THE BLOG
06/26/2013 01:27 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

Just a Little Off the Top, Please

If it has been awhile since you've paid $15 for a haircut, you may be unaware of the increasingly intrusive policies of purveyors of affordable grooming services with "hair," "cuts," "clips," or "snips" in their names. From sea to shining sea, the minions of corporate clippery now demand that you surrender sensitive information before they will accommodate your interest in shorter hair. We need a national conversation about this disturbing trend.

In simpler times, pre-grooming interrogations were limited to "How would you like it cut?", "Do you really want to keep doing this thing with your sideburns?", and even "So how come you aren't at work on a Tuesday morning?" But nowadays, before you can even reach the chair, you will be asked for your phone number. In more extreme cases, you may also be required to provide your date of birth and an email password.

You might be thinking: What's the big deal? It's not like you don't know your own number, so you shouldn't have to worry about getting it wrong. It might even be fun. Like stumbling upon an episode of Jeopardy where Alex Trebek asks--well, answers--a question that you have known since 4th grade when you read that book about the purple horse on crutches. You could just capitulate and then bask in the glow of a correct answer before getting down to business. Yes, you could. But I didn't.

Someone has to take a stand against Big Hair. If not us, who? If not now, when? The question is not "Why not give them my phone number?"; the question is "What does my phone number have to do with getting a haircut?" The necessary elements for the desired transaction were already in place: my hair, looking a bit longish, was already on the premises; I could see that there were scissors resting in a jar filled with blue stuff; and, I was feeling flush with the $20 bill I had allocated to cover the entire affair, from grooming through gratuity. Why must we involve the legacy of Alexander Graham Bell?

And so, channeling my inner-Rosa Parks, I mustered the courage to say "I don't want to give my phone number. I just want a haircut." Silence. It was like the scene in a movie when the lead-male character walks into the saloon and the music stops as the patrons size him up and the barkeep wonders aloud what the guy is doing in these here parts. While at first flummoxed by this act of civil disobedience, the formerly courteous hairdresser-greeter turned indignant as she demanded "What do you mean you don't want to give your phone number?"

Hoping that a verbatim repetition would resolve our failure to communicate, I once more refused the request. "But ... you have to give me your number," she stammered, "because, um, the computer makes us put it in before we can cut your hair." "And don't worry," she added, "we don't do anything with your number -- like, we don't call you or anything." Somehow I was not appeased. "Well, that is a relief," I conceded, "but ironically the policy now makes even less sense. Why do you need my phone number if you don't intend to reach me by phone? And, how does having the number in the computer help you talk me into using some product in my hair?"

At this point, I could see that the Assistant to the Shift Manager was going to get involved. Having overheard the exchange from behind the curtain in the back office, she emerged to discipline me for my non-compliance. This was one of those times when her two weeks of customer modification boot camp would really come in handy. "Sir, we need your phone number so we know what kind of cut to give you next time you come in," she explained, shrewdly connecting the digits to the desire I would obviously have to repeat this experience all over again next month. "Well, how about if I just tell you what kind of cut I want?", I offered as a compromise. "It might go something like this: 'Just a little off the top, please.' See? That was easy. And I promise to be just as clear next time." "Oh, fine," she muttered, borrowing the actual Manager's key to override the computer, "but we still need your address."

This was discouraging. I thought we'd made real progress. I thought we'd found a kind of détente after the phone number showdown. But now she comes back with this? Why would she need my address in order to give me a haircut?, I thought to myself, especially in light of all we had established in our earlier negotiations. Clearly trying to suppress my impending dissent, she quickly volunteered an intention for this policy: "Just so we can send you reminders," she said in a comforting way, again cleverly tying it all back to the enrichment of my overall customer experience. I could see why she was the woman in charge, at least on Tuesday mornings.

What I wanted to say in response was "I wonder why I would need a reminder to get a haircut, when I could just look in the mirror?" But I didn't. Instead, I tried to hoist her with her own petard. "Thank you for asking," I said eagerly. "My address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C." Her face showed a mixture of satisfaction and contempt as the computer alerted her of my repeat-customer status. And, as I settled into the chair where the magic would happen, she looked at me in the mirror with an "I don't get paid enough to deal with your bullshit"-look on her face and said "So, just a little off the top today, Mr. President?"

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