Several years ago, feeling impulsive, I went to one of those overpriced hair salons on Madison Avenue where they serve you mineral water in champagne glasses and tea in china cups. The hairdresser, Patrice, who was shockingly handsome in a Parisian kind of way, told me he was going to turn me into a stunning rendition of Brigitte Bardot. Bardot was 75 at the time.

But, feeling frivolous, I bought into the haircut hype, and being in the mood to be pampered, I allowed him to have his way with me, follicly-speaking. When I emerged from the chair, puffed and primped by Patrice's expert hands, not only did I not look like Brigitte Bardot, but I didn't even resemble a former rendition of me. Patrice had chopped off four inches, and had rendered me a French poodle. But I tipped him handsomely, because I was too embarrassed not to, paid the exorbitant bill, and cried all the way home.

So conspicuous and copious were my tears that a man seated next to me on the train asked if I had suffered some misfortune, and could he be of help. I assured him that nothing catastrophic had occurred, unless he considered a bad haircut synonymous with a tragic event. He didn't. He went back to reading his paper, occasionally eyeing me as one of those ridiculous, self-indulgent women who make mountains out of hair maintenance.

But, in my mind, especially since I had doled out the big bucks, this was of momentary importance, as I fingered my tresses, and realizing that most of them were shorn, cried some more.

Looking back on haircuts past, I am ashamed to admit that I would succumb to such unbecoming and childish behavior. Hair grows, I told myself, and so did I. The memory of Patrice faded, and was forgotten. But even now, years later, women and their hair still remain a hot topic of conversation.

My hairdresser, Robert, over at the elegant Paul Albert Salon on Riverside Avenue, not only understands hair, but also understands women. He's patient, kind and puts up with more nonsense than is required for the job description. For example, when I go for a cut, Robert lays out the plan of action.

"One inch," he tells me, "any more and you won't be happy."

Feeling daring that particular day, I suggest: "maybe two inches."

"You won't like it."

"I'm ready to take a chance."

"I know you think you're ready," he said.

Invariably, Robert is correct. He knows me and he knows my hair. He saves me from myself, and in the end my hair always looks exactly right.

Once again, however, in a mad moment, I cheated on Robert. I was in Italy and fell prey to a stylist, Lorenzo, who wanted to make me look, "Italiano."

"But I'm an American," I said proudly. Lorenzo looked me over and said: "When in Rome ..."

And so, being in Rome, and seated in front of the scissors-wielding Lorenzo, I allowed him to turn me into his version of an Italian goddess. When the "surgery" was over, I looked like an American with a very bad haircut. I flew home a week later, presented myself to Robert, and told him to fix me. But sadly, with hair, only time can rectify such mistakes. Eventually, my hair grew back and I looked like myself again. Robert forgave me for my brazen act of disloyalty, and put me back in working order.

I was on the train a few months ago, seated next to an unhappy-looking woman who kept checking herself out in her compact mirror. Unable to contain herself, she finally turned to me and asked: "What do you think of my hair? I just had it cut by one of Manhattan's most prestigious stylists."

I could have lied. I could have told her she looked great. Chic. Smart. Sexy. But she didn't. She had one of those geometric razor cuts making her look a bit askew, off-kilter, unbalanced.

I mustered the most empathetic, compassionate look I could.

"I feel your pain," I said, and, even though we would probably never see one another again, we were in that brief moment, each other's new best friends, brought together by the shared and compassionate understanding of a haircut gone disastrously awry.

Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer. She can be reached at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.