The combover haircut I never asked for but got anyway (see https://davisw.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/the-curse-of-the-combover/) was taking over my life.
My daily jog had become an exercise in awkwardness. I could pump my left arm as usual to help me power up the hills but the right hand had to hold my hair in place. While shampooing, I dealt with this big ungainly clump on one side that felt like something fished out of the drain trap.
It felt like the long sheaf of hair my previous stylist thought I’d use as a blanket to cover my bald spot had gone to seed. Maybe that would explain the patches of new hair growth I was seeing in my ears and nostrils.
So I spent my lunch break from work Friday back in the barber’s chair. This time, I wanted a true summer cut. Not the fully shaven look that’s become so common, what my son used to call “bald hair” when he was a child. Not the short stubble we named a “crew cut” back when The Three Stooges’ “Curly” was rocking the style.
It had to be long enough that I could still comb it and part it, but no longer. I wanted something that was easy maintenance, perfect — as the women’s magazines might point out — for that “casual, on-the-go, wash-and-wear look busy gals everywhere are turning to.”
I tried to explain my dream-cut to my Great Clips barber. Arturo, the forty-something Cuban-American I had worked with once before, didn’t seem to get what I was going for. He appeared confused and disoriented as I fingered the offending strands and laid out my plan for getting rid of them.
Just don’t give me what you’ve got, I wanted to say. He sported the oiled pompadour so popular in Miami’s exile community, a squared-off ‘do favored by many Cuban men that my childhood friends had called “The Cubic.”
“Just make it short all over, but not too short,” I finally suggested.
When I noticed perspiration starting to collect on his brow and upper lip, I finally realized his bewilderment might be due more to early signs of heat exhaustion than to my poor description. It was a little toasty in the salon, and when I saw that the back door was open and several fans were rotating nearby, I realized the air conditioning was out. On one of the hottest days of the summer.
I thought about up and leaving, especially when he draped the black plastic tarp over me to begin his work.
“Yeah, it was so bad last night, we had to close early,” another stylist was telling her client. “The sweat was getting in my eyes and burning. I was dripping on the customers.”
Arturo was a more quiet type than Amanda, and he began a slow, deliberate clipping that looked like it might take till the first cold snap of fall to finish. I told myself to be patient, that this short-term discomfort would soon be over and my scalp would be properly shorn.
I felt like someone sitting in one of those old-fashioned portable steam rooms, the kind you see in old movies where only the person’s head is sticking out of a box while their torso tosses off excessive water weight. Only I was even more uncomfortable, what with the prickly hairs sneaking down my neck and Arturo’s labored breathing in my ear.
I thought about making conversation to better pass the increasingly distressing time. On the last visit, I remember him mentioning that he was indeed from Miami, where I had lived until leaving for college in 1971.
“Your countrymen pretty much took over my home town,” I could say. “The Miami I knew before Castro came along was a nice, safe place to live. Sure, you gave us Gloria Estefan and 50 years of myopic foreign policy toward the island. But it would’ve been nice to have left at least a few English-speaking pockets in the county.”
Instead, I kept my mouth shut, and counted every snip-snip as another sign of progress that I’d be freed soon. (Much like the Cubans counted every head cold Fidel came down with since 1961 as a signal they’d soon be returning to their freed homeland).
Such was not the case, however, with the new client who had just been seated across the aisle from me. His name was Martin, and he couldn’t have been more than three years old. His mom accompanied him into Amanda’s chair, which I at first thought was a loving show of support but soon turned into a mechanism of constraint as the kid screamed his lungs out.
Now, despite my curmudgeonly outlook on life, I’m actually a big fan of kids. It’s one of the few things in life that cause me to break out in a big smile, right up there with nitrous oxide and the laughable politics of the current GOP presidential candidates. I believe that children are not only our future; I believe they are also our past and present.
The screaming continued unabated, raising the stress level in the room to almost unbearable heights. In normal situations, when you encounter a misbehaving child in public — hollering in a restaurant, scooting through your legs at Target, appearing on “America’s Got Talent” in a performance of Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” — you can look daggers at the parents and get some satisfaction.
But a child’s first haircut is seen as a sentimental right of passage. You have to chuckle at how the blond baby locks cascade to the floor as a girlish toddler is transformed into a little boy. Seriously, you have to; it’s an unwritten law of modern society.
So Arturo and Amanda smiled through clenched teeth, Amanda offering the obvious observation that “I don’t think he likes me.” A collection of customers in the waiting area sweated and fidgeted, while simultaneously grinning at Martin’s antics. Even the AC repairman, working quietly in the back, resisted the temptation to throw a heavy wrench at the bawling youngster.
“I HATE YOU!” the little boy bellowed. “GET ME OUTTA HERE! WAHH! WAHH!”
Fortunately, Martin was getting a buzzcut, and almost before he could say “I WISH YOU WERE DEAD!! AHH!! AHH!!”, he was tumbling out of the chair, his mom all apologetic and the rest of us grinning our insincere smiles.
Back on my own personal head, Arturo finished up a few details. He did my brow work, he shaved the back of my neck, he proudly held up the mirror that displayed how expertly he had evened the hairline in places I’d never see.
“Looks good,” I said, though I would’ve accepted anything short of a mohawk at that point to escape the raucous, sultry hell that Great Clips #426 had become.