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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
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320 Bits an Hour

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Years ago I started cutting my own hair.  I bought barber shears and did it at home in the bathroom. I did so because it was getting too expensive, up from one buck to $1.25 on post and I didn’t like the crowds; it often took my entire lunch hour waiting for my turn.


I have, over the years, experimented with civilian barbers, but they were always too slow. A haircut shouldn’t take more than five minutes: buzz up the sides, buzz around the ears, and buzz the neck.  If the barber decides to use lather and a straight razor around the neck and ears, which I never liked, then it could take ten minutes. But no more than that! Six years ago I took one of my grandsons, Spud, to his first haircut at a barbershop. I got a haircut too, and it took twenty minutes.  Unbelievable! He got a barber that used shears and was done in ten minutes, but I got some sort of stylist who used only scissors and kept wetting my head and combing my hair and snipping against a comb, snip, snip, snip. I didn’t go there for an experience; just cut my hair so I can go home! And it was ten bucks a pop!  We never went back.

About a year ago I wound up taking that same grandson to his favorite barber, accompanied by my eldest grandson, Maestro.  The place was ragtag, with sagging ceiling tiles, painted-over cracks in the walls, chipped and stained flooring, and the barbers wore tattered shorts and t-shirts.  I was dismayed. I prefer my nearly half-century-old version of barbers clad in white smocks and ties and working in a shop that’s noticeably immaculate and its walls lined with infinity mirrors and haircuts done quick.  It took thirty minutes at Spud’s shop, and it cost twenty bucks! That’s 320 bits an hour! (I bet 19th century Barber/Dentist’s would have loved that!)

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What’s a bit?

When I was young I remember seeing and hearing on TV a cartoonish song that sang “Shave and a haircut—two bits,” and a cheerleader-like chant of “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar.” That was a thing even before the production of those shows, so the writers clearly grew up when such references were still being used.

The very first time I heard it was when my mother handed me a quarter and told me I could go get a haircut on my own. I think I was eight, and I rode my bike, and it was quite an adventure, the farthest away I’d ever been by myself.  (Things were different then—and we were living on a military installation, which made it even safer.) After my haircut, the barber said, “That’ll be two bits.” I didn’t know what he meant. I thought I was suppose give him two quarters, and I was in a panic.  But no, he accepted the one just fine. One bit is 12.5 cents, and in the past that was a real unit of currency, and eighth of a dollar.

My final impression of that modern shop is that the customers, only four a day per chair (only two chairs) were high school friends, which explains the bro hug when the barber was done with his careful, slow-motion cutting of both hair and beard, trimming them into today’s elaborate version of style. And that’s fine, except that my grandson doesn’t shave, so why did it still take thirty minutes?

If I was that barber, I’d advertise and schedule at least four customers an hour.  That’s 640 bits every time the minute-hand ticks to twelve. In an eight-hour day, how many bits and bucks would that be? Wow! Where’s the nearest barber school?

In the meantime, I insist that the old sing-song be revised to, “Shave and a haircut—160 bits.”  It doesn’t have the same poetic meter, but it’s accurate.

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Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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