Haircuts, Part 1: Maddening

I’ve always had a very tense relationship with haircuts. I’ve never gone into a haircut with optimism and have most often come out thinking, “well, this is certainly my hair. And it is certainly shorter.” This has been my benchmark for haircut success. I was told recently, however, that it is possible to actually be satisfied with a haircut. To emerge onto the street and think, “the emotion that I am experiencing regarding my haircut is contentment.” So I decided to chase down how I had come to set my barberian expectations so low.

Not many people can say they’ve visited a nightmare hellscape. Fewer still can say they’ve gotten a haircut in one. And yet, I am such a person. When I was growing up, my three brothers and I were all informed that we would get our hair cut by a woman named Lisa Madden. As if having a woman with “Mad” in her name cut your hair wasn’t a tipoff enough, we were also informed that Lisa Madden would be cutting our hair in the comfort of her own home. By some outrageous loophole in the Ohio state tax code, Lisa Madden didn’t have to charge our mother sales tax if the haircut occurred in her home, which was decorated in the style of bombed-out-deposed-Eastern-European-dictator.

The home was an imposing two stories, one of which was always under construction at any given time; it was impossible to predict which and when. I was invited to the second floor only once–it was not under construction at the time–to watch the TV show “Goosebumps” with Lisa Madden’s youngest son Blake. The family’s only television sat on a bureau in the master bedroom. The only sitting area in the master bedroom was a waterbed that I was reasonably sure was filled with the blood of small children. The exterior of the house looked exactly like an adult’s description to a ten-year-old of a house that he or she should never, under any circumstances–irrespective of the amount of candy offered–enter because it was haunted or there was an ax murderer or, look, just don’t go there, okay? The backyard featured a trampoline, a common yard accouterment in the Midwest that no one owned but everyone somehow knew someone who did. The Maddens’ trampoline had a hole in the corner of the mat large enough for a child’s foot to fit through, become trapped, and shatter at the tibia in several places. The Maddens reported that this hole was caused by a tree branch that fell during a thunderstorm. I have yet to see a tree branch create a perfectly rectangular hole in an object, so my verdict is still out on that. I suspect foul play.

The Maddens also owned (or perhaps more accurately, provided shelter to) two large and unruly dogs. These dogs would bark and growl menacingly when a person rang the doorbell, entered the house, left the house, or made any other semi-sudden movements. When we were permitted to jump on the boobytrapped trampoline and we saw a plastic Little Tikes construction helmet and an errant sock in the mud of the backyard, we joked that these had belonged to a county health inspector who had recently come to condemn the house. We joked that the dogs had seen to it that he could deliver no such report to anyone, anywhere, ever, anymore. We joked because the alternative was to run screaming into the night. The dogs were like the drunken fathers of the family, able to be set off by the slightest infraction.

This is interesting, given that the family already had a drunken father. He could be heard yelling from the basement his signature catchphrase, “Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!” Like all successful sitcom characters, though, he had another catchphrase in order to capture any audience members he had failed to charm with the first one. Many weeks, he could be seen on the main floor approaching any of the number of children waiting for their hair to be cut asking, “Who wants to earn a dollar?” He would follow this up with some sort of odd job like loading a cooler into their full-sized van, helping him clean some mess his sons had made, or filling the dirt back into some sort of mass grave.

I remember the house so well because I spent innumerable hours there. Waiting for my mom to get her hair cut. Waiting while my mom got her hair cut. Waiting to get my hair cut, and then finally waiting while I got my hair cut. The incessant waiting in a kind of dull and numb misery had its benefits, however. I think I’ve been adequately prepared for an incredibly successful career as a refugee if I’d like.

The time passed excruciatingly mostly because of my options on how to spend it. I could play with a set of blocks with grotesque and sometimes lewd images markered on them by Blake and Tim (the other Madden son). Alternatively, I could talk to one of the other fine upstanding pillars of the community who were also waiting to have their hair cut and commit tax fraud. Like the girl who drew pictures of cats with dozens of engorged nipples or the high school boy who was only getting a haircut because his school wouldn’t allow him back on the premises until he had gotten one. Or perhaps the young master of the house, Blake Madden, who once stuck a pair of scissors in an electrical socket. (If you believe nothing else from this account, dear reader, please know that this incident did in fact occur, and it was as poetically and comedically genius as it sounds.)

And every so often, a gigantic grandfather clock–made all the more magnificent by the fact that it was often surrounded by construction drop cloths–chimed at an almost cartoonishly loud volume, reminding me how I would very much like to not be there at that current moment, or any moment.

