You might think I cut my own hair because I'm a cheapskate. There were times (good times) when that might have been a fair accusation, but these days I like to think it's demonstrably false. It's not because I'm anti-social either, though to a certain extent I am — unless I've been drinking. But of course there's Dr Follicles on Gertrude, where they ply you with Coopers ale as they tame your tresses, which would be the perfect cure if shyness or misanthropy were the ailment.
In fact, I cut my own hair largely out of obstinacy. When I was five (yes, twenty-five years ago), my mother took me to a hairdresser on Hamilton St, Mont Albert, and I got freaked before I even sat in the chair. I don't remember why, but I ran out onto the street, and no cajoling nor ultimatum could bring me back into the shop. I swore to my mother that day I would never, ever go to a hairdresser, or hair stylist, or hairmonger, again.
So for the next seven years, Mum cut my hair. She had a whole armory of scissors, I remember: some thin, some curved, some tapered for the fringe, some with teeth like crocodiles, all very cold against my skin. Despite the professional quality of her arms cache, and her diligence and patience, she usually managed to nick my ear or the back of my neck, and always, without fail, I looked like a bucktoothed goofball at the end of the procedure.
Now when you are being stubborn, and people are being accomodating, and then you have the temerity to complain in spite of their goodwill — what usually results is a stand-off. So by twelve years, when my appearance, I guess, started to matter, and yet I still would not betray my five-year-old self, but nor could I have my hair cut by my mother, she devised an ingenious plan. "You will go to the barber," she said. "He's different from hairdressers." I remember being doubtful. But I was in a no-win scenario, so I took her at her word and for two years, on an occasional afternoon, I trudged down Broughton Rd to Elgar, where Joe the Barber had a shopfront. It said Joe the Barber in the window, even if it had no white and red poles. He was old and Italian and loved his soccer and cigars. He'd say "How would you like it?" and I would mumble something like "Short back and sides" but it didn't matter — he just got out his shears and gave me a uniform #2 every time. He didn't talk much, which was really how I liked it.
I eventually wised up though. The bloke was a hairdresser. And I had sworn off them. So I started cutting my own hair when I was fourteen or fifteen. At first I did this with Mum's ordnance of cold steel, pointing one mirror at the front of my head and one at the back. The results were mixed. But I was entering a period of my life where mixed results were good. I started dying my hair — for a long time fixated on a product that gave me a lustrous "Mahogany Copper" mane, before I moved to jet black. When I got a girlfriend, Suwindi, she cut my hair a few times. She once shaped the crown of my head into a crude Eye of Osiris, it was completely awesome. You can still kind of make it out in my Year 12 handbook. At the end of that year I attended Presentation Night and accepted a prize with a small, skin-white X shaved into the middle of my head. And when I moved to Sydney there was the relatively notorious occasion where I asked my friend Elanor to "make me look like a mangy chicken." She (bless her) said "okay!" and deftly wielded the scissors, both of us giggling maniacally. I sort of did look like a black-feathered moulting rooster at the end of it.
Usually though, I was the one responsible for the crimes against my coiffure. In my twenties, as my radicalism faded and my contentment grew, I discovered these things called clippers, which you could buy at the supermarket for fifteen bucks. I had always assumed they were the exclusive property of barbers, like scalpels for doctors. Ever since, my routine has been largely unchanged. At an interval of two or three months, I go to the bathroom and (NSFW warning) strip naked, not out of any bizarre fetish but simply because I hate getting stray hair on my clothes or towels — it prickles my skin. Then I just do what Joe the Barber used to do — roll the #2 across my head for ten minutes. When done, I jump in the shower.
Of course, every time I'm obliged to do this, I feel the need to improve my technique a little. I learned that "jigging" the clippers around my head, rather than a smooth push, was much more efficient in claiming chunks of hair. I devised an ingenious method for keeping the back hairline mostly straight: wrapping one hand from earlobe to earlobe, and then pushing the #0 clippers up my neck until I hit my index finger. I have a canny knack now for hearing when the clippers are full and need to be tipped into the plastic bag in the sink.
I suppose with all this practice and conscious technique improvement, if the digital economy ever goes south, I'd make a pretty good barber. Five-year-old Joseph didn't say anything about that.
Joseph | 27 Mar 2008