It’s thinning now, of course, but as a kid my hair was thick, auburn, and very curly. Ladies in the A&P or the bakery would pat me on the head and tell me how much they wished they had my hair. What boy would want to hear that from some old matron? God, how embarrassing.
When he was done, I had a shiny new helmet of perfectly symmetrical, meticulously groomed, "Dry Look" hair.
My hair was a pain in the rear. In the era of Brylcreem slickness, just dragging a comb through my frizzy locks was an ordeal. I dreaded trips to the barber more than trips to the shot-giving doctor. It just plain hurt, and I ended up looking like a poodle and feeling ridiculous.
A few years later, when the Age of Aquarius commenced, I was finally free. I let my hair grow to collar-length, and barely brushed it. Photos from the time show a scruffy, unkempt teenager, but hey, it was the fashion of the day. So what if I was occasionally mistaken for a girl? That was common, and usually just sarcastic, in our largely military town. For once, I felt I fit with the times.
The times changed, though. High school graduation was at the dawn of the Disco era, which entailed a repudiation of all that was Natural. On the morning of the ceremony, my older cousin Josh took me to get spiffed up. Barber shops were out, he told me. Hip men now went to the salon. So, as a graduation gift, he took me to Mario’s Salon.
Instead of the retired Navy barbers I was used to, we were greeted by Mario, in a floral shirt and leisure suit, and his covey of high-heeled assistants. Instead of the barber shops’ fluorescent lighting, spare Naugahyde couches and mechanical chairs, Mario’s had subdued lighting, dark wood paneling, plush sofas, and incense burning in the corner.
An assistant gave me my first salon shampoo, which I enjoyed more than I had expected to. Then the artist Mario went to work with his blow dryer and shears. When he was done, I had a shiny new helmet of perfectly symmetrical, meticulously groomed, “Dry Look” hair. I barely recognized myself.
It ended up making very little difference at the graduation ceremony (we wore mortarboards, after all). But that day was a turning point in how I perceived myself. I was no longer a schoolchild. I was about to become someone new. And my new, very different hairstyle reminded me of that every time I looked in a mirror.