My life can be marked by bad haircuts.

When I was a kid my hair stood straight up and out, like a pissed-off porcupine. No kidding. My dad’s solution to this was the tradition burr cut. If the barber could get as close to my scalp as possible without actually removing sheets of skin, there’d be no problematic hair. Of course, this was 1970. Hair was … “Hair.” Hello?

I swore the barber was tried to choke me, but not matter how hard I tried to convince my dad that the heavily perfumed, heavily oiled Mexican with sharp and noisy objects was trying to kill me, if by no other means than by strapping me into a chair and expecting me to be still for 15 minutes, he kept taking me back. This barber shop had about four chairs and mirrors on the walls behind and in front of the chairs, so the repeated acts of attempted homicide played out before me in infinity. (The shop also have a shoeshine man, and that was cool.)

My grandmother took me to barbers who convinced her that I had to sleep with a stocking over my head to make my hair lie down. Right, like that worked. In the 1980s I just didn’t get haircuts. In my fifth-grade portrait I’m peering through a curtain of bangs, parted slightly near the middle. Once, in high school, my dad dropped me off at at barber shop of heretofore unknown quality. The place was packed. I took a number. When it came up, I was ushered to a chair in the far corner, where a drunken old man spent five minutes breathing Schnopps all over me and mowing my head with clippers. In high school I once got a haircut so bad that everyone made fun of it, and the only card I could play was that it had been cut by one of the older, more popular guys’ cousins, and it embarrassed him just as much. In college, I tried a flat-top, but one time a girl, a virgin flat-topper, actually lifted scalpage. My senior year a hot girl in my marketing class, who owned her own salon, talked me into getting a perm. It looked like a curly rug, and it cost a lot and only lasted a few weeks. We graduated and I moved away, hot girl stayed in the college town and I had no more incentive for curls.

The day before my first wedding I told the barber about my upcoming nuptials. The guy got all excited and gave me a serious ear lowering, on the house. The day before my next wedding, different barber, same results, but this time it cost me $22.

Once, while living in a Florida military town, I went to a shop just outside the gate. It was a great cut, then the barber strapped on two vibrators and started massaging my head, like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Then he started talking about wanting to shoot black people if the walked past his door. And this guy held a razor to my neck!

I don’t know if it’s the fact that I have bad hair that sets me apart from most guys I know, or the fact that I tried to make my bad hair good hair, whereas most guys just take the bad hair for bad hair and get on with life. Now, mostly, I don’t care. If I’m not at work I’m usually wearing a cap.

Four weeks ago, (finally getting to the nut graph here) my luck changed. I had gone to a typical old white man barber shop complete with elevator music and drool talk of local politics. But the head barber had to leave early, and he couldn’t cut my hair. I needed a haircut — in two days I had to spend time with the head cheese from work. So I took a chance and walked across the street to the Aveda Institute of Cosmetology and Esthiology.

I don’t know what “esthiology” means, but it probably has something to do with everyone in the place looking (or trying to look) young and hip, and everything smelling like a leg of lamb (I would later learn that was the rosemary moisturizing oil). A guy I used to work with would refer to the “total body system” when our boss, drenched in Hi-Karate, would stink up our office — he had the soap on a rope, the shaving cream, after shave lotion, eau de toillete, deodorant, rear-view-mirror deodorizer in the Beemer. Aveda is the kind of place one can purchase such a system, if one desires, only it smells more like set off a dirty bomb of botanicals. There’s the rosemary, and mint, and something that smells vaguely like Jagermeister and really good gin. A bar of soap costs $15.

The “cosmetology” part of the shop meant that I was putting my head in the hands of a beautician-in-training. I asked to at least be put with a senior student. I got Fielding, a 20-something young woman with half-bleached/half-black hair, a lip piercing, a butterfly tattoo on her wrist, pants barely clinging to her hips and gum gnashing in her teeth. Holy …

I was desperate. I couldn’t get face time with the big ragu looking like a sheepdog. So what if they made me sign an indemnity claim (if they caught my hair on fire, accidentally lopped it all off or colored it purple and green, it was my own damn fault), it only cost $18.

Fielding was awesome!

First I followed her into the shampoo area. (Barbershops don’t have shampoo areas. They have the waiting chairs, the coat rack, the magazine rack and the barber chairs. Asking a barber for a shampoo would draw the same reaction as asking the offensive line of the Baltimore Colts for a feminine napkin.)  She lathered rosemary shampoo into my hair, rubbed it into my scalp and left it to marinate. In a series of natural chemical reactions, like cold fusion, it sizzled and popped and tingled (tingling in a barber shop CANNOT be good). At this point Fielding could have been a 400-pound 62-year-old former female wrestler rubbing my head with her bunioned feet, I had not a care in the world. I began to melt. Then she said, “Do you want a mini-facial?” I didn’t know what the hell a facial was (still don’t), but if it meant that I got to sit in that chair five more minutes, I was in! I have no idea what she did. She might have reached into an ash tray and scooped up a bunch of cigarette soot and spit in it and wiped it on my face — it smelled good and it felt good. By the time I left the shampoo area I was approaching nirvana.

When it came time for the haircut, the kid knew her limitations, and I respected her for that. She consulted her instructor, Sebastian. Sebastian sauntered over and in two shakes of his pony tail sized up my hair and started Fielding — a really nice kid (she was going to have her butterfly tattooed into a dove because the butterfly was too abstract) — on a task of scissoring and slicing and whatever. She did stuff I didn’t know was possible. Then she rubbed all kinds of gook in my hair and, in a move of sheer genius, flipped the part from the right — completely opposite it’s course of 20-odd years. “I just read something in your hair that told me to do it,” she said.

When I got home, Sexywife looked at me like she’d never seen me before, like when I catch her leering at the boys in the Esquire. In fact, she said, “you look totally different,” many times over the next several days. She was implying that I looked — at least, my hair looked — damn good. Which made me wonder what she thought I looked like before.

Anyway, the cut was awesome, and I went back again today. Fielding was on top of her shampoo game. The head massage, the tingly bubbles, the mini-facial (still don’t know what it is) were all superb. Sebastian wasn’t there. Markus suggested using clippers along the sides instead of scissors. Although I think his assessment of my hair’s body was on the mark, he overlooked its coarse texture and opted for the quick solution. So the cut’s not quite as good as the first time. It’s still damn good.  It only cost me $18. And my skin is glowing.

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