The scruff on the back of my neck was getting long, so I decided it was time to head over to Supercuts on 10th and University and get a trim. There’s nothing special about this specific Supercuts; I’m sure the hundreds or thousands of other Supercuts around the country provide the same mediocre haircut for the same standard price. But nevertheless, I always went to this one because it gave NYU students a $2 discount—no questions asked. Even after I graduated I continued to go back and flash my expired student ID to receive the precious discount.
The fun thing about Supercuts is that you never know what you’re going to get. You could walk in and get placed with a specialist who’s been cutting hair for years and leave with the best cut of your life. Or, you could get paired with a new hire, someone who’s not quite sure how to use the clippers yet, and end up with an uneven box top—Supercuts is like playing Russian Roulette with scissors.
This particular Saturday, I felt desperate for a haircut. I looked in the mirror and the back of my neck practically looked like the Amazon jungle. I woke up early and made it to the salon at 9:05 AM, a mere five minutes after it opened. Sure enough, I was the only customer in the salon, and in fact, I couldn’t even seem to find an employee.
“Hello?” I shouted at nobody. “Is anyone here?”
Just as the words left my mouth, a round, elderly Hispanic woman came out from the back of the salon with a broom entangled with chunks of old hair strands. She told me her name was Ramona and that she was just cleaning up the back and that I could go ahead and grab a seat at her chair, motioning me to a small leather one in the front of the store with her black broom.
As I made my way to the chair, I began to wonder why there was so much hair being swept up in the back. Did they collect clippings back there for any particular reason? Was there a closet full of hair that only got dumped once a week? I suddenly realized I had no idea what salons did with cut hair; I was fascinated by this mystery, but pushed it from my thoughts as I took a seat.
Ramona approached me from behind with clippers and before I could get out my rehearsed instructions on how I like it cut, she began buzzing away on the side of my head with a ferocity that seemed to channel deep vengeance and anger against my scalp.
“So I like it shorter on the sides and a bit longer on top,” I managed to get out as she emphatically whacked off huge chunks of my hair. “Does that make sense?”
She responded with a nod of her head and a flippant “Yes,” but seemed to continue to just hack away in the predetermined manner she started with, as if she had looked at my head and made up her mind on what she was going to give me before I even asked. I wanted to trust her, to give her the benefit of the doubt, but the way she was yanking out my hair felt like this might have been her fist haircut ever. Truly, it felt like she was just ripping out strands with her bare hands.
I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes and just prayed that the haircut would be over soon. And it was. In roughly three minutes, Ramona had managed to scalp off a serious portion of my hair. It looked horrible, but the pain was over. I got up from the chair and took my sweat soaked self over to pay for the torture.
“You’re paying cash, right?” she asked me.
“No,” I responded, waiving my debit card. It’d been awhile since I had any cash on me, and that was one of the reasons I came to Supercuts. Most of the barbershops in New York were cash only, so coming to the franchised salons allowed me to not have to stop at the ATM.
“Oh, that’s going to be a problem,” she replied.
A problem? How was that going to be a problem, I asked? The ability to pay with my debit card was 98% of the reason I came to this place. The other 2% was for the student discount; it definitely wasn’t for the supreme haircuts.
Ramona nervously mentioned to me that the point of sale system was recently updated and she wasn’t too sure how to use the machine. I gave her my card anyway, figuring it was worth a shot. She began furiously swiping it on the register, but to no avail. After about 15 failed swipe attempts, she picked up the phone and called what I assumed to be her manager. Together, the two of them began to try to solve the riddle of swiping my card. I could see sweat accumulate on Ramona’s brow, and I began to feel somewhat sorry for her predicament.
After about five minutes of this charade, another customer walked into the salon and I could tell Ramona knew that the clock was ticking. She hung up on her manager and looked at me with pleading eyes, asking if I could possibly take a look at the machine.
I agreed and walked behind the counter and began, as adeptly as I could, to ring myself up for the terrible haircut. The previous summer I had worked as a waiter with a similar system, so I was confident I could help Ramona charge me for her services.
But I couldn’t figure out how to work the system.
At this point, with the other customer waiting for his cut and neither Ramona or myself being able to charge my card, she turned to me and simply gave up all hope.
“It’s OK,” she said. “Just go ahead and leave; it’s no problem.”
I didn’t know what to say; I felt tremendous guilt for not having any cash. I apologized and told her I would be back with the money. Ramona had worked a solid three minutes on this mediocre haircut and I was going to make sure she was compensated for it.
I left the store and found the nearest ATM, returned to Supercuts, and paid Ramona in cash. As I walked out of the Supercuts for the second time that morning, I looked down at my ATM receipt and noticed I’d been charged a $2 surcharge for the ATM withdrawal—so much for my student discount.
Garrett Houghton is a Kansan, writer, and lover of all things deep fried. He currently lives in New York, and has yet to find a corned beef sandwich he did not like. Email him at ' + '') /*]]>*/ with tunes, sandwich ideas, anything.