A Lunch Break in an Alternate Universe

by Jonathan Newman


While I was out for lunch, I decided to get a haircut and renew the tag for my vehicle.

So I got all my paperwork together and pulled around the rear-facing Lee County Satellite Department of Haircutting and Styling Annex, Building 32.b.5 and carefully zigzagged through the tightly packed and confusingly arranged parking lot.

I glanced through all of the signs posted out front about cell phone use (prohibited), accepted forms of payment, new charges for people with various hair colors, new forms required for different haircuts, etc.

I had navigated their maze of a last-updated-in-2003 website the night before, making sure I had everything I needed and knew how much I should expect to pay: $239.17 (assuming I calculated everything right).

There was one grumpy clerk stationed at the long, grey counter with a capacity for at least 5 more clerks, so I had to wait in line for a while. (No cell phones allowed, so I just had to stare at the beige floor tiles and listen to Janet Napolitano tell me over a static-y PA speaker how dangerous the private, black market haircutting organized crime rings are. “Illegal private barbers are associated with lung cancer, terrorism, and global warming. Beware.” and “If you hear snips, open your lips!” were common refrains.)

It was my turn to approach the clerk. She mumbled “Next?” with an impatient tone, like she had been waiting on me, not the other way around. She got up and left before I could say “Good afternoon”. I looked back at the other people in line, who just shrugged. A minute later, she returned with a mug of coffee.

“Good afternoon,” I said.
“Photo ID, Hair Style Form 4580, and proof of fashion insurance, please.” Her “please” was not very pleasing, but grating.
“Absolutely. Here you are.” I passed her my items.

I voted against the new requirement for universal fashion insurance, but had to get it anyway.

If for some reason I left the house with mismatched socks, uncoordinated colors, old clothes, or a bad haircut, my fashion insurance company would compensate those who happen to see my bad fashion if they just fill out the forms and take photos of my offense. I thought it was sort of contradictory to have to buy insurance for the same fashion the government provides and assures is safe and trendy. But, oh well — the people have spoken!

My daydreaming about the wonders of democracy was interrupted: “You haven’t specified your hair length.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Let me fill that in really quick.” I mentally converted the length measurements because I remembered the poorly formatted sign out front that said “ALL LENGTH UNITS MUST BE IN WAHLS, NOT INCHES.” The conversion was easy enough for me. They pushed this exact kind of math problem hard in Common Core.

The clerk snatched the form back and slowly walked back to the copier to make copies of my files. She returned with a new form for me to fill out: “Public Barber Appointment and Personal Injury Waiver” (public barbers are notoriously careless in their “craft”).

“Oh, no… I was hoping to get my hair cut today.” I eyed the well-populated line in front of the empty barber chair. He must have been on break.
“We close at 34:67pm,” the clerk sighed. I forgot they switch to Wahl time every other Spring and Summer since the Hair Freedom Act was passed after expensive lobbying by Wahl. The new law also mandated all public barbers had to use Wahl products.

I mentally converted the time back to something I was used to and concluded that there was no way I was getting a haircut today. I took the P.B.A.P.I.W. form the clerk had placed on the counter.

She told me there’s a $5.17 fee for using the form to schedule appointments in advance. I pulled out my debit card — she pointed at a small sign taped to the glass separating us: “No cards for transactions under $5.18. Effective Wahluary 67, 20f3.”

I didn’t have any cash on me (getting cash out is harder these days), so I just walked out disappointed and without a haircut. As I left, the people behind me in line gave me an angry look for taking so long.

The tag renewal joint was just around the corner, with a bright, fun sign facing the road: “Safe Roads — Safe Drivers”. Parking was easy. I walked in and a smiling face greeted me.

“Welcome back, Jonathan! Here to renew your tags?”
“Yep. Oh, and thanks for fixing those potholes by my house.”

The manager walked around the corner into the front lobby area. She was wearing the same soft yellow polo as the guy at the front desk. Both had name tags and friendly smiles, too.

“You bet. Thanks for letting us know about it. We try to stay on top of all of that, so happy customers letting us know how we’re doing is a big help.”

“How much is this year’s road subscription?” I didn’t bother to look it up before coming because it’s usually so cheap.
“$15.”
I was shocked. “Whoa. Wasn’t it $25 last year?”
“Yeah,” the manager sighed, almost embarrassed to admit prices were higher before, “but we’ve got a few more billboard ad locations and commercial shipping subscriptions this year to help pay for new roads and maintenance.”

The guy at the front desk handed me my new sticker as I passed him my debit card.

“We’re happy to help you here at our office, but if it’s more convenient for you next time, we have a mobile app and a website that can process your subscription. Also, we have a new automatic renewal option with a discount, so be sure to check that out.”
“Can I sign up for that now?”
“Sure!” A few keyboard taps later and I was on my way out the door.

The manager held the door open for me and said, “Thanks for your business. Be sure to look at our expanded map and partnerships on the mobile app! Let us know if you see any other spots on the road that need our attention. Our app has a function for that, too.”
“Will do. Thank you, ma’am.”
“And remember: safe drivers use Safe Roads!”

I rolled my eyes. The saying is cheesy, but they did set records last year for fewest accidents and customer satisfaction surveys ranked them in the top 10 for rush hour flow in Alabama.

On my way back to work, the fashion police stopped me for having unkempt hair. I tried to explain that I just went to get a haircut but the satellite department was backed up. The officer didn’t care.

The fine was more than what I would have paid for my publicly subsidized haircut, but I didn’t want to push it because I had seen all the recent news about people dying during fashion police encounters.