Notes on my hair

January 12, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 12, 2016

I wear my hair in two styles, which I’ll describe in a moment. Essentially the only picture I’ve ever seen of myself, or at least of my post-infant self, that hasn’t shown either of the two aforementioned hairstyles was one taken in elementary school, a school portrait. It showed me with a bowl cut, no part to be found. I think I look goofy in that picture, and I hate it.

My hair is dark brown now, if not actually black, and has been for years. When I was younger, however, my hair was different: It was blond, or at least dirty blond. That light(er) color in this elementary-school picture, and when I look at it, for a fleeting moment, I think I might be looking at a picture of my sibling, whose hair stayed lighter for far longer than mine.

Now, about those hairstyles. For as long as I can remember, when my hair is short, I have parted it on the left. One of my favorite pictures of myself is also a school portrait, taken I believe in junior high school, that I believe shows off this hairstyle to good effect.

(Other people, incidentally, don‘t seem to be as fond of this picture as I am; when they see it, they ask me why I look so angry. I usually shrug and murmur I dunno or I don’t think I look angry, which is the truth, and which may speak to certain likely deficiencies regarding my social graces and emotional intelligence.)

I’m prone, out of a combination of laziness and miserliness, to letting my hair grow out over the course of three, four and sometimes more months. After a while, it turns into a curly mass — I believe the technical term is Jewfro — that I find no compelling reason to comb. Plenty of photographs of me feature this hairstyle, too.

Certain people I know prefer my long-haired look; I personally would rather have my hair short. I think I look a bit more masculine and a bit more handsome this way. I also think that I look younger when my hair is close-cropped; most of my graying hairs seem to vanish at the barber shop, at least temporarily.

On Thursday afternoon, after endless weeks (months?) of delay, I headed over to my favored local barber shop, in downtown Durham, so Mr. Boyd could cut my hair. He’s been doing it pretty much since I moved to Durham in June 2008.


Here’s how I started going to that barber shop. One sunny Saturday, Lady X and I went to the Durham Farmers’ Market. I’d said something about wanting to get a haircut, so when we strolled by the shop, we decided to go in. Lady X patiently waited for a bit, and then — voilá — I had my haircut and my barber shop.

(End of tangent!) 

Anyway, on Thursday afternoon, after significant delay, I headed over to my favored local barber shop. When Mr. Boyd finished with the customer he had in his chair, I went over.

What did I want? I was asked.

Make it short, part it on the left, leave the sideburns but thin them out, round out the corners on the back of my neck, I muttered.

As I was going to sit down, a new program had evidently just started on one of the televisions. It was a documentary in which comedians discussed different things about their lives and careers, and I found it pretty interesting, even though I couldn’t really  see it. Midway through the haircut, either the doc ended or someone switched to another channel, because some kind of art-house movie came on — a period piece about men with guns in forests and shacks. (It’s possible one of the men was secretly a girl — again, I couldn’t really see the screen.)

Mr. Boyd asked me if I was growing in my beard. I told him I wasn’t, and he spent some time scraping away a few of the hairs on my cheek, something he didn’t normally do.

At the end, as is customary, Mr. Boyd handed me a mirror. I reached underneath the smock so I could don my eyeglasses and inspect his work. I noticed two things: Mr. Boyd had parted my hair on the right, and he hadn’t rounded the corners of the hair on the back of my neck.

About the first I said nothing. I did point out the second item, and Mr. Boyd confessed that he’d forgotten my instructions on that point and hadn’t wanted to do something erroneously. He spent a moment rounding off the corners and then we were basically done.

I stood up and reached for my money. I tried to scope out my haircut in the mirrors whilst standing, but I couldn’t.

Mr. Boyd asked if everything was OK. I assured him it was, paid him and gave him a two-dollar tip. He handed me a page-a-month magnetic calendar to put on my fridge; I retrieved and donned my jacket and my backpack and then I was on my way, except for pausing to close the door when it got stuck on the doormat.

It was chilly outside. I felt extremely self-conscious about the way I looked with my part on the right — the wrong! — side and with my unshaven cheeks having been partially scraped clean.

I decided to go home and finish the job of shaving myself. I walked to my car and drove to my house.

When I looked at myself in the mirror, I didn’t think my partly shaved cheeks looked totally bad, but the reverse-parted hair looked weird. I set about shaving anyway, reminding myself as I went along that I would have to remember which way my hair was now parted when I brushed it from my forehead.

At some point later on Thursday, I began wondering if my hair actually could be parted on the left — my left — side. I resolved to try it the following morning.

On Friday morning, I tried it. Reader, I looked pretty much the way I normally do the day after a haircut.

I’m sure you’re just as relieved to learn that as I was.

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