• Otter Views: Early Summer Haircut

    No column-worthy insights presented themselves this week, so I took my new haircut out surfing. I’ve found that repeated wave drubbings soon banish the “haircut itchies.”

    Actually, the haircut isn’t really new. It’s the same one the clip place gives me every time. When I first went there, I had to surrender my name and phone number. Then the staff must have entered the style of my first haircut, because that pops up on all subsequent visits.

    I’m sure this is a sensible economic model, but it leaves scant latitude for client hair evolution. When I first signed in several years ago, I was looking for work, so the barber recommended a style rather grandly called “The Businessman.”

    Cue-ball short on sides, neck and back with just enough left on top to run a comb through, “The Businessman” seemed to be one of three basic templates the shop offered. To my eye, it looked better than “Commando” or “Honor Farm,” and it did serve me well that first time. When my surplus hair was blown away and the cloth was whipped aside, I looked employable, if not necessarily CEO material.

    Eventually the haircut helped me find work. I settled into my job, and the missing hair began to grow back. I could have gone in at the appropriate interval for a re-clip, but by then I felt like a charlatan. I was a humble clerk, not a true titan of industry. If I got “The Businessman” again, I would be living a lie.

    So I just let it go. As the seasons turned, the hair grew long, thick, gray and scruffy, cushioning the back of the neck and curling out randomly beneath the ball cap. That look suited me, and I would have liked to stop there. But the hair kept growing.

    Eventually I gathered it in back and twisted it up with a hair tie, producing a ludicrous little pony tail like the one Jack Nicholson wore in “Witches of Eastwick.” But the hair tie thing proved problematic. No matter how long the top grew, a few feathery thatches along back and sides always burst free from the stretchy coil.

    This severely compromised the Bohemian swashbuckler look I was shooting for. I had in mind something sleek, dark and glossy, like a muskrat pelt for the head. But by mid-afternoon most windy days, the coif looked more like Beethoven’s or Einstein’s.

    Something had to give. Before returning to the clip place, I poked my shaggy head one sunny morning over the Dutch door of an owner-run barbershop. On the waxed parquet floor, my shadow looked like a nightmare buffalo. The barber and a well-tonsured customer glanced up in alarm.

    “Do you cut long hair here?” I asked.

    The barber’s lyrical scissors paused in mid-snip. “I’d have to charge you $35 for that . . . ” he gestured, politely omitting the “. . . terrible rat nest” part of it.

    “Thanks,” I said. “I’ll hit the ATM and be right back.”

    Of course I didn’t go back. Including a presumed $10 tip, $35 was three haircuts in my book. As I mentioned, I’m not a businessman. So I went back to the clip place and tried to explain about client hair evolution.

    Several factors made this a daunting prospect. For one thing, the barbers had all changed since my previous visit, but my haircut designation had not. Finding a common client-barber language also proved challenging.

    “Phone?” one of the barbers asked when I checked in. I gave my number, and she typed it in and located me in the system.

    “Tom,” she affirmed. “Business Man.”

    “No!! I mean, no thank you,” I said, trying to keep panic from rising in my voice. “I found a job. I don’t need The Business Man anymore. I want to keep my hair long, but the back part could use some trimming up.”

    She shook her head slowly. Was she refusing my styling request? Or was it a communication breakdown? Maybe both? I tried again.

    “I want to project a more laid-back image. Something like Shaggy Silver Surfer, or Old Scrabble Dude. Do you have those? I’ll even take a straight back Count Dracula. You know, the vampire?”

    She shook her head even more vigorously. Clearly my requests were preposterous, or I simply wasn’t getting through. I shifted gears again.

    “Okay,” I said, making a silky combing motion with my hands. “Let’s leave the top long like this, but trim the sides and the back. No bare scalp please.”

    At this she brightened visibly, smiling and nodding. Then she whipped the cloth over me, tied on the paper neck band, and revved up the clippers. Ten minutes later, I was a Business Man again.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on June 5, 2015

    Topics: Otter Views

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