Your Hair Could Stand a Good Snip
I had to wait for the rest of the plane to disembark before I could leave. It felt ridiculous, wearing a giant lanyard identifying me as an Unaccompanied Minor. My parents had made a trip of dropping me off at boarding school in England, but now we were back to reality: Dad had a company to run, Mom had a thousand charity commitments, my brother was about to graduate high school and still couldn’t be trusted on his own, but I, as a twelve-year-old who’d been at school on a different continent since Christmas, could be depended upon to make my way to the right plane and get myself back to Canada safely. I loved my school, after I’d gotten over how lonely it was not knowing anybody, starting in the middle of the year. I had to be thirteen to attend school, and my birthday is January 4, so they allowed me to start that winter. My wish had been to be somewhere where my father’s money and my elder brother’s reputation meant nothing. English boarding school ensured that. I was not important in a place where everyone’d father was rich and important, more important than some hick from Calgary who ran a local oil company. That was almost cute to a kid who was expected to inherit a castle one day. My father had a deal closing in Toronto, so my flight had brought me to Pearson International, where he would meet me and we’d return to Calgary a few days later.
I loved England, but it was nice to be back on Canadian soil, too, even if it was Toronto. When I saw my dad, in the flesh, I actually ran to him, pulling my suitcase awkwardly behind me. (How did we ever go without wheeled and handled luggage?) “Andrew!” Dad wrapped me in an uncharacteristic bear hug. “I swear, you’ve grown a foot.” That was a gross exaggeration, but my pants were definitely too short. “Let me get a look at you.” The flight attendant caught up with us and asked Dad to sign that she had safely delivered me back to my custodial parent, which he did absently, and we began to leave the airport. “I’m sorry, I have to get back to my meetings before we agree to anything else. But we’ll go somewhere nice for dinner, okay? Are you jetlagged? Hungry?”
I laughed, because I’d barely been back in his presence for two minutes and he was fussing over me. Yesterday, if I was hungry, I’d have had to figure it out for myself. “Sorry. Your hair could use a good snip,” Dad tugged on the top. “I’m surprised they let you get away with that.” Dad’s preferred hair length on me was stubble. At English boarding school, they still had bad memories of young boys in shaved heads left over from the war, and they’d declared finger-length as their dress code. But I was home for the summer now, so I suspected a shaving was on my horizon. I’d just have to ensure I prevented Dad from taking me for a trim right before I left again in the fall.
The cab took us into downtown, past the new SkyDome that was being built, and dropped us off at the hotel. I was surprised- the Chelsea. Dad usually stayed at the Royal York when he travelled to Toronto. “I thought there might be more here to amuse you,” he read my look, as we exited the taxi and went inside. I thanked him and again had to laugh as he clucked around me like a mother hen. If this was how my normally reserved and conservative father was acting, my mother would be unbearable. My watch read six p.m., even though it was barely lunch time in Toronto. I’d been awake the entire night before I left, fearful of sleeping in and missing my ride. I’d had to leave at two a.m. to be at Heathrow on time for all the extra red tape that flying as an unaccompanied minor required. It was hard to sleep on the plane, but now the plush beds in the hotel were looking pretty appealing. Dad noticed my yawning and said he’d let me get some rest, would call the room when he was leaving his meetings.
That sounded perfect. I rooted through my suitcase for something comfortable to sleep in and barely got through brushing my teeth before I crashed. When I woke, it was only three hours later, but it felt like I had slept for two days. It was the best nap, until I caught site of my reflection in the bathroom mirror. The hair that my father thought too long was sticking up in about ten different directions. I’d noticed when we arrived that the hotel had everything- pool, fitness room, café, shoe shine, currency converter, barber shop. I hopped into the shower and wondered if there was a bank nearby. I knew I would get ripped off converting my pounds to dollars at the hotel’s currency converter, but I suspected a barber shop at a hotel that caters to business people would be able to give me the kind of supershort haircut my father liked. I pulled out the hotel directory after I’d dressed, not bothering to dry my hair, because it was about to be cut off anyway. There were several banks within two blocks of me. Perfect. A June afternoon in muggy Toronto was enough to really make me sure of my decision to have my hair shaved clean off. By the time I’d gone to the bank and walked back to the hotel, I was sweating. A summer in hot, arid Calgary would be unbearable if I didn’t do something with this mop.
