It’s not true that girls are always better-behaved than boys. The worst of the bad kids in my sixth-grade class in 1999 Kobe, Japan, was a girl named Mika. You could tell looking at her that she was bad news. She had her hair bleached to a medium brown, which was against the rules, and she carried a pager, also against the rules. She wore the loose white socks popular with teenage girls in the 1990s, the ones that bunched up at a girl’s ankles to make her legs look like those of a Clydesdale horse. All the bad girls wore them.
Mika held all of us girls in the class under her thrall. She knew that Shogo, the leader of the bad boys, had a glue-sniffing habit and used this knowledge to blackmail him into giving her his monthly allowance. Mika kept this fact hush-hush, since Shogo would not tolerate being humiliated in front of his henchmen. She also conducted hit jobs on his behalf if she thought the act of torture proposed sounded like fun.
Mika had a mean streak that everyone in the class knew about only too well. She thought nothing of leaving boxcutter blades on people’s seats or spearing people’s hands with the milk bottle cap opener. Milk bottles came with paper caps that could be opened by spearing them with a small sharp implement, although a protractor would do in a pinch.
Even when she was in first grade and it was fashionable among the girls to kick boys in imitation of the cartoons of the time, Mika was known for kicking harder than any of the other girls and deriving more pleasure from it. If she succeeded in knocking down a boy or making him cry out in pain, she would smirk.
Mika’s favorite type of hit job, however, involved craft scissors. If a younger student failed to pay tribute to Shogo, Mika would track him down, chase him to the corner of the playground, and have her slaves pin him to the back wall of the toilet shed.
“You know the toilet’s haunted. Everyone knows that. If you don’t pay up, we can lock you into the haunted toilet.”
“No! No! Anything but that!” The ghost who lived in the toilet was known to be violent, perhaps out of resentment at having fallen into a pit toilet and died there ignominiously in the days before flush toilets. Every Japanese schoolchild knew about Hanako the toilet ghost.
“Anything, you say? OK, then!” Mika would then wield the craft scissors and position the blades right on the scalp of her victim. She would chop his hair in a haphazard manner, going over his skull as many times as needed to get a crude buzzcut.
The boys who received this shearing of shame never failed to pay Shingo, albeit belatedly. It was obvious who had failed to pay protection money in any given month. For this reason, no boy in the school wanted a barbershop or home buzzcut, for fear of being jeered at as a chump.
The boy I had a crush on, Takashi, was probably the handsomest boy in the school, or at least he was as far as I was concerned. He played soccer and could kick a ball clean across the playground. He had the long Bundesliga hair to match, too, often sporting headbands or scrunchies, which nevertheless did not make him look like a girl. His grades were moderately good.
One day, I was in the playground when I heard the familiar taunting voice of Mika. “So, Takashi, you want to save your hair? Of course you do. That’s too bad, because it’s too late now.”
I froze. Was it possible that she was shearing MY Takashi? I had to find out. I was under no illusions about being able to stop her, but I still thought, naively, that my presence would be soothing. Of course I realize now that Takashi would probably have been even more embarrassed if he had known that I was watching that day.
I slipped to the other side of the toilet shed, close enough to hear the proceedings, but I realized there was no way for me to see without being seen. Undaunted, I climbed the nearest tree to get a look. There, much better.
To my horror, Mika’s victim was in fact my Takashi. I considered confronting her, but I didn’t have that kind of courage, I’m sorry to say. All I could do was to watch the butchering of my beloved’s long hair and hope the result wouldn’t be too horrifying to look at.
Takashi’s hair was just past his shoulders. Mika grabbed a fistful of it and hacked it off with her scissors. That was just the beginning. I watched as she attacked his head randomly, shearing big holes into his hair. As the short parts increased in surface area, she began to press the scissors against his scalp with gusto. She was moving in for the kill.
As I watched, I became aware of needing to pee. That was odd, since I had not felt anything like that even five minutes before. In retrospect, I realize that what was surging down there was not urine at all. My panties were getting wet, but not because I had peed myself—I hadn’t.
Takashi’s left ear was now completely exposed. I hadn’t realized how perfectly shaped it was. Mika had already cropped the back, apparently, and was working on his right ear. Was it possible that Mika shared my excitement?
Finally she moved on to the front of his hair. As she mowed down his long, side-swept front hair, his perfect hairline came into view. Without all that hair, his eyes looked bigger than ever. I gasped. Takashi was even more handsome with all of his hair chopped off.
That night in bed I kept replaying in my mind what I had seen that day. I had known that Takashi would still be stunningly handsome even without his hair, but I hadn’t realized how much his looks would be improved by this shearing that was meant to humiliate him.
I felt vaguely sheepish when I saw him the next day at school until I realized that he must have had another haircut after school. The back and sides were now blended into a low fade, and he had lines shaved into the hair on the right side of his forehead, where his part used to be. He had taken a symbol of shame and owned it, and the result was badass. He looked even more like a soccer star now.
Each time he would come to school with his buzzcut refreshed, I would find myself smiling all day. I was so grateful that he didn’t grow his hair back out for the rest of sixth grade. Thanks to how cool Takashi looked with his buzzcut, the taboo surrounding this style began to dissipate, and I started to see more and more boys, even in other grades, choosing this style in an attempt to capture some of the cool boy charm that Takashi had naturally.
Even now, I thrill whenever I see a man with a short buzzcut, especially if he has lines shaved into it. I realize this style is not really fashionable anymore, at least not among the college-educated middle class, but it still can be seen sometimes on the heads of working-class men. Someday, if I’m lucky, my husband will let me buzz his hair. When and if he does, I’ll see to it that he’s one happy man afterward.