Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My Haircut Odyssey

The other day I had the misfortune of witnessing the worst haircut ever performed on a human head. Once it was over, and much to my horror, I realized that the human head belonged to me. More on this haircut later. You see, this haircut was the culmination of a lifelong haircut odyssey, and to tell the story, I'll need to start at the beginning.

My earliest memories of getting my hair cut involve me sitting on a stool in the kitchen with a sheet tied around my neck so that it was just tight enough to trap most of the blood in my head, yet not quite tight enough to make me pass out. Achieving that delicate balance took the kind of skill that only my mother possessed. My mother had many skills and one of them she thought she had was cutting hair. What were her qualifications, you ask? Did she attend cosmetology school and achieve her certification? Did she acquire an apprenticeship with an established barber, which is required before one starts his or her own shop? No, no. Don't be silly. Apparently, all of that is just a big waste of time when you can buy electric hairclippers at K-Mart for $12.99. Take them home, open the box, and viola! you're instantly qualified to cut someone else's hair, especially if that someone is a person you can send to his room if he complains too much about the job you've done on his head.

As a barber, Mom was not one to take directions, or requests, or pleas for mercy. And that's perfectly logical. I mean, what makes me think I have any right to give input on how my own head should look? That would be downright presumptuous. The important thing after all was not that I look presentable enough to be seen in public, but rather that we not have to pay a real barber to cut my hair. Growing up through my socially formative years while looking like my head was involved in a freak lawn mower accident was well worth the $5.00 we saved by not going to a real Barber. Besides, requesting a certain hairstyle from Mom would have been futile anyway, since she knew only one way to cut hair - short. As you can imagine, that went over really big in the early eighties.

Another thing about my Mom's haircutting technique - she was not the gentlest of barbers. If my head was not in the optimal position for her, simply grabbing it and yanking it in to place was the most effective solution. I was not there to be comfortable. I was there to get my hair cut. Which is why Mom was evidently unphased by worn-out trimmers or dull trimmer blades. Don't fool yourself - those blades on your electric trimmers do eventually become dull. But what my mom learned is that even if they no longer cut every strand of hair, they will grab every strand. And that's just as useful. Just give the trimmers a good yank, and out comes the hair, possibly accompanied by follicle or bits of skin. Mission accomplished.

I would just like to clarify at this point that despite her short-comings as a cutter of hair, my mom was and is a great mother and I wouldn't trade her for the world. Still, once I was old enough to drive and had my own car, and could thus take myself to a barbershop, I resolved never again to let her near my head with anything sharp. However, it is not enough to simply drive oneself to a barber. No, the main challenge is to find a good barber, which I would discover is only slightly harder than finding a cotton ball during a blizzard.

After a couple of tries, I found a local barber that seemed to understand what is meant by the phrase, "Don't make it too short." He himself was completely bald. Even at sixteen years of age, I appreciated the irony in that. I was pretty happy, too, having successfully evaded Mom and her clippers. 

But the situation would be short-lived. One day Dad came back from getting his own hair cut at the same barber (it seems I had started a rebellion of sorts), and said to me, "I don't want you going to that barber no more."

"But why, Dad?"

"Cause he's a Nazi synthesizer."

"You mean a Nazi sympathizer?"

"Yeah, a Nazi synthesizer."

Don't get the wrong idea. Dad was a smart guy. But we lived in Southern Illinois, and we Southern Illinoisians speak our own language, which is only barely recognizable to the rest of youns.

Getting back to the barber story - I had never heard this barber speak about his political beliefs. But Dad had spoken, and now I had to find another barber. And trying to find a good barber is a lot like dating - you're going to have a few painful experiences until you find the right person, which I did.

I remember when Dad found out I was spending the outrageous price of $12.00 to get my haircut. He acted like I was throwing all my money away on alcohol and lottery tickets. "$12.00?! I just pay my barber $4.00!"

"I don't mean any disrespect, Dad, but it looks like a $4.00 haircut, too."

The truth was, I had been to the $4.00 guy. He was over 90 years old and his hands shook more than Jell-O on a freight train, which of course is a desirable attribute for anyone holding sharp instruments near your head. I didn't think the risk to my life was worth the $8.00 I would save. But I was kind of irresponsible that way.

Eventually, life brought me to Miami Beach, Florida, and so my search for a decent barber began anew. Being possibly the only straight white Gentile living on Miami Beach, I wondered if there was anyone there who even knew how to cut my hair. But a few uneven side-burns and choppy haircuts later, I found Jose. Jose barely spoke any English, and I spoke even less Spanish. Yet he always seemed to know what my head should look like after it was cut. That was a golden time during my haircut odyssey.

But then, I moved to Orlando. There are hundreds of barbershops and hair salons in the greater Orlando area, and apparently they are all staffed by people who have graduated from cosmotology school the day before you come into the shop. And none of them seem to understand when I tell them I don't want a "comb-over". (By "comb-over", I mean what some balding guys do when they grow their hair on one side extremely long so that they can comb it over the bald area. I never understood why those guys do that. Do they think people are going to look at them and think, "Obviously that man has a thick head of hair. Why does he feel the need to part it below his ear?") And yet, I invariably leave the shop with the very haircut I asked not to have, having been denied my right to go bald with dignity. So for the last three years I have been in search of a decent barber, only to receive a satisfactory haircut once.

It was a really good haircut, too. It was done by this young man named Kelvin. He gave me the haircuts to end all haircuts. It gave my hair just the right shape while lending more body to the thinning (thinning as in Anorexic) hair on top of my head. And it was short, which amazed me. I was so happy. After looking for so long, I had found my barber. About a month later, I returned to that shop to get my next haircut, only to find that it was out-of-business. This, of course, led me to the only logical conclusion - God doesn't want me to have a good haircut.

In spite of that, I didn't give up hope. I remembered what Kelvin told me about the haircut he gave me. "It's called a 'Blow Out'. Tell any barber you want a 'Blow Out'. He'll know what you mean."

That's exactly what I told my next barber, whom we'll call "Dave". Dave looked at me like I had just stepped off the short bus. "There's no such kind of haircut," he said, "Do you remember what size trimmer blades he used?"

I did remember. "He used a '1'," I said confidently.

"He didn't use a '1'. That would cut too short. Nevermind, I know what you want. I will read your mind and give you the haircut you want."

I don't know whose mind Dave was reading, but it wasn't mine. I ended up having to "touch up" his handy-work once I got back home.

Finally, that brings me to my most recent haircut, which I described at the outset. I tried explaining to this girl what I wanted based on the job Kelvin had done. I knew he started short at the bottom, gradually leaving it a little longer towards the top.

She cut once and asked, "How's that look?"

I put my eye-glasses back on. My eyes hadn't quite adjusted, but I could tell my hair wasn't quite as short as Kelvin cut it. "Let's go a little shorter."

She cut again, "How about now?"

Out came the glasses. "No, a little shorter."

Finally, after a couple more times of this, she finished and I got a chance to let my eyes adjust to my glasses while I stood close to the mirror.

"How's it look?"

"Crap. You did exactly what I asked."

Like I said, God doesn't want me to have a good haircut. And if you happen to know Kelvin, have him shoot me an email.

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