Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Unkindest Cut of all

I hate haircuts. I mean I really HATE them. Every time my hair grows long I go into denial. I keep assuring myself that I don't really need a haircut yet, even after it gets to the stage where the simple acting of brushing the hair out of my face requires two pulleys, half a dozen counter-weights and a recorded announcement requesting patrons to please take their seats as the curtain is about to go up. It's only when the street cleaners association starts complaining that my long tresses are sweeping them out of a job, or when volunteers from the Sierra Club begin to hold pickets around me, loudly demanding that my hair be declared a national habitat, that I actually consider going to a hairdresser.

This is a mistake. The minute I walk into the shop a look of astonishment creeps over the faces of the staff. It never fails. It's like they're thinking - you actually expect us to make THAT look good? There'll be this brief moment of indecision while each one of them tries to fob me off on the others. Finally, one guy will be singled out (usually based on maximum youth and minimum experience) and he'll come over with a resigned air. Sidling up to me he'll whisper "You want a haircut, eh?" with a leer on his face like this is some kind of dirty secret. As though by admitting to wanting my hair cut I was establishing some sort of illicit bond between us. I feel like I've entered a brothel. I glance around to make sure no one is watching, then nod. Apparently haircuts are something polite people don't talk about.

Wouldn't it be nice if, just once, I could walk into a barber shop and ask anxiously, "isn't Leslie here yet? What about Keith, when is Keith going to come in? Oh dear. I have a showing tomorrow and I just HAVE to look my best." Or if I had the kind of hair that can be 'done' rather than just 'cut'.

Meanwhile my tormentor is leading me to The Chair. I loath barbershop chairs. They always make me think of the chairs you see in documentaries on capital punishment. You know, the kind where they strap you in and send about a thousand volts through you. The fact that the hairdresser then proceeds to drape a sheet around you and tie it up at your neck only makes this worse. I wonder if I should ask for a blindfold. I keep hoping that at the last minute there'll be a message from the Governor and I'll be free to go, all my hair still intact. I wonder if Halle Berry's on the other side of the two way mirror, watching my hair through its final moments.

The part that I dread the most about the whole operation, though, is the Question. This is the point where the hairdresser asks you how you want your hair cut, usually in some annoyingly cheerful way ("so what are we doing today?" "I'm having an endoscopy right after this to cheer myself up. What about you?"). I don't understand this. I mean look, they're the professionals right? Do brain surgeons ask you how you want your tumour cut? Does the laundry consult with you on how exactly you want your clothes cleaned? Then why can't these guys just get on with it?

The trouble is, of course, that most people have a pat answer to this. They want the back done with shears in the shape of a rectangular hyperbola, the sideburns cut in the shape of the Madonna's nose, the sides sauteed till they're the texture of the first grass of spring (before the snow has completely melted, not after). Oh, and a little off the top. I on the other hand, just want it cut SHORT. But how do you explain to someone whose entire vocation is cutting hair that you think of hair as entirely vestigial, consider haircuts a waste of time, and don't really care how your hair looks as long as it's comfortable and you don't have to bother about it for the next four months. It's like going to a Van Gogh exhibition and wondering why they don't just use photographs.

So, of course, I end up mumbling something vague like " want it short" (imagine that - a haircut where you hair is shorter afterwards than before. what a revolutionary concept). At which point the hairdresser looks at me with disgust, decides he's dealing with a mental incompetent, and just gets on with it.

After this point, things are more or less downhill. From now on, I just sit there, eyes tightly shut to keep hair from falling into them, letting this guy reposition my head in all sorts of crazy ways, rather like a drunk trying to adjust his rearview mirror (I feel so used), trying to be patient, trying not to worry that he's secretly carving the words "I love Lucy" in the back of my head with his scissors. Trying not to imagine some Sleeping Beauty scenario where the guy pricks me with his scissor and I fall over in a hundred years sleep, only to be broken when a beautiful princess kisses me, which (let's face it) there's little chance of, specially with my haircut half done.

Oh, and the scissors. Why is it that hairdressers always have a whole array of scissors and combs in front of them - like a surgical tray? I mean it's just cutting hair, for God's sake, not some incredibly complex medical procedure. Do they even know what all those different combs and scissors are for? I have a vision of three men in surgical masks standing around:

Man 1: Oh, my God! Something's gone wrong, he's losing lustre fast. Get me a number 3 comb, stat.

