It was May 5th and I was going to chop it all off. Outside of Juut Salon in Edina, MN, I looked into the glass door and examined my shadowed reflection, a near-colorless, gunmetal self. The very definition of the word “self,” in my case at least, could be refined and distilled in what hung from my scalp. I was in possession of dark brown hair (with a streaking of gray, although not to the point of what could be described as “salt and pepper”) that reached past my clavicles, reached past the knots of vertebrae in my neck. And I was going to cut the foot-length mane, significantly at least, for the first time in almost ten years.
The motivation behind my haircut was a bit nebulous and abstract for my liking, which is why I imagine it caused so much internal consternation. A portion of my distress stemmed from the pure physical management of my thickened tufts. There was the washing, drying, and brushing that had consumed thousands of hours of my existence since I was 14. It clogged drains, besmirched bathroom floors, jammed vacuum cleaners, occasionally housed detritus (food, beer, beer vomit, etc.), and got caught in damn near everything (happy baby hands, angry man hands, jewelry, car doors, my mouth, probably your mouth or nether-regions). Long hair was annoying. Plus there was this:
GERMANE ASIDE #1: On my birthday two years ago, August 31st, 2011, my wife and I were leaving a scheduled meeting with our financial advisor. I was already bummed by three facts: that I was 32, still had to go into work at a shitty bookstore on my birthday, and my yearly income was the equivalent of what you’d find at the bottom of a broken mall fountain. On our way out of the parking lot, my head sagging and pissy, the attendant, a woman of husky Midwestern proportions and accent, said, “Have a great day, ladies!” Note there was only one (1) “lady” in the car. I looked up, as slow and purposeful as any movie supervillain, and stared into her gray face. She gasped, sure she had seen Satan. “Oh, sorry!” she said, which was barely audible over my wife’s laughter as she drove off. I was emasculated for the second time in about five minutes (the first time being informed of my 1/32nd net worth in comparison to my wife, remember) and there was work to look forward to as well. Happy Birthday, Asshole! Your long hair is a curse!
Yet the most fully realized reason I was set to change my look had to do with an immutable truth: long hair is a young man’s game. Although my hairline had yet to give a millimeter to the horseshoe-shaped onslaught known as “male pattern baldness,” history was not on my side. Check out the post-30s long hair of such leading men as Daniel Craig, Nicholas Cage, and Mickey Rourke. Uggh. For every Brad Pitt (who really does look great post-30 with long hair), there are ten thousand guys at the gas station with a sleeveless Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt and Redman chewing tobacco. I was getting to the point where I felt defensive, almost pathetic, whenever I was met with the firm brow and disapproving lips of cashiers, bank tellers, daycare parents, and people who could write me speeding tickets. I used to feed off their small-minded appraisals like a counter-culture vampire. “Fuck them! My long hair is me! Pass me the blunt, bitches!” Now I was just a dad with a graying ponytail, a dude in his 30s, which is a time in a man’s life when he’s constantly trying to convince himself and the world that he’s still young, still has “it.” But long hair slows the inevitable drop of life’s seesaw to the “down” side of the fulcrum. “Take another drink!” “Stay out later!” “Go to that GWAR concert!” “Join that pack of transvestites going to Tijuana!” your long hair tells you, as if it were a tangle of Tomorrow atop your head. Suddenly the hair’s gone and you’re 34 and all of life’s great regrets turn from fleshy and pliant “will dos” to in-stone “could haves” like a medusa gave your existence an inspection.
I paused outside the salon, and started formulating excuses to forestall change. There were flat tires and coyotes and crazy mall teenagers. Crazy mall teenagers… “GUNS!” I’d tell my wife. “FUCKING GUNS, MAN! WILD WEST OUT THERE!”
Exhaling a sigh of youthful idiocy, I wrapped my fingers around the handle and took a step forward. It was my long hair and I was going to lose it and, at 34 years of age, I’d probably never get it back.
Juut Salon is a place where muscled metalheads such as me just don’t go. The locale was all right angles and earth tones, glass and running water, organic yet antiseptic. If the rainforest’s more pleasant odors, rife with orchids and lilies and some type of fragrant bark, could be bottled and processed and filtered to soothe the suburban psyche, Juut was the place to acquire such sumptuous olfactory bouquets.
