I started cutting my own hair at approximately the same time I stopped eating dead animals, in February 1981, just before my first ever on-campus interview, at Princeton University, where I didn’t get the job even though I was the only person the department interviewed. These regimes lasted for roughly thirty years, and in both cases they were overthrown by my girlfriend, in 2010.
I told the story of my fall from quasi-vegetarian grace in the Coda to Against Thrift, which some of you still haven’t read. Buy the book.
The story of the haircut is more complicated. In the late 1970s, I sported an Afro concocted by a flamboyant hairdresser in DeKalb, Illinois, who was trying, not very successfully, to fuck me. It was an elaborate construction scaffolded by large quantities of hair spray—and that is a confession that comes harder than anything I’ve ever said, except maybe admitting to my third wife that I’d been fucking the neighbor for five years.
When I realized the Afro made me look slightly, no, thoroughly ridiculous, I decided to change hairdressers. My last haircut was conducted in Chicago, on Webster Avenue between Sheffield and Halsted, across from the Lincoln Park Grocery, where you could cash checks, down the street from Glasscott’s, where next door you could eat the best fries in the city, in the Athenian Room.
Thereafter I cut my hair with an electric razor for the sides and some scissors for the top. It was always short, I didn’t know any better, so I always looked like a menacing state trooper, but especially when I was bulked up in the late 1990s.
In February 2010, my girlfriend suggested, ever so politely, that my hair was just weird. I was offended, mainly because going bald had been my deepest fear since I was a teenager—I didn’t want to look anything like my father. My little brother, who is now as bald as my father was, used to taunt me by quoting J. Edgar Hoover on Lenin: “At the age of 21, Vladimir Ilych was rapidly losing his hair.” So any talk about hair was almost political.
But she persuaded me to get a real haircut. Why not? I believe in the division of labor, and I really do hate the idea of self-sufficiency. I also don’t like being weird.
So I went to the A & R Studio on 8th Ave in Chelsea, a tiny shop with four chairs, a drying station, and two recliners for the shampoo. Mark cut my hair. I told him I’d been cutting it myself for thirty years, and he said, “Well, not so bad, but you stop now, yes? You let me do this.” English is his third language, after Russian and Hebrew.
Today I went to the A & R Studio for my regular session with Mark. He was just back from Miami, where he’d been circling in the outer rim of his family’s new American orbit.
“Hair is better here,” he said, meaning New York.
“How does hair get better?”
“You know, you got a blow dry here, it looks good. There, not so good, you sweat so much the hair just, I don’t know the word, it’s shiny, it falls down . . .”
“Greasy?” I offer.
“Yes, yes, that is what I mean!”
“But all the ‘product’ you got”—by this I mean the jars of stuff he wants to rub into my follicles when he’s done cutting—“all that shit makes it shiny, no?”
“No, no, Jeem, you don’t understand, I think maybe because you don’t have enough hair.”
“Mark,” I say, “when you’re done I’m going to kill you for saying that.”
He looks in the mirror at me–the great thing about gyms and hair salons is that you’re never face-to-face with anybody–his brow furrows, slightly, after all he’s holding the scissors, then he smiles, he says,
“But I am the one who cuts it.”