Who's that short-haired chick sitting alone?

I've figured out how to persuade a hairdresser to cut my hair short, like a man's. I tell her that I want to look like a man. To those of you who chuckle quietly at how long it's taken me to figure this out, I remind you that the scenic route makes for more column material.

"I want to look like a man," I said, "or a stereotypical lesbian." I flipped to two pages in a fashion magazine where regular-haired men appeared, deep in the backgrounds of photos where they pinned up some Rapunzel monstrosity.

The student hairdresser, her teacher and her co-worker in the teaching salon were questioning my request. This summer's unusual heat and my desire to spend less than half a minute each morning on haircare sort of convinced them, but not really. I'm a weirdo, and I know it.

Fortunately, my stylist enjoyed the challenge. Far more women than men come into her teaching salon, and only by practicing lots of techniques for all haircut lengths does she get to hone her craft. I cut my husband's hair at home with electric clippers, so my primitive understanding of cosmetology bows before the experience she's mastered. I might as well be hacking at the stuff with kitchen knives. She's becoming a chef.

I ate dinner at a Thai place alone, enjoying my book of Dave Barry humor columns and feeling for the tiny scratches of leftover hair trimmings down my collar.

The bits of hair I've washed away, but the influence of Barry's writing style you'll have to live with for a few weeks.

The restaurant was playing a mix CD, so the music alternated between Beatles hits and songs I'd never heard of. "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," forgettable pop, "Daytripper," forgettable country, "Eleanor Rigby." Or maybe everything else just seems forgettable next to the Beatles' One, aka "Now That's What I Call Music One."

In case you are ever in a restaurant where "Eleanor Rigby" starts playing, and take "Look at all the lonely people" as an imperative: knock it off.

I am not lonely. I am not an outcast bereft of companionship. I am eating my Tofu Lad Prig and laughing at booger jokes. (Barry's been perfecting the booger-joke craft for decades, the selfish hack.) As with booze and sex, you don't need friends to have a good time.

But live comedy helps. The theater/bar where my favorite sketch comedy group performs features a bartender who has made enough Red Bull & vodka cocktails for a lifetime — hers, anyway. She brightened when someone requested a Grasshopper variant, an unusual challenge that drove her to consult a booze guidebook sitting next to the cash register.

"I like really old-fashioned drinks, like Manhattans," Rachel said, "but when I'm out I'm kind of afraid to ask bartenders to make me one." She doesn't want to inconvenience fellow booze jerks, and not all of them even know how to use bitters properly.

What difference does it make whether a patron drinks an easy, trendy cocktail or something classic? Rachel wants some class in the equation. Drinking shouldn't just be about getting drunk.

I watched an hour of sketch and hung out afterward with the comedians.

One of them couldn't believe how lucky she was to work with such good talent. "Even when we do a mediocre sketch, and we don't do one often, I hope," she said, "I think our talent puts us over the top."

I was talking with them and trying to avoid other comics who bored me. I find a one-to-one correlation between comedians I get along with and comedians whose performances I enjoy, but the sample size is small.

And after the comedians drifted away, I had a long talk with a fellow fan, someone else who's willing to invest night after night in attentively watching the same group perform, because growing our expertise means we get more out of the same act.

My jokes aren't for everyone, because they're offbeat and cerebral, but he got them. I get less laughter because of my sense of humor, and less flirtation because of my short hair. But I'm willing to make those tradeoffs. I have to work hard at being who I am well.

Maybe because I'm learning software engineering, I'm seeing craftsmanship and tradeoffs everywhere. I find it expands my empathy. People don't make decisions in a vacuum, but because they thought other options were worse, or because they have a goal in mind. The pursuit of happiness requires a thousand decisions, and everyone's happiness is different.

Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at sumana@crummy.com.