Ah, a bamboo plant! The labcoat-white nerve center of the salon was overrun by a clutch of women who tapped at keyboards and stared at screens. I approached a woman and she was young and beautiful and her blonde hair was a sculpted helmet around her face and she may have well been some kind of glossless magazine ad reanimated to gather appointments and serve me. An LED flatscreen to my left touted the latest Aveda product with a lush directorial vision that can best be described as “new agey.”
“How can I help you?” the blonde woman said.
“Tell my wife that teenagers are shooting at me so I can get the fuck out of Dodge! Booyah!” I wish I would have said. Unfortunately, I possessed neither the energy nor the testicular fortitude to utter such a phrase. I already felt beaten by the whole experience; I was the formally wild mustang, ridden and broken, and the corral doors were shutting behind me.
“My name’s Andrew,” I said. I smiled that dumb familiar smile that’s known by domestic geldings, that smile perfected by generations of men who’ve had to relinquish their beer bottle collections and trash their paintings of dogs playing poker. The smile of resignation.
“Haircut,” was all I could muster, along with a crude simian gesture toward my clump of hair.
Was this how it was going to go down? I thought of Khal Drogo, the barbarian king of the Dothraki, from George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy, A Game of Thrones.
“Drogo’s braid was black as midnight and heavy with scented oil, hung with tiny bells that rang softly as he moved. It swung well past his belt, below even his buttocks, the end of it brushing against the back of his thighs.
“‘You see how long it is?” Viserys said. ‘When Dothraki are defeated in combat, they cut off their braids in disgrace, so the world will know their shame. Khal Drogo has never lost a fight.'”
Shame! I felt shame! As I was led by the blonde woman to a white couch and a petite glass circle (that was supposed to serve as some kind of table, I surmised), I was embarrassed at how easily I had caved under the half-baked weight of societal pressure. In a few moments, I would no longer have the shock-and-awe, the bold curb appeal, which accompanied those with long hair. I was giving up the attention, the silent musings of those on the street. Is he a rock star? An eccentric rogue? An artist? A biker? A bad boy? How I thirsted for their eyes, their wonder!
The minds of writers, from Robert E. Howard’s Conan to the Bible’s Samson, have forever been led by their muses to the wild locks of men who carved their own identity. And these artist’s mental images have been heartily supplied by real life Spartans and their long hair, “the combing of which before the Battle of Thermopylae astonished the Spartans’ Persian enemies,” as Paul Cartledge remarks in his cleverly titled The Spartans. Then there were the Suebians, a Germanic tribe and antagonist to Roman power, who, according to Tacitus
“It is a special characteristic of this nation to comb the hair sideways and tie it in a knot. This distinguishes the Suebi from the rest of the Germans, and, among the Suebi, distinguishes the freeman from the slave…The Suebi keep it up till they are grey-headed; the hair is twisted back so that it stands erect, and is often knotted on the very crown of the head…Their intended coiffure is intended to give them greater height, so as to look more terrifying to their foes when they are about to go into battle.”
Long hair is youth, it is primal, it is savage, it is a state of suspended animation in perpetual defiance of both authority and the rigors of a harsh and unforgiving planet. Next time you’re at the bookstore, check out the romance section. Fabio and his ilk dominate the covers as paragons of forbidden lust, of love’s unbridled passion just beyond the fenceposts of a weak and stifling society. We longhairs are symbols of rebellion, of virility, of a social periphery that is better than the staid and cordoned civilization that you’ve built for yourselves.
“Would you like some cucumber-infused water or hot peppermint tea?” the blonde woman said.
“Cucumber-infused water sounds great!”
Samson, long hair coated in gore, killed a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey and I was drinking cucumber water and enjoying it, mere minutes away from a transformation that would jumpstart my un-Samson-esque future of salon haircuts, minivans, and being the target audience of Fidelity commercials.
“Eduardo will be right with you,” the blonde woman said, leaving me alone on a white couch.
