A few years ago, a provocative concept became the basis for a most amusing book entitled, "Not Quite What I Was Planning." The conceit was that, similar to the title, the book consisted entirely of six word memoirs submitted by persons ranging from the famous to the obscure. My favorite came from the writer Dave Eggers: "Fifteen years since last professional haircut."
Those six words capture the essence of his life quite nicely, and allow me to create a forced transition into something I've wanted to explore for some time: How has this whole cut my own hair experiment been working out for the past year plus?
Those Who Ignore The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It
Before going into specifics, it's important you know my relationship with hair over the years and how it has evolved to my present "devil may (hair)care" attitude of feigned indifference.
As a kid, I modeled my immigrant father's outmoded if generationally-appropriate "paste those suckers flat against your head to provide the illusion of order" flat comb look. This was adequate in grade school, until suddenly in the sixth grade several factors conspired to overturn the status quo all at once:
- Girls, formerly repositories for the cooties to be avoided at all costs, became inexplicably interesting.
- Our family relocated to live near two older female cousins who functioned as older sisters. They decided to bring me onto the bleeding edge of 1980s fashion as their life's mission. They did not necessarily ask my approval to do so.
- John Hughes films provided templates of how to make oneself more interesting to girls.
My hair, it turns out, was an uncorrelated asset with respect to the type of person I aspired to become (one with a girlfriend). I'd wake up in the morning feeling debonair, look in the mirror, and shrink at the humid curls looking back at me. So that's how it's going to be today, huh?
My cousins tried helping me spend my birthday money on the more fashionable items that Korb's Trading Post had to offer, and once even bought me a gift certificate for an upscale hairdresser. I went, had a ton of product placed in my hair with a cut and blowdry, and looked great all afternoon.
By the next morning, my hair was back to doing what it wanted, and I had no patience for the time-intensive blow drying and product placement (see what I did there with my clever wordsmithery?) that looking good demanded.
Most of high school was spent helping my hair go unnoticed. On a good day, my hair was nondescript background for my personality, akin to the pastel color schemes popular among high schools of my era that were alleged to reduce violence by soothing adolescent sensory input.
I avoided investing time or effort in my hair and went long on personality instead. I reasoned it might be protective if I eventually went bald like my maternal grandfather (has yet to happen, but I hope to live long enough to see if it does).
For a few year in high school, I let the top grow borderline-skater long and used clippers to shave the bottom close, so that I had an appearance my younger cousin from Mexico City once called el hongo, which translates to the mushroom. Surprisingly, he used the term with adulation, asking his mother, "Can I please get my next haircut in the form of a mushroom to resemble my cousin?"
Boyz To Men
As an adult, I generally got my haircuts from places that began with "Super" or "Fantastic," franchises where middle-aged men and women discussed grandchildren and life disappointments with their clientele.
These places met my needs in a number of ways:
- They were familiar, as I'd frequented them as a teen.
- They were inexpensive, typically under 20 bucks.
- No matter how good or bad a job they did, my hair always looked good enough about two weeks out from the haircut.
- They had frequent user cards that I got punched at each visit, so every 10th haircut was free.
- They took under a half hour, usually closer to 15 minutes.
Inexpensive and quick might not have been the best criteria, but they did the job for many years. Then I met my future wife.
Paying My Debt To My Country
Early in my relationship with my soon-to-be wife, I went to a Supercuts and returned profoundly shorn. My then girlfriend seemed genuinely upset at how liberally the hairdresser had interpreted my request to trim a half inch. The words "plucked chicken" may have been used.
I explained that the woman who cut my hair had a son-in-law serving in the infantry in Iraq, and a pregnant daughter living with her. This woman needed to unload her life's troubles on someone, and I did not have the heart to cut her off.
ER docs are either ruthlessly efficient at moving the meat, or hand-holders. It was obvious to my wife that I was of the hand-holder variety.
Losing my hair that day felt like fulfilling my patriotic duty.
A little over a year ago, inspired by Mr. Money Mustache, I decided to cut my own hair using clippers I'd purchased at Costco on the sly. I waited for a morning my wife was out of the house, watched a couple of youtube videos, and carefully went to work with scissors and clippers in front of the bathroom mirror. I swept up the mess before she returned.
That evening, my detail-oriented wife noted that I'd cut my hair, conducted a careful inspection of the perimeter, and mentioned that they'd done a decent job.
That was all the license I needed to make this my new normal. I spilled the beans, and with equal parts horror and curiosity, she agreed to tidy up the back of my head on future cuts.
Cutting my own hair has become the new normal.
In contrast to the "Super" and "Fantastic" budget hairdressers of my past, my kids have taken to lovingly calling my clippers "Dreadful Cuts."
Have there been hiccoughs? Of course. The unfortunate and entirely unintentional "rat tail incident" has given many people great pleasure in the retelling. I like to think I've made the world a happier place for the laughter I've indirectly contributed.
I have also learned that longer clipper settings are more forgiving, a lesson that took repeated failures to definitively enter my brain.
There's a perverse pride in being a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to haircuts. I'm an anomaly among peers, but one that commands a modicum of respect.
As for the money saved, on a doctor's salary it's trivial and besides the point. Hair is a distraction that I spend just enough effort to make adequate, so that in those spheres I prioritize, I can expend the effort to be great.