Demise Of The Inner Long-Haired Kid

My last haircut was on February 24. The calendar tells me that means I’ve had a three-month, state-enforced hiatus from barbering. Even with three months of unimpeded hair growth, though, my hair now is still much, much shorter than it was in high school or college — which tells you something about how short I have been getting it cut these days, and how long it used to be during the ‘70s.

It makes me wonder about my teenage self, and how in the world that person could possibly have put up with long hair. I’ve discovered I really don’t like the feeling of hair brushing against my ears, or on the back of my neck. In fact, right now my whole head feels like I’m wearing a kind of clammy coonskin cap. It’s not a pleasant feeling — but I don’t remember having those kinds of reactions during my my shaggy early years. In fact, I’m pretty sure the opposite is true.

And now I think longer hair is a pain for other reasons. I’ve had to break out my comb again to part it and try to arrange it on my head. You can’t just towel it dry — and I’m not going to start using a blow dryer, either. This reality makes me think that I spent a lot more time in front of the mirror in those days, fiddling around with things I just don’t have the patience or inclination to do these days.  Back then I obviously had a lot more time on my hands than I do now. 

I get my hair cut on Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to it, masks and all. In fact, this whole experience makes me wonder how much my current self and my 20-year-old self would really have in common — beyond liking the same music and reruns of Star Trek.

Into Unabomber Territory

Today I returned from my morning walk, took off my stocking cap because the morning temperatures are still down in the freaking 30s, and greeted my lovely wife.  She took one look at my head and observed that I looked like Ted Kaczynski.

220px-theodore_kaczynski_2When your appearance is being compared — and not without reason — to the Unabomber’s booking photo, you know you’ve plumbed new depths of personal grooming.

This is not my fault, of course.  I last got my hair cut about a month before the COVID-19 shutdown took effect, and I’ve missed two appointments since then.  That means I’ve lost two opportunities for the Platinum Stylist to trim me up, attack the random hairs, and make me look distinguished when I leave the stylist’s chair.  And with gray hair being coarser and kinkier than my prior crop of fine mahogany locks, it’s safe to say that two months of unimpeded growth have given me a less than distinguished, grizzled look.

What can you do when all of the hair salons and barbershops are closed for weeks by state order, and you have no idea, really, when they will open again?  Getting your hair cut by definition is the opposite of social distancing, with the stylist hovering around inches from your head, wielding scissors and clippers and touching your hair and head and neck.  The next time I plop down in her chair, the Platinum Stylist may well be the Masked and Gloved Stylist.

But that day is in the future, and for now the options are limited:  (1) do nothing and move from Unabomber territory to long-time cave-dwelling hermit status; (2) do what others have done and use my beard trimmer to give myself the first crew cut I’ve had since I was 10, so that I look like an escaped mental patient or someone who’s just dealt with head lice; or (3) let Kish try her hand at cutting my randomly sprouting locks into something that looks like a appropriate haircut and run the risk that she can’t resist trimming a humorous message onto the back of my head.

Needless to say, I’m still weighing the alternatives.  In the meantime, the grizzled look becomes more grizzled with each passing day.

Valuing A “Haircut”

Yesterday I went in for a haircut.  I call it that, but it’s really a lot more — in addition to the clipping and trimming and snipping, my appointment features a scalp and neck massage, beard and eyebrow trim, shampoo, and “mini facial.”  From soup to nuts, it’s about a 50-minute process.

barber-toolAs my stylist was working away, she sheepishly noted that she had been promoted to director status.  After I quickly congratulated her on her well-deserved recognition, she added that the change in her status would mean the cost of my appointments would be going up — by $10, in fact.  From now on, I’ll be shelling out $47 a pop for the stylings.  She wanted to let me know because she recognizes that some price-sensitive people might not be willing to pay the increased price.

I won’t be one of those folks, and it didn’t take me even a split-second to make that decision.  Sure, $47 is a lot of money, and I’m certain my father or grandfather — both of whom, admittedly, were follically challenged — would marvel at the notion of paying anywhere close to that amount for a haircut.  And for years, I would have had exactly the same reaction.  But after going to whatever chain offered cheap cuts by anonymous barbers, and getting some embarrassingly bad haircuts as a result, I began to assign more value to the appearance of my head.  And I also thought it made sense to find someone I could trust to deftly manage scissors that would be brought within an eyelash of my face, eyes, nose, and ears.  I’ve been going to the same stylist for years now, she knows me and my cowlick and the rest of my hair, she always does a great job, and she’s earned my absolute trust.  I’ll happily pay $10 more for that.

