First published in Design Magazine 2006
Question: What's the difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut?
Answer: Three days.
He called for sympathy. Instead, he heard snickers. Our oldest son, now a young father himself, wailed about is four-year old's latest stunt: "You'll never believe what Eli did. He got a hold of the dog clippers and buzzed off a path of hair...from his forehead to his nape! It looked terrible...sort of a reverse Mohawk. There was no way we could comb the rest of his hair over an cover it up, so we had to buzz his whole head. Now he looks even worse. He looks like a poster-child for the Leukemia Foundation or something."
My husband and I were in a state of merriment over this news. Somehow it's so wonderful knowing our grandchildren are aggravating their parents the way they aggravated us. It's payback time.
Our son, interpreting our muffled sounds as sympathy, went on: "I asked Eli, 'what were you thinking?'"
"Do you know what he said?" the outraged father asked. "He said he 'wanted to know what it felt like.' Can you imagine?"
We not only could imagine, we could remember. That devastated dad had once been a five-year old himself. One who stealthily helped himself to my craft scissors and cut his own bangs, right to his forehead. Then he cheerfully snipped off his little sister's curls in random chunks as well. I remember rushing the children off to my hair stylist on an emergency appointment. "This will be the challenge of your career, " I told Roxie, "Can you fix it?"
Roxie did her best, regaling me the whole time with stories of other horrible haircuts she had seen. The other stylists and their patrons, eavesdropping on our conversation, contributed stories of their own. Apparently, the homemade haircut is an almost universal rite of passage. It is usually (though not always) performed by the very young. Variations abound, although the stories fall into specific categories:
The haircut the haircutters give themselves. Usually a one-time hack job, this may come at the worst possible time, like "The day before school pictures were taken," as one mother wryly recalled. On the bright side, "that little girl actually grew into a responsible young adult."
One teenager decided she didn't like her widow's peak. She just wanted her hairline to go straight across, so she shaved off the peak. It didn't look too odd right away, but when it began to grow out, she had a little triangular crew-cut, "right in the middle of her forehead."
Of course, those who cut their own hair usually cannot complain too much, because they did it themselves. This does not hold true with:
The haircut the haircutter gives to someone else. Sometimes the victim is a sibling, friend, or an unlucky cat or dog. The only blissfully unaware victims are inanimate: "I don't know what it is," said one mother, "but we have a toy box full of bristle-headed Barbie dolls. Little girls seem to find that plastic rooted hair absolutely irresistible. They also find it never grows back"
Nobody would expect a little girl with hedge-clippers to give a very good trim, but sometimes the perpetrator is trained, licensed and still terrible. "I went to this one beautician," a young mother recalled, "who was an absolute barfly. I instructed her to trim my hair to shoulder-length. When she was through, it looked just like a mushroom on top of my head..and yet uneven! A blind man with a butcher knife couldn't have done a worse job!"
Even if the lucky patrons get exactly the effect they want, they may find the rest of the world disapproves. These haircuts fall under the category of:
The haircut everybody else hates. Eric, who has curly red hair, remembers, "I wasn't particularly rebellious kid in high school, but I had this outrageous mullet. You know, the haircut that Billy Ray Cyrus and Joey Buttafucco made famous? I loved it. It was the perfect haircut: 'business in the front; party in the back.' I couldn't understand why my parents, teachers, and youth leaders hated it so much. I could study with my mullet. I could play chess with my mullet. I could pray with my mullet. Why couldn't people leave me alone about my mullet?"
He paused for a minute and then added, "The other day I came across a picture of myself with my mullet. I looked like a total idiot."
The equation "tragedy, plus time, equals comedy" certainly applies to hideous haircuts. Whether they are the result of a personal attempt, and outsider's assault, or a professional's ineptitude, the tragedy eventually resolves itself and only the story remains. The stories are the best part. Most of them get funnier and longer with time. Perhaps that explains the consolation offered for every horrible haircut: "Don't worry. It will grow out."