If I’ve learned anything about going to a hair salon, it’s this: a hair stylist will look at the hair you have when you first arrive at the salon and base the first impression of how your hair looks at that moment in order to make an almost instantaneous decision of how they are going to cut and style your hair.
I’ve tested this theory many times and it holds true more often than not. I walk into a salon with my hair parted on the left and I walk out an hour later with my hair parted on the left; I walk in with my hair slicked back and, that’s right, it’s slicked back when I leave; and if it’s a tossed and tousled look that walks in, lo and behold I’ll be coming home with a gelled, hairsprayed, mussed up coif.
Cutting my hair is a challenge, even for the most skilled and experienced stylist. The major complication of cutting my hair is the fact that I have no less than six of the most unmanageable cowlicks (a world record perhaps!) and that my hair grows in two different directions on the two opposite sides of my head. Basically what we’re talking about is every hairstylist’s nightmare—cut it too short and the cowlicks stand up like Alfalfa from the Our Gang comedies, leave it too long and it becomes an unruly, chaotic pelt of bushy, wavy filamentous biomaterial that even Dippity-do couldn’t tame.
So when I walked into Headz For Hair in The Hague, a fairly nondescript hair salon that reminded me of a slightly more grown up version of the barber shops of my youth, I was greeted by a waifish blond wearing a metal-spiked leather jacket over a well-worn Roxy Music t-shirt with the double-headed Polish eagle crest on it, who asked if she could help me. I told her I wanted a haircut and asked what they charged and if they could take me without an appointment. Pascalle, as she was called, checked the appointment book and told me a men’s cut would cost 34 euros and that they could take me now if I wanted, which I did.
Pascalle took my jacket, offered me a drink (which I politely refused) and directed me to sit in a chair beneath a wash basin where she washed my hair with a chocolatey smelling shampoo, rinsed and dried it and escorted me to the middle of three barber chairs in the salon. When I asked who’d be cutting my hair, she smiled and said, “I will be!” as she proceeded to cover me with a black cutting cape and rubber neck collar.
Then the dreaded question arose: “So, how would you like it cut?”
This has been the 64,000 dollar question for nearly all of my adult life. And the answer? “How about like George Clooney. Or Johnny Depp.” Or, “here, I’ve got this photo I cut out of GQ and I want you to make me look like him.”
But I’ve never been able to get the haircut of my dreams, and I’ve come to realize it’s not because of my hair, it’s because of who’s wearing my hair. Me. It’s about something much more complex than unruly cowlicks or the direction in which ones hair grows. It’s more than mere indecision or trying to be trendy or even trying to preserve youth. The dilemma is quite simple once it can be carefully interpreted. A haircut is based on the individual, but what if the individual—let’s just say for argument’s sake—has more than one personality? Now I don’t mean the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of personality, I mean, take me for example: Three days a week I’m a stay at home father, caring for two toddlers, and sometimes, when my teenage children are around, my parenting duties double, so it’s quite common for me to be unshaven, uncombed and wearing my favorite sweatpants and red Crocs. Two days a week I teach professional English at a school for hotel and restaurant management where I am expected to show up for work kempt and professionally dressed. Finally, my artistic inclinations are equally as contrasting—writer, stand-up comedian, singer-songwriter—each alter ego possessing a unique persona requiring that certain look, that distinctive flair, dress sense and hairstyle.
So I looked at Pascalle in her black leather jacket and Roxy Music t-shirt, with her straight, long blond hair, pouty mouth and full lips, and I gazed around momentarily looking for some source of inspiration. “You know what,” I said. “I’m going to be fifty in just over a year’s time, and while I’d like to walk out of here looking as though I was twenty years younger and on my way to a solo performance at the Royal Albert Hall, the truth is that I just want to look like me, whoever it is you see in me and however your hands, scissors and creative notions wish to make me.”
With that, Pascalle reached for her electric clippers and inserted a number one guard over the blades and proceeded to completely shave the sides and back of my head nearly to the scalp, leaving little more than a shock of wavy brown hair set atop my skull that she ever so slightly puffed up and set with a palm full of molding wax.
