#24: New Year’s Eve

#24: New Year’s Eve

This is it. The big one. The best party of the entire year: New Year’s Eve. Sure, New Year’s has never really amounted to much in the past, but all that changes this year. You have money, you’re going to kiss someone at midnight, and you’re wearing a suit for crying out loud! Next year is going to be the best year of your life and it all starts tonight…

This isn’t going to be the best night of your life, but it could end up as your worst. First of all, you’re not kissing anyone tonight. Just get that through your head. Unless you’re standing next to someone you’ve kissed before, you’re not kissing anyone when the ball drops. That’s a fact. If a kiss is the only reason you’re going out tonight, just take that tie off, slip into some pajama pants and pass out watching cable. You’ll have a better time. Promise. If you go into NYE trying to get action, it won’t happen. The impromptu NYE kiss is like finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk; it only happens when you’re not looking for it. Keep the option open, but you just don’t find a $20 bill through sheer desire. It doesn’t work that way.

As far as NYE parties are concerned… look out. Going to a NYE party is a fine way to celebrate the evening, but there can be pitfalls standing in the way of the best night of your life. Like not pacing yourself. If you show up at a party at 8pm, remember that the point of the entire evening doesn’t start for another 4 hours. You gotta make it that long without going too hard too fast. Starts with a cocktail at 8:15 and by 10:30 you’re wearing a Doritos bag as a hat while you talk way too close to a hot girl’s face. Nobody wants that. Especially since you’ll end up ringing in the New Year by puking off a balcony. It’s tough to start the New Year off right if you can’t remember the first several hours of it.

The same advice holds true if you’re “pre-gaming” before going to a bar. If you feel like cutting out the middleman with a few shots at home, keep the clock in mind. Although time shouldn’t run your life, tonight it’s your only god. Don’t think you can show up to a bar on NYE pre-smashed and they’re just going to be cool with it. Bars want people to buy drinks and spend money as they welcome the New Year, so what good are you to them if you’ve already done the work? There are plenty of sober people who will pay a good price to get to the state where you already are and the bar staff knows it. They’re not going to leave sober people with money in the cold for your drunk ass, so plan ahead and save some room in your stomach for high priced bar drinks.

Speaking of planning ahead, do you know which bar you’re going to? Do you need a reservation? Do they hit capacity before you plan to get there? Do your research. There’s nothing worse than planning your perfect night and properly pacing yourself only to get to the cool bar and see that they’re A) packed B) reservation only and C) implementing a dress code (hint: if people can see your bare feet on NYE, you’ve failed). You’ll be turned away and forced to resort to watching the ball drop under the watchful eye of that old creepy guy at the dad-bar who keeps trying to send drinks over to you and your other guy friend. Nobody, including the creepy guy, really wants that.

New Year’s Eve can be a night of exciting opportunities, but it’s also a night of sky-high expectations. Just go into it hoping for a good time, but don’t hope for the best night of your life. That way you’ll have fun and any unexpected friendships, situations, or kisses (could happen but probably won’t) will be an added/welcomed bonus. This is your year, kid. You’re going to make it happen. Start the New Year off with a great night you were never expecting. Go get ‘em, Hero.

#23: Christmas Morning

#23: Christmas Morning

Weeks of Christmas decorations, Christmas movies, and Christmas carols has led to this. The big day. Christmas. You’re a full grown twentysomething now, but still the magic of the season fills you with childish excitement as you wake up on December 25th. Nothing could be better than looking out the window at falling snowflakes, then running downstairs to see presents carefully laid under an evergreen’s branches. Yes, Christmas morning will not disappoint.

Unfortunately, any day with six weeks of buildup is bound to disappoint. No Christmas morning could actually match what we all imagine in our heads. Bing may have been crooning “White Christmas” on your local soft rock station constantly, but that doesn’t mean your Christmas will be white. Even excluding the freak states that don’t have winter, odds are you will look out your window and see brown, dying grass in your front lawn and not virginal powder. Maybe there will be a little ice slush near your curb, a reminder of a time when you did have snow. Heck, even Mr. Crosby is dreaming of a White Christmas. He knows the chances aren’t great.

