I looked up from my computer. Oh, they’re introducing the new guy who just joined the company. Masaru, who just joined the IT department, had somewhat shaggy, super straight hair. The front was a middle-parted, long “curtains” look like Hugh Grant in the early 1990s, but the back hair covered part of his collar. It was hard to get a clear view of his face.
Over the following months, Masaru’s hair continued to grow. Soon he took to gathering the hair at his neck into a little ponytail, and pinned the sides back to expose his ears. If he wore his hair down, his ears would be completely covered. Good thing he was the IT guy and not in a client-facing role.
One day I happened to ride the elevator with him up to our office floor. Masaru looked pensive. Suddenly he turned to me. “You’re a woman. Maybe you can help me. My girlfriend—well, she’ll be my fiancée, just as soon as I get up the courage to propose to her—has been telling me that she wants me to quit smoking. Is smoking really such a huge turnoff?”
“To be completely honest, I would never consider dating a man who smoked. He obviously doesn’t care about his health or indeed the health of anyone else around him, and probably smells. It’s hard to get rid of that cigarette stench from your clothes and hair. Especially longer hair, since it retains smells.”
Masaru began fingering his hair. “Actually my girlfriend wants me to cut my hair as well. I cut my hair twice a year. It seems like a waste of money, since hair grows back anyway.”
“That’s why a lot of men go to those 1000 yen barber joints, or else invest in clippers and learn to cut it themselves. They won’t look like boy band members, but they still look normal.”
Then we reached the office, punched in, and went our separate ways. I had never gotten a closeup view of Masaru’s face before; he was surprisingly handsome under all that hair. If he cut it all off, he would have women proposing to him.
A month later, I rode with Masaru again in the elevator. “How did it go?”
“I’m struggling with those miserable nicotine patches. I haven’t had a cigarette in two weeks. I’m trying.”
“You won’t regret it. Good luck to you.” And good luck finding a barber, I added silently. He still hadn’t gotten his semiannual haircut.
Masaru must have gone to the barber over lunch, because when I ran into him by the coffeemaker in the afternoon he had a strange Dear Leader haircut with the top hair still just long enough for a middle part and the back and sides tapered up in a very high fade. He had clearly designed the hairstyle with a decent grow-out as the first priority. This was a shame.
Over the next few months, his hair continued to grow into the same curtains-mullet monstrosity that he had had before. I realize it’s expensive for men to maintain carefully barbered short haircuts, but this was taking frugality too far.
Apparently his girlfriend thought the same thing, because I overheard him telling the payroll guy that her Christmas present to him was a pair of clippers.
And yet, day after day, he continued to show up to work with that long, shaggy mop. His boss never complained about his appearance, because IT guys are not expected to be crisp and pressed. Even then, his boss had publicly praised him for quitting smoking. I wondered if Masaru had told anyone else the reason why he had.
The next time I rode the elevator with him, Masaru looked pensive again. “My girlfriend wants to move in with me. That’s good, but the reason she gives is that I clearly need help using the clippers she gave me. If I don’t cut my hair soon, she’ll come and buzz it all off for me. I’m not sure I want that.”
“I’m sure you’d look good buzzed. Everyone will get used to whatever hairstyle you choose. It’s not a big deal to anyone else in the office, so you don’t have to worry about people’s reactions.” I’ll get ridiculously jealous of your girlfriend, but I’ll keep that to myself, I thought.
That very weekend, I ran into Masaru at a grocery store in my neighborhood. “I didn’t know we were neighbors.” I thought it wise to keep the conversation light.
“I’m moving in today with my girlfriend. I’ve already unpacked my stuff—including the clippers—but I don’t want to spend too much time at home alone with her today, because she’s been watching YouTube videos about how to cut men’s hair.”
“I see, so you’re trying to keep your mind off of the inevitable.”
“Yeah, I guess you could put it that way. I just got a haircut not quite six months ago. It seems too soon.”
Too soon? More like five months too late, in my opinion. I keep that to myself, since it’s not my place to tell a colleague how he should wear his hair.