I walked into the shop, sat down, ready to wait while the barber finished with his client. I had a list of summer reading, so I’d brought one of those books with me. I had just started to get engrossed in Homer’s Iliad when I heard the barber trying to get my attention. I had to look away from his client, because that was the worst haircut I’d ever seen. Spiked hair was the style then, and this guy had a longer at the back (now called a mullet) spiked haircut that looked ridiculous. He paid, thanked the barber, and left before I left my chair in the waiting area. “Um, not to be rude, but I was looking for a more traditional shave,” I hedged. “Oh, thank God,” the barber exhaled. “I hate these new styles.”
He took a cape from a stack and opened it, wrapping it around my shoulders the moment I sat down. “Your hair is pretty short already. What did you have in mind?”
“My father likes it shaved pretty close,” I replied, as a comb was scraped from the crown out. “A sixteenth on top, one-thirty-two at the sides, clean at the nape. A pretty traditional taper cut.” I waited for the reaction. Almost always, barbers were shocked when they heard me ask for such a short shave. This barber did a full double take. “I’m John,” he said. “I’m only going to ask you this once, son. I’ve heard you tell me how your father likes it cut. Does he make you cut it that way?” Nobody had ever asked me that before. “No,” I replied, truthfully. “He definitely likes it short, but so do I. I’ve missed the shaves these past few months.” That was also true. “Okay. Chin down, then,” John ordered me, as he fired up a quiet, but surprisingly powerful clipper. He began to shave upwards from the nape, and I could hear the swish of cuttings falling down the fabric cape. Even better, I could feel oxygen hitting my nape, hitting the back of my head. Within two minutes, the back of my head was clean cut, and I was tilting sideways, getting what Kevin had always referred to as whitewalls. It felt fantastic. When John straightened me up so he could plow through the top, I caught site of my half-done look and smiled. It was fantastic. I’d missed these clean cuts. Finally, John snapped a guard over his clippers and started to cut across the top. He left just enough so that I could claim to have hair, then switched out the guard to a tighter length and began to blend the top down shorter toward the clean cut sides.
Then he took a straight razor and scraped down any overhanging strands at my neck, and the blade against my skin was one of the most amazing feelings I could recall. I felt like a new person when I paid for my new haircut and left the shop.
When I returned to our room, Dad was there. “I’ve been worried sick,” he exhaled. “We wrapped up early, and you weren’t here. I checked the pool, and-“ Dad stopped. “Oh, wow. That’s such a nice haircut,” he smiled. I placed the room key on the desk. “Sorry. I should have left you a note. I just, you didn’t seem happy with my hair, and I kind of miss the clippers, so I went down to the barbershop. This should last me a few weeks at least.” My dad was thrilled, which I knew he would be. “I wish I could give you a haircut like that,” he admitted. “I kind of miss those times. But when you get a nice haircut, I feel selfish for wanting to cut yours myself, because I know I wouldn’t do as good a job.”
“Well,” I hedged. “The thing is, at school, they don’t like it shaved. So, I’m thinking if you cut it once more, like three weeks from now, and maybe once after that, then you have to resist the urge because I’ll be in crap at school if I don’t follow their finger-length rule.”
Dad couldn’t wipe the smile from his face, so when he asked me if I liked having my hair shaved so short, I was a bit surprised. He liked it that way, since when did I really get a say? “It’s easy,” I reflected. “Clean. I kind of like the feel of it, even if it looks sort of dorky. But, right before me, the guy had this awful spiked, long at the back, shaved at the sides mess. He isn’t going to look back at pictures of himself one day and say ‘Wow, what a cool haircut.’ I might look at pictures of myself and think ‘Wow, that was short,’ but I won’t be ashamed of the look.” Dad thought for a moment. “Your hair is so thick, and dark, I’ve always liked it short-cropped because it tames it. Keeps it neat. They don’t like that at your school?” I explained my theory that young men in shaved heads brought back memories of a crazy man, and he thought there was probably some merit to that thought. “But I have you to myself for the summer, so there are a few trips to Gunter in your future,” he added.
Your Hair Could Stand a Good Snip