What’s up with all of these psychedelic hair colors the kids are sporting nowadays? It reminds me of 80s punk rockers, but without the spikes. Maybe they forego the spikes because their hair won’t fit into selfies. After all, selfies are how teenagers make their presence known to the world. I suspect that teenagers worry that they might cease to exist without selfie’s posted to the social media of the week. The French philosopher Rene’ Descartes once postulated, “I think therefore I am”; Millennial philosophers might state, “I selfie, therefore I am.” I surmise that, were the Russians hack to our cell networks and bring them down, the younger generation’s virtual reality world would disintegrate. Like a modern version of the Matrix, they would be forced to come out of their pod-like rooms and go outside into the real world and converse with fellow humans face to face. It would be a type of teenage Zombie apocalypse: pale and dumbfounded teenagers stumbling about in the bright outdoor light, unable to text or snapchat selfies to each other. Oh, the horror! On the bright side, with their multi-colored hair, rounding them up would be much easier if they got lost wandering around aimlessly.
Musing about hair, my favorite hair band of the 80s was Flock of Seagulls, who sported a hairstyle which was a cross between a blond sea wave crashing down on their foreheads and Donald Trump’s spectacular orange comb-over on a windy day. Check out their video for Wishing (If I had a photograph of you) if you don’t believe me.
I also loved The Cure and their flamboyantly gothic lead singer Robert Smith. He wore bright red lipstick and sported hair that looked like he had stuck his finger in a light socket. At times his high-pitched vocals sounded like he had just received an electric shock. I’ve read that punk rockers spiked their hair so that no one would hire them and that way they could live off unemployment. I don’t know if it’s true, but today spiked hair would not be an obstacle getting yourself hired at any fast food restaurant, though I am not sure where they would get “supersized” hair nets.
I myself never got to grow my hair long or get it spiked or colored. For the first 18 years of my life I lived under my Dad’s roof and he did not permit long hair. He was old school, no fan of hippies. Then for the next 30 years I was in the military, where long hair was against Air Force Regulation 35-10. Now that I am over 50 and retired from the military and could grow it long, the hair growth on the top of my head, like grass in the Sahara, is unfortunately quite sparse. But, on the bright side, it is sprouting from my eyebrows, nose, ears, and toes like the dandelions in my yard. It’s not that I am losing my hair, but its migrating south.
If I live to a ripe old age I will be as bald as a cue ball on my head, but my feet will be warm and very fuzzy.
But back when I was young and could grow hair on my head, I was unfairly denied my Constitutional right to grow my hair long. You see, our household was a monarchy, and my Dad was the king. Regarding hair he channeled Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, and on any dreaded Saturday if he noticed his boys’ hair starting to touch their ears or shirt collar he brought out “The box” and a sheet. The box contained his electric shears and scissors. Like sheep on shearing day we knew what was coming next. Rumor was the electric shears had actually been used on sheep. Regardless of their heritage they still made me tremble when I saw them. They only had one setting: buzz cut, 1/8th inch. Think army basic training or the Marine high and tight and you get the picture. One by one, he lined us boys up like sheep in a chute. His hand clamped down on our head then for about 30 seconds a buzz rang in our ears as he ran the shears back and forth. Hair fell. Ears got nicked. One by one, we stumbled away, our pride and self-worth in tatters, tears in our eyes, looking like refugees from some third world country. But the worst part was going to school on the following Monday looking like a wimpy skinhead. The other boys mocked me and the girls turned their heads away, as if not wanting to look at a leper. Talk about PTSD, I still have nightmares about it and shudder when passing a barbershop. I honestly don’t think I owned a comb until my latter teenage years, because my hair never got long enough to need combing.
When I reached 14 I couldn’t take being shunned by the girls anymore, so I negotiated a deal with my parents that if I paid for my own haircut I would not have to submit to The Box. However, help and transportation weren’t part of the deal. I first had find out where the closest barbershop was, but I knew my Mom’s good friend Pat ran a hair salon in nearby Burlington. With the aid of the phone book and the rotary, Pat’s hair salon had a new appointment. On the designated day, though battling the flu, I got on my trusty yellow 3-speed Schwinn, bought from working in the tobacco fields that spring, and peddled five long miles to Burlington. When I arrived sweaty and exhausted and said I was there for my appointment, Pat looked at me confused. She checked her book. No appointment. With desperation breaking in my voice, I muttered that I was sure I made an appointment. Understanding the mix up, she explained that there were actually two Pat’s Salons in the book and I must have called the other one. Worry became anguish as images of the box loomed. Tears swelled in my eyes, and my knees began to buckle, but Pat, seeing a tired, ill looking, skinny boy, teetering on tears, graciously agreed to fit me in, and in so doing transformed my agony into relief. She professionally styled my hair and showed me the result in the mirror. With my dignity intact, I proudly gave her a $1 tip and a big smile and headed out the door. On the long bike ride home the flu got the better of me and I got sick by the side of road, but eventually I made it back, weak, weary, half delirious, but with my hair and pride securely intact. My mother, always worried, was happy to see that I made it back safely, but curiously asked where my glasses were. It seems, when I was at the side of the road hurling my lunch, the glasses had fallen off. I had been so exhausted and ill that I hadn’t noticed. Our family could not afford to buy me another pair of glasses, so she made my brother Paul drive me back to where I tossed my cookies to retrieve them. Miraculously, there they were, besides my orange badge of pride and I could once see again.