As I said, 47 bucks is a lot to pay for a haircut, but I guess it all depends on how you look at things.  Even at $47, her men’s haircut will cost less than the standard women’s appointment, which evidently takes over than an hour and sounds like more of an ordeal than a simple styling.  I have an appointment every five to six weeks, which means I’ve got a save up a bit more than a dollar a day for the styling treatment.  And according to Google the average human head has about 100,000 hair follicles, which means I’ll be paying precisely $.00047 per follicle for future appointments.  Viewed in that light, I’m practically paying nothing!

The ’70s Bad Hair Blip

Last week I went to get my hair cut.  It’s been a hot summer in Columbus, and in my view hair of any appreciable length just adds to the heat, so I asked the Platinum Stylist to cut my hair extra short this time.  She did her usual terrific job, and when I walked out of the salon, I rubbed my hand over my scalp and realized my hair was probably as short as it has been since I was growing up in the ’60s.

shape_normalFor the first ten years or so of my life, I was a kid with a crew cut.  Dad used “home barbershop” clippers to give UJ and me buzz cuts in the basement of our house.  We went to school and played with our friends — all of whom also had buzz cuts — without thinking about our hair.  But as the ’60s moved forward, we became dimly aware that you were supposed to pay attention to your hair if you wanted to be cool, and those haircuts started to get a little bit longer.

The ’70s, though, were when the hair length really took off.  From a style standpoint, virtually everything about the ’70s, from haircuts to clothing styles to car designs, was an over-the-top disaster.  By the time I reached high school, I was one of the kids in the yearbook with the generic ’70s long hair look — grown down to the collar and then chopped off in the back, and grown down to eye level and parted to some fashion or another in front, requiring you to constantly fling the hair out of your eyes and out of your way.  Sure, your head looked like you were wearing a hairy bicycle helmet, and it was hot as blazes in summer, but that was the price you paid for fitting in.  And in college my hair got even longer.

But when the ’80s rolled around, and I started working as a professional, the hair trend reversed.  Over the last 30 or so years, my haircuts have gotten progressively shorter and more frequent, and I like it that way.  When I think of my haircuts as a kind of chart, it’s an extreme bell graph, with the ’70s being the height of the bad hair blip.  And when you look at a bell graph, it kind of looks like one of those bad ’70s haircuts, doesn’t it?

I’m glad I’m now on the other side of the bad hair blip.

Women’s Hair, Men’s Hair

I get my hair cut at one of those unisex hair styling salons by the Platinum Stylist.  Kish gets her hair done there by the PS, too.  It’s a nice place with friendly staffers, conveniently located about halfway between the office and our house, and the Platinum Stylist always does a terrific job.

Because I go to a unisex salon, where about two-thirds of the clientele on any given visit are female, my appointments give me a brief exposure to the trends in women’s hair through the big posters that are always advertising women’s hair care products and styles — like this one that was hanging in the front window yesterday.  The posters always feature sultry, heavy-lidded women with vaguely haunted looks whose hair is carefully arranged to look . . . well, unarranged.  It’s as if some women want to go to the stylist and come out looking like they haven’t been there at all.  For most men, though, the goal is the exact opposite.  We want to get a clearly noticeable haircut, whatever style or amount of barbering we might choose, so that the whole process facially justifies the cost.

The words used in the women’s hair care posters inevitably are different than what would be used in male-oriented ads, too.  Sure, “effortless” would appeal to both men and women, but I’m guessing men would define it differently.  For women, an “effortless” coiff might require ten minutes of curling, claying, molding, brushing, shaping and spraying.  For men, an “effortless” style means something that can be toweled off after a shower and put into place with no more than ten seconds of diffident combing.

I’m not sure most men would be attracted by the promise that a certain product would leave their hair looking “touchable” or “tousled,” either.  I’m not particularly keen about anybody touching my hair; in fact, I don’t particularly want to touch it myself.  It’s hair, after all.  My basic hair goal is the opposite of the “tousled,” just rolled out of bed look.  Instead, I want to at least appear to have tried to do something to attack the stupid cowlick that always pops up on the crown of my head.  And whereas women’s hair ads always seem to be talking about “texture,” that seems like a lost cause to me.  When the word that best describes the “texture” of your hair would probably be “grizzled,” no “texture tonic” is going to help.

