The Barber

The Barber [working title] is a piece I did for Hairstory.


I shaved at the first sign of regrowth. I could see the coarse little stubble peering above the surface of the skin like a groundhog sticking its head out at the first prodding of spring. Tiny periscopes coming just above the waterline. Just days ago, my head had been knicked clean. My scalp a smooth, shiny dome, polished to the high shine of a marble floor. I’d shaved my head for the first time just weeks earlier. With clippers in hand, I watched the disembodied stands flutter to the sink like the flurries in a freshly-shaken snowglobe. Clumps and individual fibers alike, adrift in the warm air of my bathroom. A slow motion cascade to the eventual destination of a garbage can. I followed this deed with a razor and a thick, foamy handful of Barbasol. When all was said and done, I found my lumpy cranium smooth but with the pale sensitivity of the baby’s skin it looked like.

As a 15 year old, I shaved my face regularly. I had no choice. I wanted to grow the rugged five O’clock shadow that cloaked the sharp and jutting jawlines of so many leading men. But my facial hair was too patchy. Too sparse. I could grow dense little tufts on my chin and cheeks, even a little mustache framing my upper lip. But it wasn’t exactly the makings of a full beard. I figured clean skin was better than the errant scraggles of pubescent boyhood. When I noticed chest hair sprouting up for the first time, I didn’t know what to do. I thought I’d skipped right through puberty and gone straight to middle age. Suddenly hair grew in places I’d never considered. Were my ears next? Would my eyebrows turn into the fuzzy caterpillars that, as indicated by the Farmer’s Almanac, were sure signs of an early summer? I didn’t know. And denial seemed like the best approach, so I shaved that too.

My mother had always told me I had the hairy gene. These things expressed themselves on the X chromosome, so not knowing my father was inconsequential. It was her father that had brought this fuzziness to bear upon me. Like my own father, I never met hers either. I had however seen pictures. He’d spent some years as a circus strongman in the late 1920s. His thick, ropey arms and barrel chest were well-documented. Newspaper clippings depicted his chiseled, six foot three inch frame shaved clean to better accentuate the hard lines of his torso and angular neck. But as the economy turned sour at the dawn of the 1930s, his strongman work dried up. With no other vocation, he was forced to grow his body hair back and perform as The Wolfman. He got by in some of the many carnival freak shows that traversed the US at the time. Few pictures of him from this period exist, but the ones that remain show his massive chest and back under a thick blanket of hair. Unlike his pointy prosthetic ears, the hair on his trunk was real and had been styled and combed down to a more manageable vest. Dense, furry tufts sprang up from his upper arms and shoulders, which, along with his eye makeup, made him look a little deranged and sociopathic.

At 15 I wasn’t sure what it meant to be a man, but I knew the physical personification was upon me. As far as I could tell, true manliness was hairlessness. If I learned anything from my grandfather, it was that hairless men were strong and revered. But their fleecy counterparts were scary and to be avoided. Repulsive even. The men I wanted to model myself after were all completely smooth. The action heroes, the sports stars, the studs; all glabrous. The way I saw it, I had two options. I could let my hair grow out and be the hirsute lumberjack I knew I’d grow to become. Or, I could be the kind of man that takes action. The kind of man that makes decisions and pursues them tirelessly. The kind of man that phones destiny and tells it what to do. I loathed the option of being the hairier, flimsier man. The butt of the joke. The man who gets pushed down the elevator shaft. Or worse, the lunatic who wanders the streets howling at the moon.

As one thing lead to another, I soon came to see that it wasn’t just hairless bodies that made the manly man. A shaved head was a vital component too. Baldness wasn’t just a disguise for those who couldn’t grow Fabio’s thick mane. Nor was it just for genies and cancer patients. The toughest manly men now sported the decorticated look. Tough guys, smart guys, tricksters and fun-loving criminals all. Everyone from Jason Statham to Vin Diesel. Baldness somehow became a sign of full-on badassery. Even Danai Gurira has one. And so I shaved my head too. When I shower off, I still feel that initial shock. The first tactile recognition that I have the sticky-slick smoothness of a warm latex glove. My hand sliding across my bare chest and head in a slightly jerky, stutter-stop motion. That first exposure to water and then air that feels both hot and cool at the same time. Its eerie. While I may resemble Bruce Willis a little more in appearance, I still feel the same. Like myself. I may look like a man of action, but at 15, how manly can I really be?

~ by namderf on April 20, 2016.