Skip to main content

American Hustle: How I Got A Free $250 Haircut and Learned About The Hustle Economy

"I tried to remind myself that I was the one getting the better end of the deal, but really though, I was just another part of the hustler economy that secretly keeps the financial veins of this country pumping."
  • Author:
  • Updated:

My eyes occasionally blinked instinctively as sporadic pieces of tow-colored flakes fell in front of them, but I did my best to settle my gaze just above an empty patch of chairs in the 5th and 6th rows. I was going for "happy but calm."

The middle-aged woman behind me slowly spun the stool I was on a quarter turn counter-clockwise, apparently to demonstrate proper technique when it comes to pivoting a set of electric clippers, but at that moment all I could think of was this kid I met when I lived in Chicago after I graduated.

He was a friend of a friend, and we were standing under one of those heat lamps they need to use at outdoor bars in Chicago about 75% of the year. As we stood as close as possible to it, I made a passing comment about how much I loved them. “You’re welcome,” he replied, explaining that his job was to sell the fuel for those things to bars, restaurants, and the occasional bougie couple that felt the need to have an industrial heat lamp in their yard.

It was at that moment that I was smacked in the face with the reality that there is a job for everything.

There may not be a job for everyone (unemployment rates and all), but someone does need to do all those little steps in the Butterfly Effect chain that let me do any of the things I want or need to do. It blew my naive little mind.

He has a nice face shape, but I’m going to draw attention away from this part of his head,” belted the woman behind me into the microphone pinned to her top, pointing and prodding at a supposedly-unbecoming part of my head.

I tried to remind myself that I was the one getting the better end of the deal when all was said and done though. $200, tons of hair products that I would probably end up buying anyway, and most importantly, a free haircut from a celebrity hairstylist; not a bad haul for a few hours of "work." Really though, I was just another part of the hustler economy that secretly keeps the financial veins of this country pumping.

I was just glad to be somewhere in the middle of the food chain.


I happen to be friends with the girl that cuts my hair, and she knows that while I’m very happy to be fully employed by The Daily Banter, I could always use some extra spending money. When the time came that a friend of hers was looking for hair models for a one-day event with (name of hip line of haircare products redacted), she asked if I would be interested. Yes and ma’am.

So yesterday around noon, I grabbed my backpack with my all-black modeling attire in it and hopped on my bike towards the Metro. The event was at a comically-large retail area in Virginia, and I would still have to bike the final 4 miles of the trip, but it was $200 and a free fancy haircut; I’d survive.

When I arrived, I was ushered into the side of a large conference room that had 7 or 8 rows of chairs haphazardly filled almost exclusively with women, about 75 in all, almost exclusively donning hairstyles that you wouldn’t call “hip” but might call “loud.” I sat down in a chair against the side wall next to the other hair model, a nice looking guy named Nick who I noticed was just as awestruck by the situation as I was. I asked him what he was doing there and he told me he had been writing for (name of impressive publication redacted) but just got laid off. When I told him my resume, we chuckled quietly and died a little on the inside.

Before long, the lights dimmed and a low-end video projector illuminated a blank wall with a promotional video that looked something like the beginning of Entourage mixed with a Levi’s commercial. When it was over, a confused mild applause emanated from the audience. Then, two middle-aged women went on stage and introduced themselves in a way that inferred you should have already known who they were, the way athletes announce who they are before letting you know how much they love Subway. One motioned for me to come on stage and sit on the black stool in the center of the stage. As I did, an army of smartphones raised up; this was the “before.”

Once seated, the woman who brought me on stage — I would soon learn she was the celebrity hairstylist — began to dissect my hair, making sure to point out what creams, pomades, and other gadgetry would be needed to make my hair its most hairiest.

By now, the other woman had made her way off stage and into the front of the crowd. “Guys don’t know what they want, but they also don’t know what they don’t want. At the very beginning of the consultation, make sure to let him know about the (name redacted) products you plan to use,” she advised after making some hackneyed joke about guys not knowing what they want.

From there, as I was methodically given a textbook “Theodore" or whatever semi-rare name they used to describe my haircut, I listened to the two women tag-team a presentation that was part hairstyling lesson, part sales pitch, and part sales training seminar.

It was kind of a beautiful thing. The now-incited crowd Pavlovianly cheered everytime the woman in front of them asked them if they wanted to make some more money. And when the two women would slip in a tip like “When checking him out, grab the product(s) from the shelf, tell him that is what you used, place them on the counter, and then just walk away; 9 times out of 10, he’ll buy them,” there was a frantic race among the audience to see who could type that note in their phone fast enough.

“You already paid us to teach you this stuff. You might as well use it and make a little money,” the woman behind me chortled as she snipped a string of hair from over my ears.

“Turn as much of their money into your money as possible!” echoed her partner in front.


Once my haircut was done and the woman cutting my hair had used her 00-blade clipper on a low-blade setting to finish detailing (I picked up somethings while I was there), the women were given a snack break. I gathered my belongings and the knowledge that I was $200 richer, thanked the women in charge, and hopped back on my bike for the 4 mile ride to the metro.

While exiting the parking lot, I thought about the women in the audience that were going to be leaving that very same parking lot in an hour or so, all armed with new tools to eek out a few extra dollars from their customers. Then I thought I thought about the two women leading the seminar who would soon be on a flight to Detroit to say the same jokes and cut the same hair and play the same promo video to a group of well-paying hairstylists 23 hours later. Then I thought about the freelance videographer that was hustling (name redacted) to make their promo video, then the actor that the videographer paid to look casually badass in it.

Then about myself, and how soon I would head home to look over my notes and craft a story for this website so that Ben has a reason to pay me each month. Then how that story will go on to get a few hundred clicks (maybe) that will turn into just a few pennies from our third-party ad partners. I biked 8 miles, got my haircut in front of a roomful of people, burned tens of calories thinking and writing about it all; all so that Google Adsense can charge a company more for ad placement than they pay us for ad revenue.

I’m just glad to be somewhere in the middle of that food chain.