The Republican Hair Club For Men

Say what you will about the Republican candidates for President, but you have to concede one thing:  they are displaying a fantastically diverse set of hairstyles.  With 16 men ranging from 40s to nearly 70 in the field and not a chrome domer in the bunch, the GOP guys have beaten the odds.  In fact, it’s so statistically improbable that you have to wonder if it isn’t random chance and instead was the a plan of a shadowy, secret organization . . . .

Chairman TRUMP:  OK, I’m calling this meeting of the Republican Hair Club for Men to order.  Gentlemen, congratulations on a good first debate.  Governor Bush, do you have a report for us?

Gov. BUSH:  Yes, Mr. Chairman.  As you all know, our plan was to subconsciously appeal to the deep-seated hair fantasies and vanities of the American male by presenting candidates who cover the broadest possible range of different coiffures short of outright baldness  And I’m pleased to say it has worked beyond our wildest dreams.  Our studies show that not only did that first Fox debate achieve record ratings, but the vast majority of men who tuned in really were just checking out our different stylings.

Sen. CRUZ:  And I’m betting a number of those viewers saw the benefits of Brylcreem, didn’t they?  The success of Mad Men made American men recognize that “a little dab’ll do ya” is a darn good look.  In fact, you might even say it’s slick.  Get it?

Chairman TRUMP (sighing):  Senator — we get it, we just don’t want it.  I’m from the “wet head is dead” school myself.  And I know Governor Bush prefers his distracted professor look, Governor Walker has the “boyish front, bald spot in back” ‘do covered, Dr. Carson’s strongly representing the short hair contingent, Senator Rubio and Governor Huckabee are displaying the benefits of a razor cut at both ends of the age spectrum . . . .

Sen. PAUL (interrupting):  And don’t forget us Kentuckians who want a haircut that reminds everyone of Davy Crockett and his coonskin cap!

Chairman TRUMP:  Still having a bad day, eh?  Yes, Governor Kasich?

Gov. KASICH:  To add to Governor Bush’s report, I wanted to note that the polling data is showing that my little surge in New Hampshire is almost entirely attributable to my coiffure.  I was going for a rumpled, devil-may-care look, but in the North Country where they hibernate for most of the winter, it’s been interpreted as “bed head.”  It just shows the political value of an ambiguous, multi-purpose styling that covers a number of bases.

Sen. RUBIO:  That’s an excellent point, Governor.  And it reminds me:  the barbers, hair stylists, and product manufacturers that have been of our strongest supporters have identified a gaping hole in our coverage of the spectrum of men’s hairstyles.

Dr. CARSON:  It’s the mullet, isn’t it?

Sen. RUBIO:  Precisely.  How about it, Governor Christie?  As the representative of the Garden State, you’re the logical choice, aren’t you?  Of course, you’d have to get a tattoo and maybe a piercing, too.

Gov. CHRISTIE:  I think you’re confused there, Senator.  I could see it if you were asking me to adopt a greasy or spiky Jersey Shore-type cut, but a mullet really is more of an Appalachian look, so I’ll have to defer to Senator Paul to take his tousled ‘do to the obvious next level.

Gov. WALKER:  Speaking of the next level, Mr. Chairman, when are you going to share with us your secret about how you hold that extravagant mane of yours — whatever it is — in place?  Is it a gel or cream?  Is it some kind of top-secret spray?  Lacquer?

Chairman TRUMP:  Sorry, boys — but that information is more classified than the email found on Hillary Clinton’s private server.

Gov. HUCKABEE:  It’s about time that someone talked about the opposition!  I suggest that each of you stop this orgy of self-congratulation and think for a minute about the Democratic front-runner.  Let’s face it:  Secretary Clinton, alone, has covered more hairdos than our entire group.  She’s had short cuts, long looks, hair flipped up at the end, hair curled under — I’m sure if I did enough internet research I could find an ’80s big hair coiff and maybe even a beehive in her past, too.  It’s incredibly impressive.  She’s just one woman, yet she’s managed to span virtually the entire spectrum of women’s hairstyles!

Chairman TRUMP (suddenly somber):  He’s right, men — we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.  This meeting is now adjourned.  Senator Cruz, could you clean off the back of your chair before you go?

The Platinum Stylist

For years I had my hair cut by random guys named Joe and Ed who wore short-sleeved polyester shirts with a comb and scissors in the front pocket.  You sat in a long row along the wall, got the barber who had the next open chair, received a generic haircut, and heard him shout “Next!” and slap the chair clean when he was finished with the clipping.