And those presents under the tree might not be what you wanted. You may have asked for a new digital camera, but your parents thought a new pack of space saver vacuum bags would be better for you, given your lack of closets in your new adult apartment. This shouldn’t be a new experience for you. As a kid on Christmas morning, did you get everything you asked for? Of course not. Don’t think that will change once you’re old enough to rent a car. You’re an adult, anyways. Why do you still think you should be getting dozens of awesome gifts? You can buy things now on your own.

Stop whining so much. You may be in the age of practical gifts, but you’re still getting gifts. You are getting free things. Some presents might even come with gift receipts. Appreciate that you have people in your life who are willing to brave the crowds and buy you presents. And some of your gifts might be thoughtful and unique and just what you wanted–just don’t expect that every wrapped box with a bow will be that way. Christmas morning might not be the same as it used to be when you were a kid, but you can still reminisce about those magical years of your youth. Fond memories of Christmas mornings past can match those unrealistic warm feelings you want to feel this year, since you can romanticize memories as much as you want. As far as the no snow goes, that means no shoveling, which means more hot cocoa inside next to a roaring fire. And that is an activity that never disappoints.

#22: Work Christmas Party

#22: Work Christmas Party

The year is drawing to a close, and you’re at the top of your game. You caught that discrepancy in the numbers from second quarter and saved your company millions (probably). Now you got the big wigs’ attention, and your department head has been awfully nice in anticipation of your promotion. All in all, things are really shaping up for you at the firm. Better seal the upper management deal this weekend at the office Christmas party. Go ahead and alert the National Guard, because Winter Story YOU is about to blow in.

Office Christmas Party?! Hold the phone! No, literally put the line on hold and take this call of advice. The cliché about office Christmas parties is as real as your firm’s online content filter. All the hard work and long hours you put in during the year can be wiped out as soon as your necktie makes the drunken transformation to a headband. You’ve just put in too many hours to be that guy. Seriously.

The work Christmas party may seem like the perfect time to relax and introduce the work crowd to the real you, but unfortunately this is still a work function so the real you is going to have to stay in the real world. Even though this party is set in a location outside the office, the fact that there are work people present still makes it a work function. The only “relaxed” thing here is the cut of that foreign IT guy’s khakis, so keep the professional facade up and don’t do anything stupid.

Good news! There’s an open bar… but that doesn’t mean it’s open for you. The open bar is like your boss tying a bar of gold around a bear’s neck; he’s testing you. You may think you’re up to the challenge, but just like that bear, your boss plays for keeps. He wants people like you to lose control so he can always have something over you. That way if you’re ever on the chopping block he has more than one reason to let you go. Open bars are only truly open at weddings or college graduations. You know, actual celebrations. This is really just an opportunity for the boss’s wife to show off her new gown.

But you need a couple drinks to hit on Susie from accounting. She’s so pretty she makes you nervous, especially when she smiles with just her eyes. Maybe this is a perfect time to make your move, you make a crack about the new Xerox machine and in minutes you’re driving her home. This almost sounds like a good idea IF you didn’t work together. C’mon, unless you work at a skateboard company, no one’s getting laid tonight. If they did, it’s going to become a scandal and then someone has to get fired. Just smile at Susie from across the room and IGNORE the Michael Jackson song that’s playing…

Don’t dance. Don’t dance. Whatever you do, don’t dance. Nothing is going to hurt your career more than spinning around on the dance floor. There’s a reason no breakdancer has ever been featured in Forbes magazine, and nothing you’re about to do tonight is ever going to change that. Booze tirades can be forgiven, but bad dancing is FOREVER.

