More Than Just a Haircut

Back when I was a graduate student at MIT in desperate need of a haircut, I stumbled into a place called The Hair Connection. Little did I know it would change my life.

A pleasant woman named Carmella cut my hair, and even offered me a generous student discount. I soon became a loyal customer, dropping in every three to four months, whenever my hair was getting so long that it had started to look embarrassing. Initially, I had a good rapport with Carmella. But then I graduated from MIT and took a position at the Harvard Society of Fellows. That meant I was no longer a student, so I had to give up the student discount. The right thing to do would have been to admit this fact to Carmella and begin paying full price. Instead, I closed myself off, carefully avoiding telling her any details about my academic life, keeping up the charade that I was still a grad student, and thus claiming my student discount.

During one particular visit, Carmella told me about a young lady named Jeannette, who also frequented The Hair Connection. Carmella asked to introduce us, and gave me the young lady’s phone number. I called her, and we went out on a blind date. One of the first things I asked her on the date was, “What did the people at Hair Connection say about me?”

“Carmella said you had a really good job, but she wasn’t sure what it was,” Jeannette responded. So much for my ruse about still being a grad student.

Jeannette, who received her haircuts from Carmella’s associate, Angela, continued, “When Carmella asked if I wanted to be set up, I asked Angela what she thought of you.”

Angela’s response: “I don’t know. He’s pretty geeky.”

Luckily, Jeannette likes geeks, and twelve years later we are married with four children.

We left Cambridge eleven years ago, and neither of us had spoken to the folks at The Hair Connection since, although we’ve always talked about stopping in when we found ourselves back in Cambridge. A few weeks ago, we finally made good on that promise. We were happy to find the whole gang still there: Carmella, Angela, and Peter, the owner.

It had been three months since my last haircut. Carmella did the honors. This time, I paid full price.

Levitt's FamilyFrom left to right: Adults: Angela, Carmella, Peter, Jeannette, Levitt. Children: Amanda, Nicholas, Sophie, Olivia


And now you'll get a bill for the difference between the student rate and the regular rate, plus interest of course ...


Very nice story.
I love the look Olivia is giving the camera.


beautiful children, nice story

Mario Ruiz

Dear Steve,

Very romantic way to meet your wife. Beautiful picture.

Did Carmella know about the job or just loved you, so she bragged about you without even knowing to setting up the date?

This made me remember the post about the "no pattern of the runs at a baseball game."

Life is absolutely unpredictable. Even for the most utilitarian reason, we must behave. We never know when or how the favor is going to come back.

Mario Ruiz


That's so cute.


It's amazing how seemingly random events lead to wonderful things. I would never have met my wife, for example, if not for the fact that the Gingrich-led Republican Congress eviscerated funding for the Presidental Managment Internship program in 1995, thus causing me to stay in Pittsburgh instead of moving to DC.

I'm sure that there are many other readers out there with equally wonderful stories....


I thought all MIT students were geeks- I mean, can anyone reference an MIT student who wasn't?



Buzz Aldrin ain't no geek!

ils vont...

Why is it that we so often find things where and when we are not looking for them? What does that say about life? If we try to hard it doesn't work, if we don't try at all it does.


That is such an amazing story. Sort of like the ones TV shows have kids dream of--in a way--for many years. If you ever need a follow up to the follow up of Freakonomics, try an economically based romance novel!


Great story...really points to how we all underestimate the effects of random luck on our lives.


Prof Levitt,

Great story and use this photo for your blog head shot as it is much better than the current one.


Great story! Took me back to my childhood haircutting memories - the lady there used to tell my mum that I was the only kid that didn't cry during a haircut!! Unfortunately I moved out of that city and never went back in so many years. But I'm thinking of them today...
PS Adorable kids you've got there


God, no wonder you ended up an economist. Most people would find the notion of someone altering their behavior (or at least behaving deviantly) for such a paltry incentive kinda ridiculous.
How much did you save per cut? 3 bucks?
No wonder so much emphasis on petty cheaters in the book.
Think I'll go check out MarginalRevolution, Tyler posts about things like great unrecognized novels.


before i clicked on "read more" i thought this was gonna be an article by a cheater about cheaters cheating on discounts :D

great story. maybe i´ll drop by and ask the nice lady to hook me up too...

Feriel Palia

Before I clicked on "read more" I was pretty sure marriage would be how the story turned out. I'm glad that's how it did.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

Hmmm, my original comments did not get posted. Were they too bitter, ruminating as I did on the notoriously two-faced nature of serendipity? After all, in so many cases, (although not Steven Levitt's happy twist of fate) events that turn on a dime can go sadly - even horribly - awry. Perhaps I was a bit too depressively unkind to point that out? But then, I read #14's comments, in light of which I think my own words were (and are) rather innocent and even downright upbeat. So, I say it again: "Serendipty" (the movie) was awful and trite, "Serendipty" (the twists and turns life often takes) can sometimes be lovely, but not always. There now: that's your basic, Eeyore-ish, depressive take on this lovely story.

Stephen Carter

Wonderful story. It's curious to me that none of the posted comments have suggested you repay Carmella for all the discounted haircuts you received. What, if anything, does that say about our personal codes of ethics?


Wonderful Story~

I will pay a visit when I go to MIT one day.

Helene Carrasco-Nabih

You should offer a good French parfume to Carmella as a global reward.