Now I go to the Platinum Stylist.  It’s an upgrade.

IMG_3398I’ve been going to The Platinum Stylist for several years now, since back before her hair was platinum.  She works at the Square One Salon, which used to be a block from our offices.  I was assigned to her at random, and I liked her approach from the get-go.  She promised that the first haircut would be very good, the second would be even better, and the third would be perfect.  She was right — at least, as right as a dedicated practitioner of the tonsorial arts can be working with limp brown hair and a head shaped like mine.

She’s got a quick wit and a great sense of humor, so going to get my hair cut ends up being a fun social encounter.  She knows the names of Kish and the boys, remembers about travel plans we’ve discussed, and seeks my views on downtown dining options.  She puts up with my awkward attempts at humor in good spirits and remembers that my ultimate goal in every haircut is a vain attempt to look “distinguished.”

And she’s got an essential quality of any true professional:  she cares about the quality of her work.  I sit in the chair and see her in the mirror, gazing intently at my cranium, prowling from side to side, looking for a hair out of place or a section that needs an extra snip or two to produce the best possible result.  Her dedication to her craft is so obvious, and so impressive, that I’ve come to rely implicitly on her judgments in all hair-related categories.  If the PS suggests that I might want to trim the sides shorter this time, to try to combat the weird effect of the coarse gray hairs sprouting from my temples, I’m doing it.

IMG_3392She’s also convinced me to turn a quick haircut into a longer process.  Now I get not only a haircut, but also a shampoo, a scalp massage, a hot towel treatment, and a mini-facial.  After a long day’s work, getting a hot towel treatment is a pretty pleasant experience — and it sure beats old Joe tossing some witch hazel powder on my neck and buffing it with a coarse towel.

I’m such a dedicated fan of the PS that I kept going to her even after Square One moved to the other side of downtown.  What’s a short walk for an excellent haircut?  And it’s obvious that I’m not alone in my judgment about her capabilities, because I used to be able to schedule a haircut on the spur of the moment and that is true no longer.  I’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dog to make a new appointment at the end of every haircut. It goes against my standard devil-may-care approach, but the PS is worth it.

I guess I’ve come a long way from the “three chairs, no waiting” days.

Getting The Dear Leader’s Haircut

There are conflicting reports from North Korea about whether men have been ordered to get a haircut that matches the styling of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Un. Some websites are reporting the story as the truth; others are saying it’s a hoax.

Either way, the story is getting a lot of play — primarily because the Dear Leader’s haircut is so distinctive. The hair on the sides of the head, around and above the ears, is shaved down to the bare scalp. Then, some kind of industrial lubricant is liberally applied to the hairs on top of the head to give them a deep sheen and allow them to be combed straight back and parted in the middle. The awkward result looks something like a wet plastic mat covering part of a cue ball. It’s a look you’d expect to see in a prison or a mental institution.

The “required haircut” story has legs because it’s plausible — North Korea’s conduct is so unpredictable that people will believe just about any news story emanating from that country — and because it’s outlandish even by North Korean standards. Could Kim Jong-Un actually be so besotted with the state-created cult of personality about him that he thinks his haircut looks good? Would a country that starves and enslaves its people go so far as to dictate an item of personal choice like a haircut, and force its unfortunate citizens to get an unflattering one at that?

We’re lucky we live in a free country where our leaders don’t insist that we adopt their hairstyles. I’ve now lived through the terms of 11 different Presidents, which would mean a lot of hairstyle changes — especially since I’ve stuck to pretty much the same style for the past 30 years or so. And some of our presidential coiffures weren’t exactly trend-setting, either. I wouldn’t have wanted to adopt the Ronald Reagan Brylcreem pompadour or the Richard Nixon straight comb back — although either of those would be preferable to Kim Jong-Un’s institutional trim job.

The Haircut Bell Curve

My mother says I came into this world hairless and remained so for months.

When hair first sprouted on my head, choices had to be made.  At first, they weren’t made by me.  Dad cut my hair using a home barber kit with electronic clippers.  He specialized in crew cuts that required no barbering skills.  UJ and I sat in a chair, squirming and worried about our ears getting snagged by those buzzing clippers, and all hair was taken off a quarter-inch from the scalp.