I have to admit being a bit shocked at first, not thinking Pascalle would have the nerve to carve out such a radical design on my noggin, but I immediately understood the metamorphosis that had just taken place—my hair and I had finally become one, reunited after years of trying to figure out what each one had in mind, how one could cohabit with the other, share a peaceful, meaningful and fulfilling relationship while maintaining a semblance of unconventional originality and extraordinary sophistication (ehem, ehem).
I’ve been wearing my “Pascalle,” as I’ve named it, for just over a week now and I’ve had enough time to become familiar with its needs and peculiarities. I admit to spending more time in front of the mirror with this haircut than I have with any other in perhaps twenty years or more, but there’s something different I’ve observed in the mirror, a part of me I’ve long neglected and taken for granted, seen but not really appreciated for all its worth, and it’s much more than a haircut. It’s the lust for life that I’ve all but lost recently, lost because I’ve been out of touch with myself for so long, lost because I seem to have forgotten what it was in life that I aspired most to be. Or perhaps I haven’t forgotten at all and maybe that’s what lies at the root of my predicament—that I’ve never really aspired to be anything more than what I am today or who my hair declares me to be.
I’ve been battling beards since those first unruly whiskers budded out from beneath my nose and upon my chinny chin chin as I was doubly cursed with not only a course beard nearly impossible to shave with anything but a Black & Decker power saw, but skin as sensitive as a baby’s diaper-rashed tuchus.
I started shaving clandestinely at fourteen, locked in my parent’s bathroom with a can of Barbasol and my dad’s cool razor blade razor that as you twisted the base, the two top halves that protected the blade rose in tandem like the Michigan Avenue bridge. I also have many fond memories of the other two men in my life—my maternal grandfather and great-grandfather—who shaved with blades and an electric shaver respectively. Grandpa didn’t have much facial hair and his morning shave was over before it even began while my great-grandfather would spend a little more time in front of the mirror in our apartment’s only bathroom.
When I first started shaving, my grandfather bought me what was then the top of the line Norelco electric shaver, the kind with three floating heads. I used it for a few months and while it gave me a pretty good close shave on my cheeks, it ripped my chin and neck to shreds, leaving my skin badly burned and irritated. Since then I have gone back to try electric shavers at least a dozen times with as many different brands and models—from a ten dollar battery-operated job to a high end Braun that, had it not been for their 30-day money back trial, would have set me back a small fortune—all having the same result of being unable to manage my wiry beard.
My remedy throughout the years has been simply trying to avoid shaving every day, which I’ve surprisingly managed to have pulled off as my five o’clock shadow (two thirty shadow in my case) suits me fairly well in a way similar to Don Johnson’s or George Michael’s as opposed to a skid row bum’s (no offence to skid row bums). And when you’re self-employed, un-employed or a stay at home father (I’ve cornered the market on all three over the years) you can easily afford the luxury of simply not shaving. For days. Weeks even.
I’ve never been fond of facial hair, not mine or anyone else’s. I’ve admired a few beards over the years—actor Brad Pitt’s full face fuzz, major league pitcher Brian Wilson’s black foliage and the flowing beard of Matisyahu, the Orthodox Jewish-American reggae singer who I believe has just recently rid himself of his trademark Chassidic beard, mustache and side locks. And if it were an option to be permanently clean-shaven, I’d probably opt for it and dispose of every razor and shaving product that is crammed into my medicine cabinet.
I read once that many men who wear beards have deep-rooted psychological issues and that their beards serve as masks which they hide their emotional excesses behind. Perhaps that’s why there hasn’t been an American president since William Howard Taft sported his bushy handlebar mustache to wear facial hair in the White House. Some say it’s the reason that side burned mustachioed Jesse Jackson was unsuccessful in his bids for the U.S.’s top political office.
I can half subscribe to the idea of men wearing beards to hide behind—and for as many reasons as one can imagine—but then again there are as many reasons men wear beards in the first place as there are different types of beards, the chin to upper lip Van Dyke, circle beard or doorknocker as it’s sometimes called; the goatee, Garibaldi and Donegal, the Verdi and the nearly microscopic soul patch.
Beards can be as unique as the men who wear them, but if these hair masks do indeed conceal some deep, dark inner workings of a man’s psyche, can we, in turn, justify just a tad of mistrust in these relics of the Pleistocene Age. It also pays to point out that God, Jesus, Mohammed, even Satan himself, are often depicted wearing some form of facial hair or another.
