I am a mammal. I know that this is exciting news but I just felt that it was necessary to share. Now, I have had suspicions that I was mammalian for quite some time. But after analyzing the empirical evidence, I have eliminated all the other options. So, I guess you can now say that I am Team Mammal. First, let’s look at the alternatives. I can’t be a fish. While I do enjoy a nice dip in the pool, seawater dries out my hair and that coupled with the fact that I have all of the aquatic grace of a ball of mud pretty much rules out me being a fish. I would consider reptiles but snakes creep me out so you can forget that. I would contemplate the fact that I may be an insect but the frequency that I have bruises on my body kinds of negates belonging to any group known for its hard exoskeleton. Since I can neither adhere to walls nor jump more than 2 inches off the ground, then amphibians are clearly not where I belong. As far as birds go, I think that in light of what I like to refer to The Orlando Karaoke Incident of 1995, I lack the melodious quality assigned to all birds. Yep I am a mammal and better yet, I am a male one.
The one distinction that mammals have, in addition to being the principal characters in most Disney movies, is that the male and female of each species have certain territorial and socially sex specific roles. Other lower animals don’t have some regimented gender roles because frankly the males of those species have less complex requirements put upon them. For example, if you are a salmon, your role is simple. Leave the ocean, check. Swim upstream and over rapids, check. Do your reproductive duty, check. Go back down downstream and become Grizzly chow, check. There is no, take out the garbage, mow the lawn, hold my purse while I try this dress on and/or snuggle included in any of those requirements. However, we higher mammals have to do more than just continue the species; we have to interact with members of the opposite sex at times when reproduction is not on the agenda. Because this interaction frequently exposes both males and females to the absolute insanity inherent in the opposite gender, both sexes have developed special territories where we may seek shelter from this insanity. Historically men have had the better selection in terms of man caves. Prehistoric men had actual caves. The medieval men had the knighthood and public executions. The colonial age gave men pirate ships and the clergy. Early twentieth century American men had social clubs and jobs not involving cooking and cleaning.
Eventually the wheels of social justice began to turn and women began to find special places where they too could be with those of the fairest sex and share the joys of sisterhood, without having to wear an apron. I think this progress is great, but then……..men began to realize that the number of women’s- only places began to dwarf the number of guys’ places. Just look around. You have book clubs, women’s clubs, yoga studios, every store in the mall other than Sharper Image and GameStop. There is also some mysterious establishment with frosted windows named Curves. I am not sure what kind of place that is but based on the fact that the women come out sweating I am pretty sure it’s some kind of lingerie tickle fight arena. Even television, once that bastion of all things male, has gone girly. In order for me to arrive at that holy grail of manly TV., the N.F.L. network, I have to pass 6 shopping channels, Oprah’s channel, the Hallmark channel and at least 4 different incarnations of the Lifetime network. Because of this intrusion into the spaces formerly dominated by those with the “y” chromosome, we men have been forced to retreat to those special places that women have no interest in going, the principle of these being the barber shop.
The barber shop as a kid was a scary place. A barber shop as an adult is ever scarier. Every barber shop had these menacing leather-bound(at least I hope that’s leather) chairs and if you happen to be a small child they would get out the “booster”. This is basically a leather wrapped piece of plywood that would rest on the arms of the barber chair so the barber could make sure to nick up all of your head and not just parts of it. The best part of it is that the thing had neither seat belt nor handles for you to balance with. It was basically walking the plank with the added fun of scissors near your major arteries. I had a friend who went to a cool barbershop as a boy; at least he thinks it was cool because the kids got to sit on a saddle while they got haircuts. A saddle? Great, they found the one kind of the seat in the civilized world with zero flat surfaces. “Hey Johnny, what happened to your ear?” “I fell off the saddle at the cool barbershop.” “Nice going Van Gogh.”
For those of you have never had the sheer pleasure (sorry I have to include at least one bad haircut pun) to spend time in a barbershop, let me tell you what you are missing. The place is never neat nor tidy. There are a collection of hunting magazines that no one has ever heard of in the waiting room. Well, it’s not really a waiting room. It is actually a collection of rickety chairs about 2 feet from the barbers. I would say it is within shouting distance but that measure of length has little meaning in a barbershop because the denizens of these fine establishments are generally shouting everything they say. The only problem with the proximity from those waiting to those getting bad haircuts, and they are always bad haircuts, is that inevitably one of those waiting will engage the barber about to cut my hair in some topic of conversation that the barber feels passionate about and everybody knows that there is nothing more fun than an enraged man with an endless supply of cutting tools. Usually, by the end of the conversation my neck looks like the cutting board at a Japanese Steakhouse. As scary as what goes on in front of the barber chairs is, what goes on behind them is even worse. Of course the requisite picture of the barber from his days in the army is there, and nothing says high fashion hair styling like a guy in a crew cut. There is the industrial sized bottle of Vitalis. I am not sure what Vitalis is but have a sneaking suspicion that it contains the same chemicals as paint thinner without paint thinner’s more pleasant smell. I swear that when the barber splashed that substance on my neck, I saw smoke. Next to the Vitalis was the giant candy jar….of combs. This container held mor combs that any human being could possibly need in a strange blue liquid. When asked what that viscous liquid was, the head barber told be alcohol. I may have been in a child and still believed in many unreal things. At the time I still believed in Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny and the American political system, but even I couldn’t buy that the alcohol was blue. I knew that alcohol came in two shades, vodka clear and Canadian brown. Then to add to my chagrin, the barber would pull a comb from that bacterial frappe and attempt to use it on my head at which time I would dodge every move like I was Neo from the Matrix. Sorry Floyd( it is required that every real barber have at least one guy named Floyd on the premises at all times) but you’re not putting anything near my head that came from a vat of liquid that looks vaguely similar to the product my mother uses to remove rust stains from our toilet. Everywhere you look there is weirdness. Then I would spot the thing that set me over the edge, the combination straight razor and long leather strap. Nothing settles a six-year-old like being 10 inches away from one of the props from the SAW movies.
