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March 19, 2007

Retardcapades, or, A Groom of One's Own

A few weeks ago, my Darling Baby Sister came to my town with several friends for a weekend surf-hangout visit. As soon as my sister and I were in the same place for five seconds,* it was noted that we once again had ended up with the same haircut. It was also noted, at least by me, that she had the haircut I was supposed to have, whereas I had a very outgrown version of same. Hence, she looked, as always, cute and well-groomed, and I looked like I was sidling toward mullet territory.

As I explained to my sister, when haircut needs arise, I like to go throw myself on the mercy of the 17-year-old high-school dropouts at the cosmetology school here in town. No one of them can cut hair worth a hill of beans, but:
(a) there are usually two or more of them fretting over a single head, which increases the combined competence factor,
(b) theyâre all adorable little punk-rawk fashion plates, incapable of conversation but very easy on the eyes, and
(c) it only costs 8 bucks, and Iâm broke.
(d) But mostly (b).

However, Iâve been having to space out my visits to that place more than I would have liked, with the result that I walk around with an idiotic ball of hair for weeks or months at a time. Why? Because Iâve discovered that someone who couldnât hang with their teach-to-the-test high school classes after hearing the sweet fluting of the Goodwill cosmetology school pipers is often reduced to a state of near-hysteria when presented with the following logical conundrum:
(1) I am trying to grow my hair, AND
(2) I would like you to cut my hair.
Iâve tried explaining, Iâve tried helping them make truth tables and Greimas squares to figure this out, but the best solution has been for me to stay away until the hair is so dire that even they agree it needs to be cut before it can be allowed to grow. Of course, then thereâs the matter of me finding time to actually get over there.

So, when my sister was here last, I hinted at the horribleness of my hair and the urgent need for a trim. I complimented her ability to cut even her own hair to acceptable, often downright adorable, specifications. But it was ultimately a pretty short hangout, and there wasnât time to actually shove a pair of scissors into her hand and get her to chop off some of the crap growing over the back of my neck.

There was, however, time for my sister to deliver a Treatise on the Principles of Self-Grooming, and this is why I blame her for everything that followed. She pointed out, index finger in the air,** that if you give yourself a haircut, and it turns out to be a bad haircut, then at least itâs free and is the bad haircut you wanted, and is therefore superior to the bad haircut someone else gives you, which is not free and not what you wanted. QED. There was more to it than that, but this central point seemed so elegantly demonstrated that I never thought to question her premises or check her logic.

Instead, I sent her back home with my hair clippers, because she was thinking of clippering her adorable hair back off, and I wanted to remove my own temptation to neutralize my awkwardly-growing-out hair by buzzing it again. No haircut for me, but at least the threat of undoing months of work in a single series of strokes was safely leaving town with my sister.

Flash forward some days to a point when, still not having found time to go confuse the poor girls at the cosmetology school, I was hanging out with my Delightful Former Housemate, who was in town for one of our weekly caloric extravaganzas known as Thursday night dinner. Within five minutes of my getting into his car, the conversation turned to the female mullet, by way of his mother's recent gentle observations about the social unpleasantness of a couple of big angry mulleted women of her acquaintance. This was about two other women, mind you, not about me, but I was acutely aware of the follicles on the back of my head working overtime to send little curls of hair pouring down the back of my neck, and just thinking about it made me frowny and irritable. As my DFH chattered on, I was ticking things off on my fingers.
One: Weâre on our way to go eat about 6,000 calories worth of dinner.
Two: No matter what anyone says, Iâm starting to have a mullet.
Three: Iâm getting angry and unpleasant just thinking about it.
Four: Oh dear.

By the time we dined and hung out and my DFH decided to go ahead and hit the road in the middle of a thunderstorm, I was still thinking about it. I marched into the bathroom, or rather the hallway that serves as a bathroom in my odd little apartment, pointed at myself in the mirror, and snarled, âLook, you, this stops right here, see? Iâm cutting my own hair, and if I give myself a bad haircut, at least itâs the haircut I wanted.â

I was so caught up in the excitement that I overlooked one crucial difference between my sister and me: She is good with a pair of scissors. I am not.

