Head-Scratching

Among the many things that are better left to professionals—piloting a jet, performing almost any surgery, copy editing—cutting hair always should be included. I did not know this until the day I did.

It looks so easy. The professionals talk while they are doing it, for crying out loud. How do they do that? Interrupt me while I am typing away and I will pretty much stop typing and begin to glare at you until you decide to ask someone else what I am doing.

One of my barbers, a World War II Navy vet, loved to tell stories from his war years while wielding his scissors around my scalp. (He was of the old school: No clippers for his customers. “Why give them a cut that they can give themselves?” Little did he know how well I knew that lesson. See below.) The only problem was that he would sometimes get so wrapped up in re-telling his tales of flying with one engine shot out over Okinawa that he would only trim one side of a customer’s head, finish the story but not the haircut, look around the barbershop at all his enthralled listeners, whip off his customer’s smock, and declare, “You’re done. Next!” I would return the next morning when he was not there to have one of his younger barbers finish the job. With clippers.

Years of successfully experiencing haircuts from the hair-bearing side taught me the wrong lesson: I could do it to myself and save money.

Unlike a lot of men who seem to think of their own full heads of hair as a skill or as evidence of a life well-lived, I know that my hair is evidence of nothing more than I am a human being who exists. Hubris can sometimes take humble forms, though. One night I thought that as possessor of my hair I knew it best.

In the mid-1990s, I was a graduate student, an adjunct college English teacher, and the housemate of someone who trimmed his own hair. (This was long before the WWII vet barber.) This qualified him as the most grown-up human being in my acquaintance. I was asked for proof of age wherever I went, even by my students in my own classroom, and he was not. Thus, he possessed a level of expertise in life and living that I could aspire to.

Under his incompetent tutelage, I bought a set of trimmers from a local dollar store; I think they cost more than a dollar, but what is the price of pride, anyway?

How many haircuts have I been involved with in my life? By my age at that time, 25, I estimate I had received about 100 haircuts. At not one of these events had the professional paused and said something like, “Huh. I’m stumped. Can you help me with this over here?” One stylist once shushed me when I started to explain where my part is and what I wanted her to do. “I know what I’m doing,” she said.

With that voice ringing in my ear, I stood in the bathroom, five-dollar trimmers in hand, and stared at my non-barber face in the mirror. Let’s do this, we whispered. For reasons that will be understood by no one anywhere ever, I did not put a guide on the trimmers. I flicked the appliance on for the first time in my life and did not start at my sideburns or someplace easy, nor did I turn the thing off, put it down, and pick up the phone to schedule an appointment with an actual barber, snickering with hard-earned wisdom at my temerity. I put the thing against my forehead and the contraption skittered across my scalp like the runaway lawn mower I had forced it to be. The first cut is the deepest, but so is every subsequent one when one is cutting one’s hair for the first time.

A little was taken off the right side, and then a bit was taken off the left. The left was now too short. A little more was taken off from the right, and now the left was left too long. What was inevitable from the start of the endeavor slowly became clear: It was all going to have to go if I was going to appear in public again and not look like what I was: An idiot.

* * * *
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The WordPress Daily Prompt for March 22 asks, “Write about a time you had a Goldilocks experience, exploring different choices and finally arriving at ‘just right.'”

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14 comments

  1. nonsmokingladybug · March 22, 2015

    Thanks for the laugh, I would have loved to see your face 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mr. Atheist · March 22, 2015

    I don’t recall when I started cutting my own hair. Late last century. Yes. Sometime in the late 1980s. I can tell you the number of times I have had someone else cut or trim or touch my hair to defolliculize me. Three.

    I have gone through a decent amount of razors blades and trimming machines. I can safely say I have saved money. A lot of money. Trimmers will set me back about $30 (US). The razors about $1 (US), when purchased in bulk from the bulk-a-teria down the street. I cut my hair once or twice a month during the winter months and I trim and shave my head once the weather warms up a bit.

    I can’t imagine having hair now. I might look like an idiot.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Daily Prompt; Hello, Goldilocks! | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  4. rogershipp · March 22, 2015

    Loved it. I have often thought of doing this…. but I have been “too vain” since the beginning of time- so I never tried to do what I knew I could do! I am so glad!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · March 22, 2015

      There are things in life everyone should do once and this I guess was one of those things for me. (Other people shave their heads/cut their own hair daily. There might be something that I do every day that seems daunting to them.) Later, I tried it again. Because I’m me and I’m just not a very smart or competent man sometimes.

      Thank you for commenting as often as you do, Roger. Mark.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. lifelessons · March 22, 2015

    Another alternative would be a pony tail.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · March 22, 2015

      About a year before this, a ponytail was what I’d had. I tried to make “Always keep them guessing” a motto, but at some point (years later) even I couldn’t guess who I was and no one else was trying.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lifelessons · March 22, 2015

        Mark, I must admit that your last statement is one that probably applied to me at times in my life as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. SD Gates · March 22, 2015

    How funny that you should write about this today. My husband decided to trim his own hair (this was after I vehemently said that I would not be a party to destroying his hair – he wanted me to trim his hair – Haha). What a disaster (I’m so glad I said No) – it looked like some inebriated soul took a lawnmower to his scalp and couldn’t quite see where they had been and where they should go. It’s rather ridgey now. My husband says his hair looks completely jacked up – I of course, did not agree. He says he is going to the barber tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · March 22, 2015

      A little gel might fix it … er, cover it up until time and nature restore the balance of power.

      I was told that I have a good-looking scalp, which is something that people say, like “Nice sweater” when you show up for work on crutches.

      Thanks for your many kind and funny comments-Mark. And good luck to your husband and the barber tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. sheenmeem · March 23, 2015

    I can identify with you. My regular hair salon cut my hair very badly and I looked like a scarecrow. I started on my hair myself. The most difficult part is the back of the head. I gave up after many tries. Now I alternately let my hair grow till I find someone to cut my hair.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. talltroubdour · March 23, 2015

    Really funny! Great piece, Mark Gave me a laugh.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Nice Haircut | The Gad About Town

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