Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student
Loring Scotty Hoag
I knew the question he was going to ask, and I shot it down before he could even form the words. He had that look on his face, that sort of half-hidden depressed cringe that he wore when something was bothering him. More specifically, he wore it when something about me was bothering him. The tangled bristles of his scraggily black beard did not conceal his intentions; I knew full well what he was thinking, and I gave him the same obstinate reply that I had been giving him for the last eighteen years: a firm and unforgiving "No."
"But Scotty, it's in your eyes. You can't see."
"Dad, I don't care if it's so long that it's in my shoes and I can't walk. I said 'no.'"
There was that look again. It felt as if he were trying to find the loose fuse in my skull that caused this obscure, long-standing father-son feud. Now that I was older, it was my choice, not his. I didn't like getting my hair cut, and as far as I could remember, I never did.
He wasn't the only one who opposed my choice of hairstyle. Friends, relatives, and nearly everyone else that I happened to meet showed some visual distaste at my long hair. I was usually quiet, but I was also fairly observant of others around me, especially when they were concerned about this issue.
"That's him, man. Doesn't he look like a girl?"
I caught that remark through a noisy passing period at school. It came from a kid who shared a class with me. He was sitting with a friend about 30 feet away. I knew they were talking about me; they were looking right at me. They didn't realize that I had heard them, and I was a bit surprised that my mind could filter a particular sound byte out of the campus chatter, but I acted as if I hadn't noticed anything. I passed by them and headed for my next class. They all had that look on their face.
"Girls aren't going to date you with that long hair."
That came, quite unexpectedly, from my best friend in high school. Every now and then he would just throw something like that into a conversation. Feeling simultaneously confused and amused about the radical change of topic, I would look at him, and he would stare back with "the look." It was the same look everyone else had worn in front of me. It seemed much colder on him, though. Maybe it was because he was my best friend. Maybe it was because the longest he had ever gone without a haircut was about three weeks, whereas I was working on my third year.
"It's looking really bad, Scotty. You need to get it cut."
I would instinctively begin to think of some form of retaliation to these seemingly random slams, but I always decided that a blunt and rude remark deserved an equally blunt and rude response. Time after time, I would smirk, raise my bow finger, and restate my unchanged opinion: "No."
. . . but why? In a way, I knew he was right. I was totally different from everyone else at school, the guys at least, because I had long hair. I had had long hair since I was little. All of the other kids would compliment each other on their new "do's" while making snide remarks about that boy with the ugly, greasy, grimy long hair.
The biggest problem was that I agreed with them. I didn't really like long hair much either. I wanted friends, I wanted to be part of the group, I wanted to blend in with everyone else, I just didn't want a haircut. I wouldn't do it, couldn't do it, even when I wanted it. I would protest my haircuts for as long as humanly possible. I would have to be forced into the airplane-shaped barber chair with threats from my superiors, like the dreaded "No Nintendo" rule. Not only that, but after a cut, I would be stuck in a violent and belligerent mood-funk for about a week, with occasional fits of extreme depression creeping in. I wasn't scared of the scissors or of being cut, nor was I intimidated by the salon ladies who seemed to be advertising the entire line of Mary K cosmetics on their face. I just had a general fear of the haircut process as a whole. I thought that I must have been the only kid on earth that had a haircut phobia.
One day, however, my mother decided to tell me an interesting story. I realized at once that this story had been the source of my unique predicament the whole time. It was the story of my first haircut.
I was born totally bald -- and ugly. Due to some serious health problems and some highly erroneous decisions by the doctors, I had had a very rough delivery. Unlike my fifteen-month old sister, who the nurses claimed was "The prettiest newborn baby in the whole hospital," I was a cross between a Simpsons cartoon character, a zebra, and Mr. Magoo. My grandmother was quoted as saying to my mother, "You should have quit when you were ahead." A year later, however, I had grown a full head of naturally curly blonde locks. My mother thought I looked like an angel. My father thought I looked like a girl, and everyone he met thought so, too.
