A lot of people don’t know this, but my wife, Christine, never aspired to be a hairdresser.
I was there, in the dorm room at the University of Maine, when she was trying to figure out what to do with her life after she realized that being a civil engineer was not for her. At the time, I was dating her roommate. Had I known that her finances would be linked to mine eventually, I would have tried to talk her out of majoring in journalism, but “hindsight is twenty-twenty,” as they like to say.
That would have been around 1992 or 1993.
Fast-forward to 2021. With the plague outside our doors, we’ve opted not to go out to get haircuts.
My 20-year-old son wanders through the living room in search of snacks, long strands of greasy light brown hair hanging down from beneath his UMaine knit winter’s hat. I say, “Hey, is Scrappy-Doo as obnoxious in real life?”
He mutters something about “Gen-Xers.”
He looks a little like the guy at the ski resort who sells weed in one of those late-night comedies.
People in my family have a particular way of aging. The gray comes in on the sides of our heads first. My mother has dark brown curly hair, or did once. When she was about my age, her gray started to come in, and the effect can only be described as “Bride of Frankenstein.”
My hair is not curly like her side of the family, but the gray arrived above my ears right on schedule. It forms these two puffs of iron wool that begin to cover my ears and make me look like a guy that is used to sleeping under a bridge.
I love getting my hair cut. Always have. I enjoy the aroma of harsh blonding chemicals and burning curlers. Just the sight of those massive NASA-engineered rocket-nosed hair dryers brings a smile to my face. The banter with the stylists is always good, and I’ve been known to get back to the newsroom with a story idea or two.
Now, like every other thing I enjoy, this has been taken away from me. There are just these old walls, the kids, the cats, Christine and me.
Christine has become the appointed and anointed beauty school dropout, cutting my hair and that of my 15-year-old daughter.
I have to sit on a chair in the kitchen and “Stop making that face!”
The face I make is pure terror as a shaking hand holding dull scissors approaches my eyes to trim my eyebrows; my lips with my beard trimming; my ears and scalp when working on the hairdo. Off topic, my eyebrows are another victim of my late forties. I flip on the light in the bathroom at night and find my grandfather in the mirror.
“You’re fine!” Christine hollers at me as I flinch away.
“Just a little steadier,” I say. “Why do you have to get so close to my eye?”
“It just seems that way!”
I don’t worry that much about fashion. For the most part only the family and the cats see me right now, wandering the house in my sweatpants, typing news stories. If I’m going to do a news video, I get dressed and even shower, and on those days I feel almost like a professional adult.
Mostly I just want the hair out of my eyes.
Christine ponders each strategic cut. I sigh.
“I know you’re bored,” she says. But I know what she’s really saying. “You are an ingrate!”
Recently, we experimented with clippers, which are of the cheap variety purchased at a big-box store. If you want to use these, be sure you give yourself a week in advance to charge the damned things up. These are not the ones the professionals wield, the big black ones with the cords to their outlets, that sound like a weed whacker starting up.
“This isn’t working!” Christine howls.
“More off the side.”
“You want to look like Hitler?”
“I want the hair puffs gone!”
“This is botched. I can see your skull.”
“What’s wrong with my skull?”
Trimming my neck, I hear the thing bottom out like a lawnmower topping a hillock.
“There’s this weird wrinkle in the back of your neck,” she informs me.
When she’s done, there is hair on the floor, hair in the air, hair in our mouths and on my neck.
“It’s so itchy!” she shrieks.
It is a hot kind of itch, like rolling around in fiberglass insulation in the attic on a summer day. I trail hair tufts from the kitchen, to the dining room to look in the big mirror, to the stairs to the bathroom.
The result? Well, that’s why ballcaps were invented, right?
But on the plus side, despite my utter lack of charm, I think I’ve scored a date with my hairdresser.