Don’t Touch My Hair by
200
(220 Stories)

Prompted By Haircuts

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July 1954

I almost never like the way my hair looks right after a haircut. I know that going in, and I just accept it. I try to schedule my haircuts at least a week before anything important is going to happen. Because most of the time, by one week after the haircut I am happy with the way it looks. The times when it still looks bad after a week are fortunately few enough that I have mostly forgotten them.

Even though the hairdresser at Best's gave me a terrible haircut, the trauma may not have been entirely her fault.

However, the most unforgettably disastrous haircut of my life occurred the summer I was four or five. It took place in the hair salon at Best & Co. Department Store in East Orange, New Jersey. (Best’s went out of business in 1970. During their heyday, they had stores in Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Winnetka, and Arlington, Virginia, as well as several in the New York metropolitan area.)

I don’t know what instructions my mother gave the hairdresser, but the result was that she cut it way too short! I was not very happy, but my mother said, in typical motherly fashion, “don’t feel bad, it will grow.” And I probably would have been fine except for the traumatic event that occurred a week or so later after we got to the house we rented every summer at Lake Hopatcong.

The featured image is a picture of me and my best friend Bette. Her family had the house next door to mine at Lake Hopatcong. The picture is dated July 1954, which means that she had just turned three years old, and I would turn three the following month. That was not the summer of the disastrous haircut, but I probably looked pretty similar. In that picture I am wearing a full bathing suit and she is only wearing bottoms. I often wore only bottoms too, but I don’t seem to have a picture of it, except from the previous summer when I was not quite two.

Cute, I know, but what does all this have to do with the terrible haircut at Best’s and the traumatic event that followed? I didn’t figure it out until much, much later.

One day when we were hanging out by the lake in our bathing suits, as we did pretty much every day all summer, the ice cream truck came by. I don’t know if it was Good Humor or another brand, but it played a little tune and all the kids and mothers came running. I got in line for ice cream, and when it was my turn, the ice cream man said “What would you like, sonny?” I freaked out, started crying, ran away. Didn’t want any ice cream that day. And for many years – even decades – afterwards, I talked about the worst experience of my life, which was The Day the Ice Cream Man Called Me Sonny.

I always, always blamed it on my too-short haircut, and never wanted to shop at Best’s after that. But only now do I realize that the ice cream man’s mistake could have been caused not only by my hair, but also by the fact that my bathing suit was topless. I’m sure it was in pastel, feminine colors, but that might have been too subtle for him to notice in one quick glance.

So Best’s, I’m sorry for the bad rap I gave you. Even though you did give me a terrible haircut, the trauma may not have been entirely your fault!

(For a story from 2016 about my struggles with my hair over the years, see The beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my hair.)

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: funny, moving, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a great story, Suzy, not just about this one particular bad haircut, but about the traumas of our early days — no matter how trivial they may later seem — and how they stay with us for years and years. Indeed, such traumas could probably make for a pretty interesting prompt itself.

    I assume that the fact that you look adorable, even with your short hair, will not make the trauma, or the memory of it anyway, ever go away. At least it could have been worse; it could have turned you off of ice cream.

    I too remember Best & Co., particularly since it always ran very sophisticated upscale ads in The New Yorker and the NY Times. Your poor mother probably thought that she was only gettting the finest for her beautiful youngest daughter. I am glad that you now have it in your heart to forgive Best’s, may it rest in peace.

    And I should never doubt your song title titles. Your title did not ring a bell with me, but then I googled and learned that this was a Solange song from a few years ago.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. I agree that I look adorable in these pics, but they are not pics of the terrible haircut. I’m sure I didn’t let my parents take any then. And I assure you that I no longer feel traumatized. I may have overdramatized my story if that’s the impression you got.

      And thanks for googling my song title title. Solange, as you probably know, is Beyonce’s younger and much less famous sister. It’s not a great song IMO, but a perfect title.

      • John Shutkin says:

        Not to worry, Suzy. Having known you for many years since this tragic haircut, I can say that I have not detected any signs of PHSD.

        And I actually knew of the Solange/Beyonce relationship, though that’s about it.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Oh Suzy, that does seem to have traumatized you. Perhaps it’s good that you can look back, so many years later and see it wasn’t necessarily the haircut (I think you look very cute, by the way), but the bottoms-only suit. But we are all sensitive, one way or another, aren’t we? I appreciate the way you forgive the long-gone Best & Co. (I remember going to the Detroit store to buy coats…it was a vary nice store), even now.

    The house on the lake, next door to your best friend sounds like a great way to spend the summer, by the way!

    My husband thinks that this writing is a form of therapy and I agree, 100%. I cut off my long hair at 21 because I grew weary of being carded. Hair…it defines us in so many ways.

    • Suzy says:

      Betsy, as I just said to John, I do not still feel traumatized, and haven’t for years. I probably wouldn’t have even remembered the incident if it hadn’t been for the Haircuts prompt.

      Yes, those summers at Lake Hopatcong were great. Bette had two older sisters who were about the same ages as my sisters, and the two sets of parents were also close friends, so it was perfect for everybody. For some reason both families stopped going to the Lake in about 1958.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I love this story, Suzy. And I remember Best and Company. In 1954, Mamie Eisenhower championed that very short bang look. Awful. BTW, I never like my haircut until a week later. When the stylist blows it dry, it looks great, but by the time I get home it’s awful.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Laurie. When my research revealed that there had been a Best’s in Detroit, I figured you and Betsy might have gone there, and she remembers going there to buy coats.

