McGrath: Barber-phobia (from $1 haircuts in Roseland?)
By David McGrath firstname.lastname@example.org August 2, 2013 4:58PM
Updated: September 5, 2013 6:09AM
I don’t believe it constitutes legal grounds for divorce in Illinois, the fact that my wife refuses to give me a haircut. But it’s more serious than people may think.
I cannot abide submitting to a barber. Cannot sit, either. Call me paranoid or hypersensitive or claustrophobic or whatever. But inviting a relative stranger into my personal space for any length of time, other than in a medical or dental emergency, is about as welcome as an income tax audit. In fact, I’d prefer the audit in which the agent, at least, remains on the other side of the desk.
Instead, I begged my wife to trim my hair. I hunted up the toll-free number for Ronco to acquire a deluxe, at-home hair cutting kit. I even promised I’d take her to one of those restaurants with an obsequious maitre d’ and superfluous wait staff loitering near your table. But she can’t be bothered.
Well, I’ll tell you who is bothered with a capital B. Me. Well, okay, a capital M.
Tell me I’m not crazy.
First, my senior citizen status notwithstanding, I inherited a Polish gene from my mother that left me with a pelt like a wolverine, slightly tinged with gray, that requires shearing way more often than humanly expected. I have inquired about electrolysis, but that’s for another column.
Secondly, let’s say that for one day I am, in fact, able to overcome the heebee-jeebees from a relative stranger standing nine inches away, their one hand steering my head, the other guiding the clippers, while their eyes stare mercilessly into my scalp, skull, eardrums, neck blotches and five o’clock shadow.
Maybe, just maybe, strictly under those circumstances, I could steel myself for a brief ordeal. But the buzz of an electric razor is only half the problem.
For example, a certain hair-styling franchise that will go unnamed, where it felt as if I had been temporarily incarcerated, did an admittedly good job thinning, trimming and shaping my hair. Though they don’t quite succeed in transforming me into, say, Richard Gere, they don’t leave me looking like Bruce Willis either.
But a major complaint with such businesses is that the time it takes exceeds my physical capacity for sitting still with someone touching me, which I’ve long since predetermined to be 10 minutes. And one particularly traumatic experience at a SuperCuts (there, I’ve said it) was well into its 17th minute and still not complete when I abruptly stood and paid, claiming a suddenly remembered appointment for a root canal.
Another problem is their insistence on entertaining clients with music reverberating from speakers at every hair station. I am not anti-music. But the lyrical tastes of stylists whose average age is somewhere between three and 29 days post high school commencement runs the rock-and-roll gamut from psychedelic to rusty metal, making me so desperate that I yearn for Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, those car guys — anything, please, mere seconds into the mandatory shampoo.
And don’t think I’ve not gone down that other road, either, the one lined with barber poles adorning those historic last refuges of American manliness. Yes, they do have one major advantage — speed. I can still recall my father marching his six boys to the VFW barbershop in Chicago’s Roseland community for buck-a-piece buzz cuts, and three minutes per head.
All these years later, traditional barber shops remain fast. But not fast enough. Because now that I’m an adult, they want to talk!
Simply recalling the last barbershop I visited makes my neck ache. With its skull-and-crossbones pirate flag in the front window, I should have known better. But I had a wedding to attend, and some naturally curly locks growing out of my ears.
Surely, I understood the barber’s social need to converse. Standing up all day long, staring at dandruff flakes and soiled shirt collars, he could use some distraction. But subjecting me, a literally captive audience, bound tightly at the neck in a striped smock, to his strident political views is more torture than the Constitution permits.
And it’s not as if I even had a perspective, one way or the other, regarding Martha Stewart. But after Martha sashayed through a commercial on the screen of the TV on the wall opposite the barber chair, my captor fully exfoliated his disturbingly vituperative feelings about Ms. Stewart.
Gauging his age, I concluded that he might possibly have been spurned by the ex-beauty contestant during her salad days, so toxic was his commentary. And even if I were tempted, out of principle, to disagree, the moment he clicked his sharp, stainless steel scissors above my head three times in succession to make a point about her insufficient jail sentence for insider trading, I would’ve been a fool to take issue.
What is my solution? Promise Marianne some flowers? Granite countertops?
Or is technology the answer? A robot like Watson that beat everyone on “Jeopardy?” A phone app for a hair trim that I can plug into my cellphone? An I-haircut?
Please, oh please, Apple Corp. It’s only been three weeks since my last detention and shearing, and already I can see my eyebrows without a mirror.
David McGrath, a former resident of Evergreen Park and Oak Forest, is an emeritus professor of English at the College of DuPage.