Nathan knew that the word “free” is one of the most magnetic words humans have. He had always considered himself immune to the petty trappings of this dimension, however.
But now he was trapped in this dimension, just like a human, and it was getting harder for him to blend in. He was on an office just the other day, when a young child had told him how frightening his hair was. (Nathan’s understanding of English was solid but had some interesting gaps; at this point in his development, he still thought “office” meant any properly lengthy expanse of beige. The exchange with the young child actually happened on a sidewalk, but Nathan did not realize this.)
The barbershop that Nathan now stood in front of had no pole, but it did have a sign that said “Free Liter With Haircut.”
“I could use a liter,” Nathan thought.
Then, “No, that’s absurd. What would I use a liter for?”
Then, “I’m sure I could find something.”
And finally, “It’s what a human would do.”
With that, he opened the barbershop door, which obliged with a welcoming bell tinkling.
“I need a haircut,” Nathan announced to the room as a whole.
Cutters and cuttees alike were staring at him now. Nathan didn’t mind. It happened a lot, and he was used to it by now.
“Yikes,” grumbled one woman. She was dressed in black leather and black fishnets, with black lipstick and black nail polish and dyed black hair (with blonde roots, no doubt for irony’s sake.) She had been slumping petulantly in one of the chairs, a flask of something adult but alternative to her lips, but now she rose and approached Nathan like a woman approaching Mount Everest with a pair of bungee cords and a fourteen-hour time limit.
“Watchoo looking for?” she asked, clearly dubious that whatever it was belonged to the universe of the feasible.
“Shorter,” Nathan said cheerfully. “And less scary. Maybe a bob.”
The barber’s demeanor changed instantly; the despair lifted from her back and her smile lost its toothy sarcasm. “You a drag queen?” Drag queens were, to her mind, suitably countercultural and oppressed and therefore worthy of her best efforts.
“Nope. Not a queen at all.”
The barber considered having her attitude perform another U-turn, but decided against it. She simply wasn’t as young as she once was, and the emotional gymnastics she’d already performed would require her to ice her mind down with an entertainment news television program or face serious cramping in the morning.
“Why don’t I give you something a bit more interesting? I’m trained, I promise.”
“I’m sure you’re very good,” Nathan told her, as if she required reassuring.
Forty-five minutes later, Nathan’s head looked like a red Chihuahua with a furry scale model of one of the Great Pyramids on top.
He had to admit, on him it worked.
“And if you do decide to turn drag queen,” the barber instructed, “you’ll be able to tease that up into a beehive, no sweat.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Nathan replied, in such a sincere tone that the barber believed him. He paid for his haircut, which was significantly more than he anticipated, but he didn’t mind. He had enough money for the short term, and no use for it in the long term.
Nevertheless, he waited at the cash register as the barber thanked him, turned away, and descended into the same seat she had been waiting in when he arrived.
“Something wrong?” she asked, once she’d achieved the proper state of gloom, and then lifted out of it enough to realize Nathan was hanging around.
“The sign says Free Liter With Haircut.”
“Oh, right.” Without standing, the barber reached behind her chair and retrieved an empty plastic bottle. She tossed it to Nathan.
“It’s my boss’s idea of a joke,” she said. “A stupid one. Most people don’t take it seriously.”
“I do,” Nathan said. The barber winced in anticipation of a major customer service battle, especially since she would be defending a side so clearly in the wrong. But it never came.
“I think it’s fantastic, and I’m going to keep it for all my days,” Nathan declared. He touched the point of his pyramid in salute, and walked out of the barbershop with newfound confidence.
This was inspired by a new barbershop near my house. It’s got sort of a rock aesthetic, and it did at one point have a sign that said “Free Liter With Haircut.” (Or maybe quart or something, but some unit of volume.) The sign didn’t say what it was a liter of, and I had no cause to go in and ask.
Until very recently, I had my hair buzzed to the closest setting on my clippers. I’m growing it out right now for a part in a friend’s play, which is surprisingly traumatizing. You see, it’s growing, but unevenly. It varies day-by-day; sometimes it looks pretty awkward, and other days it looks truly atrocious. It’s gotten bad enough that I’ve purchased gel.
This may show up in Exile Issues. First, I need to determine how much I want to go the route of “alien looks at earth life with a completely naive perspective.” I think I’d rather try the “alien understands earth life more-or-less completely, but is sometimes and intentionally nonconformist” route, but we’ll see.