Thursday, June 08, 2006

Adversity at the Barber Shop

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Sometimes adversity hits you right between the eyes when you least expect it, especially when getting a haircut at the local barbershop.

The other day I decided to check out this place for the first time since it was just down the road from my home. I had been meaning to visit it for some quite time and finally had the chance to stop in. If I liked this barber, I could end up being a regular customer for it was much more convenient to go his place than to drive so far out of the way for a haircut.

Parking directly in front of the red, white and blue barber pole, I walked up to the door and poked my head in to ask how much he charged and whether credit cards were accepted. My plan was to go to the ATM machine if necessary.

"It's $12 - cash only," the pleasant barber said.

"Ok, I don't have any cash on me so I'll return shortly."

Twenty minutes later, I was back. He was already working with another customer so I found myself a seat in the "waiting room" and leafed through day-old newspapers and ancient magazines. In between pages, I quietly made some observations. I watched how the barber was interacting with the customer, the manner in which he was cutting hair and the way he handled himself. Although nothing appeared out of the ordinary, something told me to leave and go elsewhere.

But I don't have any reason to, I silently protested.

It's not too often that I ignore my intuition but I did on that day and now I wish I hadn't.

Climbing into the chair, I told him that I was deaf, something I customarily do when dealing with new people so that they are made aware of my lip-reading situation. We discussed which clipper he would be using on what was left of my hair. The barber patiently explained and showed me three different-sized clippers. We decided Clipper #3 would be the best and if it turned out not to be "enough of a cut," we'd go down to Clipper #2. Yeah, right.

"Sounds good," I said.

Halfway through the haircut, the phone rang and he answered it. It wasn't long before he was snipping away again.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he wasn't smiling after he got off the phone but didn't think anything of it. Perhaps he was in pain from the hernia operation (he volunteered this information earlier). Apparently it was his first day back to work after spending 3 days at the hospital. Of course, I empathized with him saying things like, "That must hurt," "How did it happen?" etc. etc.

When he was three quarters of the way done, I surveyed myself in the mirror and made an innocent comment.

"You know, I was just thinking we'll probably end up cutting it shorter," I said pleasantly.

In a flash, his face transformed into a mass of contorted fury. His blue eyes were ice cold. The veins on his neck were straining to pop. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

A miniature Hulk Hogan!

Slamming down the clippers on the counter behind me, he fidgeted and paced back and forth. I could see an explosion coming. It came less than 2 seconds later:


For the first time since setting afoot in the tiny barbershop, I felt ominous energy emanating from this man. I tried to ignore it, still in denial of what was developing before my very eyes.

Believe it or not, I was so shell-shocked at this sudden outburst I actually thought he was joking at first. My survival instincts hadn't yet kicked in. I looked at him in the mirror and smiled, thinking it would calm him down.

Big mistake.

Pointing at me, he said, "Don't you laugh at me!"

Dripping with contempt, he shouted, "DON'T YOU LAUGH AT ME!"

A shiver ran up and down my spine. Because of the close proximity to this man, I began to fear for my physical safety. There were just the two of us - it couldn't have happened at a worst time. God was my only witness.

My first thought was to defend myself and say, I'm not laughing at you. But I thought the better of it. Perhaps he was looking to be provoked. A million other thoughts ran through my befuddled mind:

Get up off the chair, rip off the "bib," shove the $12 in his face and get the heck out of the there.

Stand up, point my finger at him and say something like "What's your problem? I'm not going to pay for this *&^)(*#!% customer service. Who do you think you are?"

$%^&^&*(*^%#$#$#!!!! And then storm out of the place.

No, no, no, it isn't worth it. You stay still, remain calm and pay for the haircut. Then leave peacefully and mention something Dale Carnegie would say on the way out.

I knew I could not indulge in the first three fantasies unless I wanted a mug shot for the first time in my life. I went with my gut feeling on the last one, probably the best decision I made that day.

After calming down somewhat, he snappily asked if I wanted it cut shorter. His eyes were challenging me.

Fighting with all my might to remain calm, I nonchalantly said, "No, it looks good, thanks."

