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.