The office Christmas party can be a good place to relax and enjoy your coworkers on your way to a nice Christmas bonus, but it can also be a good place to talk, dance, or even puke your way out of a nice Christmas bonus. Leave your desire to impress work people at work and just keep this thing light. Pre-set a drink limit and a time to make a moderately early exit. The only thing worse than being the drunk guy is the guy who’s there way too long so just make an appearance, shake the boss’s hand, and casually begin to plot your exit strategy. Make it look like you’re a man who has a fast-paced, demanding life outside of work as well. This idea may seem counter-intuitive to enjoying yourself at a party, but keep in mind this is still your job, and jobs aren’t enjoyable.

#21: Seeing Santa

#21: Seeing Santa

The holiday season is in full swing. Some may claim there is a War on Christmas, but you wouldn’t think it visiting your local mall. That place is hopping with all-things-Christmas, including Santa’s Village, that joyous place where children can sit on Santa’s lap and ask for the bestest presents they can think of. Seeing Santa for a child is a very magical time, and now that you’re dating Renee, who’s got her six-year-old Aaron, it’s time to see that magic up close. You three will bundle up, get in the car, and drive over to the mall, ready to get a big shot of holiday spirit.

It just so happens that today the entire tri-county area had the same idea as you. You’re not the only one with an adorable child ready to sit on Santa’s lap. After a nice half hour drive around the parking lot, you’ll finally find a spot in a different zip code and make the freezing trek towards the mall (it’s good you all dressed warmly). Then it’s straight to Santa’s Village, where you’ll stand at the end of a line that appears to rival Great Depression soup kitchen queues. No matter. The three of you will pass the time talking about Santa, what Aaron will ask Santa for, and what you asked Santa for. That kills a few minutes, and you’ve moved ahead five feet. By the time you reach the front, an elf will inform you Santa’s going on a break. He should be back in five minutes. You understand Santa needs a break, but can’t he take one after you talk to him? Persuasion won’t work with this elf; she’s heard it all before.

Now that cozy winter coat that felt so good outside is turning your body into a yule log. It is hot in this thing, which doesn’t help your already tried patience. Between the screaming kids around you and Mannheim Steamroller blasting over the speakers, you’re barely keeping it together. But Santa comes back, although with a different beard, and he’s a little skinnier. You have to quickly explain to Aaron that Santa must have exercised during his break and lost some weight. You got nothin’ to explain the beard, but luckily Aaron isn’t that observant.

Aaron sits on Santa’s lap, you snap some pictures, Aaron tells Santa what he wants for Christmas, and the elf takes Aaron off Santa. Wait… that’s it? That’s what you’ve been waiting an hour in line for? That was, like, thirty seconds. Your kid isn’t special. He’s just another kid. If Henry Ford were to design a Santa meet-and-greet, this would be it. It’s more about efficiency than intimacy. Before you know it, the three of you are walking away from Santa’s Village and heading towards the food court for some orange chicken.

The wait was long, and the payoff was crummy. But guess what? It doesn’t matter what you think. Seeing Santa isn’t about you; it’s about your kid. And your kid won’t remember the annoying stuff. He won’t care about the whiny toddler behind you or that the snow looks incredibly fake under those garish fluorescent lights. He’s seeing Santa, and that’s all that matters. Did you even notice that Aaron was excited the entire time you were in line? He hasn’t grown into the cynical person you’ve become–that’s still years away.  If you need a little help remaining sane, bring a few games to play in line with your family. That should help pass the time. But it will all be worth it. Seeing utter and complete joy in the eyes of a child will warm you so much you won’t need your parka on the the walk back to your car.

#20: Christmas Shopping for Family

#20: Christmas Shopping for Family

You’ve moved to the Big City to set out on your own. Though it’s been tough, you’ve found yourself and you’re becoming the hip adult you always hoped you’d be. Now as the year comes to a close, you prepare to return to that small, rural hamlet you once called home to introduce your family to the new and improved you. Instead of telling them who you are, this year you’re going to show them with a selection of thoughtful Christmas gifts from the city you now call home. Sure, your family has hinted at gift ideas and your brother even emailed you that link, but anyone could just go out and buy something like a coffee pot. Instead, you’re going to your local shops to get them gifts with meaning. Tell your dad to have the camcorder ready because this’ll be the best Christmas ever.