And during my actual haircut, I waited with breathless anticipation, in agonizing stillness, for the haircut to be finished. No false moves here. Not while a strange and wholly unpredictable woman held a pair of blades near my skull. “Your only indulgence will be to blink, sparingly,” I told myself. Blinking, and asking whether Mrs. Madden was done every thirty seconds. Apparently, this was annoying to her because she told me a parable about a girl whose hair she cut who never asked Mrs. Madden whether she was done, and didn’t I want to be like this girl? Whether out of fear or because of some sort of spell cast by this inscrutable woman, I complied and never asked her if she was done again. I was a silent, occasionally blinking statue. It’s interesting that I have no concrete memories of her actually finishing a haircut and me leaving the house of horrors. I assume that I did since I’m writing this at a desk rather than a dilapidated trampoline. One thing is for sure, though: if anyone ever offers to cut my hair in their home, I will politely refuse and surreptitiously call the police to see if the county health inspector has gone missing.



Tailored Lautner

“We’re going to have a fancy joint birthday dinner,” my friend J.S. informed me, “so get your suit dry cleaned, and get ready for fanciness.”

“Excellent,” I replied. “I will do just the thing that you have asked of me.” Behind this calm boast, however, was the very uncomfortable reality that I did not at that moment own a suit. Well, that’s not entirely true. A thinner version of myself had purchased a suit for a wedding several years ago, but Kevin Version 20.16 (patent pending) had been crafted with a rounder and fuller frame to meet the increasing demand in its target market for carbohydrate-rich beer. And so, due to the nature of how buttons function on clothing, wearing this too-small suit would require me to violate several longstanding city laws prohibiting public indecency. So … time to buy a new suit!

My previous experiences with suits came in two forms, which had very much the same flavor. The first was during my time in High School Theatre™. Because I wasn’t classically handsome (or talented) enough to play the leading man, I was usually relegated to playing some sort of older-but-still-likable authority figure, whose hallmarks were old age makeup and a suit. And since I didn’t go to the high school from “Fame,” there were only about, ohh, three suits to choose from in the costume department, all of them donated and far too large for a 5’3″ sophomore in high school with a negative BMI. These suits appeared, to all external observers, ready to swallow me whole at any moment. But I felt comfortable and safe, like the host in any symbiotic parasite-host relationship.

This comfortableness with suits that could easily fit a family of four was further cemented by my high school homecomings and proms. My parents assured me that wearing my father’s suits to these crucial  adolescent rites of passage would look “very handsome.” And who would know men’s fashion preferences of high school girls in the mid-2000s better than my parents? To be honest, they probably knew exactly what they were talking about; since I could count on one hand the number of romantic words I’d said to women at that point, the evening would have ended–no matter what I wore–in an awkward, butts-out hug.

So when I went to buy a new suit, I was fully expecting to be purchasing a sort of flowing lapelled kimono robe, similar to this one.

However, the fates intervened. My wife’s very-well-dressed friend Charles met us for lunch, and we told him about my new suit quest and how I wasn’t sure exactly what size I was. “Well, when you get it tailored, they’ll take care of the fine-tuning,” he said. Tawhat? Tailoring a suit? It was as if he had told me that everything in the equation would make sense after I divided by zero. My fashion paradigm at the time had filed tailoring as applicable only to plutocrats and individuals with physical oddities.

According to Charles, though, suit sizes were merely meant to get the general fit of a suit correct, and a tailor was always supposed to take you the rest of the way. I was skeptical. It sounded like some classic add-on scamming common in the car sales industry with which I was also largely unfamiliar but still had a unfoundedly strong sense of knowing what I was talking about. I looked Charles up and down. He didn’t appear to be wearing a wire or to have any sort of bar code identifying him as a covert cyborg in the employ of Big Tailor.

But upon further reflection, why would a covert cyborg have an overt barcode?

Another reason I trusted him was that he said pretty much any dry cleaner or tailor in the city would do; he wasn’t advocating any sort of special service performed by licensed members of the Tailor’s Local #805, who were exposed as crooked and corrupt in the latest Eyewitness News exposé on Local News Channel. So I took him up on it.

Not since Taylor Lautner in Twilight was I so pleased with the performance of a Tailor. The tailored suit indicated not only that I had arms and legs, but also showed where those arms and legs began and ended. The suit contoured the area around my middle section to demonstrate that it had flesh and muscles and that it wasn’t just a nebulous bag of organ-cushioning fluid.

Tailoring the suit transformed it from “funerary shroud” to “wearable garment for a living person.” Which is good for me as a holistic person, but does severely limit my ability to fake haunt people. This made me feel very good, until I met up with J.S. for our birthday dinner to discover that he was wearing a different suit from the one he was wearing when we talked last. “You’re supposed to have more than one suit?” I asked.