It was the autumn of 1980 and seventh grade had just begun. My hair was like most everyone else’s, almost to my nose, below the ears, and curling up at the collar. Usually about three or four times a year we would go to the salon at the mall and just get a haircut, nothing too dramatic, I never thought much about: it was just my hair.
At the time my best friend was Santiago and he lived in the apartment below us. His mom was Esmeralda. She was a very attractive woman but she spoke maybe three words of English.
Me and Santiago would usually hang out after school until Esmeralda came home and then wait for my mom to get home and get on with the evening activities In our separate homes.
It was after the first or second day of school that year when we were hanging out in Santiago’s room when Esmeralda opened up the door and insisted we come out into the kitchen . She was very adamant and for the most part quite cheerful as she and Santiago had an exchange of words, of which I knew not what they were saying.
Then Santiago turned to me and said “Mom is taking me to the barbershop for my back-to-school haircut, you can come if you want”
She then beckoned to me and said in accented English “Yes, you come too, you come yes?”
Since I had nowhere to go I said sure and away we went.
We drove about 10 minutes to a barbershop in the center of town called Nicole’s. I had never been in before and had no feelings one way or another about the place.
As we approached we saw a young woman standing outside in a white smock smoking a cigarette. She had long black hair in a high ponytail and short bangs. As we approached she smiled and said “Hi Esmeralda it must be back-to-school time. Have a seat I’ll be right in”.
We went in and sat in the chairs next to the magazines. Nicole returned and went right up to her barber chair and said “Come on up Santiago let’s buzz this stuff off”. Cheerfully he went to the chair and was caped. He sat there as Nicole buzzed his hair down to a short crewcut. This was nothing new nor a surprise as Santiago always wore his hair short. As he stepped down I stood up thinking we were about to leave when Nicole said “Step right up”. I said “Uhm, no thank you I was just along for the ride”. Then Esmeralda spoke up “Yes, you too, you too it’s good”. A little surprised and a little stunned I hopped up in the chair and felt the tissue being wrapped around my neck and the cape tightly snapped on. Nicole, turning to Esmeralda said “same thing?”. Esmeralda responded “Yes short,short”.
Not really understanding what was happening and being unfamiliar with the site and sounds of a barbershop I was totally flummoxed by the situation. I had never been buzzed before so it was alarming and shocking to see these huge swaths of hair landing on the floor and on the Cape. In the mirror I could see Esmeralda with a big smile on her face. She then chimed in “Yes good. Short, shorter”. Nicole turned to her and said “Looks like his first buzz should we horseshoe him?” Esmeralda smiled and said “Yes good yes good and short”. “Okay this will take a couple more minutes then” Said Nicole. Then Esmeralda stepped outside to smoke cigarette herself. My eyes started to well up as Nicole put hot lather up on the top of my head and on my sides. “You’re not going to cry kid are you?” Said Nicole and she began shaving the top of my head. That’s when I lost it. I started blubbering in the chair.
When vision was restored after my cry fest I saw that I’d been shaved completely bald. Nicole took the Cape off of me and I step down from the chair my legs wobbling from the experience. I heard her saying to Esmeralda as they shared a cigarette together that “He had to be shaved bald because when he started crying his head moved in funny places and whoops.”
Even Santiago laughed when he heard the sentence. Seventh grade was off to a really bad start.