“Baby’s heads have no hair,
Old men’s heads are just as bare;
Between the cradle and the grave,
Lies a haircut and a shave.”
I was asked recently how often did I get my hair cut. I thought it was a rather strange thing to ask, and I really didn’t have a good answer. I didn’t know where the question was coming from, actually. Were they asking because my hair looked overdue for a cut and were morbidly curious as to how long I had let myself go, or was it more innocent? Was it just a friendly way to break the ice, to let someone know that you liked how their hair looked? A genuine interest in my personal grooming habits? I really couldn’t come up with a decent answer. Surely since Christmas, but not very recently. Did I have an important event for which I hoped to look my best? Not bloody likely in January or February. It got me thinking about haircuts in general, and my haircuts in particular.
Just to preface this discussion, I remember my grandma going on a weekly basis to her corner salon “Mario’s House of Beauty” in the North End for a “cut and a blow job”. I’m pretty sure that’s the terminology she used, but that can’t be right, can it?
I’ve never been the type to “think ahead” and say to myself “Well next Tuesday seems like a jolly good time for a trim, wouldn’t you say?” It’s more of a spur of the moment thing with me. “Do I have time after work TODAY? What am I doing in the next HOUR?” As a result, I would never cut it with any of the more reputable hair salons in the city. Any place that requires the tinyiest amount of planning is automatically disqualified. This leaves only the sketchy generic places. I can’t even name them properly: “Supercuts, Magic Cuts, Ultra Cuts”, they are all the same to me, and offer the same minimal service: a quick haircut with little waiting time and no forethought.
It hasn’t always been that way. I remember as a kid going two doors down to my neighbour’s place who ran a hairdressing salon out of her basement. I was really little, and I don’t even remember paying. I do remember getting my haircut on the day that Ronald Reagan was shot. I remember my neighbour the hairdresser was pre-occupied with the TV and not my head, and she sent me home with an incomplete “do” so that I could break the shocking news of the shooting to my Mom. I remember my Mom meeting me at our front door. “The President’s been shot!” I shouted from the driveway (I was probably 6) and my Mom said “Stop making up lies….hey, what’s up with your head?”
I remember my Dad would go to this place a couple of blocks from our house. It seemed like my Dad would go every week for a haircut. Is that even possible? I remember when I was old enough, my Dad thought it was time for me to join him at the barbershop. It was a real barbershop. Pole out front, two old leather chairs, one barber named “Claude”. Claude was old school. He didn’t use clippers. Didn’t believe in them. Only scissors. He would use a straight razor to shave you if you wanted, but I was too young for that. Even after I began shaving, I knew that the straight razor was known to give you the closest shave, but I wouldn’t trust anyone but myself with one. To this day I haven’t had a professional shave. I remember Claude would talk to you the whole time, but it was a one-sided conversation. He’d tell me jokes that were over my head, but I’d laugh anyway because I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t adult enough to get them. I certainly knew I wasn’t adult enough to open the cabinet in the waiting room marked “Adults Only”. I asked my Dad what was in there, and he said “For grown-ups” and directed me towards the “House of Mystery” comics on the table. They were mostly ones missing the covers (not a problem) and missing the last couple of pages of each story (a real problem). When I was old enough to realize that cabinet more than likely contained Playboys or something like that, I was kind of put off. What kind of person flips through a nudie mag before they get their hair cut? I would be so self conscious. What if the vicar were to suddenly appear? Anyway, I never had a chance to get into that cabinet, because before too long, my Dad and I showed up for haircuts, and there was a note on Claude’s door. It read:
“I have joined the journey to discover the twelve (12) revelations of the seals of elam. Many blessings, Claude“.
I had no idea what this meant, and I don’t think my Dad did either, but when we got home my Mom asked why we were back so soon, and my Dad mumbled something about Claude “going funny” and “joining a cult”. We never did see Claude after that, and his shop burned down a years later. “Consumed by the fire of the Lord” as Claude no doubt would have put it.
After this, my Dad and I went to a place in a nearby mall. My Dad always had “Vito”, straight from Sicily, and I had whoever came up available. I didn’t care, really. The only person that I dreaded getting was “Moe”. He specialized in afros, and I was always terrified he’d do one on me, but he never did.
When I was in my early 20’s, I had enough of this hair-cutting racket, and bought a set of clippers from Wal-Mart. I’d probably only need to use them twice before the clippers paid for themselves, and then I’d be a free man. I remember sticking guard #3 on the end after meticulously oiling up the blades (I forgot to buy proper blade oil, so I used my Mom’s Crisco. I think it worked okay.) I gave myself a once over and thought I looked pretty good for what it was worth. I went to work all day and over to my friend Ed’s at night. A group of us were heading out somewhere, and Ed happened to be in the back seat. “Holy! Why is there a letter T shaved into the back of your head? Is that T for Trevor or something?” Ed asked. “What the heck are you talking about!” I shouted and we were back in his house looking in the mirror. I couldn’t believe I had missed such a huge section of the back of my head, and the fact that it actually spelled out the letter “T” was even worse. I went to work like this? Ed and my other friends couldn’t stop rolling on the floor laughing at my misguided attempt to save a few dollars. Luckily Ed’s Dad had a barber’s kit in the house, I still am not sure why: something to do with Ed’s grandpa being an army barber in the war, and before I knew it I was sitting at Ed’s dining room table with a table-cloth around my neck and Ed’s Dad doing his best to fix all the self-inflicted damage. Needless to say, that was the beginning and the end of the “self haircut” era.
Which brings me to the method I have now. I never like to go to the same place two times in a row, for fear of getting the same person and establishing an expected “routine”. Like the “Littlest Hobo” I roam from place to place, a masterless warrior, a ronin of rogaine, if you will. I vary both the time of day and the day of the week to avoid a pattern.
I’ve had some horrible haircut experiences.
I’ve had a woman with a hook for a hand. Somehow she managed to balance the clippers in the hook and held the comb with her one good hand. Probably one of the worst haircuts ever. Then there was the largish woman who kept farting on me the whole time, and excusing herself by saying “My tummy is rumbling”. I couldn’t wait to get out of the chair. I can’t forget the woman who had one eye permanmently closed, and squinted with the other eye the whole time. She kept saying “You want shave? You want shave?” I didn’t know if she meant I wanted my fave shaved, or if I wanted her to use the clippers. English was not her first language, obviously. I kept shouting “No Shave! No Shave! Just Cut! Just Cut!” She responsed “You no cut, you want shave?” and so it went for twenty minutes. At the end, I got out to my car and had a little cry.
Of course there’s no support on the home front for my predictament. The closest my wife comes to a hair compliment is “Well they didn’t do too badly this time”. Most of the time the comments are “For God’s sake, why do you keep going to that place?” or “Why don’t you pay a little more and get a real haircut?” or “I’m not going out with you tonight if you’re going to look like that”.
She’s allowed to be smug and self-righteous though. She makes appointments.
“If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?” Lily Tomlin