Since I was basically entering a berserk state, I didnât let a little thing like that stop me. I put newspaper down on the floor. I got naked. I stood in front of the mirror with a pair of scissors and snipped some hair off the back of my neck. So far, so good. Then I tried snipping some more hair off the other side of the back of my neck. I could tell hair was being cut by the fact that curls were falling on the newspaper, but other than that, it was a little hard to see what was going on. The angle of the walls in my hallway/bathroom and my jury-rigged system of mirrors make it possible to see the back of my head only obliquely, from one side or the other, but never straight-on. Hence, while the hair was looking better from each side in turn, it was impossible to tell if I was cutting it straight across. Add to that the fact that my hairline itself is uneven, and even I could figure out that I was in some trouble.

I snipped some more, then tried to assess. I held up a hand mirror and managed to get a look at the hairline Iâd created: not a mullet, but not very straight. I tried to hold the hand mirror in one hand and snip with the other, but Iâve always been very bad at this two-mirrors-which-way-is-my-hand-going routine, and was either snipping wildly at the air or nicking myself in the shoulder. Panic mounting, I thought: Wait. I need some structure here. What is the one surefire way to create a haircut which is absolutely notorious for being perfectly even all around? Bowl cut!

I want to make it perfectly clear that I had not been drinking. No, this was sober reason at its best.

I brushed some of the hair off my shoulders, ran into the kitchen, grabbed my 3-quart mixing bowl, and, back in the bathroom, upturned it on my head. By adjusting the way it was sitting on my head, I could indeed create a straighter line across the back of my neck. But when I moved my head, the bowl shifted position. My thought processes honed and sharpened by adrenaline, I grabbed the fuzzy, hot-pink chenille sash from my bathrobe and tied the bowl onto my head. I am a genius, I thought. I started to carefully snip around the bowl at the back of my head. Then, thunder cracked overhead, it started to rain harder, and I stopped snipping, a terrible thought creeping through the pink fluff of unreason. Before my DFH had left to drive home, we had agreed that if the rain got too bad on the mountain highway he would turn around and stay at my house. And I hadnât locked the door.

This is how I got a cold, rational look at myself: Naked, covered with hair, holding a pair of scissors in one hand, with a white plastic mixing bowl tied onto my head with a big, fluffy pink bow on top. Like a feral animal, I crouched on my pile of newspapers and stared at myself wide-eyed in the mirror before terror dislodged me and I leapt through the apartment to lock the front door. If he comes back, I thought frantically, Iâll just make him wait in the rain until Iâve put on a big hat.

With a rising sense of regret and much less abandon, I returned to the bathroom and finished snipping, then pulled the bowl off my head. As one might expect, the hairline created by the bowl did not actually match up with the hairline created by my earlier free-form snippings, and I had just created a thoroughly uneven, unspeakable bi-level shelf of hair. I sighed and opened the cabinet for my clippers, when the second unpleasant realization hit: I had sent the clippers home with my sister, precisely so I wouldnât use them in a moment like this. There was no shaving my way out of this one. And I had a full day of being out in public the next day.

I was outside Supercuts in a beanie when they opened at 9:00 the next morning. The very amused woman who showed up to work pulled off my beanie and gave me a look.

âWhat did you do?â she asked, clicking her scissors and her tongue in unison.
âI let a friend cut my hair,â I said in a little voice.
âReally?â she asked, measuring various lengths of hair with her fingers.
âNo,â I said in a littler voice.
âDid you cut your hair?â she asked, spraying and surveying.
âYes, maâam,â I said.
âDid you go to cosmetology school?â she asked, snipping quickly and competently.
âNo, maâam,â I said.
âIs this what you were trying to do? A graduated A-line?â she asked, turning me around and fluffing my newly adorable curls.
âThank you, maâam,â I said.

*Kids, this violates the laws of physics or something, and you shouldnât try it by yourself. Parents, supervise carefully, as experimenters run the risk of becoming highly unstable, ceasing to exist anywhere at any time, putting a big rip in the upholstery of space-time, or growing up to use words like âquantumâ in the presence of their humanities-oriented inferiors.

**Perpendicular to the sky.

Posted by katie at 11:16 AM