Man 2: Here you are, doctor.

Man 3: No, no, Gottfried, you poor fool. Number 3 combs are for follicular infarctions. This looks more like a scalp embolism. You need to use a Wilson-Owens shunt along with a No. 6 shearing scissor. Didn't they teach you anything at hairdressing school?

By this point, the haircut is winding down. The hairdresser's trying to trim around my ears, pulling them with a presumption unknown since my second grade teacher caught me eating chewing gum in class. (More evidence that haircuts are unnatural. If God had meant man to have haircuts, wouldn't He have made the ear a more convenient shape?)

But wait. I'd almost forgotten. There's one really bad part still to go. This is the Inspection. This is the point where the guy hands you back your glasses and asks you if it's all right, often raising a mirror behind you so you can see the cut at the back. This doesn't work for me for two reasons. First, while I recognise that this double mirror thing is a neat trick, I have enough trouble relating to my face in a single mirror to be able to identify with the back of my own head. I'm usually sitting there thinking - who's that guy? Sheesh, he sure has a terrible haircut. Wonder what it's like on the front?

The other reason this inspection thing doesn't work is that I have no idea what I'm supposed to be looking for. I stare blankly at my own face. I'm comforted to find that contrary to what he seemed to be doing the guy has not raised my hair into the shape of a three layer cake complete with a little bride and groom on top. Do I like how this looks? Not really, but that's got nothing to do with the haircut - it would take some serious plastic surgery to fix that. Invariably, I'll just nod and say it's fine. At which point the guy will triumphantly pull out his scissors and make a few precise little snips, with the air of a disappointed professor. I feel like I've failed some important test. I stagger out of my chair. I can feel every eye in the place watching me, weighing me up. There's a chorus of voices in my head saying, "Right, there you go. That's one person who's never going to have sex again." I pay. As I'm going out I notice the mess my hair has made scattered all over the floor. I wonder if I should stay and offer to clean it up. I finally get out of there and begin to breathe again.

When I get back home I'll discover that my hair is still longer in front than I'd have liked it to be. This always happens. A few times early on I tried asking that it be cut shorter, only to be told (in the tone of voice one uses when addressing difficult child) that if my hair were cut any shorter it wouldn't stay. This is apparently a mathematical axiom, well known to everyone since the time of the ancient greeks. Complex physics is involved - quantum dynamics and theories of jet prepulsion play a role. I, as a mere economist, couldn't possibly comprehend it. I wonder idly what would happen if my hair decided not to stay. Would it catch the Greyhound and move to Memphis? Would I get to keep my beard or would the courts award it custody?

The final problem with haircuts, of course, is that your hair never, ever looks as good again as it did at the hairdressers. I call this the second hand car syndrome. At the barbershop you'll stare at yourself in the mirror and see someone all suave and dignified, someone who could easily pull off a bit part in Scorsese picture. Get home and you're Herbert the Hedgehog.

Oh, well. At least I won't have to do this again for the next three months.


TDREC said...

One of your better posts - there are parts where I laughed out loud.

I wonder why they ask the question "What is it going to be?" Irrespective of what I tell my barber, I always get the same damn barber-bible-prescribed haircut.

Veena said...


This reminds me of this:

Falstaff said...

tdrec: Thanks. for the record, let me say that I think you're extremely lucky if you always get the same damn haircut. Personally I always get different haircuts - just none which look like what I had in mind.

veena: yes, the similarity had not escaped me. It may even have had something to do with my thinking up the post in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I like the fact that you (atleast seem to) put down all aspects of a 'topic' in a single article. It gets long, but must be very satisfying to write!

Heh Heh said...

hmm. i can sympathize. everytime i go have a haircut, i get a 'Had a run in with the lawnmower, eh?' To top that I am going bald and grey. All this is very stressful.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Some brilliant bits. Wondering in a van Gogh gallery why they didn't just take photographs. Or your hair moving to Memphis and winning custody of the beard.

Back when I still used to go to a barbershop (no hairdresser, thank you), they used to charge me 100 bucks. 10 to cut my hair and 90 to find it first.

Now I just trim it myself and burn the money. Simpler.


Falstaff said...

Anonymous: Thanks. Just to clarify, it's not out of any desire to be comprehensive - it's just that I start thinking about it and all these different things pop into my head and it hardly seems worth it saving them for some other post.