Ironically, this was not the last time I lost my glasses by the side of a road. Many years later while stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base I was driving down the road on a warm sunny day with my car windows down and I was having an intense conversation with myself. While making a critical point, enthusiastically emphasized by literally pointing with my finger, I caught the edge of my glasses and they flew out window like a slow motion video and onto the grassy median on Route 50. This was not a good situation, since without my glasses I was legally blind. Stunned and still several miles from home with everything very fuzzy, I could not even begin to read road signs. At least I could recognize the outlines of stop signs. So, cautiously, I made my way home, miraculously arriving without incident, except for one mysterious thumpity-thump on the way. After that incident, I kept an extra set of glasses in my car in case I had further important points to make to myself when driving.
I survived the childhood haircuts and headed off to college after high school, where I still could not grow my hair long because I was in the ROTC, but at least I did not have to get it shaved. The summer after my sophomore year I attended field training, which is the officer version of basic training. Think of the movie Officer and a Gentleman, without the white uniforms and cute girls and with much less drama. A few weeks into the training my fellow flight mates decided to get “high and tight” haircuts, like the Marines wear. We marched over to the base barber like lemmings heading off a cliff and we all got the sides of our heads shaved. Afterwards, my flight mates registered dismay when they glanced in the mirror. I, on the other hand, had been through this drill many times as a kid, and did not think twice: “been there, done that”, as they say. It made me appreciate that in reality I had been in basic training my whole youth with my dad as the hardnosed Gunny Drill Sergeant Foley, and myself playing Mayo, screaming “I ain’t got no place to go” when he threatened to kick me out of the house for too much teenage partying. My dad was much tougher than anything the Air Force could dish out. Demerits, schemerits–if I screwed up at home I got the leather belt treatment. In fact, I slept in later at basic than at home . . . and did not have to hear Eddy Arnold blasting reveille at 05:30!
The next summer I lived in Virginia Beach with my older brother Tony and I worked the gate at the local state park at night and mowed lawns during the day. I even had a side business painting sand dollars to sell to the tourists. Since I was away from home and free from the Air Force for a few months I decided to bleach my hair blond and grow a tail in the back, (because I could), and have at least one summer without having my hair monitored by my Dad or the Air Force. Towards the latter part of the summer we flew home for by brother Paul’s wedding and when I got home sporting blond hair and a tail my parents didn’t recognize me at first. After they recovered from the shock my Dad looked at me sternly and said that the tail better be gone when I returned home at summer’s end. It was.
That was the last time I bleached my hair and after college I was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant and had to keep my hair within regs. However, I always pushed the limit. My first crewmate on active duty also kept his hair as long as possible and sported big preppy glasses like myself and we both tried to dress to impress the ladies. We became known as the GQ crew and took pride in the nickname.
Years later when my kids reached their teens I let them grow their hair any way they wanted. I did not want them to suffer in anguish like I did. Their freshman year of college they both dyed their hair, one bright blue, the other silver, though I am not sure why anyone young would intentionally dye their hair silver, Mother Nature will take care of that years later anyway, as it did for me. My daughter says I have silver highlights, God bless her heart. As I dropped my other daughter off at her liberal arts college in Yellow Springs, hippy capital of Ohio, the full spectrum of hair colors were on display. Crossing campus I kept thinking of the old “United Colors of Benetton” commercial. None of these kids ever got their head shaved by their father or biked five miles to get it done professionally using their own hard earned money. I was also amazed at some of the hairstyles I saw throughout the day from mullets to dreadlocks.
Just recently as I was waiting in line at the base pharmacy, an older veteran stood in front of me sporting a gray dreadlock hairstyle which, in and of itself is not that unusual. However, he was bald on top and the remaining hair had congealed into one big heavy dreadlock that was about six inches wide and a foot long. It reminded me of a beaver tail or platypus bill, only gray and filled with some type of toxic decaying matter, not sure what. I had to stand in line behind him for 20 minutes, fixated on this appendage hanging from the back of his head. Would it attack? After 20 minutes I started to get nauseous and was grateful when I finally got my meds and was able to escape unharmed from the ominous gray paddle. But as they say, to each his own.
Many years ago when stationed in Missouri at Whiteman Air Force Base a few friends and I went on a canoe trip out in the backcountry. It wasn’t quite Deliverance, but close. We stopped to get a bite to eat at a local greasy spoon, and as my friend Bill and I walked out, we passed an elderly couple. We were both sporting cloth bracelets, which were all the rage at the time. They looked at our wrists and then at us like we were aliens. Then the lady turned to her husband and we heard her mutter, “It takes all kinds, Merle”. I later told my wife that story and now whenever we see someone sporting a gray dreadlock paddle or other unique look we just look at each other and say, “It takes all kinds Merle.” So, when you see a young kid sporting blue, green, or red hair, just remember not to judge a book by its cover, and paraphrasing the immortal words of that elder Missourian, it really does take all kinds to make up this diverse world we live in, and that’s not a bad thing.
This month’s song is Love Plus One by none other than Haircut 100, it’s a great pop tune from the 80s.