March 31, 2008

Proustian haircut

Today, if all goes well, I'll get a haircut. I'm ambivalent about the prospect. Certainly I need a haircut--not like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, but enough. My ambivalence stems from the fact that I don't like to spend money on something I can't keep. And while I mean no slight against any barber or stylist I have known, I've never walked out of a shop, looked at my head--my pate, if you will--and said to myself, "Damn! That's a great haircut!"

My first stylist was my mother, who trained as a cosmetologist and favored the indeterminate hairstyles popular in the decade of my infancy. My father soon took over, and his specialty was the crew cut, at that time a clear marker of gender and politics. If you're thinking of the haircutting scene in Sons and Lovers, you're not far off the mark. My father cut my hair in the basement; the barber chair was a stool made from a wooden chair that had the back cut off of it.

At some point in the early 1970s it was decided that my father and I would get our haircuts at the barber shop in "town" ... town being two stores and a post office along a road with no real intersection, much less a stop light. But town it was, and the barber shop had a proper barber pole and all. Soon after, the barber, Randy, set up shop near his home, which was a few more miles out. Randy and his wife were friends of my parents, and their sons were friends of mine as well, so getting a haircut was an event; we'd usually spend the evening over there. Randy was tall, with an Amish style beard, and he chewed tobacco. He cut hair with immense concentration. My chief recollection is of him bending down, inches from my face, peering unblinking not at my face but at my forehead, his tongue jammed in his cheek to keep the wad of chaw from falling out in my lap.

I think he cut my hair until I started college, although at some point his sons and I were no longer close friends. In college, everything changed. If I could have afforded it, I would have got my hair cut twice a month--okay, twice a week. That's when I temporarily got over the awkwardness of seeking a haircut in a "salon" and entered a brave new world.

I don't remember the name of the stylist, but she was beautiful, and she was nice, nicer than women that beautiful usually were to me. Why? Was it because, as an older woman (that's funny ... she was probably twenty-five, certainly not even thirty) she viewed me as a child? Maybe. I've read "Araby," and I understand that kid very, very well. But still ...

I hadn't thought of her in years, until when rewatching Firefly I realized that the woman who played Saffron in a couple of episodes reminded me of her. I don't say that the stylist looked like that actor, only that the actor reminded me of her. Fantasy tempered by realism. She did have reddish blonde hair and very fair skin. She was of medium height, with a generous figure.

"Generous figure." Go ahead and laugh. I'm trying to be a gentleman here. So why does this woman, who cut my hair maybe half a dozen times, still occupy my selective memory after so long? I'd like to be able to say it's because she was nice to me. But come on. Was it because when she pulled my head up to behold the finished haircut in the mirror after leaning it forward to use the electric razor on my neck, her hand was cool on my forehead and I could feel her standing behind me, my head leaning on her slightly, feeling her chest rise and fall through maybe two breaths? And that her eyes were looking at mine in the mirror? Now what do you think?


I go to a barber shop now. One guy, one chair. At nine bucks a haircut, I don't see how he makes rent on his shop. He's an older guy, and he likes to talk. In the middle of the conversation, he'll whap me with the back of his hand and say "hey!" as if to get my attention, as if he didn't already have it, waving scissors around my eyes and talking about politics.

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