky. Not only did I not end up sitting in Janine’s chair, she wasn’t even there that day. And the woman who cut my hair did such a fabulous job that I decided to ask for her the next time I got my hair cut. Which I did the next time I needed shorn–and this time Janine was working.

She didn’t ignore me. She didn’t pretend I wasn’t there. In her mind, I really wasn’t there. You know how you can tell when someone is deliberately ignoring you? She walks past and keeps her eyes focused on some point in the infinite distance? You could be on fire, with a shrieking air horn sticking out of your nose, and wrestling an anaconda, and she’d breeze right by you. This wasn’t how Janine acted as she led her client to the chair next to the one I was sitting in. Either she was a brilliant actress, or she had no recollection of me at all. She didn’t avoid looking at me–she just didn’t look. She briskly went about her business like nothing weird was happening–because for her, apparently, it wasn’t weird. Sure was weird for me.

And more than a little bit insulting. I’m sure a girl that hot attracts guys by the bushelfull, and she can’t be expected to keep them all straight. But I thought I would linger more than one night in her mind. Every time I went to get my hair cut I was filled with a wee bit of dread at seeing her. It was just uncomfortable. What if I found myself standing right next to her? Should I say hello, how are you, take the moral high ground, or just shut her out and do unto her as she did unto me? This was the kind of pointless stress you don’t need when you’re going to get your hair cut. Especially for me, since getting a trim has often turned into a screaming nightmare.

For the next two years I got consistently excellent haircuts and saw Janine there only occasionally. There was a time when she wasn’t there three or four times in a row and I hoped she’d moved on, but no, she was there the next time. I very nearly and literally bumped into her one summer night during a big party in Pittsburgh’s Market Square, but again she showed no signs of recognizing me and I displayed the poker face that today stands me in such good stead. Time wore on, and I no longer felt weird to be in her presence. Hell, I even started to think that whole night at that bar had just been just a very vivid dream.

And then came the day I came in for a haircut and sat in the chair and Janine came up to me and said, “Hi, did you see that Kangaroo’s closed down?”

My jaw rebounded from my lap and I said that I indeed had heard that the Aussie-themed bar where we’d talked two years ago had gone belly up. She said that she hadn’t been there in a long time, and I said I hadn’t either, but it had been a fun place when it was in its heyday. She smiled at me, she was pleasant, she said have a good night to me and the woman who cuts my hair and she left to go home. I was completely flummoxed. I mean, for two years she’d shown no indication that she knew I occupied a place in the time/space continuum, and two years later, TWO YEARS, she picks up our conversation practically in mid-thread.

I guess the shock showed on my face because the woman cutting my hair said, “She’s pretty, isn’t she? A bit goofy, though.”

A bit goofy? I recounted my experiences with her coworker as I got my cut, and when I finished my stylist stared hard at me in the mirror and said, “You don’t want to get involved with her, believe me. She’s a head case, a total head case. Don’t get me wrong, I love her to death, but you’re a really nice guy, you do not want to get mixed up with her.”

She was very, very serious as she said this. I wanted to know exactly what the deal was, but I’d wasted enough energy worrying about this crap. I mean, if I pursued it any further, I’D be the strange one. I treated the whole situation like a sleeping dog, and let it lie.

In time Janine did move to a different location, so I didn’t have to be reminded of the unpleasant past over and over again. And the salon I went too soon jacked up their prices to a point where I was willing to risk a follicular disater rather than fork over so much cash. I did have one more psyche-scarring experience there–the woman who cut my hair was training four young ladies who were I guess recent hires. Three of the four were just unbelievable, I mean, ridiculously good looking, and the fourth, while not in the same league, was no eyesore. My stylist had the quartet watch as she worked, using me as an example because I had such difficult hair to deal with.

It started off as rather a pleasant experience. Having a gaggle of girls staring at you and you alone is quite nice. But as the work proceeded it became apparent that the scrutiny was purely professional, and on top of that, it wasn’t exactly positive. One girl said, “Oh my God, look how it grows out of the top of his head. It’s like a swirl…”

Another girl ran her hand through my hair. “It’s so soft,” she said, which was nice.

“It’s feels like fiberglass after it’s cut,” said another, which wasn’t so nice.

Their instructor said, “When you’re cutting hair like this you have to be very, very careful not to go too short, or you’ll end up with a real problem.” There were nods of agreement, and I looked in the mirror to the plainest girl of the four and I will never forget the expression on her face. It was like she’d looked into the abyss, that she’d glimpsed the Horror. I’d bet you see that look in medical schools a lot, first year students getting their first look at a corpse, or at their first spurt of hot blood. And this girl had just seen her own personal Heart of Darkness in the back of my head.

Soon after I left that salon for good, priced out of the market. Fortunately I found a barber just a few minutes away from where I lived, and even though I’ve moved further away Tony still gets my patronage. The price is about a third of what I used to pay, but I still come out of his shop looking neat and clean. The experience is a bit different–we talk about sports instead of the local bar scene, and I’m usually in and out of Tony’s shop in 15 minutes instead of an hour. I know going in that I’m not going to have a trying and/or humiliating experience, but I also know I’m not going to see a couple of hot women in short skirts. You give a little, you take a little.

Back to my original question–should you date the person who cuts your hair? I would advise against it, obviously, but you aren’t going to listen to me anyway. No one listens to anyone else when it comes to affairs of the heart. And you shouldn’t, either. “The heart wants what it wants” said Woody Allen. Uh, maybe that’s not such a good example. Nor is this a particularly good example, but, hey, I want to help my readers anyway I can. Especially since I’m not playing poker at the moment and I have to write about something. Maybe I’ll change this blog to “Mean Gene’s Advice to the Lovelorn”. Or not.

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11 Responses to “Dubious Dating Tips From Mean Gene”

  1. JW Says:

    How ’bout Mean Gene’s hair stories?
    I love it man. Second post involving your hair styling woes and probably my third or so favorite post.
    I wouldn’t worry about subject matter, I’ve yet to read something here and be totally bored. 🙂

  2. Maudie Says:

    I love the story! Great post – occupied a chunk of the morning reading it in spurts in between job duties. 8^)

  3. hdouble Says:

    What every happened to barbers?

  4. Roberto Roundtree Rogelio Says:

    Great post Gene, your writing is really coming along nicely..

    I get my haircut at home, by myself and my g/f, but what ever did happen to barbers? I used to work at a pizza joint and there was a barber shop next door, a bunch of young dudes ran it and the place was always busy.. but even thought they billed themselves as a barber shop, one of the owners mothers did nails and womens hair in one of the chairs… I thought barber shops were for men?

    Damn Uni-Sex bullshit. Next thing you know men will be getting manicures…. oh wait, that already happens… ugh.

  5. Dr. Pauly Says:

    Some of the biggest mistakes of my life have been haircuts. These days I’m kicking it old school… I have a barber, his name is Enzo (I’m not BSing you… just like in the Seinfeld episode), and he’s been cutting my hair on and off for twenty years.

  6. Scotty Nickels Says:

    3 words…classic mean gene.

  7. Anonymous Says:


    Wow. You are a fan-tastic writer and any subject you pick up is super entertaining.

    Also thanks for allowing anonymous comments still (unlike Paul Phillips).

    Have you seen the new poker fiction out yet, pretty good book. “King of a Small World” probably available on Amazon for less than I paid at a bookstore.


  8. Anonymous Says:

    My tolerance for off-topic posts is usually pretty low, but I read every word and thoroughly enjoyed it. With a little embellishment, it could be the genesis of a great short story.

  9. Heafy Says:

    Standing Ovation.

    I got my hair cut at the same salon for 10 years because they sponsored our footy club and I kept winning free vouchers. I won a voucher for something like 8 weeks in a row at one stage, even though my hair cuts are 4-6 months apart.

    Oh, and you play poker too?

  10. NemoD Says:

    women. sometimes it seems like all of them are “a bit goofy”. compared to the fairer sex, pot odds and hand reading are like a walk in the park.

  11. StudioGlyphic Says:

    Great story. Great writing.

    I get my $11 hair cut from an honest-to-God barber who used to be a professional fighter. He had two careers; the first ended when he showed up at one too many fights drunk off his ass and with no shoes. The second started after he cleaned up, and he made a respectable comeback. Now he cuts hair and is teaching himself how to edit movies on his PC.

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