True to my Sevier County roots, I have been getting my hair cut by the same stylist for nearly a decade. That doesn’t mean that she should be held responsible when you see me looking a little unkempt. I should be on a four-week cycle but I tend to wait five weeks. I spend that last week staring in the mirror at the length in back reminiscing about my glory days. Nostalgia is the grease to many a rusting 40-something year-old wheel.
Back in the days of my youth, I styled my hair with the most incredible mullet you’ve ever seen. Although my “do” could not rival the spiked masterpiece sported by my friend, Kevin Townsend, in our high school days, I like to think mine was splendiferous in its own way.
Kevin recently asked why I hadn’t written more columns about our escapades in high school. I quickly responded that, while it would provide me a plethora of entertaining content to exploit, I wasn’t entirely certain that the statute of limitations had yet expired on everything we did. Also, some people are still living who could suffer from disappointment in my character. Once I become convinced they are sufficiently close to God, one way or another, to perfect their forgiving natures, I may delve more deeply into my wonder years in the sacred halls of Sevier County High. Have I mentioned that as a teenage boy, I once stood less than ten feet from Dolly Parton? Yes, my high school days were that amazing.
But back to my mullet. I remember at the ripe, impressionable age of 10 visiting my cousin Johnny, whom I thought walked on water. He naturally sported the latest craze in male hairstyles, and my decade-long bowl cut paled in comparison. I immediately inquired how this work of art could be achieved, and he spoke the magical words that I would recite for hours so as to relate the instructions accurately at my next barbershop visit: “Parted down the middle and feathered back.”
I wore that hairstyle faithfully for another decade. It survived the crustaceous period where I drenched it with enough hairspray to survive a blow to the head by a falling meteorite. It survived the natural years, lightly gelled to present stability but give it that “untampered look.” Alas, it could not survive my college years when I was compelled to adopt the more businesslike appearance you see above.
Leslie has been my faithful stylist in maintaining my comfortable, if boring, hairstyle. Not too long ago, after considerable discussion, we cautiously proceeded with the most precipitous alteration in my hair styling this decade: A conversion from a number 3 guard to a number 2 on the clippers. It was a leap of faith but I finally took it. Her convincing me that I might look younger sealed the deal. Impressed by her ability to change my apparent age by way of scissors, I have since routinely requested a cut that will make it look like I have six pack abs but she has yet to deliver on that one.
You might think that the least she would deserve at this point, both for the hand-holding and the boredom, would be my customary loyalty.
Recently, however, I was stuck in a precarious position. Working in Knoxville has not afforded me the luxury of slipping by to have my hair cut on a lunch break. The longer commute has limited us to Saturday appointments. A few weeks back, I was ending my fifth week and reminiscing as I admired my growing locks. Sadly the state auditors scheduled to arrive the following Monday had not shared my high school glory days and would not be so enthused by the hair approaching my collar. I needed a haircut bad. My dilemma was that I had inescapable plans on Saturday and could not find an otherwise workable time to get Leslie to cut my hair.
Faced with little alternative, I snuck down a Knoxville street at lunch to a local “walk-ins welcome” salon. The lady they placed me with was nice enough, making polite small talk as she guided me to her chair.
I was a nervous wreck, guilt ridden by my follicular infidelity. I prayed she would not ask about my family, unknowingly pouring salt in the wound.
“Do you have kids?” Ugh!
I responded politely, knowing Leslie would not have to ask that question. She would have spoken of them by name, inquiring as to the status of their grades and how my previously disclosed parental struggles or successes were progressing. I glanced over my shoulder, convinced that Leslie might coincidentally stop in to say hello to a cosmetology school friend catching me in the act. In reality, she was probably at this very moment expecting me to call and schedule my 5th week appointment.
I tried to remember on a practical level that hanging my head in shame would not assist the new stylist. I answered more questions and made more small talk, cringing inside with every snip of the scissors. I forced myself to raise my eyes as she presented her completed project. “It’s a masterpiece,” I mumbled, as she gave me her card.
I slunk out feeling dirty and ashamed. I will soon call Leslie for my next 5-week appointment, but by now she is surely aware of my transgression. Before she places a shear to my scalp, I will have some ‘splaining to do. And if I look a little more closely cropped than normal, just remember, hell hath no fury like a hairdresser scorned!
This column first appeared in the October 22, 2014 edition of The Mountain Press
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