"Oh, what a cute little girl! How old is she?" they would ask as they passed by my stroller. My father, staring viciously through his grizzly bear-sized shadow at the passerby, would nearly bite straight through his stogie every time he heard it.
"He's not a girl."
"Oh . . ." And that would be the end of the conversation. My father watched the people slowly back away. Then he would look down at me in the stroller. Then he would look at my hair. My father felt that I was far past due for my first haircut; my mother, however, did not. A long battle ensued, and my mother won. Admitting defeat, my father promised to leave my hair as it was.
"Now, Scotty," my mother said to me as she momentarily broke away from the story, "there are a few lessons I need to teach you about life. The first lesson is always keep gas in your car. The second lesson is never trust a man." A man myself, I wasn't exactly sure what she was implying with this remark, but she related it to her story nonetheless. It turns out the very next day after the explosive haircut argument, my father sneaked out of the antique coin store where he and my mother worked and took me with him. Once my mother realized that her husband and son had mysteriously disappeared, she turned the open sign around, locked the shop door, and dashed across the busy intersection to the barbershop on the other side of the street, ironically named "Harry's." As she opened the door, a blood-curdling screech, similar to that of a severely wounded animal, nearly knocked her over. Stepping inside, she realized that she was too late. It was her son causing the sound waves. With the assistance of my dad, who had performed the Herculean task of holding me still the whole time, Harry had cut off about three fourths of my curly blonde locks. The damage had been done, and there was nothing my mother could do.
Then, my mother opened an envelope and showed me the hair from that very first haircut. It was a bright and shiny orange-yellow color. It seemed eerie to hold, because while it felt like hair in the physical sense, smooth flowing, soft feeling, and sort of a grainy texture, it meant something a little different to me; it marked the only truly traumatizing experience of my childhood life and the sole reason I developed such a bizarre phobia about getting my haircut.
I had to get a haircut sometime though, I thought, because I still wanted to be accepted. I knew this wasn't a normal condition, so I examined my options for fixing my highly uncommon mental block. I decided trying some of the techniques my parents used, like self-enforcing the "No Nintendo" rule. That plan blew up in my face when I realized that, while I would rather commit Japanese ritual suicide than be separated from my Game Boy for more than twenty-four hours, I still wouldn't cut my hair. It became apparent that more clever methods would have to be implemented to solve my case.
My sister, once the prettiest baby in the hospital, was currently majoring in cosmetology. She was also growing quite restless from cutting fake hair on her dolls' heads. I thought that maybe I could get over my phobia by getting my haircut by someone I was comfortable with, someone I knew on a personal level. It would help her as well, seeing as how she had never cut the hair of a real person and could use the practice. That might seem like a bad thing to most people, but I honestly didn't care if the cut would turn out uneven or lopsided. My main concern was getting over the phobia. However, the more I thought about it, the more fearful I became of the idea. Being brother and sister didn't necessarily mean that we were always kind and friendly towards each other. We had had a long history of sibling rivalry, which began 24 hours after my delivery when my sister smashed a heavy gold bracelet into my forehead and created a dent that is still somewhat recognizable. What's to say she wouldn't take a little too much off the top, like all of it? I might have needed a haircut, but I didn't need a military buzz. What seemed even worse is that she might have tried to make me look like "The love of her life," former American Idol contestant, Clay Aiken. The seppuku suicide ideas came flooding back into my head.
