Thursday, March 12, 2009

My naked ears, or "Don't worry--you can't cut it too short!"

For years now, when I go to get my hair cut, I've been saying things like, "Go ahead and cut it short," and "Don't worry, you can't cut it too short for me!" Most of the time that's true. I've had lots of haircuts where the hairdresser thought she was done, only to have me ask her to take a little more off.

It wasn't always this way.

As a kid, I had a lengthy series of severely traumatizing haircuts from a large, well-muscled Italian man with a flat-top--Frank the Barber--in downtown Milford. At first, I was too young to realize that most little girls didn't get their hair cut at barbershops, where they had to wait their turn sandwiched rather snugly between Pasquale from the pizza place, still in his sauce-covered apron, and a prematurely balding young salesman with a comb-over. Even after I figured it out, when my mother told me that Frank's haircuts were much cheaper than those from the salons where my friends went, I didn't complain too much about it, although it was embarrassing to realize I was having my hair cut at the same place as some of the boys in my class. Finally, though, after a particularly bad outcome--Frank, struggling to even up my bangs, took a little off one side, then a little off the other, then a little more in the middle, and ended up cutting them so short that Kevin Roman, the meanest boy in the third-grade church choir, said, "You look just like a baby!" when he saw me--I put my foot down.

(I should note that this is the same Kevin Roman who was the only person in the whole choir mean enough to remind me--and he reminded me for years after it happened--about an unfortunate pants-wetting incident that occurred on the very first day of choir. We never went to the same school, and we didn't really even know each other, and third grade was the only year that the boys' and girls' choirs rehearsed together, but of course I saw him at church things, and every so often, maybe once a year or so, he would look right at me and say, "Hey, you're that girl who wet her pants at choir practice!" Now that I think about it, this might have only happened for a couple of years, since I don't remember ever coming face to face with him after sixth grade or so. It's even possible that Kevin Roman grew out of his dreadful 9-year-old self and became a perfectly decent person by high school, but I was not taking any chances. Any time I saw him from a distance, I managed to hide, and I'm afraid that even today, if I were walking around Milford and happened to run into him--of course, I still imagine him as a tough, stringy little boy with brown hair and freckles--I would hold my breath and try to avoid him, and I would still be expecting to hear, "Hey, aren't you that girl...?")

Anyway, after Kevin Roman told me I looked like a baby, I refused to go back to Frank's Barbershop anymore, and my mother started taking me to the place where she got her hair done, "Mr. Sam, Coiffures" on the Boston Post Road. Her own hairdresser was not Mr. Sam, but the chatty, somewhat abrasive Vi, who had ongoing problems with her teenage children and her love life, but whom my mother liked because she could trust her not to tease her hair too much after she took out the rollers.

I got my hair cut by whoever happened to be available at the salon, occasionally even Mr. Sam himself. The haircuts I got at Mr. Sam, Coiffures were not much different from Frank's, except that they probably cost three times as much, but at least I didn't have to worry about running into any boys I knew there. (For all I knew, maybe even Kevin Roman got his hair cut at Frank's, a possibility too terrible to contemplate.)

In middle school, when I finally decided to rebel, I just stopped getting my hair cut at all. Every girl I knew wore her hair long, straight, and parted in the middle, so that's how I wore mine for the next few years, too, much to my mother's dismay. For some reason, she really, really liked short hair, and she campaigned tirelessly for me to get mine cut. By high school graduation, I had caved and gotten it cut short again, but more because a few of my friends were wearing their hair short than because it pleased my mother.

I kept my hair short and sensible throughout the late 70s and 80s, mostly because I was too busy getting married, working, building a house, having kids, moving to a new house, getting divorced, getting married again, and that sort of thing to want to mess with long hair.

Then I grew it long again. I was in my thirties, and my mother continued to bring up frequently how much cuter my hair had looked when it was short, and to make veiled references to my advancing age, and the inappropriateness of long hair after one is out of one's teens. In fact, long after she had stopped sighing about my unfinished college degree and given up trying to get me to go to church, she still campaigned for short hair.

After she died, I cut my hair short again (I gave my long hair to Locks of Love, wondering if any young cancer patient really wanted graying middle-aged hair with split ends) and realized that, along with all the other things my mother was right about, short hair probably does look better on me.

Now that I'm back to short, I like it very short. I like my morning hair routine to consist of no more than a quick wash in the shower with a tiny dollop of cheap shampoo, and a quick run-through with a comb. (If it's short enough, I can skip the comb and use my fingers instead.) The shorter the better. You could say that I am not afraid of short hair.

(The only time I've ever felt anyone cut my hair too short for my liking was one summer when I was in college and Leslie came over to camp. "I saw the cutest haircut, and I think it would be perfect on you!" she said. [I think she was in cahoots with my mother.] "It was the same length all over, about half an inch long." I let her cut my hair, but a style that might have looked adorable on a tiny girl with a pixie face wasn't quite right for me; I just looked even more like a teenage boy [I already had the flat chest and pimples to complete the look].)

I got my hair cut yesterday, for the first time since November (another advantage of getting it cut really short is that I can make a haircut last a really long time, although it's usually at least a month past its expiration date by the time I get around to making an appointment) and, as usual (well, it was actually only the third time she had cut my hair, so I'm not sure "as usual" is the right choice of words, but you know what I mean), I told Kathy, "Don't worry--you can't cut it too short for me!"

I think where this haircut went wrong was in a simple miscommunication. She asked me if I wanted it "over my ears." I thought she meant, did I want "hair over my ears," as in, the top part of my ears would still be slightly obscured by hair, which is how I usually have it cut. She thought I meant, did I want it above my ears, as in, the hair on the sides of my head ends before it gets to the top of my ears.

I started to be suspicious when I heard her using a razor on the sides of my head. (I don't think I've heard the skri-i-itch of a razor next to my head since the days of Frank's Barber Shop.)

When she was done, I didn't say anything, because what was there to say? I had, after all, repeatedly assured her that the shorter it was, the better I liked it. So I said it looked fine.

And it is fine, really, it is. It's just that I've never seen quite so much of my ears before, and I'm not used to them. And it was 15 degrees this morning, with the wind whipping, and I really needed earmuffs. (Or maybe a pair of these cool Spock ears that Katy found.)


  1. Hey, Harriet, your haircut is adorable. What is it? About 1/2 inch all over?

  2. Hey, your haircut is adorable! What is it - about 1/2 inch all over???

  3. I bet if I cut my hair that short everyone would think I'm a lesbian. I cannot wait to be over 40.