Got my hair cut last week. It was fairly long, but then I make a habit of waiting about two months too long between haircuts. I'd blame it on being unemployed - since, after all, who cares, right? I've collapsed into hoplessness and apathy in all other ways - but when I was employed, I waited too long as well, since I had a job and didn't need to impress anyone. Apparently I'm just a slacker when it comes to grooming.
I had a friend in college who got his hair cut every nine days. Now, he was black, and kept it cut very short, but still. Nine days. That seems a bit excessive. The way I determine if I need a haircut is that I check for what I call "lag". This is the phenomenon of turning your head sharply and having the hair on the back move independently of your head, arriving at the final destination after the rest of your head has ceased moving. I like my hair short enough in back (and on the sides) that it moves pretty much in syncopation with the rest of my head. On top, it can get wavy and loose, but I like the back to be disciplined. So if I look over my shoulder and I get lag, it's time for a trip to the barber.
To get properly disciplined hair, you have to go to a barber. Well, not necessarily - some stylists may do it right - but in general, what you really want for proper man-hair is the sixty-year old guy with the razor. Anyone who relies solely on scissors to cut hair is not someone I want cutting mine. I want the big razor for the sides and back, the small razor for the detail work, the scissors for the longer stuff on top, and the straight razor for the short curly stuff on the back of my neck. Simple. Ten minutes, fifteen tops. And the people who cut hair that way are barbers, not stylists.
Sadly, I've never found a barber I really liked. The closest to what I look for in a hair cuttery was probably in Alameda - white haired old guys in white outfits, combs soaking in big cylinders of blue liquid, barber chairs that were installed in the 1920s. Unfortunately, another important feature of a good barbershop is a barber who can keep up a conversation with you while he cuts your hair. The place I patronized in Alameda fell short of this, although, to be fair, so have all subsequent places.
In Santa Cruz - a town of 'stylists' - I found a barber, but he was actually quite surly. Decent haircut, no conversation. It amused me that this man actually scowled while he worked, but didn't endear him to me in the slightest. In Los Angeles, I was forced to patronize salons, since there were no real barber shops near campus. Luckily, because their clients were largely students, these salons had barbershop pricing, rather than salon pricing. But they were salons, and took twice as long for the same result.
Now, one place where salons do have it over barbershops is that they'll wash your hair. Not that my hair needs it - I wash it every morning - but it's almost impossible for you to understand how much I love a good scalp massage. It's better than sex. Well, better than most sex - the really wild stuff with the metallic bikinis and dog collars can get pretty - no, no, this is a column about barbers. Shan't go there. But suffice it to say, although I'd never pay for sex, or drugs, if scalp massages were illegal, and some shady strong-fingered person offered me one in an alley for $50, I would probably take it.
I have, in fact, gone to a salon before final exams not to get a haircut, but just to have them wash my hair. That's right, I've paid $10 just to have my hair washed, and turned down the haircut that came with. So there's that in favor of salons. But as far as actually cutting my hair, I prefer a barber.
Things haven't improved by moving to Maryland. We live next to yet another college town, and I have so far tried seven or eight different barber shops there. None of them have been really satisfactory; I had settled on one establishment until they got a new barber who was terrible. It wasn't that the haircut was that bad, though it wasn't good, but her headside manner was worse than that of a rabid weasel with an ear chewing addiction. She was terrible. It was like having an autistic person for a barber - painful, brusque, and yet emotionally needy. I couldn't get away from her fast enough. So I dropped that place like a hot grenade. Even now when I walk by I make a half-circle on the sidewalk to avoid coming too close to their front door.
The other places I've been have all been mediocre, if appropriately priced. One place I went to was a salon, and charged me twice as much for the same end result. I think it was because it took twice as long, since the stylist went for the scissors-everywhere approach. After sitting there long enough that some of the hair he'd cut first was growing back, I really felt like saying "Look you idiot - big razor, small razor, scissors on top, shave the neck. Ten minutes and you're done. I'm not fucking art, okay?"
Because, sadly, I'm not. My hair will never be art. I've got a great big forehead and limp white boy hair. Happily, it's thick - and, given my various relatives, will remain so until I'm seventy or older - but it's certainly not star quality. It's not even straight in a useful way. When I did grow it out in college, which lasted until I came home for Christmas and my dad greeted me at the door with "cut your hair or I'm not giving you any more money", it turned out to have some curl, but just enough to keep me from wearing it straight and having a ponytail. It curled in geologic time, and all together, so by the time my hair was at my neck it all bent left and then curled around slowly to point at my right asscheek. I bet by the time it hit my waist it might have made one full loop. As it was, it looked like I had thrown a sheaf of poorly cut hay over a shoulder. So long hair is out.
The look I go for these days is what I think of as the "Teddy Roosevelt". Here, lemme find a picture for you. This is a not terribly flattering one, but it's what I'm going for. I've got that same forehead with a splash of hair coming off the top, see. When I get it cut nice and short, it actually looks pretty decent. Maybe not dead sexy, but that's what my big round shoulders are for. As long as I can get the hair to look respectable and just a bit snappy, that's all I ask.
So last week I changed from looking like a seventies motorcycle cop back to looking like a nice young man. The place I went to, yet another new one (to me), was okay. The barber was Vietnamese, so my attempt at conversation went out the window, but he did get big points for using an actual straight razor for the back-of-the-neck fuzz. And the haircut was fine. Not perfect, but it'll do.
One day, I will find the perfect barbershop. A swirling red white and blue pole outside and an old geezer with the right selections of razors inside. Who speaks English. Hell, who might even know about the Cal Bears. But that's would be gravy - all I really need is Big Razor, Small Razor, Scissors on Top and Shave the Neck, all with some light conversation. Haven't found it yet, but it must exist. Until then, I'll keep looking.
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra