Bad Barber

By Ned Vizzini

rejected from New York Press


For the last two months, I’ve been growing my hair long. I’ve tried this before and it has always looked awful: my hair’s brown and straight and it grows out instead of down, taking on its natural salad-bowl helmet shape. I always thought that if I grew it enough, though—if I really committed to it—it would “come down” into that long, flowing, rock star hair I always wanted. So I swore off haircuts for eight weeks in a New York summer.

That was fine until I started eliciting cries of “Paul!” while walking past Strawberry Fields in Central Park. At that point, I made an emergency phone call.

“Hey grandma, it’s Ned,” I said, phoning from work. “I need to get my hair cut.”

My grandmother, who for the record has terrific hair, had been raving for weeks about her “stylist,” Pierre. She told me that whenever I needed a “real” haircut, I should come to her and she would set me up and pay for everything and make me look like a million bucks.

“My dear child!” she said. “I knew you’d call me eventually. What’s wrong?”

“Well, it’s not…wrong, exactly,” I lied. A couple days earlier a girl had asked if I was going for That 70’s Show look. “I’d just, you know, like a haircut, so I figured I’d take you up on your offer.”

“Well, Pierre’s a very, very nice man; he’ll do wonderful things for you, I’m sure.”

“OK, yeah, so, ah, where do I go?”

“Well, he works at the John Barrett salon.”

Oh man. I began to understand what I was getting into.

“John Barrett is located on the ninth floor of the Bergdorf Goodman building; do you know where that is?”

Now I really knew what I was getting into. “Grandma, you’re sending me to like, a rich salon?”

“It’s, well, yes—but there’s nothing wrong with a man going to a salon when he wants to look his best, you see. Pierre did the hair on Saturday Night Live.”

“Uh-huh.” That got me thinking, actually. In a few weeks I was to fly out to Minnesota to do media training for my book, Teen Angst? Naaah. Media training means they tape you for TV, and if I was getting taped for TV, I might as well get my hair done by a professional-TV-hair-type person. My grandmother gave me her credit card number; she told me “bring $20 for a tip” and “have fun.”


I showed up at Bergdorf Goodman at 2:00 on a Saturday, with a cardboard box full of books, some shirts on hangars that I picked up from dry-cleaning, and my bass guitar. I had been doing errands. First I went to the men’s section, where I was politely sized up by security: “Excuse me, sir, can I help you?”

“Yeah, I’m looking for the haircut place?” I asked.

“Well, if you mean the John Barrett salon, that’s located across the street. In the women’s area.”

“Uh huh.” I crossed the street and entered the Bergdorf Goodman women’s section. The clientele were wearing fur coats, bent over display cases, with boyfriends/husbands in tow, speaking German or French. Not only were these women done—I mean, you couldn’t improve on them if you tried—they were simply better than me. Genetically, these were superior people and I didn’t belong in the same lobby as them. I scuttled to the elevator with my cardboard box and my dry cleaning.

“Nine?” a woman asked as I got on. She was with her daughter; although she had her hair colored red and her daughter’s was natural brown, you could tell. We were the only people in the elevator.

“Yeah, nine,” I said. “Nine’s the salon, right?”

“Right.” She pressed the button, and as she moved to do it, I got a good look at the daughter, who was standing in a corner staring at the ceiling. She was scary beautiful, the kind of girl who really is “lily-white”, wearing a black skirt with a slit in it. We had furtive eye contact as the elevator ascended.

“Do you want one, mom?” the girl asked at one point, opening her purse and offering her mother a cookie.

“Honey, you know I’m not capable of dealing with chocolate chips right now.”

Ding. Ninth floor. I walked off of the elevator into a Vidal Sasoon ad.

The John Barrett salon is in the penthouse of the Bergdorf Goodman building; giant windows let in tons of light and all around, women walk purposefully, wrapped up in towels and robes, with goo in their hair. I noticed pretty quickly that I was the only guy in the place, except for male employees. The floors were beautiful hardwood; the walls were perfect white. I approached a groomed Asian man near the cash registers.

“Excuse me, I have an appointment with Pierre? Ned Vizzini?” I asked.

