My wife says I need a haircut, and I believe her—she spends a lot more time looking at my hair than I do. In fact it often frustrates her how little attention I pay to my hair, but I can’t help it. Just because it’s always on top of my head doesn’t mean it’s always on my mind. I have, at various times of my life, been greatly concerned with my coiffure, though. In the ‘80’s, when I tuned in to Family Ties every Thursday night, I wanted to have hair just like Michael J. Fox. I wasn’t willing to work for it, though. Or rather I assumed that, like me, he got a haircut about once a month and he just rolled out of bed with his hair perfectly parted on one side, and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get mine to do the same. And then something would distract me and I’d move on, and I probably spent more time thinking about Michael J. Fox’s hair than my own, and yet never realized that his shingling was the result of the dedicated effort of a team of ten people who’d cut, style, perm, gel, massage, spin, dry, fold, spindle, mutilate, and finally use a computer program to digitally replace the bright green stocking cap he wore when filming.
I blamed my bad bangs on the people who cut my hair—specifically the rotating individuals at the $8 a cut place where my mother always took me, at least in my teen years, which wasn’t really fair. It wasn’t their fault; it was genetics. I inherited fine hair, which is fine—I could have inherited Larry Fine hair. And eventually I would learn that, for me, anyway, the style I really want is something that is easy to manage and doesn’t draw attention. If I really wanted a proper pompadour I’d shave my head and invest in a set of expensive wigs, or maybe just fashion something out of shag carpeting. In college I did let my hair grow really long and my parents kept telling me I’d have to cut it after I graduated, and they were right—I finally did, fifteen years after graduating. I split with my shaggy locks when a friend described my cut as a “mullet” and I knew it was time to lose the length without even having to mullet over, and also stop treating my hair with fish oil, but that’s another story.
Pre-adolescence I was taken to Fred’s, an old-fashioned corner barber shop with a blue and red striped pole, green vinyl covered chairs, electric blue bottles of Lucky Tiger on the counters, and Howard McNear sitting in the corner. I believe Fred himself regularly cut my hair, and would regale me with stories of how I reminded him of a boy he knew when he was my age who lost an eye playing mumblety-peg but still managed to be the most successful chimney sweep in town. Once he told me the kid who’d come in before me had asked for a Mohawk haircut and Fred gave me a steely look and said, “You wouldn’t want one of those, would you?” I just wanted him to shorten the sides and back and maybe make me look like Michael J. Fox.
A few years after that a kid I knew did get a Mohawk. I was in eighth grade, and even though punk was giving way to new wave in my school anything other than a pageboy was frowned upon, and those were to be worn only by girls—crew cuts were the preferred look for those of us with Y chromosomes. The school administrators didn’t think they could suspend him over a haircut but they also feared it would be a distraction and might lead to kids cutting classes and reading Norman Mailer in the hallways. They didn’t want us looking at him so they made him sit alone in the cafeteria where we all saw him every time we changed classes.