Whoa there, Hipster Kris Kringle. Remember that even though your new urban environment has helped you change, the people back home haven’t changed at all. They’re still going to be the same people you left behind, just like those boot cut, wide leg jeans. And if you bring a suitcase full of artisanal gifts, that wintery ice you’re standing on will get real thin, real fast.

Sure, you can plan a weekend trip to your artsy part of town, and you can find that hand-screened poster that sums up your older sister to a T. Man, that would look good in her kitchen; like a stenciled beacon of your affection. And she may even feel fortunate knowing it’s numbered 3/20 of an extremely limited quantity. But before you give it to her, you’d better include that mixing bowl she specifically asked for, otherwise you’re just giving her artsy garbage that wasn’t made by her kids. You see, she doesn’t care that your gift is practically one of a kind. She only knows that it’s not the mixing bowl she clearly spelled out in writing. Don’t take it to heart. It’s nothing personal; she’ll just think you’re an illiterate idiot.

Thankfully you have nephews who still totally adore you and will love any gift you offer since it came from the one and only you. You’re going to leave all that Made In China junk at the sad mall toy story where it belongs because you only buy non-plastic toys (you’re part of the solution). Oh how they’ll be ecstatic over the organic gifts their “cool” uncle brought them, and their tiny minds won’t believe wood could be crafted so expertly… Then you wake up 10 years later to find your nephews still haven’t forgiven you for that Christmas present. Don’t be stupid and think your nephews are concerned about plastics, toxins, or safety. Were your gifts featured in commercials during a recent broadcast on Nickelodeon? If not, they don’t exist and neither do you, Uncle “Mom’s Stupid Brother.” Children do not see you as some sage, Far East traveler bringing them exotic gifts from beyond their dreams. Children see you as a coin purse that can buy them extravagant, mainstream toys they can’t afford themselves. Your hippy idea of post-consumer recycled material doesn’t matter if the toy sucks.

Giving your family hip, personalized gifts might fly at birthdays, but you better have your act together at Christmas because this is the one that counts. Yes, the commercialization of Christmas is awful, but so is showing up at your parents’ house looking like a pretentious jerk. Just bite the bullet and buy them the things they actually want, but don’t bring up the fact that they could have just bought it for themselves. If you don’t have the strength to buy the kids crap from TV ads, buy them tickets to an event they like and attend it with them. It’s not the instant gratification they’ll hope is under the tree, but it’ll be a chance to spend time with them, which is what they’re really after anyway. By doing this you’ll be creating memories that’ll last a lifetime, and it’ll give them a chance to see how cool you are… which may keep this fiasco from happening next Christmas.

#19: Making a Gingerbread House

#19: Making a Gingerbread House

You’ve decorated your house for the holidays, and it looks great. Ornate nutcracker dolls, Santa mugs, a chimney donned with the most carefully hung stockings. The only element missing in your holiday arsenal is a centerpiece that ties your family room together. Something that really says, “Yes, I’m classy, but I also like doing my own arts and crafts projects.” There’s really only one option: a homemade gingerbread house. It’ll be one of those holiday activities in which every relative can participate, from your little niece to your grandpa. Making a gingerbread house will gather the family together, and at the end of a delightful afternoon of teamwork, you will have a gorgeous monument of togetherness that you can enjoy for weeks to come.

