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December 20, 2004

Shear Holiday Spirit

Today was Christmas Haircut Day.

The tradition began in my early childhood, when some time each early-to-mid-December my mother would drag her three male children into the local barber shop and order the barbers to keep cutting hair until you could see the kid underneath.

We would emerge from the barber shop pink-headed and sullen. The haircuts were always too short. Mom would explain that this was intentional -- an effort to give the hair a chance to grow out and reach perfection at some time approaching 12 noon on Christmas day. Sort of the hair equivalent of a quarterback leading a really speedy receiver.

The Christmas Haircut, combined with a cunning mixture of threats and bribes to induce good behavior, was designed to present the children in a manner so as not to cause us to be described by the rest of the extended family, and especially my Irish Nana, as "hooligans".

Mom's chance of impressing Nana was roughly the same as Deborah's chance of impressing Marie on Everybody Loves Raymond, but the marine-quality haircuts continued regardless.

I am grown up. I have no children to torture in this manner, but I still get the Christmas Haircut.

My hair is no longer shorn to prove mom's mothering abilities, and the audience is no longer a group of once-a-year visitors from New York. Now the audience is a collection of parents, siblings and sibling spouses. The goal, at age 39, is to prove my continuing worthiness of the label "adult". The Christmas Haircut takes place solely in an effort to shape the discussions that go on behind my back. Short, clean cut hair invites discussion of my intelligence, my weight loss (fictional), my business acumen, and my general got-the-world-on-a-string attitude. Shoulder length hair would demand a dialogue on my weight gain and my shabby clothing. Questions about the health of my body, my business, and my marriage would be sure to follow. Or so I imagine.

After 22 years of getting my hair cut at the same Raleigh barber shop full of old, fat white men, I was recently forced to shop the haircut market. All of the old, fat white men had retired or died. My current hair cuttery is Sport Clips, whose motto ought to be "Mediocre haircuts from women who could not get into college -- Plus you can watch ESPN."

Sport Clips won the Hriaroo Hair Lottery by using the following shrewd marketing methods:

a) Locate in the same shopping center as Hrairoo's bookstore.
b) Open your shop an hour earlier than Hrairoo opens his.
c) Shower Hrairoo with free haircut coupons.

As a general haircut, this one went badly. As a Christmas Haircut, it was about a par.

Sport Clips was, like many stores in our shopping center, without customers. The staff consisted on one barber/stylist/butcher, who I shall call "Bev", and one cashier, who could probably have been pressed into cosmetological duty had the demand existed.

Once inside, I was immediately asked by the cashier to supply the last four digits of my phone number and my first name. A ticket was then printed based upon my vast Sport Clips customer history. At this point... I waited. The cashier shuffled papers in an attempt to appear busy. Bev swept up hair (from the day before?) from around her chair. I waited for three minutes before Bev invited me to sit down. Three minutes in the hustle of the holiday shopping season may not seem like much, but three minutes in a small room that contains a hair cutter, someone who needs a haircut, and someone who is working hard at doing absolutely nothing, feels a bit surreal. At least I had ESPN.

The haircut with Bev did not go well. Bev's hair school diploma was visible, and showed her graduation date as October 24th of this year. I rarely look at my barber's hair school diploma unless the details of the haircut cause me to wonder in that direction.

Bev asks me what kind of haircut I would like. I'm pretty easy. Regular. Nothing fancy. Shorten it up. Take away the bushiness. But not too short. Bev then asks me whether I'd like shears or clippers. Both mean scissors to me, but it turns out one of them means an electric haircutting implement, which is what I would prefer.

After we settle on that, she asks me if a "number five will be all right for the length." Hell, I don't know what kind of nib to put on the clipper, and I tell her so. She decides to consult my little, printed customer history, which says I haven't had a haircut since September. This bit of information leads her to suggest the #5 nib, which I will soon learn, shears you like a sheep.

She starts on the back of my head with the dreaded #5, spends a minute lopping off some amount of hair that I cannot see, and then hands me a mirror to render an opinion on the work. Then I play the little mirror game, where the hand held mirror works in tandem with the wall mirror to give me a view of the back of my head. My reaction to the mirror game is normally, "Yup. There's my head." This time my reaction was, "Is that my medulla oblongata?". Apparently, the numeral 5 in the nib selection refers to the number of layers of skin that will remain when the shearing is done.

I've exaggerated slightly, but the cut was way too short. Part of the Hrairoo mystique is a livid pink scar that covers a five inch length of my cranium. Hair will not grow there. Unless every single barber I have ever used in the past 11 years has been exceptionally talented, it isn't that hard to minimize the visual impact of this disfiguration. The need to do so, until just this moment, had not seemed to require mention. The mirror game showed the back of Frankenstein's head.

"I think it's a bit too short," I said.

"Should I use an #6?" she asked. Blood must have rushed to my face. "Or a #7?"

"Let's try a #7." She fetches a #7 from the back room, since such an extreme implement must never be located where it can be used by the unwary. I can't help but ask, "Just to clairfy, this will leave my hair longer, right?"

It did, and the rest of the cut was uneventful. The incredibly thin-haired dome on the crown of my head was not Bev's fault. Nor was the encroaching grayness present in the removed hair cuttings. At the end, I was left with a sort of continental shelf running horizontally across the back of my skull. It was something a rap star might have done intentionally, only much, much cooler. I considered asking for some sort of repair, but the too-fresh date on the hair diploma told me to quit while I was ahead.

I had to pay this time, since my free haircut coupons were depleted. When the cashier handed me my receipt, she reminded me that I could bring it back any time in the next 30 days for a free neck trim. I'll probably give it a pass. I don't think I have the strength for the New Year's Neck Trim.

Posted by Hrairoo at December 20, 2004 02:44 PM | TrackBack
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Nice little Jean Shepardian Christmas story. Especially liked the phrase, "Mom would explain that this was intentional -- an effort to give the hair a chance to grow out and reach perfection at some time approaching 12 noon on Christmas day. Sort of the hair equivalent of a quarterback leading a really speedy receiver."
My maternal unit did something comparably. During the months of Jan-Feb, when winter merchandise, specifically coats and suits, went on sale she packed us off to Robert Hall or Macy's. We'd try on clothes that were too long, too baggy, and too wide. Based on some inborn sense of how we would be growing and expanding within the next 9 months, she'd decide which of the ill-fitting clothes would be perfectly dazzling come Thanksgiving & Christmas. Amazingly, she was usually right. And when she wasn't, as I look back on those days now, she was just ahead of her time with our oversize gangsta look. Remember, back in those days kids were treated like little creatures that had to be tweaked, molded, and herded. Not like today's kids, who are so..special...and unique.

Posted by: DarkoV at December 21, 2004 09:30 AM
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