I’ve recently decided that it’s time to make some changes in my life. I’m a big believer in taking baby steps with such things so I started small. I visited a new-to-me South Hillsborough barber shop.
The place looked nice, it was clean and the hip young kid (At 48, I reserve the right to call anyone under 40 a kid. This kid, though, was probably 25) who was to be my barber, set me down in a chair, meticulously wrapped an apron around me, and then placed his hand on my shoulder and asked, “What can I do for you today, sir?”.
The care he took in preparation was good to see, the “sir” was a somewhat surprising perk, and the hand on my shoulder was, I thought, a nice touch coming from someone who was about to have a major influence on how the world would see me.
“I just don’t want a mullet,” I told him.
“You don’t want a moo-let,” he asked?
Moo-let? Funny, I hadn’t noticed an accent before. After that, I didn’t understand much of what he said. One of the things about being hearing impaired is that conversation ends with a lot of surprises. He seemed like a nice young man and I was comfortable in the knowledge that there are no bad haircuts after two weeks, so I didn’t worry about it.
As I settled back into the barber chair, I looked around and noticed that all of the barbers were hip-looking young men with buzz cuts. Just after that, I noticed that all of the customers were getting buzz cuts. It was then I heard the electric razor fire up behind me.
Times are tough for nearly everyone these days, and I could certainly have saved the $12 price advertised on the board for a basic haircut. I could cut my own hair — or not. After all, cutting things deemed “unnecessary” is apparently the new cool in Florida. No one would argue that a haircut is a life or death investment.
Of course, cutting my own hair would result in me looking like I had a bad run-in with a weed whacker. But I wouldn’t care — it’s time to tighten the belt, right? Well, after a while my figurative belt-tightening would become a literal impossibility. Once I decided that I couldn’t justify spending the money for a haircut, it’s a short hop to letting my middle-aged paunch grow into something much more…paunchy. Who cares what I look like? Times are tough and I can’t afford to look good! Once that takes hold, before you know it, I’ll be wearing mismatched clothes that have seen better days.
Once I stop caring about how I look, it’s a short road to letting everything else go to pot. Suddenly, I’m less a reporter than I am a middle-aged fat guy with a bad haircut and worn-out, mismatched clothes. Then soon, the public will see not a reporter but a guy who just doesn’t give a damn. And before long, that’s how I’ll see myself, too. In the blink of an eye, I’ll be living in the mangroves telling my imaginary friends that the feral pig that roots through my makeshift campsite is my pet dog who I’ve named Ernie.
I think it is much the same for cities, counties and the state of Florida itself. Sure there is a lot of stuff the state can’t afford — but that hasn’t changed regardless of the state of the economy. Do we need a gigantic, vanity sports complex in the middle of nowhere? Yeah, I think we can survive without that. Do we need teachers, law enforcement officers, roads, urban plans, and investments in future infrastructure needs for a growing and changing world? Well now, we do need that stuff. Cutting that out of the budget because “we just can’t afford it” is basically telling ourselves that we just don’t give a damn. And there starts the slippery slope.
If our leaders don’t believe in us — if we don’t believe in ourselves — enough to make the investments needed for our future, well then we will most certainly get the future we deserve. And that is a future with little chance of leading to prosperity.
We have to believe in ourselves, much as I have to believe first that I am a reporter, in order to become a reporter. I have to make the investments that are necessary to ensure that the world sees me as a reporter, as individually frivolous those investments may appear. In the end, the seemingly thrifty act of saving 12 bucks on a haircut could cost me almost everything.
Before I knew it, I watched as huge chunks of my hair fell onto the meticulously placed apron as the razor plowed across the right side of my head. At that point, I knew I had to be patient; there was no way to stop him now. I had to wait until he finished the left side unless I wanted the world’s largest comb-over. Just as he finished up the left side and the back of my head, I stopped him and said, “You know, I kind of like having a little hair on top to comb back.”
“Oh!” he said, making no real attempt to mask his surprise. He then spent nearly 30 minutes shaping my hair, trying to get what was left to match up. Finally, he turned me around to face the mirror. It wasn’t bad. It was a change and change is frequently a good thing, despite initial appearances.
He finished up, carefully brushing away the loose hair as he removed the apron and told me the charge was $12. I tipped him $5 — not because I loved the haircut, but because I could tell he truly cared about doing a good job. That he cared at all is a departure from what are becoming the new norms and mores of our increasingly strange and self-focused society.
He thanked me graciously, gave me his card, and asked me to come back. I probably will — I don’t want to live in the mangroves with an imaginary pet dog named Ernie that looks a lot like a feral pig. In order to be where I want to be, I have to believe first in myself. The same goes for the state of Florida. There is nothing frivolous about investing in ourselves and in our future. But first, we have to believe in ourselves — and our leaders must believe in us, too. Without that, it’s a short road to a place none of us want to be.