HWSNBF: At least people notice. Most people I work with pay me so little attention that they couldn't pick me out of a police line-up if they had to. (hmmm...that presents some interesting possibilities)

JAP: Thanks. That's the other thing that hurts about this - if I try converting this stupid haircut into INR, it turns out what I just spent for this whole procedure could have kept an average family in groceries for an entire month. Sigh.

absolutely clueless said...

sob sob!
i just had my hair done...and now its too short! i look like an ugly BOY! who gave that frickin woman a job!!! she's supposed 2 b a professional!!!
last traces of non existent social life hereby go out of the window...alas :(!

absolutely clueless said...

just when i thot it cud get no worse...
i had to PAY her for it!!!
is there no justice left in this world!!!!!!!

Falstaff said...

Clueless: Trust me, NO ONE hangs out with you because of the way you look (well, maybe if they want someone with them to make them look sexier by contrast - in which case the new haircut can only help). I don't know why they do exactly, but it's not because you have such awesome hair.

meditativerose said...

you think you guys have problems!! It's worse for those of us who have nice hair ... some people feel the irresistible urge to go ruffle them ... like a dog .. or a kid :(

meditativerose said...

Also, Clueless ... interesting you point out you now look like an ugly BOY, instead of an UGLY boy, or even UGLY BOY :)

And HWSNBF: As long as you don't lose the dimples, you'll be just fine ;)

Falstaff said...

MR: Wait - you just called clueless ugly and complimented HWSNBF on his dimples (I don't want to know. Seriously) in the same comment!

You really do have a death wish, don't you?

Itineranting said...

Very well written Falstaff. But at your age, arent you just greatful that you even need a haircut?

meditativerose said...

ouch ouch ouch

Itineranting: I know it seems that way, but Falstaff isn't old enough to have lived multiple lives. It's just that he's a. Schizophrenic, b. Doesn't need sleep, and c. Does no work

Falstaff said...

Rant: Errr...just how old do you think I am anyway?

Seriously though, I'm not sure I understand this male paranoia about going bald. I personally think it would be rather convenient. This whole hair thing is just vanity. I mean let's face it (pun intended), it's not like my looks are doing me any good at this point - I'm hardly Samson, there are no queues of women standing outside my door waiting to run their eager fingers through my god-like tresses. If anything my grungy, dissheveled hair (you want me to comb this stuff EVERYDAY? Are you kidding me?) probably works against me. Going bald would make me look more scholarly and monk like, plus it would save me the hassle of having the hair to deal with. Okay, so it's supposed to be a sign of age and lack of masculine vigour. So good. Finally I'll look the way I feel.

MR: Thanks for the defense. With friends like you, who needs to go bald.

Itineranting said...

You know, its no fun to come into work on a Sunday, but yet again - you guys just brightened the evening!

F - I think you're around 27, but any average Joe beyond age 20 get really self-obsessed abt their hair- either gelling it silly or gaspin at the fall of each strand..
But from what I hear, the Yule Brynner type dont have it too easy..some tend to obsess abt the solitary strand overlooked during mowing jobs every alternate day (depending on hair growth ofcourse). To add to it, I am given to believe that one also needs to moisturise the palette so it doesnt look like an old man's elbow but can glisten, shine & reflect light..leading to women wanting to stroke the esteemed receptacle of all matters grey & white! I am given to understand that is the case. I dont have any personal experience.

And MR: Woman, do you not know that the sterling qualities that you described are the essential prerequisities to success in the corporate world..although I do believe the F is not so corporately inclined, but he does possess the qualities that can make him a corporate czar!

Falstaff said...

Did you hear that people? I could be a corporate czar! Think I shall drink lots of vodka and change my name to Ivan the Terrible!

And MR, let's have a little bit more respect around here. I don't intend to take this kind of backchat from a mere cossack like you.

Rant: Ah, but I'm hardly an Average Joe, more like an outlier Rumpelstiltskin. Good point about how going gracefully bald is not so easy though. Maybe if I just cut off my head...I mean hey, the headless horseman gets more action in a day than I've got in a year. Hmmm.

Itineranting said...

Ah. The headless horseman. So many puns. So little inclination.
Be that as it may, I would think that you wouldnt want the kind of action the 'headless' horseman gets :)

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