Whether or not I’m trying to conceal any psychological traumas or emotional baggage, can’t hide the fact that I haven’t shaved my face since the final week of 2011, the day I told my children—half in jest—that I wouldn’t shave or cut my hair until I secured a book and or movie deal for my first novel that I had completed writing a few weeks earlier.
So here I am at the beginning of February with an unmanageable head of hair and a growing beard that is so spikey and sharp I’m convinced it could cut crystal or a tin can like a Ginsu knife. It’s not the first beard I’ve worn, but it’s nearing the longest my face has ever been fully covered in barb and it looks as though I might be in it for the long run. Or at least until I sign that big book deal.
Someone asked me what would happen if I didn’t get a book deal, if that would mean I would remain forevermore bushy faced and long-haired. In my eternal optimism I hadn’t really considered never shaving or cutting my hair again as an option, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of setting these seemingly impossible goals for myself with consequences that are as unusual as the idea of wearing facial hair in the first place. And while I imagine biology having a pretty good reason for men to sprout this gruff in the first place, to protect the face, ward off enemies, attract the opposite sex, I like to think that beards were invented so that baseball players—and would-be novelists—could wear their victory beards until they brought home their World Series rings or that fat six-figure advance from the publishing company. Either way, it looks like my victory beard’s going to be around for a while but I’m prepared to look at myself each morning in the mirror as long as the face I see behind the mask remains my own.
My mother quit high school to go to what they called cosmetology school back in her day to become what they called a hairdresser in her day, or what my grandmother (in her day) called a beauty operator.
While mom never did become a hairstylist, she has, over the course of her nearly 70 years, worn just about every hair style that has ever been created, and to this day spends more time, money and effort on her hair than she has the time, money and effort to afford embellishing the filamentous biomaterial that grows from follicles beneath the skin on her head whose express purpose is providing thermal regulation and protection against the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
But then again she’s a woman, and that’s how women roll.
I have a collection of about thirty photos of my mother wearing a number of hairdos that were worn by young American women in the late 1950s and 60s, as well as ones that chronicle the evolution of women’s hairstyles straight through to the end of the 20th century and into the noughties and tens.
As a young woman in her late teens, my mother was the perfect candidate to sport a beehive, short in stature and thin, this hairstyle was the ideal way to accentuate my mother’s long, tapered neck and made her look taller than her mere five foot and a bit. I must have a dozen or more photos of mom (some with aunties Phyllis and Eileen and the late almost-aunty Sondra) wearing a variety of beehives in a number of colors, compositions and height, one more stunning than the last.
The pageboy my mother wore at sixteen was actually known as the pageboy “flip” where the bottom flipped outward as opposed to under. The few photos of mom with her pageboy reflect the happier, more innocent, less sophisticated times that the end of the 1950s represented before the United States was thrust into an era of conflict highlighted by the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis and Viet Nam.
I love the bouffant for its timeless sophistication, piled high with an overhang on the sides that was often curled upwards. Jacqueline Kennedy’s is perhaps the best recognized bouffant in history, but mom’s was a classic in its own right.
In the mid 1970s, more people in my family (men and women alike) sported perms than didn’t. I recall a family photo that hung in my grandparent’s house of my aunt Phyllis, uncle Art and their three children where all of them except their daughter had perms (twenty years later it was the same photo but with all the men in goatees!). My mother’s perms outlasted them all—and the 70s as well—as she maintained her love affair with curls well into the 1990s. There’s a great photo of her at the book signing event for my first collection of poetry back in 1994 where she’s sporting a great loose and large-curl perm accentuated by a pair of really large eye glasses that were popular back then. That’s the hairstyle I’ll probably always best remember my mother wearing as it made her look young, vibrant and just a tad mischievous. That young, playful look probably contributed to my mother being marched into the principal’s office one day as she tried to enter my high school’s main entrance for a parent-teacher meeting and insisted the reason she didn’t have a school ID was because she was a parent. The hall guard, the late Lillian Schwartz, wouldn’t have any of it and escorted mom to the office where the misunderstanding was quickly resolved.
For me, the 1970s rekindle memories of weekends in the Wisconsin Dells, bar mitzvahs (mine was in June of 1976), Kiddieland and my mother’s frosted hair. This look was popularized in the 70s and consisted of hair—usually cut short—streaked with blonde highlights. For some reason, when I think of frosted hair I think of 70s sitcoms and just about every T.V. mom that wore frosted hair back then.
