“Did you just wake up?” asked Ralph from behind the counter as he poured my breakfast coffee.
“Something looks different. Did you gain a lot of weight?”
“No, thank you, it’s just a new haircut.”
“You paid for that?”
“Yes, I did. And unlike you, I had to pay full price for having so much hair. You must get, what, a 75 percent discount?”
I shouldn’t have said that. For the next two weeks, I’ll get runny eggs and day-old coffee. Ralph’s service will be slower than usual, there will be no refills and it’ll take forever to get the check. But Ralph knows I’ve been trying to find a new barber ever since Charlie moved away.
“I heard he got carpal tunnel from the repetitive motion of giving everyone the exact same haircut for 30 years,” Sue contributed.
Since Charlie’s been gone, I’ve been to every place in town, and no one seems to get my hair right, or care.
Tonae’s House of Hair (formerly Tony’s House of Hair) in the mall won’t take reservations. So each time I go, someone new cuts my hair. Someone who wasn’t there last time.
“What happened to Jeannie?” I asked Madame Tonae, the proprietor.
“She’s having a baby.”
“I was here three weeks ago. She didn’t mention it. She didn’t even look pregnant.”
“Did I say having a baby? I meant she’s in a safe house hiding from her boyfriend. But Tiffany’s free.”
Tiffany had rainbow-colored hair: blue, red, yellow and purple with black tips. Her eyebrow, nose, lower lip and ears were pierced. She was wearing all black and zippers. I’m guessing she was about 40 years younger than I am.
“How do you like it?” she asked, running a hand through my gray hair.
“Oh, as Goth as you can make it.” She laughed and did a great job. She gave me a haircut that didn’t look like I’d just gotten a haircut. Finally, I thought, someone who understands me, someone who knows that I don’t want to look like a person who spends a lot of time on their hair. Tiffany and I bonded. From now on, she would be the only person to touch my hair.
Three weeks later she was gone.
“Don’t tell me she’s hiding from a boyfriend,” I told Madame Tonae.
“No, she was having money problems.”
“Really? She looked so busy. I’m sure she got good tips, too.”
“Yes, that was the money problem. Someone offered her more money to work elsewhere.”
“Where’d she go?”
Tonae looked at me as if I had just crawled out of a Paris sewer. “David’s free,” she said, pronouncing it “Dah-vide.”
David had a buzz cut that looked like he had a five-o’clock shadow where his hair should be -- except for one long lock right in the middle of his forehead, pasted into a spit curl. David wore those earrings that make big holes in your earlobes. As he spun me toward the mirror after a final snip, he said, “Now you’ll be able to get into all the clubs!”
Next I went to Nick’s, the jock barbershop with all the sports magazines and pictures of athletic heroes covering the walls, along with Nick’s personal collection of autographed footballs, baseballs, basketballs, golf balls and hockey pucks. Nick wanted to carve the logo of his favorite team into my hair. I said if I’m going to be their billboard, they should pay me. Talk to my agent.
Since then, I’ve had my hair gelled, waxed, foamed, thinned, thickened, perfumed, oiled, scissored, clippered, razored, singed, buzzed, shaved, marinated, creamed and souffled. But worst of all, Ralph is chatting with a bald guy at the other end of the counter.
Ignoring my uplifted, empty coffee cup.
(Contact Jim Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)