In a slightly more desperate state, I thought of using hypnosis. The idea was that if I were told to get a haircut while in a relaxed state of hypnosis, I might be able to reprogram my brain and erase the phobia from memory. Therefore, upon awakening from the trance, I would be able to walk into a salon without fear. Hiring a professional hypnotist would be far too expensive, but I knew enough about the techniques used in public stage shows to induce the hypnotic state upon myself. I knew that the methods worked, too, after watching, and subsequently burning, a taped recording of myself impersonating one of the Back-Street Boys. The only problem that I couldn't remedy was how to persuade myself to get my hair cut after falling into a hypnotic state. I thought of recording my voice on a cassette tape, but I remembered having many problems with tape recorders. If I didn't record everything correctly, or if I used the wrong type of tape, I might wake up speaking French or Spanish. I then thought of having a second person on hand to give me the necessary instructions while under hypnosis. However, everyone I thought of electing as a trustworthy hypnosis partner was also waiting for the perfect opportunity to get back at me for some juvenile prank I had pulled on them. Just thinking of what my sister would want to do made me cringe. I might have come out of the trance thinking that I actually was Clay Aiken. I immediately scratched the idea off the list, almost ripping the paper with such force. There had to be another way to go about doing this.
I sat down and thought through the problem once more. If the problem resulted in the way others saw me, maybe I could bypass the whole haircutting process by changing the mental image, rather than the physical image, that those "others" saw when they looked at me. This seemed like a much more comfortable approach to the problem, and if I pulled it off, I could avoid the barbershop entirely.
". . . you know, no one likes your long hair, Scotty. You really should cut it." I was expecting him to mention it again sooner or later. In his typical clockwork type fashion, my best friend had just gotten his hair cut again. He had also received compliments from every single girl on the campus, as usual.
"I don't know, man," I replied as I put down my pizza slice and leaned back in the cafeteria chair, grinning my half-smirk. I pulled some of my hair out of the neck of my wavy red Acapulco shirt, tilted my hat up a bit, and moved a couple of flowing brown tresses out of my eyes and twirled them around my fingertips. He watched with a hint of hidden disgust in his eyes. I could see "the look" on him, as well as on a couple people in the distance who didn't realize I was scanning them. It was now or never, I thought. My grin widened. "The chicks dig it."
That seemed to cause some confusion. My friend raised his eyebrows.
"The chicks dig it?"
I realized then that I had probably used the wrong choice of words for my case. Instead of sounding cool, I came off like some wannabe '70s film star reject. My grin faded.
"It keeps my ears warm, too. It gets cold here in the winter."
That didn't seem to change his attitude much either. Strike two.
"You know, lots of smart people have long hair. I mean, like . . . look at Albert Einstein. The guy practically had an afro!"
"Scotty, Einstein couldn't tie his shoes. He couldn't even match his clothes without his wife's help."
"Well, yeah, but he made that whole relativity thing, and, like, nuclear physics theories, and . . . stuff."
His expression, the familiar looking cringe that I had seen so many times before, didn't change. I was making about as much progress as a crash test dummy trying to go through a brick wall, but I laughed. We both laughed. It was a stupid argument that denigrated the name of one of the greatest scientific minds that had ever lived because he had had difficulty getting dressed in the morning. I thought about that for a second: Did Einstein care if people knew he couldn't match his clothes? Did he worry that people might find it strange that he could barely tie his shoes? Did that stop him from being accepted as one of the world's greatest mathematicians? Did he care?
I thought about my problem again, but from a different perspective this time. Did I care? Did I care whether or not people liked my long hair? Did I truly care? The only fault I could find about my long hair was that other people didn't like it; but, I realized for the first time, that I did. I liked my long hair. It made me feel comfortable and relaxed. I was able to relate with the sort of laid-back attitude that it was associated with. I could see a little bit of the Zonker Harris in me through it. I could see a little bit of the beatnik, a little of the rebel, a little of the Beatles rock-era revolutionary, and I enjoyed that persona. My long hair had been with me since I was a kid. How could I get rid of it? It defined me as a person. It was my style, my essence, my unique individuality. More important, it was mine.
The barren spot on my father's forehead reflected the light of the fluorescent light bulbs above. I could see the look in his eyes. His dark, tangled beard, reaching about two feet in length, unsuccessfully tried to hide it. He was staring at me the same way he had been doing for the last eighteen years. I knew the question he was going to ask.
"Scotty, don't you think it's about time you . . ."