“I am just tired of it and figure that it is time for a change,” she said. “What would you think of me with shorter hair?”
If I answered with a question it would be obvious I was doing the evasive Irish maneuver and so I went for the next line of defense, the lame “whatever makes you happy, makes me happy.”
“If you think it is time for a change, then you should cut your hair,” I said. She looked at me with a look that could laser a steel plate in half. “That’s all you can say?”
Now I had to go for the desperate move that seldom works: the flatterer. “I will love you no matter what kind of haircut you have.” She tossed her head at me and moved past out of the bathroom.
When we first met, Annie had lovely long jet black hair, and I had fairly short hair. “More like a mullet” was what she would say when people asked about my hair length in those days. For years I wore it short before I went full time into music. But I started growing it longer and enjoyed the fact that my hair curled a bit. Most people liked the look but not my saintly Irish mother, who would narrow her eyes and exclaim at every show, family gathering, or even over the telephone (where I could feel her eyes narrowing), “Let me just get my scissors, Martin. Then I can cut off that ponytail. You will look so much younger if you do.” Of course there was also the aged Capuchin priest at the Cathedral in Pompeii who, without a word of English in his vocabulary, looked at me like I just blasphemed and made the universal “cut-cut-cut” motion with his fingers. I think my Mom was in on it somehow. She has that kind of power.
Nonetheless, I liked my long hair. I had to admit that this new haircutting announcement made me feel a bit odd. It would be strange to be the only one in our little family with long hair. But Annie was determined to get a new look. We loaded Aine in the baby carriage and headed to a nearby hair shop called Shiva’s. That should have been a warning to me, because Shiva is the name of the Hindu god of destruction. Ok, maybe some would say the Hindu god of transformation, but all the same it made me a bit leery. I bade my wife goodbye and proceeded to take Aine out for a long stroller ride along the lakefront as Annie continued with her haircut. It was right before our run to Ireland, and so the fall leaves were still hanging in the trees. Aine dozed as I walked along and after about forty minutes I headed back to the shop to see what progress was being made with Annie.
Annie had a cute short haircut. Around the chair was a scattering of her tresses, and as she got up from the chair, she introduced me to Ali, a soft-spoken man from Iraq, so soft-spoken that it was kind of hard to understand exactly what he was saying. But he seemed nice and the folks at the hair shop seemed very nice as well. Annie was happy and then of course went into buyer’s remorse as we turned the corner. I tried to cheer her up. “Well, you got a real mom’s haircut," I said. Of course what I wanted to say was, “Think of this haircut as a symbol that signifies the growth from your maiden years into the beauty of motherhood.” But what came out was “Well, you got a real mom’s haircut,” which is as complimentary as “Well, you got a real mother’s belly.” Annie didn’t talk to me for about an hour.
Later she talked about watching Ali and his amazing haircutting abilities as she waited her turn. “He had a scissors in each hand when he was cutting this one guy’s hair!” Two pairs of scissors at the same time! Now that was something that I had to see for myself. I couldn’t just go to Shiva’s and sit and watch people get their hair cut, so I realized that if I was to see this amazing display of haircutteration, I would have to head in myself. I reasoned that I was due for my biannual hair trim and thus could see Ali wield the scissors as he trimmed a good inch from my long locks. Well, maybe I would let him trim an inch and a half, but no more than that I said to myself as I walked the next day to Shiva’s.
Ali looked at me as I settled into the chair. His eyes narrowed a bit, which made me feel vaguely unsettled as he scanned my head. He turned to no one in particular and lifted one of my tresses. “Deese hair…deese...eese dead,” he said as he let the lock fall from his hand. At the time I thought he meant that the hair was lifeless. Indeed with the advent of winter the humidity had left Chicago, and my hair was turning into that flat, static electric loving, permanent hat-hair look that a ponytail or lots of hairspray could control. But I think he was declaring that indeed my look was dead. That Ali was about to make my mother very happy.
We negotiated how much to cut. “I cut short,” he said. “You will like the look.”
“No,” I countered. ”Just an inch. A trim is fine.”
“You need deese much?” he murmured, as he held up about four inches of my locks.
“No, no, that is too much,” I said. “Trim.”
A small group of customers had gathered, waiting for Ali. I could see that they all had short hair. I looked around for the double scissor routine but could see in the mirror that Ali had a comb and spray bottle. He was working on the back of my head, talking to a client in a barely audible voice. Every so often he would look at me and smile. Finally, I felt a slight tugging and saw that my hair had knotted up in his comb. About four inches worth it seemed, too. He kept talking and cheerfully reached for a scissor and before I could say Sweeney Todd, off came four inches of hair.
At this point, I resigned myself to the fact that I was due for a new do. And sure enough Ali did a great job in getting my hair at least an inch above my shoulders. My 12 years of long hair lay on the floor, and in some ways it felt a bit liberating. All the customers were smiling at me, as if I was on my way to their elite club.
I kept hoping that for the final flourish when Ali would take out the extra pair of scissors. But it never happened. Instead, he grabbed a blow dryer and my hair went flying around my head. A quick dollop of some hair gel was applied and my hair spiked in every direction. Finally, he worked it down to the point where it looked, well, I thought it looked pretty darn good.
“Nice job!” I said. He smiled back at me. The other clients smiled at me and I walked out the door a changed man.
My mother finally saw my hair and her eyes narrowed. “I would have kept your hair long if you were going to cut it that much,” she said. “That way you could have had a ponytail. Now you won’t be able to tie it back and it still doesn’t look neat.”
I smiled back at her and pushed my shortened locks back from my eyes. Perhaps she is right. Perhaps I should just go for a short haircut and be done with it. After all, I still am hoping to see those two scissors in action.
~ Martin McCormack