So, a few days ago, I shaved my head. Like most drastic measures, it was an accident.
After work, I dropped my barber’s place at the local mall. It’s not so much a barbershop as a salon—most of the time, I’m the only man in the joint, customer or hairstylist. The hairstylists are attractive, sweet, and black; the clientele consists mostly of white women on their way to one mall store or coming away from another. Occasionally, a mother accompanies her son to ensure that he doesn’t do on purpose to his head what I did by accident.
Usually, I pretend to nap during the quick haircut—“Feel free to yank my head around as you see fit,” I say, or something like that—and listen to the stylists chat about everything from man problems to cars to customers to paying the rent. It’s a joke. Of course, they know I’m not sleeping. They pretend I’m not there, I pretend I’m asleep, and everything works out. They get to talk uncensored; I get interesting fodder for the short stories I intend to write. There are worse ways to spend $13 and 30 minutes.
Except, this time, I went to MasterCuts, and the place was closed. The chain gate was draped over the plate windows, and the barber’s chairs (and most of the shampoo and hair care products) have disappeared. There wasn’t a sign explaining the closure, or a post of a new location. It appears that my barbershop has shut down.
I’ve gone to this place since my college days, and I didn’t look forward to finding another haircutter. It’s hard to find a place that’s close to my apartment, that’s cheap, and that is usually not so filled with customers that a haircut takes two hours to get. (Come to think of it, the last two reasons go a long way toward explaining the place shut down.) Beyond that, I spent years developing trust in the barbers at MasterCuts, even though it was a chain salon. I don’t really care who my grocery store cashier is, but my relationship with a barber is more intimate. The cashier doesn’t touch my head. He doesn’t wield a razor that has the potential to cut my ear, nor does he have the power to make me look like Mr. T for a week. A barber does.
And now my barbershop was gone.
Now, I’m well aware that lots of 1970s fashions have come back into vogue, and maybe I’m not the fashionista that I should be. But I just think the return of the ‘fro to black style ain’t quite right, and my hair was this close to being appropriate for an extra on Soul Train, circa 1978. MasterCuts or no MasterCuts, it was time for this wool to go.
My typical haircut is simple and quick, what’s commonly called a “one” or a “one all over.” The “1” plastic razor attachment—the one that allows the closest cut to the scalp other than cutting hair with the unprotected electric clipper blades—is plunked onto the razor. The barber cuts the hair all over the head, trims the edges, and that’s it. No zigzaggy lines. No fades. No complicated designs. Hell, I could do it.
At least, that’s what I thought when I stepped into Target twenty minutes later. I found electric clippers with multiple clipper attachments, a cleaning brush, mechanical oil, and even a DVD with instructions for $29.95. I bought it.
It’s one thing to buy clippers, with confidence and even smug delight, at a store. It’s another thing to stare—as I did thirty minutes later—at myself in the mirror, shirt off, paunch undisguised, with clippers in hand, preparing to deliver the first whack. How was I going to cut the back of my head? How would I know that my hair is layered evenly all over? What about the corkscrew of hair at the top of my head that always gave my stylist trouble? How would I know that I’d gotten that properly? How would my trembling fingers affect the evenness of the cut?
Too many questions. I held the buzzing clippers to an area just above my forehead, and swept them efficiently through a thicket of hair from the front of my head all the way to the back of my neck. My first stroke was quick, effective, and confident. And idiotic.
I’d forgotten to attach the “1” adjustment.
The streak of exposed scalp was shiny and smooth like baby’s skin. I realized that cutting your hair is the inverse of adding salt to a soup. It’s best to start with putting in too little salt; you can always add more if the soup needs it, but you can’t remove salt once it’s in the mix. Whether my subconscious intended it or not, I was stuck, quite suddenly, with shaving my head. I couldn’t put the hair back.
The back was the hardest to get. Fortunately, there’s a medicine cabinet/makeup mirror that’s perpendicular to the large mirror in my bathroom. By wriggling my head into weird positions, and by adjusting the angle of the makeup mirror to the main mirror, I could (more or less) see the back of my head enough to cut it effectively. I still touched the back of my head nervously to feel for obviously missed spots. After thirty minutes of obsessive retouching, I decided enough was enough. I took a look at the mess I had made.
This morning, the first thing I noticed was how chilly I felt. That fuzz of insulation that keeps heat from escaping from the top of my head—well, it’s gone. I had a runny nose for the first couple of hours at work and I had goosebumps until lunch. Now, though, my body has acclimated to the change in temperature. A co-worker asked if I was protesting something. A couple of people wanted to rub my scalp—I didn’t let them. A friend took one look, and started giggling. My boss pretended not to notice. Overall, the reaction was about what I expected.
That’s good, because I think I’m keeping this look for a while. It’s easy to maintain and it’s ideal for the over-warm Mississippi climate. I may look like an alien, but it’s the first new look for myself that I’ve chosen—consciously or not—in a long time. You’ll have to excuse the awful pun, but it’s grown on me.