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Karma-go-Round August 24, 2006

Posted by KG in Back in DC.

In the end, it was just a matter of five dollars.

I was ascending the escalator in the horrible pseudo-mall adjacent to Rosslyn Station when someone from behind me asked in distinctly English accented Spanish if I “Habla”ed “Espanol.” I responded in the negative; sadly, my knowledge of Spanish doesn’t go much farther than menu items. The gentleman — babbling, slightly incoherent — asked me (in English) where I was from. Now that’s a question that causes constant consternation for me. Responding with the basic truth, Baltimore, elicits eyebrow raises, while responding with India rings false in my mind. I responded with both, and my interlocutor started rattling off cities in India (Delhi? Bombay? Calcutta?) Yes, Calcutta, I said.

Why that particular shopping complex? I needed a haircut, and the convenient advertisement just near the metro station’s egress advertises haircuts for $14 — downright cheap around here. I was willing to take my chances on quality.

After getting off the escalator, my new friend started babbling again: “Do you know where I can get a haircut?” (coincidence 1!) “I just got out of the hospital. I was in for six days, I got beat up real bad. I’m still feeling really messed up, here are my papers, I’m trying to get a haircut before I go to my parents house.” His papers were legit, actually, recording that he had suffered from serious head trauma. He was middle-aged and fairly well dressed, though he did indeed need a haircut. Gesturing forward, I told him to follow me to the barbershop. On the way the babbling continued: “You know, I grew up all over the world. My dad was in the Foreign Service.” (coincidence 2!) “I work in shipping and was here visiting when I got jumped. I’m short a few dollars, they took all my money, can you help me out?” Saying neither yes nor no, we walked in.

In the shop, he continued to speak with me. It’s important to note that my job was not apparent to this guy. My badge was away, I had stepped off the shuttle well before and walked around a bit, I was in jeans and a t-shirt — I highly doubt he could have guessed that I was an FSO. He pulled out a business card that he said was his dad’s — an old style State card, with the name “William M—–” and the notation “First Secretary” at a US Embassy whose name I didn’t catch. He was at this point repeating himself, but I had a gut feeling that I should believe his story. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out $5 and asked if that would be enough. He demurred and started asking the barbers if they were willing to cut him a break (he had $10 on him) but I felt uncomfortable and insisted that he take the fiver. Surprised, he kept repeating that he owed me and sat down in one of the barber’s chairs. I did the same in the one adjacent.

The talking continued. “I’ve lived here, I’ve lived there, I lived in Pakistan…” (coincidence 3!) I was ready to think there was more to this than meets the eye, but then he started telling tales of Embassy Islamabad in the ’70s that few would know off hand — the name of the Marine that died in ’79, names of three separate Ambassadors to Pakistan, his parent’s old address, landmarks. This was getting a little too weird. He asked what I did and I responded honestly. He did a double take (pretty dangerous when someone has a pair of scissors to your head) and proceeded to pepper me with questions and statements about being an FSO.

I tried to be as reticent as possible, but my new friend kept talking, telling and retelling stories, thanking me for being “a stand up guy,” asking other people in the shop if they spoke Spanish. The Spanish thing I’m still trying to figure out, though I think it may have been related to his head trauma. He admitted that he wasn’t feeling particularly well and didn’t look well either — slightly glassy eyed, a little disoriented. He asked some basic questions that I responded to as well as I could. Then, suddenly, his haircut was finished. He got up from the barbershop chair, paid, shook my hand, thanked me effusively, and left, saying that he’d have his now-retired dad “look me up.” How that will happen I don’t know, especially since I doubt the gentleman’s ability to remember my name.

I’m a believer in chance, and in karma. And in regards to those, I have absolutely no idea what the above experience means. It was certainly strange. But I’m only $5 poorer (haircut not included) and in the end, I’m glad I could help out someone who clearly needed it. So here’s to you, Patrick, son of “Bogota” Bill. I hope you got to your parents’ house okay. And I hope you feel better.



1. Shawn - August 24, 2006


I’ll go with Cuban spy. There’s probably a listening device buried in your hair somewhere now.

2. bex - August 27, 2006

How very odd. I hope the guy’s okay, whoever he is. Only in D.C. ….

3. Prince Roy - August 29, 2006

that’s quite interesting. weird things happen around that mall. When I was there a couple of months ago, I got adopted by a lost old woman from Mongolia who spoke no English except ‘please…no english’.

4. Solomon2 - September 28, 2006

It sounds like you were the target of a recruitment exercise. Learn to start burning your garbage, perhaps?

5. Matt - January 18, 2008

I found this post by googling dc haircut cheap. thanks for mentioning where you got your hair cut!

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