I’ve needed a haircut for weeks now. I was calculating in my delay, as I wanted to appear older for my first day at work and perhaps gain more responsibility, but this backfired. My new office, despite the surf club and lax dress code, decidedly favors spiky bedhead, buzzcuts, and even the occasional faux-hawk. Hair on some appears fastidiously arranged, perhaps for reasons loosely grounded in zen or feng-shui. Always self-conscious, I have decided to mend my head.
Like many people, I find haircuts to be uniquely and acutely traumatic. For me, this has little to do with appearence, although the language associated with describing a particular coiffure still evades me and causes the same kind of anxiety that others must experience with car mechanics and computer helpline personnel. I attempt to request the same thing every time, but I have never managed the same result twice. The most stress-free haircut I ever recieved was in Paris, where an almost total language barrier meant forced me to select my haircut from a matrix of male heads printed on a laminated card. I pointed to the one that looked most like the french me. “That one,” I said slowly, “cette personne.”
However, the true reason I experienced no anxiety that afternoon had nothing to do with results. I was perfectly calm not because I had managed to request something legibly, but that I knew that the next fifteen minutes could be nothing be silent. I was right, save for a single exchange, which I took to be a question about my origin. “Americain,” I replied, and she nodded. My theory, from an empathetic standpoint, is that hairdressers are given immediate and intimate access to a client. For fifteen minutes they are given almost complete dominion over a stranger’s head, running hands through their hair, pointing the face every which way, even occasionally peeking behind the ears or cleaning cuttings from a nostril. This kind of power, combined with sheer boredom, is what I suppose gives rise to the quick, surgical investigation into my human situation every time I sit in a hydraulic chair. At the dentist, one can hide behind unintelligability, but at the salon you must respond in kind. I find this instant comraderie to be universally nerve-wracking.
This time was no different. Simple observations on the thickness and length of my hair gave way to questions about my day, and suddenly I was being asked “so, have you been to the fair?” By this, she meant the Del Mar Fair, which I had not been to because I live in Los Angeles, and was merely in the area visiting Katy’s parents. No, I said, and in response she asked me if my friends had all gone without me. In the interest of brevity I agreed. Yes, I said, they had all gone because I was out of town, and I didn’t want to go by myself. This half lie then led to others, such as what I had been doing instead of going to the fair (visting relatives) and if my friends would go back (I was sure they would before it closed). We finished this almost entirely false conversation by discussing my favorite parts of the fair, which were apparently cotton candy and the music.
The funny thing about this is that inventing an alternate self in front of another person was actually kind of enjoyable. I am a bad liar, but the immediate need to answer these questions allowed me, for reasons of expediency, to order up a different past and personality along with my new hairdo. I was now local. I had lots of (perhaps uncaring) friends, and I was a huge fan of the dusty sweatstorm that is the Del Mar Fair. And, falsity intact, I paid and left. I tipped well, but couldn’t, for reasons of tact, explain exactly why. I just left it unsaid that I had gotten an excellent haircut.