Suburban Soliloquy

111. And She Caused Him to Shave Off the Seven Locks of His Head

It isn't that I don't have hair. I have hair all over my body and even in the dark recesses that don't want mentioning. But where I don't have hair is poignant, which is on the crown of my head. If late night television commercials and pulp magazine advertisements are any indication, there is an immense population of like men out there who suffer desperation to restore the hair missing from the tops of their heads, either by shampoos, pills, planting, spray painting, or carpeting. I don't get it, but it doesn't surprise me.

We are rare among the mammals with regard to our hair. We aren't covered in fur. Our hair grows long in restricted patches. Everywhere else it is so short as to be nearly invisible, revealing the skin. Where the hair does grow long, we preen ourselves, shaping and trimming our hair into unnatural displays, whatever has been declared the fashion of the day. Other animals are not discontent with the length of their hair, nor attempt to shorten it. They do not argue with the direction in which their hair lays. No other mammal attempts to change the color of their hair. With us it is different. Women born with straight hair want curly, with curly hair want straight, and those with wavy hair would be happier with either curly or straight. Men who can grow beards prefer to shave them while those who can't decry the lack. In fashion, periods during which hair for men is fashionably long are followed with periods of fashionably short and then the reverse.

I am recently given to thinking about hair because in June I went to the barber at Ms Keogh's, my more significant other, insistence. The significance of this venture is that with me a visit to the barber is not routine. I am fifty-six years old and this is my first visit to a barber since I was eighteen. This is not to suggest that after thirty-eight years I had begun tripping over my hair. From time to time I would pull it back in my fist and cut off the raggedy ends, but I did not invest much energy into the control of my hair. Way back when I had hair on top of my head, I reasoned early on to give up the battle of control of my wavy hair. It was unruly. Sure, after Dr. No came out, I tried to comb my hair like Sean Connery. Every morning I'd used Brylcreem, "a little dab'll do ya," to get all my hairs into parallel lines, until one blurry morning I accidentally brushed my teeth with that crap. That was in junior high school. I threw away the tube and never used anything in my hair again. I was happier. I never liked running my fingers through my hair when I was using the stuff.

In the world outside, hippies were dictating fashion, but in the halls of my high school, boys were not allowed to have hair so long as to touch their collars or sideburns extending below the earlobe. A beard was out of the question. When in twelfth grade my hair did touch my collar, I was sent repeatedly to the office and warned to get my hair cut. I explained I was willing to have my hair cut, but that my barber was on vacation. They didn't believe me, or else thought any barber would do, but I was particular, driving into Philadelphia to one specific fellow who would give me a "razor cut". Anyway, when after three days my hair was still touching my collar, I was expelled from school.

My father wrote me a note and sent me back to school the next morning. It was a devilishly wonderful note and one of my proudest memories of my father. I wish it was not now lost. In that letter he wrote to my principal that he could not understand how the length of my hair would affect my ability to learn, that he saw no problem with my having long hair. Furthermore, he wrote that he did not raise his son to be a fool and he taught me to retreat in the face of odds, that I would have my hair cut. He then explained that I was indeed telling the truth and that my barber was vacationing in Bermuda and would be back on a certain date. I would have my haircut soon thereafter. The principal reinstated me. High school haircuts would be my last professional haircuts. After graduating in 1969, I would not have another until June of 2007.

During my long childhood, I was in awe of my father and held him in very high regard. That he was bald and didn't seem to care might have been the reason I looked forward to becoming bald. It looked to me as a symbol of nonconformity and brilliance. My mother, forever clueless as to my desires, reassured me I wouldn't become bald, that it was inherited from the maternal side of the family and no one in her family had been bald. I was not unhappy to find my mother mistaken as I began to grow bald quickly in my early twenties. I immediately began parting my hair down the middle.

