It’s fairly certain that the haircut experience for men and women is different, the obvious subtext here being the gender-specific levels of assignation we give to time spent with those enhancing our superficial appearance. My time in the chair is considerably like the moments before an execution, the black cloak velcroed delicately under my chin, the baptismal-like purification of the follicle cleansing, followed by the oddly aggressive wielding of sharp hand-operated cutting instruments eerily close to the throat. The torturous moments, however, lie further along the shearing path. At some point, the stylist* begins to speak, searching for some common ground from which to launch a communication salvo, the gentle probing words a sharp contrast to the hostile and forcefully belligerent dragging of the plastic toothed device through my now newly-uncontaminated coif.
“So, you have plans for the weekend?”
Payment for stylist services seems evident – the obvious intent to have hair trimmed, straightened, curled, shaped, or shorn – and clearly does not include nor require a discussion of one’s personal life. Yet somehow, this event to increase ones superficial appearance has taken on a superficial nature of its own and I am now forced into conversing about something, anything to belie the uncomfortable silence surrounding the interaction between a weapon-toting stylist and my own cut and blow.
“Um…no not really. Just seeing a movie.” And though I could have left off after the first sentence, like a master conversationalist, (read idiot) I’ve left the door open.
“Oh, what are you going to see?”
The metal blades traversing my dome snip away at my nerves and I review my internal checklist of films, hoping to come up with something vague and unfamiliar such that she won’t respond again. I mention some Chinese Indie, which hit the countercultural theater realm a week ago and will likely vacate the cinema circuit within the next forty-eight hours.
The hair dryer comes out and she blows away my comment as easily as the stray strands now adorning my cloak, then offers her own cinematic interests, an endless list of romantic comedies that make me question whether I might be better off if she’d just stick the pointed end of those scissors through my left orbital.
In the mirror I see her mouth trying to keep pace with my trimming, the clipping blades and insufferable babble chattering about my ears with nary a thought of danger. As she makes her way to my bangs, things get darker. Closing my eyes is an instinctive reaction when jagged objects enter the area of my countenance, and now, I must endure the strange sensation of paying a stranger to poke about my hairline with two knives while I remain blind and still. In these moments, comfort is elusive. Dutifully she eliminates the EKG that was by hairline, turning it into a clean low horizon, which now sets upon the midline of my forehead. Were it not for the professional courtesy sponsored by Wrigley’s, I’m certain her morning breath would have knocked me out. With her fingers she performed nimble and dexterous acrobatics, those phalanges flying above my occipital lobe in some free form aerial routine, followed by the somersaulting follicle evacuation, which leaped and twisted from my head as though synchronized swimmers diving from my skull. Briefly, I imagined the tops of my ears being carved into some Early Egyptian hieroglyph. Thankfully, her talent for topical topiary was greater than her acumen for conversation and I weathered my shearing unscathed.
I sighed deeply and immersed myself further into black leather chair, yielding to the temptation to fiddle with the chrome lever and begin the carousel-like rise and fall of barbershop chair amusement. As I lowered myself, I caught a glimpse of the brown tufts now encircling my throne, the thin wisps matted together like scraps of burlap, and wondered whether there would come a day when baldness set in and I’d long for these remains, willing to glue them together in some homemade toupee in a vainglorious and futile attempt to recapture my youth.
The buzzing razor interrupted my pondering and I cringed as my vociferous attacker brought the cold metal trimmers to my neckline. As though Picasso performing his initial pencil sketches, she navigated the lines from nape to nose, delicately dancing around the ears and leaving subtle sideburns in some apparent homage to her penchant for Elvis, a characteristic she picked up on her travels through Nashville last summer, the details of which she spent the last ten minutes recounting as though by curling my upper lip I had conveyed some fascination for the King, when really, the reaction was merely an attempt to avoid her eager and aggressive body odor now making its way from beneath her arm, which was stretched across my face as it endeavored to nick the final remnants of curled life lying below my distant earlobe.
The interminable torment neared its conclusion and my stylist spun me back towards the front mirror, pulling out a glass paddle-shaped handheld and aimed it at the back of my skull. I waited for the inevitable sound of crashing glass accompanied by the tunneling vision and intense pain as it slammed against my head, but she asked only,
“Is the back acceptable?”
The momentary memory of childhood funhouses ended when I nodded and she removed the mirror, leaving me with a view of the sweat now pooling beneath her breasts. I imagined she concealed the tiny water bottle behind the mirror and covertly spritzed herself in some futile effort to intimate the torturous athleticism required to cut my hair and a spirited attempt to garner a bigger tip. With one last blow, she removed the final strands from my shoulders and then, in rapid succession, a quick spray and overly-flirtatious tussling, off with the cloak, confiscate the choker tape, lower the chair, sweep the floor, and escort client to the cash register.
One could easily write a thesis on the nature of monetary exchange and in this case, I noticed the striking difference between my stylist and a homeless person. On the streets, the unlucky soul looks at you with pleading eyes, the suggestion that helping a brother out is both good for the soul and a buttressing of humanity. You offer some coins and the gratitude is genuine, an opportunity to purchase food or the next rock of crack. Here in the barbershop cum hair salon cum human tendril slaughterhouse, the look is a proliferation, conveying with each second an increasing threat of something ominous, the obvious implication that I am now obligated to bequeath my life savings to this woman who declined to slit my throat with her spiked shears and bristling blades, choosing instead to employ her immense talent for cranial artistry and leaving me with something truly valuable. I dip into my pockets, slap a five spot on the counter and run like hell, feeling the piercing glare of her gaze penetrating my spine and fully aware that I will need a new barbershop for my next shearing.
Stylist* After visiting the various Supercuts and $12 shearing outlets fashioned conveniently throughout America’s cornucopia of shopping malls, the term “stylist” has certainly lost some of its validity. Stylist, as defined by the mass public otherwise known as Wikipedia, a constructive conglomeration of questionable facts which somehow seem perfectly appropriate and relevant for describing a stylist, but lacking further digression it is defined as: the aesthetic values followed in choosing what to cut and shape (and how) or to the physical techniques employed. To be frank, the words aesthetic and value are probably over-stated as are technique and shape. One might conclude that the definitive term here is choose, for it is both the recipient of the explosion in a bird’s nest called a haircut, and the purveyor of the detonation of the string factory upon one’s skull, who have chosen to call this process a haircut and who will suffer the physical humiliation and the destruction of professional reputation once one walks out the front door and confronts the viewing public. Thus, for future reference, pro-choice may now refer to the death of style, death of hair, and death of aesthetic beauty, and as an adjunct, the choice to kill oneself after the haircutting experience.