It's A Very Hairy Time We're In, But I Don't Mind

Apr 17, 2020

We as individuals have all given up a lot of things for the foreseeable future that we used to take for granted to further the common good.

Thank God there are relatively few among us willing to selfishly flout the rules and possibly put our fellow human beings' lives at risk.

So, we have face masks. Constant handwashing. No face-touching; and, much to the dismay of politicians, no handshaking. Stay six feet apart, please.

No ball games. No concerts. No festivals. No gathering in large groups, even for worship. No barber shops or hair salons.  

Frankly, as long as I have a good book handy – and I have plenty – and a classic baseball game to watch now and then on YouTube, I really don't feel like I am sacrificing that much, except for spending time with my friends and family.

And there is one particular thing in the above list of "no's" that I can do without for a long, long time: no barber shops.

It's not that I don't like my barber; she's the best. She's been cutting my hair for about 30 years now and she is a friend.

But I don't go see her as often as I should; I generally wait until I look as hairy as the wild man of Borneo before I cross under the barber pole into the shop.

She just stands there and looks at me, shaking her head in disgust.

Make me look human again, I say plaintively.

And, although she doesn't have much of a head to work with, she usually does.

Please don't judge me.

I just don't like having my hair cut. I never have and I never will.

My happiest days were in the mid-1970s when I grew a tangled mess of long hair while working for The Post, the student newspaper at Ohio University. It was my time, as David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang, to let my freak flag fly.

Ah, those were the days!

It was not always this way in my young life.

When I was a little kid – I mean five or six years old – I remember my father taking me to a neighborhood barber shop, my earliest memory of being in such a place.

I remember being fascinated by the swirling candy cane-like barber pole spinning outside, the smell of pomades and Brylcreem ("A Little Dab'll Do Ya"), and the buzz of clippers.

A rickety wooden table sat by the chairs where the customers waited, with a wide variety of months-old magazines for "manly men" – Argosy, The National Police Gazette, Sports Afield and some well-thumbed magazines full of photos of scantily-clad women.

My dad found some Archie comics and tossed them in my lap.

Here, look at these until it's your turn, Dad said.

My Dad had a full head of thick, wavy dark hair. Mine was blondish in the summertime and brown in the winter, straight as a string. Otherwise,  I looked like him, but not in the hair department.

Finally Mr. Miranda, the barber, hollered to my dad, "Gene, ready for your boy. Hop up here, lad."

He pulled the apron tight around my neck, tilted the chair back and dunked my head in a sink. Mr. Miranda proceeded to spray my head with water with what felt like a fire hose, all the while rubbing some foul-smelling shampoo in my already short hair.

As soon as I heard the scissors clanking together and the electric razor buzzing, I freaked out – twisting and turning and struggling to get free of this torture.

"Now, hold still, boy, I don't want to cut you."

This gave me even less confidence in what was going on and that's when the tears began to flow.

Get me out of here!!!

Mr. Miranda was sweating profusely, and he was huffing and puffing. I had completely worn the man out.

Finally, he turned to my Dad.

"Gene, that's the best I can do. He just won’t cooperate."

Dad, more than a little chagrined, thanked him and handed him some cash. He grabbed me by the hand and led me out to his old Ford Fairline parked on Watervliet Avenue.

I got in; he fired the car up and started heading home.

I could see a little bit of steam leaking from his ears.

"Boy,'' he said. I knew I was in trouble when he addressed me as "Boy."

"Boy, it seems you don't like going to the barber shop," he said.

"No, I hate it,'' I said. Bad move. One step over the line.

"Well, that's just fine; you're not going back there."

Wow, I thought, I've won.

The feeling did not last.

"I've got a nice pair of clippers at home and from now on, I am going to cut your hair myself," he said. "And pretty soon, I'll have you begging for Mr. Miranda."

He was as good as his word.

The next time I needed a haircut, I sat on a chair in the basement with a sheet over my clothes while he ruthlessly shaved my head down to the nub, making me look like The World's Littlest, Nerdiest Marine.

Credit Courtesy of Howard Wilkinson

This process repeated itself countless times for the next seven years or so before I was finally allowed to grow my buzz cut out to a respectable length.

By the time I was in the seventh or eighth grade, I was making regular trips to the barber shop. I still didn't like it. But it was the price I paid for getting rid of the buzz cut.

I kept that look throughout high school.

But once I hit the campus of Ohio University in the fall of 1971, I was free at last. The hair grew and grew and grew until I was looking like – well, looking like most of the males on campus in the early 1970s.

Every other guy I knew had long, wild hair. Girls too. It was a very hairy time.

When I would go home to visit my folks in Dayton, my Dad gave me no grief about my long hair. I guess he had simply lost the will to battle over hair and decided to let it go.

After four years, college days were over and I entered the real world, where people get regular haircuts and behave with some decorum. I was gradually able to adjust to both.

The long hair was, for the most part, gone. Haircuts, over the years, have become a much more regular thing.

Wilkinson's new "work from home" look.
Credit Courtesy of Howard Wilkinson

But now I have been working at home for at least a month, without a single barber shop in Cincinnati doing business.

I haven't shaved. I haven't cut my hair.

I've become a really old version of my young self.

And I'm loving it.

 

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Tales from the Trail" here.