“Ooh, yes, Ned, I’m sorry, I have to tell you,” he said, leaning in and bringing his voice down. “Pierre is having a personal emergency so he won’t be able to take you today. We’ve rescheduled you with Arnold.”

“OK, fine.”  What the hell.

“Well, then, wonderful, go check your things and put on your robe.” The Asian guy directed me to coat check, where they reluctantly took all my crap and threw a dark brown robe at me. I took it to a changing room and put it on over my clothes. There was a sign in the room that bothered me:

“Color clients: Please remove sweaters, blouses and the like before putting on your robe. These garments are easily stained during the color service and the salon can not be responsible for any damages.”

“Color service”? Did that mean they were going to wash my clothes while they did my hair? There was a sort of laundry bin in the changing room, with robes in it—was I supposed to throw my clothes in there? Was I supposed to wear the robe without clothes under it? I started laughing, which prompted a knock from one of John Barrett’s many attendants—“Is everything OK in there?”

“Yeah,” I chucked. Then I touched my penis just because I thought it was funny in a salon.

I went to get shampooed. That took place in a little out-of-the-way room, badly lit, where the woman from the elevator and her daughter were being serviced by Latina attendants. I came in, picked up a copy of Vogue (“The Coolest People in the World”, claimed the cover), and read about beauty trends of the future as I got my hair washed. Vogue predicts that throughout this decade, brown-haired, olive-skinned women will be the physical ideal, and that facially, women will tend towards babyish looks—large forehead, big eyes. It’s called “neotenous features.” I guess it’s only natural that pedophilia give way to infantophilia.

My attendant stopped washing my hair. “You are done,” she deadpanned, putting a towel on my head. “My name is Maria.”

What did that mean? Was I supposed to tip her? I walked out of the shampoo room and met Arnold, my stylist. He was small and bald; he talked in spurts.

“Wow,” he chirped, looking at me. “Wow wow wow. Where do we begin? This really needs major work. I’m going to shorten it up, but not too short, and then sculpt the back—it’s very thick, you know. Is there a special occasion?”

“I’m going to promote my book,” I said.

Arnold was silent for five minutes. Then: “So, interesting, I mean, about your book; you’re very young; what’s the subject?”

Arnold cut my hair for the next 40 minutes, but it was clear that his mind was elsewhere. Every so often a phone would ring across the room and one of the stylists would yelp: “Omigod! It’s Pierre!” At that point Arnold would drop his scissors and run to the phone, then come back muttering things like: “Still in intensive care. My, my, my.” He didn’t seem very concentrated on my head.

I was not concentrated on it either, though; I was distracted by the legs of the elevator woman’s daughter, who sat a few seats to my left. I kept looking over at her and then looking in the other direction to compensate, as if I were just some weirdo who liked looking around. Engaged in this activity, I didn’t notice the paltry amount of hair Arnold was leaving me with. “And you’re done!” he said finally.

You know how when you get a bad haircut, you think—up until the very end—that it might turn out well? You hope that with a flick of the scissors, it’ll somehow clear up; you’ll see what the barber was going for? And then you hear that bomb: “You’re done.” Now there’s no way; it’s final; there’s nothing you can do; you’ve got to go around looking like this for at least two weeks.

My hair was really awful. It wasn’t like there was some aesthetic to it I didn’t understand: it was uneven, technically inept. It looked like I had done it myself; there were patches of oddness and asymmetry all over the place.

Arnold hi-fived me and told me I looked great; “Good luck with the book!” I cracked a smile and, without even thinking about it, handed him his $20 tip. Then I went to the cashier and rang up the bill on my grandmother’s credit card—$125. I disrobed in the John Barrett changing room, got my stuff back from coat check, and walked slowly to the elevator. An elderly woman with perfectly poofed hair stepped on with me, and as we rode down, she dispensed some advice.

“You’re a handsome young man,” she said. “But you should really know better than to get your hair cut by that stylist.” Then a whisper: “I think he’s a drug addict.”

A month later I saw Arnold on MTV. It turns out that he’s the celebrity hairstylist who helms the channel’s “makeover” show. I screamed and screamed at the television and pointed at my head and jumped up and down, yelling in front of all my friends, “You’re a bad barber!”