b Papa Dog's Blog: Hair-Raising Tales

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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Hair-Raising Tales

Through our teen years, Ambrose and I competed to see who could get away with growing his hair longest. By then we lived on opposite sides of the country and didn’t see one another more than every year or two, so whenever I turned up in Ottawa for one reason or another, the anticipation would be keen. One year I managed to get through an entire semester without a single haircut and got my hair down to my shoulders. I won that one walking away.

When I was finally out on my own, I decided (much as I did with dentistry) that I’d suspend for a while my visits to tonsorial salons. As is so often the case in my life, it started out as a whimsy and ended up a compulsion. From 1985 to 1995 I did nothing but periodically trim the ends of my hair. I’d trim the beard short whenever I noticed that I was starting to resemble Grizzly Adams, but the hair itself grew ever longer. It eventually made it to bum length*.

In the summer of ’95, a number of factors converged to lead me at last to a change. Factor 1: it was summer in New Orleans and I was wilting under the mop on my head. Factor 2: everybody I hung out was younger than I and they forced to recognise that maybe I was a bit of a rut with the Jesus look. Factor 3: Laura, the beautiful bald barmaid at Molly’s instituted $5 drink and a head shave night. That last wasn’t really a temptation, but at a party at David Rex’s place, Laura told me that if I were to partake in shave your head night, not only would I not have to pay the $5, but I’d have free drinks for a month. Anyone of those three factors individually I could probably overlook, but together they were irresistible. Amidst much pomp and circumstance I sat at a table in a bar and let a bartender shave ten years worth of hair off my head.

Here’s the funniest part: that day, which happened to be Flag Day, somebody called me a hippie. The next morning as I was walking to work somebody yelled at me and called me a skinhead. You just can’t win.

I have a series of photographs that chronicle the many permutations my hair went through in the following months. The first set, around Christmas, when my hair had been growing for six months, is probably the best. My friend Patrick talked my into letting him do a dark dye job on me, and it came out really well. I called that the “Young Executive on the Go” look. By the following summer, I had let my hair grow wild again, though not crazily long. What I had really let grow were my sideburns. I called that the “Touring Bassist for The Guess Who, ca. 1974” look.

After that there was kind of an accident. I decided I wanted grey hair, just so I’d know what I looked like with grey hair on the off chance I didn’t live long enough to get that way naturally. I went to a tonsorial salon and told the lady I wanted grey hair like an old man. There was both a language barrier and a credibility barrier, I think – she eventually understood what I was saying, but couldn’t believe I really wanted it. In the end I found myself looking something like Andy Warhol. Worse, when I let the roots come out and grew a little hair on my chin, it started to look like I was going for a Kurt Cobain thing. There was nothing for it but to shave off again and start over. The photos I have of this period are not flattering. Partly it’s angles and lighting, but I call these my “Moon-faced Nazi” look.

Being with Mama Dog has stabilized things for me. There have been a few minor fluctuations – we made me a redhead once – but for the most part, I just grow my hair until she starts to object and then I get a haircut. For a while we went to the same salon, but then it seemed silly for me to be paying $50 to get a haircut distinctly lacking in frills. I started going to a downscale shop on Shattuck Avenue that has a poster in the window illustrating all the classic men’s hairstyles from the 50s - the crew-cut, the flattop, the Ivy League, and so forth. We’ve been trying different items from the poster from time to time. I harbour a fantasy of someday getting the flattop with fenders, which I wish I could find a good source photo of on the Internet but can’t. Today, I got the Butch, which is your basic buzz cut. Also had my putative Winter Beard sheared off because it was looking kind of scraggly and I can’t be bothered to maintain it. Looking back, I’m kind of baffled that I let my hair grow for ten years. It feels really good when it comes off.
*American readers note: this means “ass length,” not “wino length,” though both could reasonably be descriptive of the same hairdo.


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