“Masaru.” A woman came up to us.
“Oh, Aya, let me introduce my colleague.” His girlfriend was a curvy but tall woman with a short bob tucked behind her ears, showcasing her dangly earrings. She wore high heels with her jeans, which was something I would never do. The whole point of jeans is not having to wear uncomfortable shoes.
I knew I had seen her before, though. But where?
“Are you kidding? This lady works with you? She’s our neighbor. You know, she lives in the apartment at our level in the next building, and her window opens up on ours. I admire the plants on her balcony.”
Oh, so that’s where I knew her! She was literally my neighbor. “I’m about done here. If you are, too, maybe we can walk home together.” I was hoping to convey to her, subtly, of course, that I agreed with her about Masaru’s hair.
I had no such luck, however. She wasn’t done at the grocery store, and it didn’t make sense for me to wait around for them to finish, so I went home first. It was hot and stuffy in my apartment, so I opened a window. Hey, this is the very window that offers a view of their apartment.
Some time later, they came home and Aya opened her window. I could see her putting away groceries while Masaru paced the floor. It was probably going to be haircut time in a few minutes. I didn’t understand why he was so afraid of getting his hair cut, when he wouldn’t be paying for it, and had sported plenty of bad short styles in his life, judging by the silly cut that he got every six months.
I settled in front of my window, and sure enough, was rewarded with a view of Aya placing a fold-up chair on her balcony and pulling Masaru out of their sitting room and onto the balcony. She pushed him down onto the stool and caped him. Bingo.
The metal clippers gleamed in the afternoon sun as she held them aloft for a moment before plunging them into his hair from the forehead. I noticed that the top of his head was still black even after she had plowed through the hair several times, so she must have been using one of the bigger attachments.
As I watched Aya replaced the attachment and plowed through the top again. Apparently she had decided to go shorter. I watched her go through several more attachments until she was satisfied with the top, before she grabbed the hair on his left side and plunged the clippers into it, then repeated on the right. She took down all of his hair to the same length before changing the attachment again. This time I could see her go over the back and sides again, before she changed the attachment yet again. She must be giving him a fade. She even had a comb for blending.
As I watched, she eventually took the attachment off completely. This was going to be a skin fade. When she finished, I saw that Masaru was grinning from ear to ear. It was then that I realized that he didn’t hate having his hair cut. On the contrary, it was too exciting for him.
When Masaru came into work on Monday morning, I noticed more of my female colleagues looking at him and smiling. Too late now, ladies. Masaru himself had a spring in his step that wasn’t there before.
The next weekend, I happened to open my window right when Aya was shearing Masaru again. At first I thought she was just doing maintenance on his nape, but she mowed down the top again, probably with the next attachment down.
Sure enough, the bald part of his fade had crept higher by Monday morning and the top was appreciably shorter. At this rate he was going to have a military-style high and tight.
In the elevator I complemented Masaru on his haircut. He really did look much better, but of course it would be rude to phrase it like that, as if he looked terrible before.
He smiled. “Aya and I are big fans of US Army-style shoot-em-up videogames. Every time she wins, she gets to cut my hair. Whenever I win, I make her do pushups. I think it’s fair.” Aha, eventually Masaru really would end up with a military-style haircut at this rate. Aya must be pretty good at the videogame, judging by the weekly shearing I was witnessing.
Sure enough, his hair was even shorter the following week. Masaru absently rubbed the stubble that made up the majority of his hair and smiled. He obviously liked being able to get clippered to his heart’s content for free.
Masaru never again let his hair grow longer than a few millimeters on top, at least not for as long as I had contact with him. After he married Aya his nape stayed cleaner than before, suggesting that she was shaving it almost every day. I could only imagine that this ritual had special significance for them.
Meanwhile, Masaru’s boss had been impressed with the clean-cut look his new hair gave him, and publicly told the newer, younger IT guys that they would get more respect if they also buzzed most of their hair off, since they clearly couldn’t be bothered to style their hair properly. They pouted, but one by one they started coming in sporting crewcuts.