His hair was cut in a 1985 five-inch spike and not in a cool way. He was watching a show about a serial killer on the Discovery Channel. I don’t remember his name and that probably says a lot about the situation in itself. His straight razor made a disturbing zing sound as it crossed over the leather strop. In the face of every bit of loyalty and fidelity I’d mustered in my way too many years, I was about to hand myself–my body–over to a nameless guy with bad hair who probably fantasized about killing me as he did his work. I wasn’t sure what I’d become. I only knew I needed it and it was exciting beyond anything I’d done in a very long time.
When it was done, the guy rubbed hot foam on my neck and put the straight razor against the taut tendons below my hairline. The touch of the blade was something new and something I wanted again and again. It didn’t last long.
“We probably need to trim those eyebrows, too?” he half asked and then snipped at the hair above my eyes like he was trimming a bonsai tree.
I had crossed a line.
Freud would probably have something to say about the fact my mom cut my hair until I was in my late teens. She was good at it, despite having no training and a million other things to do in a given day. Nearly every male in my extended family begged free haircuts off the woman in the 1980s. I was no exception. Again, Freud would probably have a heyday with the fact that after I left the confines of my parents’ house, I let my hair grow to my shoulders. It was never a good look for me and only a couple of girls I dated liked longhairs. Eventually it became clear that I needed some hair therapy that didn’t involve my mom.
I settled on a chubby, effeminate black man named Mike. Mike did club drugs and hung out in one of my college dives from time to time. He was a good cat and completely interesting. He worked in a strip mall hair cuttery and told me disturbing stories while he cut my hair. He took me from longhair to the slightly more respectable look in the photo (that’s me on the left in 1994 or so with my buddy Joey Two-Hands). Style-master Mike and I were together until I left college or he disappeared. I don’t remember which happened. I just don’t remember anybody else cutting my hair. There was an unspoken loyalty.
That kind of loyalty carried me over many years. Though the life of a hair stylist is a transient one, there are those perfect moments in time in which a man and the person who cuts his hair can last for months or even years. Until a year or so ago, I’d been a regular customer of a guy named Michael (yes, another Mike). As long as he cut my hair well, I ignored the fact he massaged my shoulder with his crotch. It, again, was unspoken. I think I only cheated on him once, and that was out of pure necessity. I felt horrible about it and nearly sent him flowers.
Michael disappeared off the face of the earth several months ago. He may or may not have opened a massage parlor focusing only on shoulders. I dunno. I do know, however, that my wife insisted I start getting my hair cut by normal (read: expensive) people. So, I started going to a girl named Angel. I don’t think she would mind me saying she is a little more expensive, but not at all normal. And so a new loyalty was born. Every 3.5 weeks, Angel washed my hair with peppermint shampoo, massaged my scalp, then cut my hair while telling me about giant dogs and giant beers. We formed a bond that didn’t involve a crotch or a shoulder. I was content.
Then came the serial killer.
Life got too busy too fast. The next thing I knew, I was shaggy and not anywhere near Angel. I was in Springfield, Missouri and in desperate need of some attention. I trust my brother implicitly, and so when he suggested a place a short drive from his house, I barely thought before calling to make an appointment.
When it was over, I felt excited and dirty at the same time. I had cheated on Angel, but only because I had to. I only felt bad because I’d enjoyed it so much–the anonymity, the risk, the straight razor. I vowed I wouldn’t do it again and promised myself I’d go make it good with Angel 3.5 weeks later.
The 3.5 weeks passed and I got busy again. Before I had a chance to track down the girl with big dogs, I was in Florida. I was shaggy again and not feeling like myself. I went to a quiet place and scoured the internet. I found a joint not too far from our house. It sounded right. When I told my sister-in-law about it she said, “That’s two old lesbians who will charge you $85 for a cut.” I may have run to the phone to make an appointment. There were no seats available that day and I walked back downstairs disappointed.
“You should try Sunny,” my sister-in-law said.
Sunny was a 40-something Asian woman who runs an honest-to-Samson barber shop in a strip mall on the Florida panhandle’s U.S. 98. She had a customer when I walked in. Mounds of his gray hair fell off as she ran the clippers over his head.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I will charge you by pound!”
I liked her immediately.
And so I settled into her chair. She asked what I wanted done and disregarded my answer as fast as she could turn on her clippers. I didn’t even want to look at myself when I was done. She abused me, my profession, and my head. When I looked up, she said, “You like?”
I don’t know how I’m going to tell Angel, but I think I may paraphrase a quote from Harlem Nights. “Angel, it’s Otis. I ain’t never coming home no more. Take it easy.”
Somehow I think Freud would have something to say about my newfound love for haircuts on the road. He always was a mouthy son of a bitch.