Guess what? You don’t have the professional skills to pull off a gingerbread Versailles. You hold neither a culinary nor architecture degree, both integral backgrounds for pulling off an edible masterpiece. If you lived in a Hallmark movie, this wouldn’t matter. But you live in the real world, which means you’re stuck with your liberal arts background and Sarah McLachlan won’t be singing over a decorating montage. As you bake the gingerbread, you’ll make the frosting, praying that the recipe you found online has the right ratios. It was the first recipe that showed up on Google, so it should work, right? The site had a lot of online dating ads, but that doesn’t mean they got the ingredients wrong. You taste the frosting and it tastes good, but it’s too runny, a terrible consistency for the mortar you need to glue the gingerbread together. After trial and error, you get it thicker, but now it doesn’t taste as good. Whatever, no one’s going to eat this thing.

With all the building supplies now ready, it’s time for construction. You talk through your vision with the contractors (your relatives) and think everyone is on the same page. But as soon as the gingerbread walls go up, it’s clear everyone has different ideas for how best to erect this sugary house. You never agreed to a sunroom or a wrap around porch, but Grandpa wants them, so they have to go in now. And no one on the building crew understands the basic laws of physics. That roof is too heavy if you add candy cane shingles. You can’t make a gumdrop a load-bearing object. Gingerbread can’t bend like that, Aunt Jackie!

You manage to assemble a structure resembling 19th Century tenement housing. But at least it’s something. Now you just have to let it dry and–no, Emma! You can’t eat it! No! Too late. Little Emma’s gnawing on a hunk of chimney and washing it down with some M&M cobblestones. The house was already drafty, but with only three walls, its residents would certainly not survive the winter. Now it’s a race against time to reconstruct it before all the frosting dries. With each sliding Jolly Rancher window pane, tensions rise, and Grandpa gets more vocal on his lack of faith in your handiwork.

Making a beautiful gingerbread house requires a Zen-like state of patience, something hard to achieve with family members around. But the holiday season isn’t about constructing Fallingwater out of cookies; it’s about spending time with family, even if that means arguments over a Laffy Taffy mailbox. More than likely, your “monument of togetherness” will look more like ancient ruins, with only a keen eye able to theorize how it once appeared before it collapsed. But “Togetherness” is the only thing that really matters. The gingerbread house may crumble, but the foundation of your family will remain like a rock. Or, for the sake of the extended metaphor, a jawbreaker.

#18: First Kiss

#18: First Kiss

It’s your second date, and the evening’s winding down. You’ve had fun, and based on the number of times she’s laughed (you’ve been keeping count), she has, too. On the walk back to her door, you pause a moment and look deeply into her eyes. She reciprocates, you gently clasp her hands, pull her close, and go in for your first kiss… the clip-clop of a horse-drawn carriage goes by as the Eiffel Tower lights up in the distance.

Man, that would be awesome if you were smooth, or romantic, or in Paris. Alas, you’re just an American-based dude out on a second date with that girl you met at Trisha’s party. While you two have been hitting it off and you think you’ve earned a couple chuckles, this isn’t the time to go all Maverick on her and power land one right there on the flight deck. Goose is dead and so is your sense of timing, so pull up kid! You’re coming in too hot!

Sure, you’ve heard women are attracted to a romantic guy with a touch of bad boy attitude, but if you just go in there and try to kiss an unsuspecting woman, your roguish assertiveness can appear real rape-y, real quick. Yes, a woman is going to want you to initiate that first foray of intimacy, but she’s going to have to give you a subtle green light first. Maverick may be the finest “loose-cannon” in the sky, but he still has to gain clearance from the tower before he lands.

When the green light flashes, it’s time to make your move. But this doesn’t mean you got the go ahead for a mouth-to-mouth free-for-all. Unless your bold gesture caused her heart to stop beating (relax Romeo, it didn’t), she doesn’t want a standing CPR session, she just wants you to kiss her gently. So ease up on the urgency and try to play it cool. And if more than 20 minutes have gone by since the last time you shaved, be mindful that your face is now covered in 60 grit sandpaper. “Beard Burn” certainly has its place in the steamy throws of passion, but rubbing her face raw in any public setting is ultimately going to leave you both feeling uncomfortable. Oh, and that tongue of yours stays in your mouth PERIOD, until she initiates (or when you hear a funky bass line and the director tells you to set down the pizza).

