At 4:15 p.m. every third Friday, I get my hair cut. It's not that I want to get my hair cut at 4:15 p.m. every third Friday - it's that I have to. If I don't, bad things will happen. Evil things. At least that's what the goblins who visit me each night at the witching hour say, and who am I to second guess goblins who show up each night at the witching hour?
But I kid. Goblins don't really visit me at night and make bizarre demands and vague threats. I'm actually compelled to get my hair cut at 4:15 p.m. every third Friday by the same pathological obsession with maintaining a strict routine that requires me to read Mark Trail every day. (Mark Trail, for those lucky enough not to know, is a daily comic strip so boring and disturbing that evil dictators often use it to torture dissidents. Indeed, Stalin used to force political prisoners to choose between reading a single edition of Mark Trail and getting dropped into a vat of boiling oil; of the few poor slobs who didn't choose the vat of boiling oil, almost all later reported wishing they had.)
At any rate, getting my hair cut at 4:15 p.m. every third Friday has never caused me any trouble - until my most recent trip to the barbershop, that is. When I arrived at University Cuts, the generically named haircutting establishment I patronize in the vast Midwestern metropolis where I live during the school year, I discovered that my usual barber - a middle-aged woman named Toni with a penchant for chain smoking and swilling wine while cutting hair - was out sick.
Consequently, a new girl would be giving me my tri-weekly buzz-cut. I'd like to say I handled this development with aplomb, but that would be like saying that Led Zeppelin produced good music; that is, it would be a lie so outrageous that only sweatpant-wearing losers living in their parents' basements and spending all their time playing Scrabble on the Internet would buy it.
In reality, I began perspiring and blinking rapidly. Regardless of the on-the-job smoking and drinking, Toni had always provided quick and painless haircuts. After all, Toni had been in the barber business for 30 years. This new girl, on the other hand, didn't look a day over 20.
But her youth alone didn't worry me. I could have sworn I detected a tremor in her hands, as if this was her first day on the job and she had the jitters. Perhaps she'd savagely gored someone earlier and was attempting to get back on the horse with me. Perhaps I was her last chance, the only thing standing between her and unemployment.
Despite my misgivings, I let the new girl lead me to the chair and drape a gown over me. What else could I have done? Wet myself and run away? Yes. Sadly, however, that idea didn't occur to me in the heat of the moment, so my bladder remained full and I remained seated.
The new girl asked me what I wanted done and I told her: "Buzz cut," I said, chuckling nervously, "with the number-two blade." She nodded, prepared the clippers - and confirmed my worst fears by jamming said clippers into my skull like she was trying to split open a stubborn gourd. Tears stood out in my eyes and my mouth froze in a rictus of agony, but my tormenter didn't seem to notice.
At one point, the clippers caught on my ear. Rather than gently extricate them, as any humane barber would have done - even a humane barber hopped up on nicotine and cheap merlot - the new girl gave them a healthy yank, as if she wanted to see how far the human ear could stretch before tearing free from the human head.
But I survived and, as far as I could tell, I didn't lose a single drop of blood. Nor did I say a word about the merciless gouging my scalp received during or after the merciless scalp-gouging bonanza. Was I afraid of hurting my barbarous barber's feelings? No - I would have loved to have hurt her feelings. Was I afraid of angering her and enduring even greater pain (in the form, perhaps, of a pair of scissors through the eye)? Of course I was.
But the main reason I kept my mouth shut was that I didn't have time to bicker - I had to get back to my apartment by 5:00 in order to eat a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich while watching Everybody Loves Raymond on TBS. I had a routine to stick to, after all.
Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at email@example.com or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.