As anyone who knows me will tell you, I have REALLY short hair. I’m talking just north of a buzz cut. And yet not a buzz cut which is where things get complicated.
It all started during yet another crisis, this one not as dire or worldwide as our present drama, but a crisis nonetheless. The year was 2007 and I had been coaxed — or should I say snipped — over a series of extremely expensive haircuts, from a crop of very thick, very curly, just above the bra-strap long hair to hair that was a bit shaggier than a pixie cut. In other words short but still requiring the attentions of a hair stylist to keep it from turning into a full blown fro. Remember, very thick, very curly?
And then the Writers Guild called a wild cat strike and the era of $200 haircuts ended abruptly. At first I decided that I was going to abstain from haircuts in protest. Plus it was winter so we were all wearing huge hats while we picketed so my rapidly growing hair was under wraps. My husband gently suggested that I look elsewhere for a haircut, but I wasn’t having it. It was my ultracool stylist in the Meat Packing district or nothing.
Then the Writers Guild yanked me off a picket line and asked me to talk with a reporter for the New York Post. He walked me 10 blocks through a snowstorm to the newsroom — and yes, they look exactly like they look in the movies, a field of desks and lots of harried folks with glasses peering at screens. He threw me behind a desk and gave me half an hour to write a column about the strike. I outlined the issues and then talked about the deprivations we TV writers were facing, mentioning the death of $200 haircuts and the fact that I was now sewing my daughter’s Snowball Prom dress.
To say that the New York Post audience was unimpressed with the sacrifices I was making is an understatement. That and the fact that my extremely tactful husband had suggested more than twice that I go see his barber, finally pushed me downstairs and next door to what my daughter referred to as the “Misogynistic Barber Shop.” Understand she was 15. And that the shop was run by an Orthodox Jewish fellow I will call Bob who only cut men’s hair.
Nevertheless I went to see Bob. Bob was from Russia, a former clarinetist with soulful eyes and too many children. Bob was skeptical but agreed I needed a haircut and given the strike and the fact that my husband was there with me, he offered to bend his policy this one time. And then he gave me the strangest haircut I have ever received. Basically he never touched me with his hands, instead gently positioning my head by poking me with a comb.
Oddly enough it was an excellent haircut. More to the point, it cost $12. Problem was I’d noticed something. Bob had a partner, whom I’ll call Hyam, who was ridiculously observant, davening in the corner all day over the sink and basically leaving the business to Bob. Hyam had a parakeet in a cage in the corner. I’m not much for birds inside but I was trying to win Bob over and maybe get another haircut or two or three and so I took a peek inside the cage, planning to ooh and ah, and instead was shocked to discover that the bird’s claws had grown around the perch. I confronted Hyam with this fact and he was equally shocked but didn’t see any way around it.
Now here was a conundrum. How to get a haircut despite the fact that the “misogynistic barbers” were clearly violating that parakeet’s rights. After all, I was still on a picket line and this was yet another line I could not cross.
As my family will tell you, there is no challenge too great. And so I set about educating myself about parakeets and their habitats and two weeks later marched into the shop with an enormous cage and a determined expression. Hyam consented to give it a try and opened the itty bitty cage. And the parakeet, having been trapped for way too long, took off in a flurry of wings and crashed headlong into the mirror.
Would the parakeet survive?! Would I survive to get another haircut?!
The God of Israel was watching that day and the parakeet, after a brief nap and a shudder, opened his eyes. As often happens after a near tragedy, there was much rejoicing. The parakeet traded up to palatial digs and I got myself another haircut.
Bob has now cut my hair for 13 years.
Only now Bob is in lockdown in Queens and I’m in lockdown in Connecticut and – news flash! – my hair is growing! And my husband’s hair is growing – he’s starting to look like Stokowski. And we’ve only got another week or two of hat season - not that anyone’s going out. And clippers are on back order on Amazon!
As Bob would say – oy!
I called Bob and offered to send him the $30 I usually pay him once a month. He demurred and asked about the family and I asked about his. So far so good. We promised to speak in a few weeks. I’ll give him the extra $30 the next time I see him, God willing, as he’d say.
Meanwhile I’ve taken out the shears, planning to practice on my patient husband first. A little off the top… Hack away at the sides… Try and spare the ears…
But that’s just it. The haircut, while the point, isn’t really the point. The point is Bob. And the parakeet. And the 13 years. This is why so many of us feel unmoored. All those day-to-day relationships on lockdown. The hairdresser and the housekeeper and the carpenter and the accountant and the podiatrist and the lawn guy and the babysitter. And don’t get me started on the teachers. After a week of homeschooling, who’s willing to double the pay of every teacher out there – raise your hands! Not only are all these folks performing incredible services that keep our hair in order and our children educated, they’re our community. And I miss them!