A guy in Connecticut was arrested recently after he had a meltdown over a bad haircut. In spite of my current expanding forehead situation, I can totally relate. As a child of the sixties, hair wars comprised much of my life. Exhibit A was my high school. Every day, the dean of boys walked the hallways ready to pounce on any male whose hair dared grow over the mandated collar of his shirt. At the same time, the dean of girls was busy with a ruler measuring the girls’ skirt lengths. She had the better job, we thought, and often hung around to watch her capture her prey. With luck, when the girls knelt on the floor for their measurement, we got a quick glance at their mid thighs, which sustained our adolescent fantasies for days.
After school jobs and post high school jobs created quite a dilemma for many of us. On the one hand, girls preferred males with longer hair. On the other, none of our bosses allowed it. And without a job, we lacked the finances to afford cars and girlfriends. Guys like me, who were neither athletic nor good-looking, had no chance of female companionship without a car and spending money. Decisions, decisions. Naturally, after I graduated, successful lawsuits by rich parents changed dress codes all over the country. But that was school, and my boss didn’t care. He inspected our hair just as closely as the dean had. It’s not like today when a worker can be a walking art gallery / hardware store with half of a shaved head in addition to a long fuchsia mane on the other side. The person who bags my groceries looks like an extra from a Wes Craven movie.
Then came the draft and Vietnam. And more hair problems. Our freshly shaved heads were dead giveaways that we were military. Most girls ran away from us like we were wearing hockey masks and carrying butcher knives. The only girls who wanted to date military men were ones I wasn’t interested in. They wanted marriage and a career military man and preferred country and western music. All I wanted was someone with a “soft condition and heart” to match. When I finally got out of the Army, I quit getting haircuts. It saved me a lot of money, and my father refused to be seen in public with me, which I thought was both a nice role reversal as well as an added bonus. My mother fretted over whether I was using the right shampoo and conditioner. It made for bizarre phone conversations.
Long hair was fine for college, but once I graduated and started looking for a teaching job, the hair had to go. Fortunately, I didn’t have to get rid of all of it. It still covered my ears. Sort of an early Beatles look. I got hired to teach second grade in a very conservative diversity challenged community. First year teaching is an overwhelming experience, and every day was a struggle to stay afloat. By the time the day of my first parent / teacher conferences arrived, my wife had to point out that I would benefit from a haircut. So off I went. The choices were limited, and it turned out that the only three salons in town were booked solid because of an upcoming high school dance. The lone barber shop was closed for elk season. Desperate, I headed to the west side of Colorado Springs. I thought I remembered seeing a barber shop across from a shopping center on Colorado Avenue. I was grateful to find that my memory was correct and the shop was open.
I should have turned around when I saw all of the Harleys and looked for another place. Instead, I went inside. There were a number of male and female motorcycle enthusiasts in full leathers hanging around inside and outside the shop. A little voice told me to run, but my desire to make a good first impression shouted it down. The barber assured me that I was next and he’d be right with me.
I sat down and studied my unusual surroundings. Growing up, I had spent a lot of time in old fashioned barber shops. Crew cuts were the order of the day, and I never had a choice in the matter. The phone rang and the barber answered. His phone had a cord that stretched across the entire shop. But it was the conversation that was puzzling. Instead of making an appointment for a haircut, the barber started reciting random numbers and words into the mouthpiece. The more I listened, the more confusing it became.
He finally hung up and motioned me into the chair. I sat down and told him I just wanted a trim of about ¾ inch all the way around. He nodded, took off my glasses, and turned on the electric trimmer. Without my glasses, I am blind. Otherwise, I would have stopped things before they got out of hand. The phone rang again. He answered it and began reciting a similar string of random numbers and words as he cut. He finished in five minutes, handed me my glasses, and turned me towards the mirror. I gasped and I heard one woman suppress a laugh. The left side of my head was shaved bare. White skin that hadn’t seen daylight in years glistened like a white bridal bouquet. The right side was a jagged mess like tattered denim. I looked liked a chimp had attacked my hair with garden shears. I threw him some money and ran out of the shop.
I panicked as I drove home. I kept trying to check myself in the rear view mirror. Maybe it wasn’t so bad, I hoped. My wife’s shriek as I walked in the door crushed that idea. It was worse than I thought. After much discussion, I stood naked in the tub while my wife used her sewing scissors to try and mitigate the damage. Forty-five minutes later, I was somewhat more presentable. But without a buzz cut, there was no hiding the lopsided nature of my do. I suffered through the next two days of parent teacher conferences with both parents and fellow teachers staring at me whenever they thought I wasn’t looking. Though no one asked, it was clear that many thought I was making a weird fashion statement.
It was several years before I would let anyone other than my wife cut my hair. The trauma ran too deep. I did get a measure of satisfaction, however. Three weeks after my experience, I read in the paper about the biggest methamphetamine and fencing operation ever discovered in the state. The headquarters for this criminal enterprise was the biker barbershop that was the scene of my humiliation. And the ringleader was the barber who had hacked off my hair in an effort to discourage me from being a repeat customer. It was, in fact, the lack of customers and complaints about bad haircuts that had led the police to uncover the operation in the first place. The list of charges against the shop owner took up two column inches. But it was the last charge that caught my eye. It was for cutting hair without a license. Now they tell me.