This continued until I was about 13.  It was the late ’60s, and suddenly I realized that no other boy in my grade had a crew cut.  Obviously, this meant that crew cuts weren’t very cool, and the march up the slope of the haircut bell curve began.  I first experimented with a bang cut that resembled that of Moe of the Three Stooges.  It looked ridiculous, of course, but I was intoxicated by freedom from the high and tight.

My haircuts got progressively longer and eventually became “stylings.”  By the time I graduated from high school, I had a kind of hair helmet look  that covered my ears and hung over the collar.  I reached the pinnacle of the haircut bell curve in college, when my hair was shoulder-length and constantly had to be pushed out of my eyes in front.  It also looked silly, but every young guy — except Elvis Costello and the members of Devo — had long hair.  In short, I had no choice.

After I graduated and started working, I moved onto the downward slope.  At first my haircuts got shorter because I thought it looked more professional, then I realized that I looked a little less ridiculous with shorter hair.  When my hair started to go gray, I decided I didn’t want the grizzled, kinky-hair-at-the-temples look, which meant even shorter hair was in order.

So, my haircut bell curve is coming full circle, and I’m progressively moving closer to the buzz cut from whence I started.  I’m not sure I’ll ever quite get there — but if Dad somehow reappeared with those old clippers, I promise I’d sit still this time.

Haircuts

These days I get my hair cut at a unisex salon about a block from my office.  It is quite a change from the barber shops of my youth, which usually had two or three red barber chairs on a black and white tile floor, a crew-cut barber with a white coat with scissors and combs in the breast pocket, and a waiting area of chairs that, if you were a lucky kid, might include an otherwise-illicit Playboy or two.  A haircut took about 10 minutes and involved using the clippers to mow your hair down to half-inch length.  At the end your neck would be dusted with witchhazel, the barber would slap the now-empty chair with a towel and send cut hairs flying, and say:  “Next!”

No more.  When I show up for my appointment at the salon, a nattily dressed host asks if I want a latte or a hot chocolate.  My hair is as likely to be cut by a woman as a man.  Usually the stylist wants to wash my hair before getting started, and often there is a scalp massage thrown in.  The whole process takes about a half hour.  When the haircut is done, they typically ask if I want any “product” put in my hair.  The only “product” featured at the old barber shops was Brylcreem (“A little dab’ll do ya!”) and an appalling product called “Crew Wax” that was the consistency of axle grease and featured a hard plastic brush on top that was used to painfully rake your scalp and leave your hair in prime, “flat top” condition.

Getting a haircut in a place that also has women patrons is interesting.  In some ways, I feel like I have gotten a peek at the mystical rites of a secret society.  For example, the woman in the next chair may be having some aluminum sheets put in her hair, for some mysterious purpose.  What the heck is that all about?  Or the woman and the hair stylist might be having a lengthy, detailed discussion about whether a different hair coloring or “frosting” agent should be used this time.  (I’ve never heard a male customer at a barber shop say anything about their haircut except:  “Give me the usual.”)  The last time I was at the salon the stylist working on the woman in the next chair wheeled over some large, scary-looking device.  I asked the stylist cutting my hair what it was, and she explained it was contained hot liquid wax that was going to be applied as part of an eyebrow waxing.  Ouch!

Sometimes I miss the old, no-frills barber shop, with its talk of sports and testosterone-drenched sense of male camaraderie.   But, I think I get a better haircut at the salon, and I often come away with a different perspective and newfound respect for hardiness of the opposite sex.

Living With A Two-Tone Head

My hair is turning grey.  At first, the process was gradual.  Now, it is happening at an alarmingly increasing pace.  At first, it was just a few flecks here and there.  Now, every trip to the stylist provides unmistakable evidence of aging.  Brown hair is shorn and mostly grey hair seems to lie underneath.  The effect is particularly noticeable at the temples, where it looks like I’ve inadvertently leaned against a whitewashed fence.

You always hear that greying temples makes you look distinguished.  Don’t believe it!  Instead, it makes you look like you have a two-tone head or are wearing a badly matched toupee.  And the weird, literally kinky nature of the grey hairs makes it very difficult to maintain any kind of distinguished visage.  Instead, the grey hairs tend to jut out, begging to be plastered down with some powerful pomade.  It is as if, after decades of life in a limp, boring brown incarnation, the hairs have thrown every convention to the wind and decided to live their remaining years in reckless abandon, grey, twisted, and untamed.  It provides a great incentive to get your hair cut frequently — and then the vicious cycle starts over again.