Tuesday, May 5, 2009

cut your hair, hippie

I tumbled out, naked and triumphant, on December 6, 1982, shortly after my father and mother were pulled over by a police officer for exceeding the posted speed limit on a four lane highway. They received no penalty, though, because my mother was about to lose nearly ten pounds (me) in just under an hour.

Sometimes the law doesn’t mean anything at all. Sometimes the urgency of the moment demands a breach of legal contract. The world is not cut-and-dry.

In this particular case, my parents couldn’t afford to color inside the lines. The situation forebade it. See, I was sick of placentas and whatnot. I wanted out. I’d been kicking and hollering. My dad did the right thing; he pressed the gas pedal all the way to the mat, ignoring the numbers on the signs. He pretended they weren’t even there, or that they said 85 instead of 55. All the while my mom breathed, very carefully.

Anyway, they (cops, pigs, 5-0, po-po) pulled him over for violating the Law, which is written down in books and on those black and white signs all down the highway. When the officer approached the driver’s side window, prepared to tell my father that he’d screwed up, my dad pointed at my mom’s belly. That was enough. The officer ran back to his vehicle, flipped on his emergency lights, and escorted them to the delivery room. That was twenty-six years ago. Just now (10:48 Eastern Standard time on May 4, 2009), I phoned my mother in LaGrange Park, IL to ask if I was born with hair. “A little,” she said, “but not much. You looked like E.T.”

My hair was blonde, once. I know from the pictures, which are pressed into faux leather albums and shelved according to year in the nether bowels of our dining room Lladro cabinet. Up until the age of four or five, my hair was blonde. I guess I mentioned that already in the first sentence of this paragraph.

Then shit got weird. My forehead began to expand and broaden, but the rest of my face didn’t catch up. On a proportional human being, eyes are located halfway between the crown of the head and the tip of the chin. Go to a mirror. See for yourself.

I'm the exception. For many, many years, my eyes were where most people’s cheeks are. In the words of Matt Dillon’s character in There’s Something About Mary, I “had a forehead like a drive-in movie theater.”

To compound matters, my hair began to grow straight up, rather than falling across my forehead like a normal person’s. A fearsome cowlick developed in the mess of hair above my right eyebrow. Nothing--not spittle, not gel, not a tightened baseball cap--tamed it. That two-inch wide patch fought gravity at every turn. As you might imagine, I looked ridiculous. Cute, yes, but ridiculous nonetheless. Suddenly, inexplicably, I found myself cursed with an eight-inch forehead and indecisive hair that assumed the shape of a sine wave.

Then fifth grade came around. I grew into my forehead, finally. To mark the occasion, I buzzed off most of my hair and rocked one of those squarish, militaristic, Mickey Mantle crewcuts that went out of style sometime in ’62 or ’63.

By this point, my hair had darkened into a deep brown, as it is today. Not sure what precipitated that cosmetic change (diet? lack of sun exposure?), but it was probably for the best. Blonde hair doesn’t suit me.

The man who cut my hair back in Illinois was from not from this country. He was from another country. Poland, maybe, or perhaps Italy. I’m pretty sure his name was Carmen. He was a barber, not a stylist, and he was pretty old. Nice guy, very cheery. When he spoke (which was rare), I didn’t understand a damn word, even though those words were English. His accent proved inpenetrable, so I just stopped trying after awhile.

Carmen’s barber shoppe was a barber shoppe, all right; it even had one of those cylindrical candy canes rotating outside, like in the movies. After Carmen finished the trim, he’d use a vacuum on my neck to suck up any rogue hairs that hadn’t made the floor, and then he’d reward me with a palmful of free Bazooka Joe bubble gums (the $.05 ones that come with a wax comic) at the register. Eight dollars for a buzz. Carmen rung up the sale on a machine that may have been around before the first World War.

Oh yes, before I forget:

After Carmen vacuumed my neck and removed the cape, he’d reach for a small stick of product that looked and smelled a lot like roll-on deoderant and gel the front of my hair, effectively pushing it straight up and freezing it into place. Now the whole front of my squared head was a short, angular cowlick, which meant that I was doomed to girlfriendlessness for another few months.

I maintained that hairstyle for all of the fifth grade.
Also, sixth.
And seventh grade.
Eighth grade, too.
And all of high school.
And the first year of college.

Then, sophomore year, something happened to me. I decided the Mickey Mantle cut was no longer suiting my needs. Since arriving to college, I’d (re-)discovered Floyd, Zeppelin, Sabbath and all the other classic rock delinquents, so it seemed natural that I rockify my style a bit and adopt the look. The summer before my sophomore year, I stopped cutting my hair and expanded my wardrobe. Shelving my rugby shirts and button-downs, I invested in band t-shirts and jeans that eventually bore holes in the knees.

The mop got impressively shaggy. Within a few months, my ears were no longer visible, and the hair in front of my eyes, when stretched, reached all the way to my mouth. It began to curl, too. Have you seen Almost Famous? I looked just like the kid journalist.

Reaction was mixed. My parents hated it, naturally, but some of my friends really dug it. Girls began paying more attention me. I felt more attitudinal. Long hair presents some obvious problems, though. Here’s a few:

1) For every twenty days, one or two are legitimate “Good Hair Days.” The rest are a blinded punch in the dark. Maybe I’ll connect; maybe I won’t.

2) My hair, because it’s so thick (barbers have told me that it’s some of the thickest they’ve ever cut) and strawlike, does not respond well to humidity. On warm, sticky days, my hair gets LARGE.

3) Every time I wash my hair, it looks downright crappy for 48 hours afterwards. I used to combat this problem by going a week or more between washings, but that brought on a whole other slew of problems.

4) Sometimes people get married. Married people tend to like clean-cut people at their weddings.

5) Employers tend to like clean-cut people at their businesses.

6) Four out of five people on the street assume I’m a stoner.

7) I can’t fall out of bed and roll into public. Not with eight-inch hair.

8) I’m forced to wear a stocking cap immediately after showering, so that my hair will dry in the appropriate manner.

With few exceptions, I’ve maintained this shaggy look for seven or eight years. It’s my trademark. My calling card.

If you’re wondering why I just wrote an entire post about hair, I’ll tell you why:

Two days ago, I got my hair cut.

It used to look like this:

Now, it looks like this:

Notice that in Picture #2, the mullet's been isolated and conquered. Here I am, ladies. Come and get it.


Sis said...

Yayy!!! Thank you! I'm guessing the married comment was about me, eh? Now we just need to work on that facial hair...:)

Jen said...

Oh thank heavens. Sorry I couldn't get down there to do it for free.