Mom began wearing her hair shorter and shorter as the 90s came to a close. She’s experimented with many short styles since doing away with her mop top more than fifteen years ago, many of them excruciatingly short (in this son’s humble opinion) and colored with a spectrum of hues I’m not even sure exist in nature. For the past ten years, I have implored her to let her hair grow out and comb it—or gently gel it—back, in an easy, virtually wash and go affair, but she insists that every time she tries letting it grow out it reaches a point where she feels it looks unruly, thus prompting another visit to the chop shop.
I imagine like most women, my mother will spend the rest of her life trying to find that perfect look, spending hours in the stylist’s chair, beneath the colorist’s brush, under the dryer and in the bathroom mirror in a quest that most women never finish. But perhaps it’s there, in the mere act of seeking out beauty that a woman’s true grace and elegance comes to light, and by searching for that one look in a million that truly says who a woman really is, the unique, one-of-a-kind style is born, one that, at least in my mother’s case, lasts a lifetime.
I’ve never tried to hide or deny the fact that when I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1982, it was for one reason, and one reason only: to become a rock star. But when I first arrived in the City of Angels that June, just a week before my nineteenth birthday, my first priorities were to find a place to live and get a job. My first employer was a new-wavish clothing and accessories store in the Sherman Oaks Galleria called the Village Mews, whose British owner, John, was a towering man who I gathered had his fingers in more than one business pie and who was hardly around enough for me to enjoy his English accent.
It was at the Village Mews where I learned how the L.A. post-punk in-crowd dressed and was soon making regular trips down to Melrose Avenue, which back in the day was the Rodeo Drive of the punk rock, new wave and alternative lifestyle scene. My favorite store was a place called Flip, where they had a jeans counter at the back of the shop over which the dozens of styles of jeans they sold were stapled to a wood board. It was there at Flip that I began buying all the skinny-legged, colorful jeans and pastel sleeveless teeshirts that I wore as I developed my rock star persona.
Now that I had the clothes and an awesome pair of pointy, red suede Chelsea-style boots, all that was missing was a great new hair style. But there was a catch.
My tenure hawking clothes and accessories at the Village Mews was short lived as my great-aunt Edgie, who had been working at a swank women’s clothing boutique in The Valley, arranged for me to have an interview with the owner of The Shoe and Clothing Connections who was always looking for good salesmen.
I got the job selling high-end women’s shoes and while I did pretty well and enjoyed the work—especially and waiting on celebrities such as Meredith Baxter and Justine Bateman—I had to wear a shirt and tie on the sales floor and was required to keep my hair well groomed and my face clean shaven.
I started auditioning for bands and playing with a few remnant rebels of the punk rock era that was just coming to a end on the west coast. At a rehearsal one day for a band I was playing bass guitar in, the singer had a really cool, interesting haircut that reminded me of a mohawk but when he wore his hair down, it concealed the fact the the sides were nearly completely shaved. I asked him where he got his hair cut and he told me about this character called Atila who had a storefront barber shop in (of all places) Beverly Hills and who specialized in (of all things) head shaves and mohawks.
I went to see Atila on my day off and he set me up with what he called an “urban mohawk,” one that allowed me to keep most of the hair atop of my head that would, during “normal activity,” fall over and cover the sides which where shaven practically down to the scalp.
But what I remember most about Atila—over and above his extravagant, eccentric and erratic persona (and the fact that he charged twenty-five bucks for his services, a virtual fortune in 1982)—was his suggesting that I buy a plastic spray bottle and take it to the beach filling it with ocean water and spray it liberally over my face before bed each night to eradicate my unsightly acne. While I only had my hair cut by Atila five or six times, the advice he gave me about spraying ocean water on my zits I continued taking for years and with great success.
My urban mohawk only lasted about six months until I formed my first L.A. band where my look transformed from the post punk skinny jeans and wild hair to the more refined, new romantic look of early eighties new wave.
And he’s still at it. Today, Atila Sikora can be found styling hair at a well-known Hollywood salon, has been a local personality having recorded his music, and has made a name for himself over the years as an artist working in the fields of children’s art, comics, greeting cards and personalized invitations. But I’ll always remember him as the renegade barber who shaved my head and made my zits go away.