The first kiss is always hard; that’s why it comes with so much pressure. Just remember that a confident first kiss can transform you into Prince Charming, but an unwarranted attempt will leave you looking like your dad’s single friend who tries to pick up chicks at the bowling alley concession stand. Just be cool, wait for your moment, take it easy, and be cool. And unless you are hanging upside down thanks to a radioactive spider bite, please lay off the fancy stuff. There will be plenty of time for that crap once you’ve proven you’re not a weirdo. Play your cards right kid, and this kiss will be remembered as just the first kiss… not the last.

#17: Decorating for Christmas

#17: Decorating for Christmas

You’ve shown better restraint than all the department stores and have waited until after Thanksgiving to start decorating for Christmas. Good for you! You disagree with the now established belief that Halloween is merely a speed bump that slows down the advancing holiday season. Delayed gratification has won out, and now you can indulge yourself by decking your halls to the hilt. Your house will embody what “The Season” is all about: joy, peace, and good will toward men. Jesus may have slept in a manger, but if he passed your house on a donkey, he’d totally want to sleep in your front yard.

Ironically, you will not have joy, peace, or good will toward men as you decorate for Christmas. It’s hard work turning your home into a Winter Wonderland, and the process contains unforeseeable aggravations. First, you have to buy the tree. That eight footer at the farm looks gorgeous, but it would never fit in your family room, let alone tie to your car roof. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation may be hilarious, but it also contains sage wisdom on the topic of Christmas tree purchasing. So you get the realistically-sized tree, but it will have a sparseness on one side, since your principled decorating timeline prevented you from buying the best available tree a few weeks ago. No matter; once you throw some ornaments and lights on it, no one will notice.

Except… why are so many ornaments broken? Oh, right, you accidentally threw your set of free weights on the box last year after giving up on your New Years Resolution. Well, there are still some unharmed ornaments. And a little hot glue will fix a few others… but that means an afternoon of intense, surgeon-like work. Great. While the ornaments dry, you string the Christmas lights on the tree in a way that would make Norman Rockwell proud. But then you turn on the lights, and… nothing happens. C’mon, these were brand new lights just last year! Taiwan doesn’t design those twinkly bulbs for durability, mister. This means another trip to the store, and if you’re lucky, they’ll still have the kind of lights you want.

After a Black Friday-like argument with another customer over the last box, you’re back in the car with enough Christmas lights to sparkle the tree in your home and the trees in your yard. At least, you thought you had enough lights. Jeez, these strings are pretty short. Do you choose to make one bush look awesome or water down the strings over all the plants in your yard? Only you can make that soul-searching decision, but know that you will have to live with your choice for weeks after.

The modern day world has raised the bar on Christmas decorations. If you lived in Dickensian London, you could get away with just nailing a wreath to your door. But your last name isn’t Cratchit, and you have access to electricity. Don’t get distraught. Any effort you put into beautifying your home for the holidays will help spread cheer to all who see it. If you decorate with a joyful heart, then you’re doing it right. But just in case, buy a couple extra strings of lights.

#16: Raking Leaves

#16: Raking Leaves

The mornings are crisp, the days are bright, and the sky is as blue as a celestial ocean. Is there anything finer than your home in the fall? As the drying leaves cascade downward in a gentle firestorm of autumn foliage, fall’s greatest rite of passage bestows itself upon you. Time to put down your warm cup of fresh apple cider and mosey outdoors to rake the leaves. Breathe it in… that’s fall.

Oh how you’ve missed the gentle caress of this rake’s handle as the wood grains dance across the gentle contours of your hands. If only the keys on your computer’s keyboard carried a similar texture, then perhaps your delicate hands would be less susceptible to blisters. But what does it really matter? C’est la vie. There’ll be plenty of time to reflect upon the merits of manual labor as you gently fall backward into your pile of beautiful, freshly raked leaves.

