First know thyself -then copy Meg Ryan

There's nothing funny about getting a good haircut. I should know. I've laughed my way through some pretty bad ones.

So I was riveted by an item in The New York Times about a hair salon that, before giving a haircut, gives its clients a written quiz, an actual, five-page, written test, chock-full of multiple-choice questions about the kind of car you drive, the sort of vacation you like to take, what kind of restaurant you frequent - basically a lot of questions about money and how much of it you have.

What? Is this a haircut or a credit check? And does this mean that now, even a simple snip and curl requires studying and making the grade?

The more I thought about it, the more interested and the more alarmed I became. Interested, because I would go to practically any length to obtain a hairdo that doesn't make me look like Elvis on a windy day. Alarmed, because it seemed like once again, "My Generation" was going out of its way to complicate and obfuscate the simple. Why do I need to take a quiz? What if I get some of the answers wrong? Will I be given a derogatory bouffant?

But the lure of trivial introspection drew me on. The idea here is the better you know yourself, the better your haircut will be.

So I boarded the train early one morning, and headed for Manhattan. I got to the salon ahead of time and found, much to my amazement that the man who was going to cut my hair - Benoit - was ready and waiting for me. Wow. I'd forgotten that to people living in New York City, on time means being five minutes early.

Benoit looked at me, he looked at my hair. He nodded, he smiled. He asked a few questions that I didn't understand - partly because when I'm a little bit nervous, I don't listen very well, and partly because of his rather thick French accent. At first, I was afraid I was about to have my hair cut by Inspector Clouseau. But then I relaxed, there were no bandages on his fingers, he obviously knew what he was doing.

But he didn't seem the least bit interested in the quiz. I had already asked the receptionist for it - she had smiled, sort of (a New York City smile is sort of a quick, but pleasant smirk). The answers would let me know whether or not I was high, medium, or low maintenance. I already knew the answer: low, extremely low.

How often do I work out? (Do they mean how often do I think I work out? Or how often do I actually work out?) What magazine do I like best? (I had to write in The New Yorker, feeling I couldn't be defined by the given choices - Vogue, Glamour, Reader's Digest, National Geographic). How long do I expect my career to last? (Which career? Writer? Mother? Household purchasing agent? Filing clerk? Finder of all things lost or misplaced?)

Exactly 50 minutes, one shampoo, and a haircut later, I didn't look so bad. The quiz confirmed what I already knew: I don't like to spend a lot of time on my hair, my role model is more Meg Ryan than Gwyneth Paltrow - definitely not Cher. But who said anything about wanting or needing a role model?

I asked the shop's proprietor, Ms. Kim Lepine, what exactly the point of the quiz is. Do we really want to keep identifying with movie stars? Quite the opposite, she explained. Define your lifestyle first, then as a sort of visual shorthand, you can pick the perfect media type. High Maintenance? (Soap opera diva Susan Lucci.) Low Maintenance? (Jada Pinkett Smith crew cut.) The point being, I guess, that first you have to know yourself before you can steal someone else's look.

So I guess I'm in favor of giving the quiz.

But I don't think it's the client who should take it. It's the stylists, and the first question should be: Do you know how to give a good hair cut? If they answer "Yes, I do," then you can ask them if they know what (or where) osso buco is. (I for one would really like to know.) And if they answer, "No, I don't know how to cut hair," thank them for their honesty, proceed to the next stylist and keep the osso buco to yourself.

*Madora Kibbe McKenzie is a freelance writer living in New York.

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