|LIFE AS A LOSER #27: "HAIR APPARENT."|
|By Will Leitch|
OK, so Iíve been here in the naked city for about a week now and Iíve received a number of different reactions. Iíve met people who have made fun of my clothes, my stuttering, my nervousness and even my cat. A woman I ran into at a bar told me I looked like Iíd just crawled off the set of Saved by the Bell, but when I asked her if I was more like Screech or Zach, she just giggled and walked away. I even had one of those subway security guys call me Jethro (I swear) when I couldnít figure out which way was uptown and which way was downtown. (When I joked I should just flip a coin, he gave me an exasperated point in the right direction - and a wedgie.)
Of course, because of all this, I feel completely at home here.
I have to say, though, the most common giveaways, the most obvious examples that people are immediately and entirely aware that Iím a transplanted Midwestern boy set adrift in Gotham, have been all the comments about my hair. Six different people, all of whom were witnessing me for the first time, have found something to mock about it.
ďWhatís with the center part?Ē wondered Michelle, a woman who began chatting me up at a dive jukebox - I found a jukebox with Miles Davis in it; I might be in the right place - probably because she figured Iíd be an easy target for a wallet swipe (fooled her; there was nothing in there but old movie tickets and some catnip).
ďWill, itís awfully, um, feathery,Ē said my friend Jami.
ďSo, um, do you put anything in there?Ē asked the butcher downstairs. (I live right next to a meat market, so anytime I want to see a grown man covered in blood, I can do it.) When a man with a cleaver is commenting on the lack of texture in your hair, you start to wonder.
Up until I was a sophomore in high school, I had one haircut, imposed upon me by my father. It was the haircut he had as a boy, a tightly cropped crew cut, military style, and needless to say, I hated it. I would try everything possible to make it look different. I would comb it straight down, I would try to part it. (Ever try to part a crew cut? It doesnít work.) My usual solution was to just wear a hat. I had the same barber as my father, an elderly man Iím just assuming was named Floyd who I donít think ever needed scissors in any of our sessions. He would just bring out that electric razor and whip bang pow, I was a military man again.
I complained to my mother about this pretty much on a daily basis, but she knew better than to try to talk my dad out of Willís buzzcuts. Finally, during that sophomore year, I sat my parents down and explained to them that, well, Iím not a kid anymore and I should have my own life and you canít tell me what to do and my friends make fun of my crew cut and I hate that duck wax stuff you have to put in there and I want to look cool and I think itís time I have my hair the way I want to have my hair and itís important to be stylish and that Emily girl in Biology told me that I needed to ďlet my hair grow outĒ - OK, I actually left out the part about Emily when I was talking to my mom and dad - and that settled it right there.
My dad frowned and growled ďwhatever,Ē and my mom sighed and told me I could get a cool haircut, so I went right out and grew me a mullet.
I know everyone likes to make fun of mullets, but itís important to remember that there was in fact a time that they were actually pretty cool (really!). There was a definite logic to my nurturing of one. I didnít want to be one of those long-haired hippie freaks, but I did want something that would show the world that it wasnít dealing with crew-cut boy anymore. I kept the hair pretty much at crew-cut length on top, if just to appease my father, but the back just kept going and going. It wasnít one of those nasty, frizzy, curly things in the back - I wasnít Billy Ray Cyrus or anything - just straight and really long, almost past my shoulders. I actually found it kind of arty that, if I wanted to, I could pull back my hair into a ponytail, though I made sure when I did that, my father was a considerably safe distance away, lest he bring out his pocketknife.
This will come as a major surprise to you, but my mullet did not bring me the instant success with women that I had anticipated. I had it trimmed by my senior year, letting the top of my hair grow out a little, until it barely even resembled a mullet anymore. I even started parting it, an entirely new experience. I ended high school with a Beatles-esque mop top - my girlfriend had talked me into getting what was called a ďbowl cutĒ - which had just beaten out my friendís suggestion of a perm.
Then I got to college, and I discovered alcohol, and the next thing you know, I was one of those long-haired hippie freaks. I just let my hair grow and grow, until I had bangs that went down to my chin and the back of my hair flowed almost halfway down my back. I enjoyed that haircut, if only because I kind of resembled how Kaiser Soze looked in the flashback sequence of The Usual Suspects. It got a little shorter, but the long-hair thing lasted for about four years - save for a brief disastrous flirtation with one of those Clooney Caesar cut things - through my year in Los Angeles and during my stay in St. Louis.
Last February, I went on vacation to visit my friend Tim and my old roommates Marisa and Lynda in Los Angeles. Iíd been there for about a week when Marisa, at last telling me the truth, whispered, ďWill, honestly, we have to do something about your hair.Ē (She also revamped my wardrobe while I was out there, but that, my dears, is another column entirely.) She took me to some fancy pants salon, went through some magazine she always reads and handed it to the stylist, saying ďthat one.Ē I hadnít seen what she was pointing to, but she assured me that whatever I got would be an improvement.
Well, this guy chopped most of my hair off and started putting some kind of gel in it, and next thing I knew, I had some kind of hip, spiky do that Marisa absolutely insisted would drive those girls back in St. Louis crazy. I doubted that, obviously, but I was happy to have entered the next phase in my hair cycle. The most uncomfortable aspect of the new hair was that, for the first time, I would have to put something called Pomade in it every day, this nasty stuff that I believe is also used to peel the paint off cars and might have assisted in Americaís creation of the H-Bomb.
Still, I played along, and everyone back in St. Louis was impressed that, for the first time, Will appeared to be using something on his hair that wasnít a towel. I kind of liked the stiffening stuff, even though one time I bumped my head on a door and knocked it over. It even seemed like a haircut suitable for New York City, should I ever happen to come across the opportunity to live there.
Well, as you know, I moved out of my St. Louis place on New Yearís Eve, and I had a bunch of crap to pack up. And, wouldnít you know it, I ended up, in all the transition, misplacing that Pomade stuff, and since I had about a million other things to do, the last thing on my mind was how my hair looked. So Iíve been waking up in the morning, brushing my teeth (sometimes) and just parting my hair on the left, right or in the middle, depending on my whim, and putting nothing on it. Itís just a blob of light brown mess that, of course, gets radically disheveled anytime I step out in this blinding cold they call January here.
So Iíve been getting the comments, and half the people Iíve met have decided that theyíll know I feel comfortable in New York when I let them take me to their hairdresser, who is just the greatest hairdresser in the world, even though I donít think their hair looks all that great either. (I even had a bald guy say this to me, and Iím definitely not taking his advice.) Iíve had people fussing around with my hair in bars, telling me that I certainly have the potential to look cool, but I just need to lose ďthat whole Midwestern thing.Ē My hair has become a distraction, my acquaintancesí equivalent of talking about the Mets, a default conversation piece. I have dorky hair, I know it and Iíve made my peace with it. Iím sick of it now and I canít think of any way to get people to leave me alone about my hair and let me go about my business.
Well thereís this: maybe Iíll just wear my John Rocker cap over it. That should end any discussion.