      Nice to know that you have the same problem I do of hating your hair the first week after a cut. Your hair always looks perfect to me!

  4. Well told, Suzy…poignant, and very, very relatable.

    I can also relate to this story because something similar happened to me…as an adult!! I had recently gotten a short haircut (come to think of it, it might have been the one in my story) and, no, I wasn’t wearing just the bottom of my bathing suit…I was in blue jeans and a T-shirt and simply walking by a construction site. Like most women, I was used to getting cat-calls from construction workers, but in this case one of the guys up on a girder yelled out “Male or female?” Scouts honor. Who knows, maybe that’s part of the reason I keep my hair long.

    P.S. For what it’s worth, I agree with John…you looked absolutely adorable!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Barb. I’m so glad I have this photo album of my early childhood, although it ends in 1955. I have to agree that I was adorable!

      And as to your incident – why are construction workers such pigs? I have never heard a story of a construction worker saying anything nice. Why do they feel compelled to say anything at all? Hope you weren’t traumatized.

  5. Times have changed. I now have two nephews who are (barely) old enough to be recognized by gender, but none of their parents are cutting their hair, so they are almost always mistaken for girls.

    When did short hair become the male identifier?

    • Suzy says:

      It’s true, times have changed, but in the ’50s it was certainly true that boys had short hair and girls had longer hair. Of course that changed when we were in college and boys grew their hair down to their waists in some cases.

      I’m curious about whether your nephews (or their parents) get upset when they are mistaken for girls.

  6. Marian says:

    You looked darling, Suzy, but I understand how hair and trauma can be related–really subjective. At about the same age my mom gave me what she called a “pixie” cut and I didn’t like it. I have a very small head and thought I looked pinheaded. I’m glad this prompt gave you the opportunity to figure out what might have been going through the ice cream man’s mind.

  7. Risa Nye says:

    Ah, yes…the traumatic haircut. Mine was right after we returned from a year in New York when I was in first grade. My mother cut off my pigtails after promising “just a trim.” I was shamed and didn’t want to leave the house. With my little round face, I looked like a jack-o-lantern. But your story brings back the way some tossed-off remark by a clueless adult can leave a long-lasting scar. (And have you ever heard Dar Williams sing “When I Was a Boy”? If you listen, you’ll know why I mention it.)

    • Suzy says:

      Risa, I just listened to Dar Williams’ song – fabulous! I wasn’t familiar with her, so thanks for introducing me to a new singer-songwriter. And that “just a trim” line brings back memories of other lies our parents told us.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    Funny how cutting it can be to be mistaken for a different sex, and I wonder if that is easing up at all with more people becoming gender fluid or at least not hewing to classic stereotypes. And how self-conscious we can be with a “bad hair day” or haircut. And how usually other people don’t notice half as much as we think they do.

    • Suzy says:

      I wonder about those things too, Khati. When I was little, I thought boys were gross, so being mistaken for one was the worst insult imaginable. I don’t know if little kids are any different now. Possibly people with grandchildren could weigh in on that. Also a good point about how other people don’t notice a “bad hair day” half as much as we think they do.

  9. I have grandsons with shoulder-length long hair, which seems to be pretty accepted, and at least one who wanted to wear girl-type clothing. His mother told the latter (since he was old enough to understand) to just be aware how some peers might respond to his choice of gender-noncompliant clothing and that it was his choice. Conversely, I have a couple nieces who have insisted till at least 8 or 9 that they wanted to wear more boyish looks, including haircuts and swim suits. The overall observation (from TX, OH and CA) seems to be greater acceptance these days, by a lot, than 50+ years ago.
    My favorite thing about this story is that you had this new revelation (about the significance to the ice cream truck guy of having your chest uncovered) as you reflected and wrote on the details. It shows once again how much writing contributes to thinking!

    • Suzy says:

      Glad to hear that there is greater acceptance of gender non-conforming, but that is not quite the same as my issue of being upset to be mistaken for a gender that I was not. I guess with your grandson who wanted to wear girl-type clothing, my question would be how he would feel, not about teasing, but about someone who didn’t know him genuinely thinking he was a girl.

      As to your final point, you probably know the quote by Sacramentan Joan Didion, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.”

  10. Karma is karma, Suzy. Best’s (I remember it; didn’t they have a special print design on their boxes, plaid, maybe?) demise was a direct result and payback. Good story. Reminds me of an old What’s My Line show when the guest was a twelve year old or so boy with long hair; this was in the early wave (sorry) of longer hair for boys and men. Kitty Carlisle mistook him for a girl on the air. Ouch.

  11. I understand how our poor little Suzy must have been traumatized by that unknowing ice cream guy – who sure didn’t lose sleep over it – calling one little curly-headed customer Sonny.

    But look at it this way, you have a good haircut story and can now let go of your 3 year-old hurt!

    • Suzy says:

      Well, my hair wasn’t curly then, as you can see in the featured image, and (as I mentioned to other commenters) I got over it long, long ago. But yes, it did give me a good haircut story.

  12. Love the bangs, Suzy. And I don’t think it was the Good Humor man. Maybe Bungalow Bar? As I recall, that cute college boy dressed in his clean white uniform with the shiny change thingy on his belt, just rang his bell (and mine) when he came round the corner.
    Good story!

    • Suzy says:

      Penny, I’ve never heard of Bungalow Bar. Looking on wiki, it seems it was only in New York, not New Jersey, so that wouldn’t have been it. Why don’t you think it was the Good Humor man?

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