It’s been a long time since I had a lot of hair. You’d have to go back to my college years to find photos of me with thick hair down to my shoulders, accompanied by a bushy beard.
Unfortunately, baldness runs deep in my family, so I knew it was only a matter of time before my losing ticket in the genetic lottery caused my scalp to stop producing new follicles. It started with a bald patch in the back, then began advancing. I lived through a few uncomfortable months with a Phil Collins patch of fuzz on the spot where head meets forehead, but eventually that went away, too, leaving me with a lot of skin on top surrounded by a ring of hair on the sides and back of my head. Whenever I’m in the same room as my four-years-younger brother, I enjoy pointing to my pate and taunt, “Get a good look at your future!”
All of this was fine with me since there was nothing I could do about it.
I once had a friend who’d started going bald in high school, and by the time we were both in our early thirties, he got a toupee over the protestations of myself and his business partner. There was no talking him out of it because he thought it might make him more attractive to women, with whom he’d been having a hard time. When he went ahead and spent some pretty big bucks on a hairpiece, it was all we could do to smother laughter every time we saw him. Toupees may look good and natural on some men, but he wasn’t one of them. He wore it for less than a year, then took it off for good. Ironically, not long after, he met the woman who would become his wife.
By middle age, I’d settled into a look where both my hair and beard were close-cropped. I trimmed the latter at home, but still went to a barber for the stuff on top. Even in my youth, I’d always enjoyed that experience. I was never a wriggle-around-in-the-seat boy at the barber shop. I was fascinated by the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the jars with combs soaking in that blue Barbicide, and the constant sound of the barber opening and closing the scissors near my head. I don’t know why they did it, but it was as if the devices would get rusty if they weren’t repeatedly making imaginary cuts before attacking the actual hair.
Until I moved to Missouri, my hair had only been cut by men. It wasn’t a sexist thing — they were the only ones employed in the barber shops I frequented. In one of them — which had a dozen chairs, always full — all the barbers would turn their customer’s chair away from the mirror. At first, that was so they could lean us back with our head over the sink to give us a good shampoo. But even when that procedure was done and we were upright again, the chair stayed in that position, which meant the patron couldn’t see what the barber was doing. This was of no concern to me, since there was no way to screw up the little hair I had, other than buzz-cutting a pentagram or some other symbol into it. All I wanted was a trim on both the top and bottom of my head, the latter preferably done with a straight blade.
For the last two decades, no man has cut my hair — only women, who use electric trimmers rather than scissors. It doesn’t make much difference, since there’s no “styling” necessary. None of them has ever asked, “What would you like me to do with your do today?” I was never gonna grow out a man bun, nor switch from a full beard to a goatee, nor need any goopy “product” applied. All I needed was the same thing every time, as well as some interesting conversation. That’s an underrated aspect of all hair care. Barbers must be good talkers and listeners, as mine is.
Since I’ve been sheltering at home and haven’t had a chance to get my hair cut for more than nine weeks, I recently took matters into my own hands. Employing the same electric trimmer I use on my beard, I pared back all of the hair on my head to a very close crop. I didn’t go all the way down to the scalp, although — for the first time in my life — I saw a vivid depiction of the true shape of my head, which caused an involuntary shiver. When I was done and had thrown away the clippings, my noggin looked markedly different to me. Martha noticed immediately, but despite the many Zoom video calls I’ve participated in the last few weeks, no one else has commented at all.
I’m not really surprised. Saying something about another guy’s haircut was always a silly interaction, often accompanied by an empty compliment or mild insult. No one ever comments on your other personal grooming habits: “Hey, Jenkins, I see you finally clipped those fingernails and got rid of that forest of ear hair!” Unless you’re a guy who suddenly shows up with a mohawk or a woman who has switched hair colors and added extensions, most people don’t even notice.
Many years ago, when I first cut my bushy beard back to a shorter look, a work colleague who had seen me every day for years stopped me in the hall to ask, “When did you start growing a beard?” I answered, “When I was eighteen,” and walked away as he stood there looking dumbfounded.
Although some hair parlors and barber shops are beginning to re-open in the wake of COVID-19, it’s still going to be a while before I see my barber again. It’s not just that I’m wary of being in close proximity to other human beings. The fact is, it’s going to be weeks before my scalp stubble grows enough to need another trim!