I once had a high school boyfriend who was disdainful of a friend. “He tells grandmother stories,” he’d say with disgust.

So bear with me on this one. My grandparents ran a storefront barber shop/beauty salon during the Depression. They survived, they told me many times, because people were still willing to pay to get haircuts. This grandmother story is a harbinger to the economy.

Decades later, I can still remember Saturday mornings in their shop; the perm solution from my grandmother’s side, the cigarette smoke from grandfather’s barbershop. Then, there was the rough sound of the long razor running across beard stubble during hot shaves.

It’s fair to say this is not a depression. Economists say that in Calgary, unemployment is only 3.7 per cent, or lower. It’s not bad, unless, of course, you’re one of the unemployed. Those numbers seem to be growing.

But one thing Statistics Canada doesn’t do is take the barometer of the city by that time-honoured indicator: Hair.

Last Saturday, I deliberated. Could I justify spending $85 on a haircut? It’s not like my own circumstances had changed. Yet, I felt self-conscious about spending money as others were losing jobs, and the Calgary party sobered up.

It used to be that “how’s the job going” was good old Calgary chit-chat. A response was usually filled with news of a job change, a bonus or promotion. A friend had given me the card of a stylist in Kensington who charges $35.

But it wasn’t fair to cancel at the last minute. My own grandparents lived off the spoils of vanity. So, I went.

There was a new shampoo guy. We chatted. He’d been with Pengrowth Energy Trust, he tells me, then his division was outsourced; the new company laid him off.

When a friend suggested this shampooing job, he took it. But what’s next? “I don’t have a degree,” he says, “I think, at 40, I’m too old to start cutting hair.” Indeed, it’s a good profession. Average earnings are between $43,000 and $59,000 in this province, with top stylists earning well beyond that. Alberta’s labour market projections indicate a continuing need for hairstylists. It might be the place to be.

Moving across the floor to the chair, my hairstylist tells me of a client who says her whole oil division was laid off. Then he adds: “This is the first week I can remember when I’ve had cancellations.”

I felt uneasy. Forget the stock market, the hair market tells me what I need to know.