Flute music came from some unseen speaker in the ceiling. The magazine selection (Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Redbook) made me audibly moan, “Fuuuuucckkk.” There wasn’t a single periodical that featured athletics in even its most retrograde incarnation (not that I really expected NASCAR Weekly or Guns and Ammo), which was a shame because the long hair of athletes, masculine icons et al, was as interesting and diverse as it had ever been, especially in the NFL. Now it was more than Joe Namath’s 60s shag and sideburns. Enter Troy Polamalu, the Pittsburgh Steelers safety, whose famously long, Polynesian locks leap into the camera frame in such furious blurs that my brain is fooled into thinking a miniaturized Sasquatch is on the loose. There is Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews, chasing down quarterbacks while a two-foot mane the color of tarnished bronze does its best to track his hell-bent velocity. Steven Jackson, stalwart running back for the St. Louis Rams for so many years (now with the Atlanta Falcons), is trailed by a burst of reptile-black dreads that pulse with life every time he trucks a defender or cuts into the open field. My favorite long hairstyle in the NFL, however, belongs to Domata Peko, defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, whose thick swirls are an unkempt poodle dipped in orange Kool-Aid stuffed under his helmet.
It is high-time I admit it: this wasn’t the first time I received a haircut from Eduardo at Juut. In September of 2012, I had approx. 2” of dead ends (ed. I know all hair is made mostly of keratin and other fibrous structural proteins and is thus “dead”) culled before my brother’s wedding, although the first visit was bereft of the mental gymnastics that accompany getting 12”+ inches and an entire identity sheared away.
“Andrew! My bodyguard! How are you doing, man?”
Eduardo, a svelte man of minimal height, grasped my hand with a force that compensated for the masculine shortcomings at a place called “Juut.” His black hair was a short, spikey number; his beard and moustache were so precisely chiseled that I nearly inquired if they were calibrated by the Department of Weights and Measures.
I thought Eduardo’s use of the word “man,” along with his allusion to my burly physique in calling me his “bodyguard,” was a clever, and altogether kind, way of making me feel comfortable in a place that wasn’t designed for my demographic. It also made him cool in a self-aware, insurgent way, like he was saying, “Yeah, fuck you, I know I work at a girly-ass salon but I’m still a regular guy who just happens to be good at cutting hair.”
Eduardo led me into a darkened room cinched in claustrophobia at the back of the salon. Once I squeezed my way into the brown and plush alcove, I knew I had crossed into the dreaded “shampoo room.” I use the word “dreaded” because there’s always something personal (dare I say, intimate) about a stranger touching and rubbing and deep-tissue kneading my scalp, which made me uncomfortable and nearly mute, to the point where my usually loose and loquacious self seized like I’d just urinated on an electric fence.
“How’s the job?” Eduardo said.
“Wife and kid?”
Eduardo, however, was adept at detecting awkward vibes, so he did his best to stray from “light-and-sensitive” touches upon my head and transitioned more into “an-owl-rending-its-vermin-prey-with-life-erasing-talons” touches. Lord, he roughed my hair up good, like he was waiting for me to whimper or show some type of overt pain stimuli. Overall, it was another way to nonverbally mark the seal of our informal dude bond.
Regardless, it wasn’t until his hands were fully disengaged and a towel was on my shoulders that I regained the ability to string multiple syllables together to form coherent and lively conversation. So we exchanged a few rounds of bro-ish pleasantries before I dropped the bomb: “Cut it off, Eduardo…All of it.”
There was a pause as he deciphered the gravitas in my voice.
“Are you sure?” he said. But it was the “Are you sure?” of a confident veteran of a chosen craft, akin to a skydiving instructor or tattoo artist, that asks not so much a question but takes upon themselves a measure of the psychic toll that accompanies a drastic metamorphosis.
“Yes,” I said, with a smile spreading across my face. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I mean, the world is a cycle of constant ebb and flow, metastasizing and decay. The Buddhists say, “All is change.” Fuck, Marxist theory preaches a “permanent revolution!” My hair was not immune! THIS TOO SHALL PASS!
“So,” Eduardo said, his head buoyant with enthusiasm, “what kind o’ style you want, dude?”
I hadn’t really thought that far ahead. Sure, I wanted it short. A few inches remaining to maximize versatility, perhaps. Enough hair to style in a few distinct ways. So I decided to utter the classic monosyllabic vibration known as…
“Here,” Eduardo said, handing me a sleek piece of onyx plastic, “use the iPad. Flip through the pictures.”
Man, technology! This was much better than the choices available for my last real haircut.