Sliding off the chair, I suddenly remembered a chapter out of the book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and said, "I hope you feel better." No reason to give this man a reason to go berserk before I had a chance to get out safely.

He came back fast and furious: "I sure hope so and I don't care if you ever come back again!"

Another round of shock thundered through my body and more thoughts came alive, none of which are fit for print anywhere.

Reaching into my wallet, I paid the $12, turned around and walked out as calmly as I could. I fought the urge to look back. Gosh, how the ego wants to help!

If he said anything behind my back, I didn't hear it. There ARE advantages to being deaf!

Walking briskly to my car, I looked down at my hands. They were shaking. My heart was beating like a jackhammer. I was still reeling in shock and thinking, What on earth just happened?

How would you have handled this kind of adversity?

Food for thought: James Buckham said "Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before." (especially if it happened at the local barbershop!!!!!!)
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Anonymous Colleen said...

Steven.. I think you did just as what our mothers would have told us to do. be a better man.. thats what our mothers raised us to be. better people. I know i would teach my children the same. I know my dad (leo) would never let him get away with that behavior. keep up the good work my cousin! you showed him just who is the better man.. a gentleman!

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Web Consultant said...

I would post your story on It's not worth the $12 to do anything else frankly.

Someone that unstable probably has a lot of other problems that are out of control in his life.

I can't imagine what I would have done. I just hope I would have the same amount self-control as you presented, particularly since you were alone.

It's quiet unjust to go through that knowning you didn't do a single thing to bring this upon you. But had you acted out, at best you would have found yourself dealing with serious legal problems (he said, you said), at worst some kind of permanent injury with serious medical consequences.

Cleary, you did the very best thing.

Good thing you didn't go for a shave. Yikes! :}

10:18 PM  
Blogger Stephen J. Hopson said...

Web Consultant:

Something like this is never an easy thing to do. I got a lot of flak from "visitors" who came through here as a result of an article I posted over at "Pick the Brain."

A few of them thought I acted like a wuss, one even suggested I should have stabbed the barber!

To me it wouldn't have been worth going to jail if I let myself match his emotions and gotten out of control. I felt it was best to handle it with a great deal of control and get out without going down to his level.

The barber sure had some internal problems that I was not aware of. Needless to say I never went back.


6:30 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

You got out of the situation fine, but you were treated badly and didn't get what you paid for.

Sometimes you need to cut your losses and go, other times you need to fight back.

If a barber ever gave me B.S. like this I would put him in his place ASAP and leave without paying a dime. If he wants to get the cops involved that's fine too.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Stephen J. Hopson said...


Good point. Well, you live and learn! Thanks for sharing.


4:45 PM  
Blogger Tony Bags said...

One thing I have learned in my life about dealing with difficult strangers is that 99% of the time, it's stuff in their lives that has nothing to do with you that makes them difficult or nasty. A difficult/nasty person I run into, they had issues long before I ran into them and their behavior probably has nothing to do with me.

Knowing that, it's much easier to blow off their behavior. That isn't to say that I excuse it, it just makes it easier for ME to go about my day with a minimum of effect from their nastiness.

9:14 PM  
Blogger Stephen J. Hopson said...


I agree. Perhaps it was from that phone call he had taken in the middle of the haircut. Something must have triggered it - I have no way of knowing.

But you're right - people who fly off the handle like that have deeply buried issues that was brought to the surface, probably by the comment I made about having it cut shorter.

It's never easy to be in the midst of that. A million thoughts ran through my head and I knew that if I had acted upon some of those thoughts, the consequences would have been far worse, I think.

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate the time you took to respond.


9:25 PM  
Anonymous Brad Baggett said...

Wow, it is amazing how someone in the service industry doesn't even realize it. My wife owns a hair salon and we talk about how to improve customer service all the time. We are thinking about expanding and the major hesitation on our part is to find 8 to 10 more positive, friendly, customer oriented stylist. Great article!!

5:26 PM  
Blogger Stephen J. Hopson said...


There are good, customer service oriented people out there - it's just a matter of setting your intentions of finding them and believing that they are out there.

Sooner or later, they'll be attracted to you if you believe that they are easy to find. It's just a matter of where to look.

Thanks for stopping by.


7:19 PM  

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