AUSTIN — It is time for me to get my annual haircut, but I am new in town, so I hunt around for a barbershop, spotting one in a strip shopping center. I enter and explain that I need just your basic cut, nothing fancy, leave the ears. The nice lady smiles and turns to her computer. “Name?” she asks. Huh? I reluctantly reply, then she asks for my phone number and email address. “I came here for a haircut, not an interrogation,” I say. She smiles. “We can take you in about, oh, half an hour.” I leave. AUSTIN — It is time for me to get my annual haircut, but I am new in town, so I hunt around for a barbershop, spotting one in a strip shopping center. I enter and explain that I need just your basic cut, nothing fancy, leave the ears. The nice lady smiles and turns to her computer. “Name?” she asks. Huh? I reluctantly reply, then she asks for my phone number and email address. “I came here for a haircut, not an interrogation,” I say. She smiles. “We can take you in about, oh, half an hour.” I leave.
Do you also find that total strangers engaging in your normal day-to-day activities all of a sudden need to know your life story? It’s mainly so they can pester you for repeat business. Emails are the worst. In the past I have made reservations at restaurants through their web site, and now get daily emails touting their holiday feasts, special weekend specials, wine tastings and “Just Desserts.” Same for hotels. I am getting to the point of boycotting Hilton altogether if they don’t leave me alone. A few years ago I went into a RadioShack to buy some batteries, just plain old batteries. The clerk turned to his computer, and asked, “Name?” I walked out.
Perhaps I am getting paranoid as I keep reading about hackers, identify theft, Equifax and pickpockets. (I told you about my pocket being picked at a Houston Texans game. It was the second worst crime in the stadium.) Do you get daily emails warning that your bank account has been breached and you need to tell the bank your password? My cable company – except that it isn’t really my cable company, it’s some 17-year-old in Serbia – is constantly asking for information about my finances, addresses and DNA. Emails are only the latest forms of harassment. Subscribe to one magazine and you will be besieged by other publications wanting you to join their readers list. And good luck in refusing to renew. Once I let my subscription to Texas Monthly slide, and you would have thought I was one of the 10 worst Texas legislators. I counted 11 letters from TM begging me to come back. I finally renewed, just in case I want to run for the Legislature. Sign up for one catalogue, and because they sell names, you will be on the receiving end of dozens.
It is now a week later and I am still desperate for a haircut. Guys start whistling at me. I was thrown out of a transgender bathroom. NOW tried to sign me up. Apparently no male in Austin ever gets his hair cut. Driving around town on the prowl, I finally spot a sign, “Salon and Barber.” Close enough. I enter the establishment and three people, two men and one woman, greet me. No customers. “Hi” says the woman, extending her hand, “I’m Cricket.” A fellow at a computer asks, “First name?” “I don’t have one.” I suspect he’s heard this before. “Cell phone or iPhone number?” I give him my awe-shucks look. “I don’t have one.” He sits down. I explain that I just want a haircut. Cricket suggests a French cut, a backblow turnaround or a high and inside split. No, just a haircut. I sit down in the chair and, as she is fitting me with a giant bib, I casually ask how much is this simple cut. “Thirty-five dollars,” she replies, indicating that a tip would be appreciated. That is the last they saw of me and my Afro.
During the recent discussions or arguments or angry demonstrations over immigration, some bills in Congress have been called Your Papers, Please bills. The term comes from those old World War II movies when a Gestapo officer would stop a French Resistance fighter and demand, “Your papers, please.” That was very funny until what happened to me this week. As I have mentioned lately, we have been flooded out of Houston and are dealing with insurance companies, FEMA’s flood agents and, of course, the Gestapo. They want information from documents that are probably floating, in confetti pieces, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. Incidentally, this reminds me. Don’t keep your flood insurance policies in your house. Find a safe place – like Puerto Rico.
Another email. “Recently you engaged in business with us, and we hope your experience was a successful one. To further enhance our operations, please take a moment to….” The old survey ploy. This is yet another extended probe into our lives. Don’t fall for the survey scam. First of all, we don’t even know if this inquiry is actually from the self-described business. Your name and email address could have easily been hacked by that same youthful Serbian. Second, let them do their own oversight of their operation. Why should you be doing their work for them? A particular restaurant keeps asking if I enjoyed my visit there, then asks how often I dine out, roughly how much I spend, etc. I’ll probably be asked where I live and, next time I leave my house to visit the restaurant, where I keep the family’s silverware.
Finally, we must consider the most intrusive and detailed probe into our lives: the U.S. Census Bureau. The U.S. Constitution specifically orders a nose-count of all Americans every 10 years for one reason: to allocate members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Period. Any other questions are add-ons. Here’s what happened. A group of businesses, say, the auto industry, wanted know who bought their cars, when, where they lived and what is their favorite color. But it would cost millions to gain such information, so Detroit got their lobbyists in Congress to add those questions to the census questionnaires.
Do you own a refrigerator? No, I keep my Bud on an ice floe, along with my dying grandmother.
I should put one of those hotel “Privacy Please” signs around my neck.
Ashby is nosey at firstname.lastname@example.org