GERMANE ASIDE #2: It was 2004 and I was 6 months out of college. A period of unemployment gave me the blessing/curse of having ample time to write/ample time to churn in the psychic meatgrinder of having no fiduciary identity (which, in the deregulated, hyper-patriarchal era of G.W. Bush and cronies, was quite taxing on my male ego). Such massive polarities (from, “Yay, I wrote 12 pages of gold today!” to “Fuck, I can’t even afford comic books!”) left me in such a mercurial supercollider that I was insane for much of my joblessness and thus decided, during a particularly bad night of insomnia, that I would cut off my 16” of awesome mohawk (that, inspired by Faith No More singer Mike Patton, I’d been growing since before the end of high school) so I could be “cleansed” in the “purity” of “inner realignment” (or some other abstract, self-help, snake-oily bullshit). Anyhoo, long story short, my hair was a directionless fuzzball that needed sculpting. Enter my mother. Asking for no reimbursement (remember, I was a penniless and suffering artiste), she would tame the puff that was my hair. Although it was a sweet gesture from an altogether wonderful human being, I should have looked back at her portfolio before entrusting her with any stylistic decision making. Let’s just say, from my first grade picture to my fifth grade picture, that my haircuts were an ugly mélange of bowl cuts, rat tails, and a complete lack of layering (and please, for the sake of what little dignity I have left, don’t try to find these photos). So good ol’ Ma broke out the scissors and went to work. And left me looking like Rosie O’Donnell. For those who aren’t aware of her look, my hair became a butch version of a mullet. Possessing a face fattened by beer and suffering, I had the cherubic headshot of a handsome woman who just won backstage passes to an Indigo Girls concert (again, I’m fairly certain there is a single photo of me with this hairstyle locked away in some private collection; please, for the love of sweet Jesus, don’t bring this photo to light). 48 hours and countless grimaces in the mirror later, I shaved my lesbian ‘do and started again from scratch, swearing, from that day forth, that I would pay top dollar if I ever got a haircut again.
So I went from my mom’s freestyle mullet on a back porch to Eduardo at Juut, scrolling (correct verb?) through hundreds of styles on an iPad.
“Man, these guys on the iPad…so handsome,” I said. And it was true. It was hard to imagine my gargoyle visage beneath the locks of some Hollywood stud. Page after page of jaw-lines hammered from metamorphic rock; eyes of smoldering volcanic calderas; cheekbones that could shatter diamond before piercing the very veil of the time-space continuum. There was David Beckham, gaze squinted and insouciant, sizing up another triumph, be it on the pitch or with a Spice Girl; there was Bradley Cooper on the red carpet with his Arctic eyes and open-mouthed, humane countenance that was half elation and half everyman shock, like he couldn’t quite fucking believe all this fame bullshit, either. But it wasn’t just models and actors posing for the paparazzi. There were the characters they played in the movies and television, too! I could be the Pomade-and-black-shellac-angst shell of 50s/60s adman icon Don Draper; I could be the poster-child for nascent masculinity subsumed by a fevered, bookish obsession in styled-but-bushy Harry Potter; I could sport the wavy, noble mop and spoiled-brat bravado of Robb Stark. I could be anyone or anything and that’s what the whole process was about.
Hair is more than strands of dead stuff growing on the top of your head. If you think it’s just a minor aesthetic choice in the thousands a man makes every day, turn on your television or open a magazine. Billions of dollars are poured into the male hair care industry, from Hair Club for Men to Ron Popeil’s GLH Hair System (spray-on hair in a can) to permanent “hair” tattoos to Just For Men hair dye to the scientific assault on dandruff known as Head and Shoulders or T-Gel. Pills, weaves, creams, surgeries, foams, plugs, dyes, ointments, lasers, who-the-fuck-knows-what. For a man, hair is an essence, a persona, a fantasy, an idea. It is his calling card, something to latch onto and display. It is not a trifle; it is you. It is me.
After a few more minutes of substantially pressurized browsing, I stopped smudging my clammy finger across the iPad. There was an image that felt…right. A gaunt, rather sunken-eyed fellow of world-weary expression (who must have been English) had a tousled, choppy, semi-spiked anemone atop his head while the sides remained relatively short.
“This,” I said, pointing to the man who could have been Oscar Wilde in another life. “I’ll go with this.”
“Cool,” said Eduardo. He was a flash of silver scissors and he grabbed my pony tail and cut and I could have sworn I felt the sting of an open wound. “You’ll be a changed man.”