The Barber Adagio

Today I learned another reason why I've been tired lately: I've got bronchitis.

But I took the opportunity, while my three prescriptions were being filled, to get a haircut, which I've needed for a while.



Hair and I have a fairly relaxed relationship, perhaps because we've been through so much together.  In deference to Dad's USMC aesthetic, I wore it in a crew cut in my youth, but by the time I started school it was long enough to hang in bangs.  Since it was the Seventies, I grew it pretty long for a while, but not as long as my brother did.  (He was mistaken for a girl once or twice, as I recall--it didn't happen to me, but maybe I just wasn't as pretty.)  It was very straight and medium brown through elementary school, but once I hit puberty it got a little darker, and the Sutker Wave began to creep in from Mom's side of the family.  It soon became impossible for me to wear it any way but parted on the left, curling across my forehead in a near Gene Wilderesqe surge.  Admittedly, the sides got kind of long and rather Bozo-ish at times, but the style was manageable and reasonably attractive.  Better still, it was low-maintenance; I've never used anything to dry my hair but a towel, and my skin produces enough natural oils that I've never seen much reason to add any product to my scalp.

So: that had me covered for the next thirty years.

Oh, sure, I started getting grey around the temples, but hell, my beard was getting shot with grey by the time I hit my late twenties, so a little snow on the roof didn't scare me.  I did notice, however, that some guys my age were already going bald.  It didn't seem to be happening to me yet, but my friends' experience certainly gave me pause for thought.  But then, when the world's most famous guy my age--Michael Jordan--went with the shaved head, suddenly all kinds of options opened up.  Clean-pated Patrick Stewart took command of the new Enterprise and was dubbed "bodacious" by TV Guide.  My friend Dan decided to go with the cropped look.  And though I still had the same hairline as ever, I decided to experiment: thus, in the summer of '93, I had my barber take it all off.  It didn't feel quite as pleasant in the shower as I'd been led to believe, but it didn't look bad.

But about two years back, I could see the writing on the forehead: my widow's peak was starting to erode.  The bays on either side of it were thinning out, too, but leaving points at the temples.  All in all, the effect was something that looked rather like the coif of Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, or maybe Jack Nicholson's hairline circa The Shining.  The wave was starting to look less like a curl and more like a combover--something I swore I'd never have.

Jack shining.jpg

So: time to crop it close.  I didn't shave my head again, but for the last two years, I've routinely gotten it cut to about a half-inch in length.  Sure, it's now impossible to tell that I have wavy (rather than straight) hair, but that's the way the aging process crumbles, I guess.  In addition to looking better, the short do has other advantages: it's cool in the summer, it doesn't require combing or brushing, and I only have to go to the barber every six or eight weeks. 

This last is important because the tonsorial options in our little town are, uh, limited.  We have a salon, yes, but it's rare that I can justify paying $25 or more for what's essentially a couple of passes with a hedge trimmer.  There's an old-fashioned barber shop downtown, with two chairs, a tinny radio that picks up only homogenized country music, nicotine stains from the Kennedy administration, and a collection of well-thumbed Guns & Ammo magazines from the Reagan years.  It's cheap--the price of a cut only recently went up to seven bucks--but you get what you pay for, especially if Slowhand is wielding the shears.  No, Eric Clapton isn't the barber--they probably don't even know his name there--but one of the barbers is so deliberate that he's known by EC's nickname.  Don't expect him to finish with you during your lunch hour.  Worse, when it's time to use the straight razor on your neck and sideburns, there's a very real risk of bloodshed.

A year or two back I finally decided I'd had enough laceration, and I began patronizing the other barber a little south of the main intersection.  He's the only man in his shop, which is filled with the same homogenized country music as Slowhand's, but the building is newer, the air conditioning works better, and the air is far less nicotine-saturated.  This barber is quicker and more skilled with a razor than Slowhand, and the price is the same, but the haircut experience is a problem for other reasons, which can be summed up in this barber's nickname:  Mumbles.  Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, he has a significant speech impediment.  This isn't a problem in the abstract, but in practice, it's awful; I can't understand him, and he wants to talk all the time.  Worse, he's trying to talk in a situation where I have the most trouble hearing anyway:  over a lot of background noise, i.e. the air conditioning and the aforementioned homogenized country radio.  If he turns on the electric trimmers while he's talking, I can't tell a vowel from a consonant.  And since I'm facing away from him with my glasses off, I have no visual clues to work with, either. So there I sit, feeling guilty because I can't understand him, but knowing it's not his fault, even though he's the one doing everything possible to prevent me from understanding him, and I'm stuck making noncommital grunts in hopes that they sound reasonably close to the response he's expecting.  It's better than bleeding, but it's still a significant source of psychological stress.

Today, however, while I waited for my prescriptions to be filled, I decided to visit the new barber shop that's opened on the south side of town.  The place was empty, so I was able to jump right to the head of the line.  The gleaming white linoleum was unmarred by cigarette burns and the air contained no strains of Nashville's lowest common denominator; instead, a TV on the wall was tuned to The Military Channel, and the barber affably commented on the pleasant weather as I handed him my glasses and settled into the chair.  Everything looked good.

Once he had his dropcloth around my neck, however, he kicked off the cut proper with that most alarming of conversational openers: "So, what do you think about politics?"

I like impassioned political discussion as much as the next man, but there are people with whom I do not want to have it, and one group of people in that category is the group holding sharp objects close to my neck, particularly not if they're interested in television shows about weaponry.  I hemmed and hawed and maintained a studied neutrality while the barber launched into a ceaseless, rambling discourse on Obama's "appealing to the wrong element," the Iraq war, the necessity of giving freedom to the Sunnis, the Shiite requirement of pilgrimage to Mecca to touch "that moon rock," and something about "the moon god" that made me somehow certain that he's a member of a sect whose teachings deny that God and Allah are the same deity.  I said a silent prayer to Him/Them that I was so well-practiced in making noncommital grunts from a barber's chair, paid my twelve dollars (with a three-dollar tip) to the barber I have now dubbed "Tinhat" and darted out to my car before the Protocols of the Elders of Zion came up.

Anyway, I'm thinking of growing my hair long again.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on October 30, 2007 4:42 PM.

Why I'm Tired was the previous entry in this blog.

Sick again... is the next entry in this blog.

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