NEVER A HAIR
OUT OF PLACE

    I made the telephone call, as I always do, about six weeks from my last visit. "I need an appointment with Phyllis," I said after giving them my name.
    "For today?"
    Of course, I thought. I had never called more than three hours in advance. "Yes."
    "Okay, what time?"
    This was my favorite part. I could pick my time, any time, and Phyllis would be available. It never ceased to amaze me. "12:30."
    A slight pause, while they pretended to check the appointment book. "See you then."
    I hung up, once again celebrating the indisputable fact that I had discovered the perfect relationship. Unfortunately, it was with my barber.
    The fact that she is always available is only a small part of the package that makes our relationship so special. And, of course, there are some who might insinuate that her constant availability could be because she is not a very good barber.
    She’s good enough for me. For 20 years, she has always been there when I needed her. I know she has other customers, but they conveniently seem to make appointments on other days. She certainly doesn’t go six weeks between my visits without cutting anyone else’s hair. It just seems that way.
    When I walk in, she is genuinely happy to see me. She puts down her book (she must be the most well-read barber in the nation), gives me a radiant smile and takes my coat. Then she asks me how my business is doing, how my family is doing. I answer, "Fine, fine," and ask her the same. Then I pick up a magazine and she gets to work. Perfect.
     It wasn’t always this way. For the first five years of our relationship, she had another standard line. I had badly sprained my ankle when I first started seeing her and had limped in for my first visit. So for five years, and I am not exaggerating, every six weeks I would walk in and her first words would be "Hello, Mike, how’s your foot?"
    It didn’t matter to me that she had my name wrong or that my ankle had healed after my first visit. Here was a woman who genuinely cared not only about my hair, but about my health.
    She got my name right in Year Six, and we settled into our "How’s business, how’s the family?" routine. And not a thing has changed since then.
    It’s very soothing to have certain constants in your life. For me, Phyllis is my rock. When she shampoos my hair, I know she’ll run the water over my head and ask, "Too hot?" For 20 years it has never been too hot, but she never fails to ask.
    When she finishes cutting, with not a word having been spoken, she’ll turn me to the mirror and ask "Too short?" For 20 years it has never been too short, but she never fails to ask.
    She always cuts it the same, never mentioning the escalating gray hairs or the receding hairline. Boring but soothing. Until last week.
    It was probably my fault. Instead of reading a magazine, I decided to take a nap. For 20 years I had read a magazine while she worked away. I don’t know why I broke the routine, but I know I’ll never do it again.
    It obviously rattled her. When I opened my eyes as she was brushing the hair off my neck, I was shocked to see she had parted my hair on the left side.
    "Phyllis," I cried, "you know I part it on the right."
    She was devastated. She quickly moved the part to the other side and explained that it didn’t really make any difference in the way she cut it. I didn’t know what to believe, but I did know our relationship was seriously damaged.
    She knew so, too. I got up to leave, gave her the usual $20 and she handed me my coat, as usual. Then, knowing we were at a critical point, she asked me something she hadn’t asked in fifteen years.
    "How’s your foot?"
    "Fine," I replied, smiling. "See you next time."

 

 

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