In middle age, I am told I looked like a bearded Benjamin Franklin. And why not, he was one of my heroes. Still, in truth I was indifferent to my hair. I grew it long because Ms Keogh liked it long. I possessed a beard out of laziness. Ms Keogh also liked my beard, as did my mother because I had some of her auburn hair in my beard. In 1987, Ms Keogh asked me to shave off my beard for our wedding, which I very obediently did, and then she asked me to never ever shave it off again.

Then, this year, another wedding arose. Our son was getting married for the second time. For whatever reason, either because it is the fashion of the day, or because my son is in the military, marrying into a family with military traditions, Ms Keogh decided I was to get a professional haircut before the wedding. She wanted the barber to take hair clippers to me and mow my scalp, beard, and mustache down to stubble. A day before we ventured off for a Tennessee wedding, Ms Keogh and our grandson (who wanted to watch) accompanied me to the barber. When it was done, I resembled a large number of blue-collar men who always wear sneakers and T-shirts, who drive pick-ups, sport tattoos, and wear their baseball-style caps fashionably backwards, which never made any sense to me. I don't own sneakers. I rarely ever wear T-shirts in public, and the ones I own all have chest pockets so I can carry my reading glasses and pens. And I refuse to adopt the nonfunctional absurdity of wearing my cap backwards. I felt like a spy. Men are more willing to strike up conversations and there have been compliments from the women who know me. Ms Keogh says I'm no longer being watched by security when I'm in a store. I never knew I had been.

I don't mind my hair being short, but I cannot see that I've been made better looking. Still, the hair won't whip my eyes when I drive with the windows opened nor tickle my ears when I'm trying to read. A small spot of shampoo in my palm is all I need when I bathe. My hair dries remarkably quick. I no longer have to comb it, brushing is enough.

Having my hair short has revealed one fact for being a myth. My head is not cooler. Even the light bulb above my desk proves to be uncomfortably hot on the sides of my head and the back of my neck, the areas formerly covered with hair. Even where I place my head on the pillowcase, it immediately grows too warm from my own body heat. This aspect of my haircut has left me in constant discomfort.

My ears! Now there is something new. I have never before so clearly seen my ears and I have become quite proud of them. I have handsome ears. The rest of me is a beefy and mush, but my ears are fine.

A second haircut soon followed the first. After all, if I'm to keep it this short, I shall have to again make routine visits to the barber. Ms Keogh was returning from a two-week visit to her homeland, Britain. The day before she came home, I went back to the barber to have my hair restored to the shortness she now prefers. This time I was presented to a different chair and barber. I gave him the same instruction Ms Keogh had given the last time, but this other barber had a different interpretation of stubble and my hair was shorn much closer than it had been on the previous visit. I was horrified.

There was my beastly oval head, its beard and hairline a mere shadow. In the mirror was the fat head of my father. We are not handsome men. I couldn't complain, the barber had done nothing wrong. There could be no point in protesting, he couldn't put the hair back on my head. I accepted my fate and consoled myself with the confidence that my hair would grow back.

I could tell my hair was growing back just hours later. It was obvious when I woke the next day that my beard was already a different length than the hair on my head. Beards grow faster! Who knew?

Ms Keogh was returning late that night. That afternoon I had dinner with my mother. She was very upset by this second haircut. It was too short! I believe it is because I looked too much like my father, a memory she despises. In particular, she said she never wanted me to cut my beard that short again. I believe that's because my father never had a beard, so that trait further distinguished me from him. Actually, my father did grow a beard, but it was after my mother left him. I promised her I wouldn't allow it to be cut quite as short again.

I made the same promise to Ms Keogh when we meet that rainy night in the deserted lot of a closed MacDonald's. She was en route home from JFK Airport and I had temporarily stepped out of the office where I work nights to intercept her on Route One. It was our first chance in two weeks to hug and kiss.

Ms Keogh says when we move to Britain, she will want me to grow my hair long again. "It won't matter there; they'll just think you're eccentric."

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"