Aug 11, 2008, 05:40AM

Second Base

"I always do this: I wear rags to shop at Bloomingdale’s, rotted socks and footwear to the shoe store, and I won't brush my teeth before going to the dentist. In this way, I hope to make whomever I am visiting feel needed and important."

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Photo by Maveric2003

Every time I get my hair cut it comes out looking terrible. I dread visiting the salon. My hair is long, brown and curly, arranged in a simple enough style—straight across the shoulders and parted down the middle. You would think this would be an easy thing to take care of, and yet for the past 10 years, ever since my hair caught fire in a bar (I wasn’t hurt, just lost a few handfuls), my hair has been always longer on one side.

Since no hairdresser has ever given me a cut that I’ve liked, I seek out a new one each time, hoping for a better result. Each hairdresser I visit marvels at the unevenness. They say that clearly the person who managed my hair before them was totally incompetent, and then assure me they will fix me right up. And yet, always, the result is the same. My hair is like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, obviously in need of some kind of serious spiritual overhaul.

To be honest, I always feel a bit sad after a haircut, too, made slightly lonelier by the loss. It would be one thing to lose the hair at the top of one’s head, just as they are sprouting out of the scalp, my new hair. But to lose the hair from the tips, the hair all the way at the bottom, those hairs have been with me the longest! Seeing them lying their on the floor like that, after it’s all done, discarded, and then to just walk out as if we hadn’t experienced all those years together, it’s too much.

My dad is bald but for some very loyal hairs on the sides of his head. I think the fact that they stay is a testament to his character. Those hairs know him and will not desert him, that’s what I say. This man who works in my father’s garden in Greece says his baldness up top is a sign of how smart he is. His brains eat the hair for fuel, he said to my father once. Visiting my parents this weekend, I figured I'd have my hair done on Deer Park Ave., the Long Island Mecca of drag racing and big hair. After trying so many salons in the city, I figured why not try one out there.

A bell chimes as I walk in, pale as a ghost, resembling a snail that has gone out for the day without its shell. I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors lately and so my skin is possessed of a slight nuclear glow, colored only by the blue rays of my computer screen, and by moonlight when I leave the house late at night in search of one of my adventures. I must confess to looking pretty horrible when I walked into the shop. Tired little ringlets dangled pathetically around my face. I always do this: I wear rags to shop at Bloomingdale’s, rotted socks and footwear to the shoe store, and I won't brush my teeth before going to the dentist. In this way, I hope to make whomever I am visiting feel needed and important. Everyone should have their day, I think, as Dr. Sockel picks the crushed Oreos from my teeth. But this one, this hairdresser greeting me at the reception desk, curls her lip, looks at me up and down, and shows no gratitude for the lift I offer.

The rest of the hairdressers, all busy, stop to notice me. They turn their coiffures slowly, like peacocks maneuvering their decorative tails, to lay their gaze upon the pitifully shabby figure that is I. The room, formerly astir with chattering women, falls suddenly into a silence, broken only by the popping sound of chewing gum being tenderized fiercely by my washer’s teeth. I am directed toward her at the sink and pray she will not speak to me. I have social anxiety issues and hate speaking to strangers without my medication, by which I mean alcohol. I just don’t get any enjoyment out of small talk, as I see little point in talking to someone I am not angling to have sex with finally.

Still despite my prayers, the infernal questions begin: "How are you?" "Haircut today?" "Have you always had long hair?" During my last cut I was invited to a Bible study; presumably only God could shepherd me from such limp tresses. Thus wary and careful to maintain boundaries, I answer her perfunctorily: "Fine." "Yes." "No. When I was born it was considerably shorter actually." She finishes and tries to wrap my hair in a microscopic towel, which she attaches helplessly to a small corner of my wet head while the rest drips over my shoulders. She is perplexed, but also eager for my departure, and so she sends me on to the cutting station.

Combing, combing, combing—this new woman attacks, and I pray for no questions. But then I answer her, "An inch and two-thirds off the bottom, please." I offer my tape measure. "I'm going to have you stand up." "Okay," I say still sitting. This happens to me sometimes. Because my hair is long they make me stand. Why can't they bend down? "So, you can stand up now," she says. She’s getting smart with me, I think, though I stand up without a word.

The salon is packed. It's Saturday in Long Island and everyone is talking, having their nails done, their hair streaked, styled, their faces delivered from age or from whatever godforsaken place they left it. The girl behind me is sitting primly, her hair is being pulled back and pinned into princess curls. The girl next to her gets a sparkly dusting over her ‘do as she looks over her newly manicured nails. I am the only one standing. She has combed my hair in a bleak waterfall over my eyes that falls straight down and blends into the black smock draped over my body. I am an armless faceless figure. Peeking through my hair, I catch a vision of myself in the mirror; I am the creature from The Ring that has just risen from the well!

"Turn," she tells me to get at the other angles. I turn and am facing the door. Just then a new customer walks in. Seeing me, she shrieks, places her hand over her heart as if to calm it, to tend the horrified beating thing from immediate arrest. They usher her quickly toward a sink, as I continue to rotate in her direction, seemingly possessed of demons, but merely following the instruction of my stylist who chooses to remain stationary. "God you're tall! How tall are you?" my hairdresser asks. "Five-nine,” I reply. Even the considerable three inches of height she's layered into her bangs are no match for my demonic giganticness.

"I feel like a midget next to you," she says. "Little person," I correct her. She lets me sit down again and begins combing the hair back away from my face. I gasp at my sudden reflection, perversely thrilled and horrified by the sight of such indescribable pastiness. "Do you want it blown out?" "No." "Slicked back into a pony tail?" "No." "Gelled?" "No." "Dried?"

"But, back!" I let out, rising as she reaches for the Stiff Stuff. She runs a finger over her own bouffant and clearly feels she has done her best for me. I am obviously a hopeless case, she is thinking. Why won't you just let me tease it a little? I can help you!

“Thank you,” I say in my soberest tone, before conveying a tip and taking my leave. Out front of the strip mall, with a wet head, I look over the parking lot for the car. The wind is blowing hard and wrestles for a while with my snakes. I run my hands through my hair past the point where it’s been trimmed, still feeling for the absent ends like a phantom limb. A little lonelier, I drive home.

An hour or so later, my hair finally dry, I stand before the bathroom mirror to investigate my reflection for signs of progress. Needless to say, my haircut looks terrible in the exact same way it always looks terrible, which is to say, unredeemed and with a suggestion of spiritual unevenness about the sides.

  • Iris Smyles' articles are always a pleasure to read, and this was no exception, but here's a question: why would you go a dentist and not brush your teeth? It's bad enough when the dentist has halitosis.

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  • I've lived on Long Island, Dallas and now Miami, and it's a close heat as to where the salons are the yakkiest. My wife, born in Miami, won't admit it, but she loves those haircut sessions. I once told a haircutter there that I'd rather spend two hours in church listening to a sermon than a half hour in a salon. She said, "For a lot of the people here, this IS a sermon." Yeah, beats me, too.

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