You know the guy. Hell, you may even be the guy. He’s deeply entrenched in a mid-life crisis, radiating stress over his job and his home life. He’s buying status symbols by the truckload; a sporty new car here, a 3-D smell-o-rama flat screen there. He’s got a personal trainer, a mistress, and a golf pro. He’s joined the country club to schmooze with his supervisors, but he hangs out at the House of Blues to stay loose. He won’t stop adding on to the house.
And what’s causing all this overachievement? This desperation to live his life like a meth-addicted 8th grader? The poor bastard is losing his hair.
I’m sure there are peer-reviewed studies showing the correlation between hair loss and this sort of panicky career stress, but frankly, I’m too lazy to research the subject. Actually, I don’t really feel the need to do much of anything if I don’t have to, for you see, I still have all my hair. It’s right there where it’s always been, luscious curls blowing gently in the breeze. And my full head of hair tells me all I need to do is sit back and look pretty.
I know it seems impolite to brag here, but I feel a kind of cosmic justice is in balance. You guys overcompensate with the big house, the big Hummer, and the big life, while I get to keep my hair. My beautiful, beautiful hair. Oh, I know things aren’t easy for you, what with feeling obligated to shave your whole head as soon as your hairline starts to recede. Gotta keep that scalp gleaming, after all. But what about me with my constant shampooing? I know I don’t really have to wash it five times a day, but you try having hair this glorious while resisting the urge to caress it.
Okay, I kid the chrome domes. I have so little to feel superior about in my tiny life at least let me have this. In truth, my hair is generally a big wad of unkempt disaster. You look like Kojak, I look like Columbo. Since I follow the code of the stubborn male, I’m not allowed to use any sort of product beyond my daily glop of Head and Shoulders (men must only use products which have been consistently available for thirty years or more). If left unshorn, my hair does not grow long so much as big. Without frequent trips to the barber chair, I get ELO hair. That might have played okay in the Seventies, but in this age of neatly-quaffed fauxhawks, having a hobo hairstyle doesn’t translate into “well-groomed.”
(While I’m on the subject, when modern males get those close-cropped, heavily-gelled haircuts with the little mountain range piled in the front, they do realize they look like Pee Wee Herman, don’t they? Just wondering.)
I’ve always set extreme limitations when it comes to styling my hair, because it’s poofy and I’m not. As a kid, I had the prerequisite Beatle bangs that every American boy had in the Nixon era, which got parted down the middle during the ‘80s in keeping with legal requirements. As puberty inspired the need to start a rock band, longer hair became an imperative. But because the hair on top would simply explode in a mushroom cloud of curls, the conservative approach was to only let the hair in the back grow, which is how millions of young boys with similar follicle conditions independently engineered the mullet. No one knew it was a mullet back then and ignorance was bliss. The evidence, unfortunately, was preserved in hundreds of high school yearbooks.
This has been the extent of my stylistic experimentation. At no point did I subject myself to dyes or other complicated treatments, nor did I become inspired by the Thompson Twins or Kajagoogoos to design my hair in some ridiculous MTV fashion. Because, unlike many of my contemporaries, I am not, and have never been a complete fucking idiot. This allowed me to also pass on parachute pants, fringed jackets and other rock star conceits that infected so many.
I did, however, fall victim to Morrissey hair. Specifically, I fell victim to the clippers of Paolo Licciardi, sometime drummer in my sometime rock band. He’d just given himself the Morrissey treatment - buzzed back and sides, piled high on top - and was more than eager to do the same number on my willing head. When his first attack with the clippers resulted in “oh, shit,” I headed to the closest barber shop to have the damage repaired.
And it was here that I received the best haircut of my life. It was an unfamiliar shop, one that had obviously been in business for many decades. This was no fashion boutique – no mincing stylists armed with pink hair dryers here. This was a manly establishment, with cheap wood paneling on the walls and back issues of Penthouse in the waiting area. The only other feminine element, beside the magazine centerfolds, was a nail technician stationed in the corner – a woman with the mannerisms and tightly-wrapped rack of a wild west madam. She smiled to show off her eyebrow pencil beauty mark as I sat in the chair. The barber, dressed like Dr. Kildare, was a study in manliness by virtue of his Navy tattoos and lit cigar. I noticed directly across from my seat, much to my amusement, that the only décor on the walls was a framed portrait of Franklin Roosevelt. Barber Manly inspected the gash in my head with a wince and went to work.
In a burst of violence, his fingers locked onto my skull while the other hand scraped layers of skin with the clippers. A cloud of hair and cigar ash enveloped my head as he wrestled my disobedient hair into submission. I knew in that instant what a sheep feels like when it’s being sheared. But just as I was about to mount a protest against the assault, he was done. The fog of hair lifted and I saw in the mirror that, amazingly, the haircut was perfect.
“Now you look like a respectable college kid,” he said, having never asked if I was attending college (or asking anything else). The nail madam smiled her approval.
I can tell you in all seriousness that I have spent the last twenty-five years trying to recreate that haircut, like a junkie trying to revisit that first high. In any town I’ve lived, I seek out the manliest barber shops, hoping to find someone with the brutal artistry of that tattooed genius, but it never works out. More often than not, these more masculine barbers insist on turning the chair away from the mirror so I can’t referee their handiwork. Then they spin me around at the end to reveal Howdy Doody or a buzzcut facsimile of some Army colonel they admired in their youth.
So I go crawling back to the sissy beauty parlors, where excitable young girls, their own hair veritable showrooms of highlights and moussed layering, try to coax me into exotic waves and gel sculpting. They try their best to work the clippers with their delicate technique, but they’ll never deliver the satisfaction of that brilliant beast who touched me in my youth. Sometime I wish I WOULD go bald. At least then I’d know that the dream is finally over.
But for now, with my mass of unruly hair still needing regular attention, I’ll continue to seek the perfect haircut. These days I try to jinx the barbershop visits in my favor with a supernatural talisman. Before any stylist begins to work on my amber waves of mane, I insist they hang a picture of FDR.