It’s a dance as old as time itself, or however long it’s been since one person wielded a pair of scissors and attacked the hair of a helpless victim in a chair.
My hair starts to cover my eyes, annoying me as I push it away all day while staring at a computer screen. A day or two before my Wednesday night basketball games, I mention to Louise how difficult it is to shoot when you’re looking at the rim through brown strands of hair, no matter how easy Pistol Pete made it look. That week I play hoops but stop every five seconds to brush my hair out of my face. Later in the evening I’ll blame a substandard shooting night on the fact I could barely make out the basket, especially from the long distances I launch from. A few days later, maybe that weekend, I finally say I can’t take it anymore and I need a haircut. Louise groans and curses, then ignores me for a few hours. One time she explained how she couldn’t handle the fact she would cut my hair for the next 40 or, if the genes are generous, 50 years. I stood there dumbly, contemplating mortality and my hair. Eventually she relents, broken down by love or possibly inspired by hate, visions of a quick stab to my head with the scissors dancing through her head. So easy, so final. It’s probably the mess that keeps her from doing it. And then I sit down and she cuts my hair, ignoring my reminders to avoid slicing my ear, telling me to move my head to the side or up and down, smirking when I complain about the falling hair getting in my face. Then it’s over and we forget about the tension and the hair for another two or three months.
Today my haircuts are torture for the cutter; back in the day I suffered. My earliest haircut memory involves me leaping out of the chair and wanting to run home, seeking escape from Fury’s Barber Shop on Main Street in Janesville, where I received haircuts from my great-uncle and later his son.
Eventually I settled down, but even in a setting run by family I always felt a little strange getting my hair chopped and it was never anything I really enjoyed. Perhaps that explains my loyalty over the years, my fear of venturing out or trying anything follically new. In 38 years I believe I’ve had 7 people cut my hair.
John Fury. Jim Fury. A woman who always worked the other chair at Fury’s Barber Shop (there were actually different women and I had haircuts from a couple of them but for this we’re creating a composite character, like someone in an old Michael Herr Esquire profile). The woman who ran the Saint John’s barber shop. An older guy in Worthington — great guy, huge sports fan, great gossip, disliked by my female co-worker for cutting my hair too short. Older guy in Fargo — we almost never spoke and at the end of the 10 minutes I simply handed him the money and we both gave a nod to each other, making the whole thing even more uncomfortable than this sentence. Louise.
I probably still haven’t gotten over that childhood fear of seeing my hair removed but I grew to appreciate the value of a good barber shop, or at least Fury’s in Janesville. Jim still shows up most days in between his other jobs and there’s no better place to stop on my trips home, where I get my fill of town gossip and dirty jokes, if not bubble gum. But I haven’t been in that chair in Janesville in more than 10 years, not since Louise took over the responsibilities.
Those days might come to an end. For probably a year now — perhaps even longer but I might have disregarded complaints in years past as playful banter between a husband and wife — Louise has talked about having me go to a professional, to a stylist. When she first started cutting my hair, Louise loved that I trusted her with this task, but now she sees it more as a chore or burden. “But how great is it that I still trust you and only want you to do it?” I ask, though rarely does a reply follow. I tell her I don’t want to entrust my brown-but-graying-in-spots locks to anyone else and that has almost nothing to do with the fact I really don’t want to have to pay for a haircut — acknowledging it’s partly a money thing could prove I have some of the stinginess exhibited by my dad when he ignores winter pleas to turn up the thermostat. I actually don’t even know what a haircut in the city would cost; I’m like a presidential candidate destroying his campaign by expressing bewilderment at the cost of milk during a disastrous photo op.
It’s about trust. Since 2003 I’ve had one barber/stylist and she shares a home with me. On our last trip to South Africa I even dared to deny my mother-in-law the opportunity to have a go at my hair and she’s a former stylist.
In some ways maybe I’m still like the kid who ran out of the shop more than 30 years ago, only this time I’d escape from some salon in New York City. And when it’s a 6-foot-3 crying guy running down the streets in a city of 8 million while clutching his head it’s not as cute as seeing a 3-foot-3 crying kid do the same in a town of 2,000.
I also simply fear change, and hair gel. Mostly it’s the fact Louise gives me great haircuts, as if it was her job. I don’t want to give that up. But if it’s inevitable I’ll accept it, happy to ease Louise’s burden — and grateful there’s still a full head of hair for someone, anyone, to cut.