After all the stress, you finally emerge back into the coed world. You have a new hair cut and the world is so excited. Well, not the whole world but at least the bullies at your bus stop because all your extra hair was making it itchy when they held you in a headlock. You swear that it’s just not worth it. You aren’t going to go to the barbershop any more, you are going to the hair salon because you mistakenly think that will make it better. By the way, you are wrong. As long as I was under my mother’s dominion, I was forced to visit the same barbershop but when the barbers’ tremors finally got so bad that a quick trim may have endangered my mom’s chances at grandchildren, she agreed to let me go get my haircut at the salon. Well, it wasn’t really a salon, it was a StuperCuts.(name changed to avoid any more litigation). I know that it isn’t exactly a Paul Mitchell salon but for a young man who considered any meal not delivered via a drive through window as gourmet, it was quite a cultural change. It was like the Promised Land…with hair on the floor. The difference between the male dominated barbershop and the female domain of the salon were like night and day.
- Men get their hair cut, women get their hair done
- Men visit barber shops, women visit beauty salons
- Beauty salons have actual waiting rooms with magazines from the current decade.
- Beauty salons are staffed by people who went to school in order to do hair, barber shops are staffed by people who work there because they dropped out of school.
- Beauty salons play satellite radio featuring the latest hits, barber shops play A.M. radio featuring shows about gardening.
- At a beauty shop, they will actually wash your hair for you before your styling. At a barbershop, it’s a challenge just getting the barber to wash his hands after he uses the restroom.
As happens when ever you cross that territorial line between the world of men and women, the novelty of an experience different from the one we are used to make everything seem wonderful…..for a while. But slowly, the reality is that you have simply exchanged one type of psychosis for another. Soon the glow of joy of being at the salon was replaced by the cold wind of reality. The pre-styling hair washing seems to be the entrance level exam for the position of Water-Boarder at Guantanamo Bay. Gee thanks for making my scalp bleed, I really appreciate that. Another problem with the salon is the obsession with making appointments. Now I do understand that some of the coloring and styling activities may take longer than the typical five-minute buzz cut at the barber shop but do you need to schedule what time I should show up down to the millisecond. I am trying to get a few inches chopped off the fro not trying to land a spaceship on an asteroid. I can barely show up at work at the time that I am supposed to, and I am getting paid to do that. So if you expect me to show up at the hair cut place in the strip mall at a certain then I will give you the same advice that I gave my wife on our wedding day, ”Prepare for disappointment.”
Even arriving at salon, there are other issues. First of all, all the salons I have ever been to (that would be three) have an extremely loud door alarm to alert everyone in the zip code that the door has been opened. Nothing breeds hair styling success like startling the people with the razor-sharp instruments. I understand the reason for the alarm on the door. It is to give the employees an auditory prompt fo them to throw down their cigarettes and come back in the salon, because they smoke….they all smoke. Maybe it is the constant inhalation of hairspray or maybe it is the occupational stress one would feel from having to pretend not to notice when the client in the chair passes gas. Whatever the reason, the employees usually have more tobacco than the state of North Carolina. The last time that I got my hair cut, the lady that did it smelled like the lovechild of The Marlboro Man and Joe Camel. Aside from the cigarette stained fingers cutting my hair, there is another problem I have with the salon employees. It is not the physical contact that takes place when you are cutting my hair, I understand the barriers that having short arms places on your ability to respect my personal space when styling my ‘do, it is the verbal contact that I mind. Let me put this delicately, “ STOP TALKING TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!” We are not family. We are not friends. Heck, we are not even casual acquaintances. If I could cut my hair, I would. But I can’t and that is why I come here. So, let’s please stop pretending that we need to catch each other up on what’s been going on in since the never when I was here before. I don’t want to talk about the weather. I don’t want to talk about my job. I don’t want to participate in your conversation about when your boyfriend’s”band” is going to hit it big. I don’t want to join in you and your co-workers’ version of an amateur The Maury Show. You are a professional and I expect you to behave as one. You are under no pressure to be neither social nor chatty. In fact I want the same interaction with you that I would expect from a prostitute:
- Don’t tell me your name.
- Don’t look me in the eye.
- Perform your duty well and you will be tipped well.
- Perform it poorly and I will claim that I am a cop and then run away.
That’s’ it. It’s just hair. It really shouldn’t get complex. Of course there is another alternative………maybe I will just wear a hat.