Ow! Your back just slammed into the ground! Aren’t leaves in piles supposed to be soft? That’s what cartoons, Hallmark, and common sense have led you to believe. You just basically did a “trust fall” onto paper-covered concrete. How are you supposed to “trust fall” if everything you know about its seasonal activities turn out to be lies?

Better just lay here until your breathing returns to normal. Although you’re in pain, you can’t help but notice how lovely the falling leaves are as they glide down toward you like autumn-colored butterflies… OH MY GOD! What was that?! Something just moved in the leaves! Something moved! It’s a snake! There’s a snake! Don’t just lie there; a snake is right next to you! Within seconds, you’re wielding your rake like a broadsword, blowing through your leaf pile like a Viking through his enemies. Well, if there was a snake, he’s long gone now… just like your once contained yard of leaves you spent over two hours corralling together. Better put something a little stronger in that cider. It’s going to be a long afternoon.

While there’s something commendable about doing your own yard work, it is still work, and most likely you’re not cut out for it. If spreadsheets and meeting memos suddenly fell all over your yard, you’d definitely be the right person to get them organized and entered into a project management portfolio. Unfortunately, this is nature-based, manly work, something you’ve forgotten how to do after getting your Bachelor’s degree. Do the right thing: save some time and just hire those kids up the street who already rake leaves for all the old people on your block. Yeah, they’ll probably make fun of you in private for being the youngest person on their weekend schedule, but it’s worth it to have a full fall Saturday to relax. Plus, kids are probably better at surviving snakebites.

#15: Getting a Haircut

#15: Getting a Haircut

You’re looking a little shaggy. Sweeping hair from out of your eyes was sexy for a few weeks, but now it’s more of an inconvenience than a fashion statement. It’s not the 70’s anymore–you need a haircut. Good news: you live in the Big City, and you can’t throw a bottle of Suave conditioner without hitting a trendy salon. Getting a haircut couldn’t be any easier. And these hair stylists are professionals, so they will surely provide just the right cut for you, customized to your every specification.

Maybe that will happen. Maybe. A hair salon, like any other service industry business, has the “Human Factor” that will result in different customer experiences depending on the day. Maybe Crystal just broke up with her longtime boyfriend. Consequently, her tearful, cloudy eyes could accidentally snip your bangs at the wrong angle. Or Stewart’s car could have gotten towed the night before, resulting in a fist-clenched trim. Or then there’s always the perennial bad stylist who somehow hasn’t gotten fired yet. Just because it’s their job to cut hair doesn’t mean they’re good at cutting hair. You know that one employee at your work that’s inept at everything? Salons have those employees, too. Or you might luck out and get someone who’s fantastic, but they treat your hair as a blank canvas, ignoring your requests of feathering the back and texturizing the top. They’ll dig in, boldly going with an asymmetrical cut because it’s hot in Prague right now, and you’ll still have to pay for this undesired look because “an artist” cut your hair.

And everyone likes a good deal, but haircuts are something in life where you should pay a little more. If “Super” or “Cuttery” is in the business’ name, prepare yourself for the top of your head to resemble a fright wig. Unless you go Bret Michaels bandana-style, people will see your hair for weeks to come, so avoid buying a couple lattes and apply that extra extra cash to protecting your attractiveness.

To best walk away with a scalp full of luscious locks, do a little online research and find a salon in your price range and one that has multiple positive reviews for one of the stylists. Then call that place and request the highly praised stylist. Once at the salon, be as clear as possible to the stylist about what you want. Maybe even bring in a picture, or pull one up on that slick smart phone of yours. Also, never talk about politics when sitting in the chair. Keep conversation light and pleasant. You never know for sure people’s political leanings, but you might find out when Berit razors your neck red after you complain about Obamacare.

Fear not if you leave that strip mall with an uneven bowl cut. The great thing about hair is it grows back, and you’ll get to give it another try next time. Unless you’re going bald. If that’s the case, just be happy you have hair to cut.