Yes, Ricky. It won’t be another two years until you become Rick, and when you transform into Richard at the ripe old age of 24, you’ll be living in Granada, Spain (really, and wait until you find out that Spain is in Europe and not Latin America) and the locals will call you Ree-char (sounds eerily close to re-tard, but without the final d).
So you’re going to be bar mitzvahed on June 26th. Mazel tov. You’ve already been to Mister Eddie in Skokie for your powder blue, three-piece Pierre Cardin suit and to Four Cohn’s for your (enormous) navy blue suede and patent leather shoes (you’re only 5 foot and a bit, how is it possible you wear a size ten and a half shoe?). You’ve been studying for the better part of a year with Rabbi Einhorn, the invitations have been printed, the hotel booked, Owen Scott Shirwo has agreed to photograph the simcha and Arnold and Sima Miller will be performing (they’ve promised their version of “Color My World” will be as good or better than Chicago’s).
So what’s left? You’ll need to write a speech for after you recite your haftorah in shul. You’ll need another one for the luncheon at the Dolnick Center with your grandmother’s “ladies” after services, and you’ll need one more for the candle lighting ceremony after the banquet dinner at The Northshore. Oh, and of course you’ll need to walk over to Ross Barber Shop on Devon for a haircut.
What? You’re not getting a haircut? But it’s your bar mitzvah. You can’t possibly go looking like a Chia Pet! It’s not like you have to get a crewcut or anything, just a trim, something to give it a little shape and thin it out. And if you don’t want to go to Ross, ask your zayde to take you to his barber on Division Street. Okay, bad idea. What about going to your father’s hair stylist, Rocky, next to the 7-11? Your friends say he does what to teenage boys? Okay, so forget that one…
Look, this is your bar mitzvah, it’s a special day, the day when you become a man and you’re going to be surrounded by friends and family, people you have known all or most of your life, your aunts, uncles and cousins are coming in from California, Bonnie and Charlie are coming down from Wisconsin, Rosie and Sherry are coming in from St. Louis; Craig, Linus, Marcy, Gale, Dawn and Todd will be there; this is the most important day of your life as a young Jewish man.
So, what do you say. Just a trim…?
My high school sweetheart and I decided to take the plunge moving to Los Angeles together in the summer of 1982 where I chose to pursue my dream of becoming a rock star.
Sari had long, straight, thick chocolate brown hair that she took a great deal of pride in caring for. She had the kind of hair that women envied and that men found to be very attractive, especially when she wore it down, flowing over her tanned, bikini-clad body at the pool or beach.
One summer following some personnel changes in my band, Cafe Society, I was left with a string of upcoming club gigs and no keyboard player until one evening at rehearsal while taking a break, I suddenly heard my song “Other Men” being played on the keyboard. Walking back inside the garage, I was pleasantly surprised seeing Sari there playing the tune as if she had written it herself. Sari said that after spending so much time at my band rehearsals she felt as if she knew the songs as well as anyone and seeing how the keyboard parts and solos weren’t terribly complicated, she offered to fill in until we found a permanent replacement.
Needless to say Sari became the permanent replacement and while having a female keyboard player in a pop band in the 1980s wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, she fit in very well, played well and looked great on stage. Long hair and all.
But these were the 80s, and Madonna, Bananarama and Whitney Houston all sported short, gel-stiffened hairdos and Sari began thinking that her stage persona might suit a shorter, more stylish mane.
I suggested that before cutting her gorgeous long hair she go to a salon for a consultation. I remembered that my great-uncle Harry Felix always talked about a nephew of his, Allen Edwards, who had made a name for himself—alongside renowned Hollywood hairstylist and film producer Jon Peters, famous for having dated Barbra Streisand in the early 70s—as a salon owner and hairstylist to the rich and famous. So one day I called my uncle Harry and he arranged for Sari to get a private one-on-one consultation with his famous nephew at his Rodeo Drive flagship salon in Beverly Hills.
Sari and I were both nervous and excited the day the personal consultation with “the” Allen Edwards arrived and we dressed up in our Sunday best and headed to Beverly Hills. When we arrived at the salon we informed the receptionist that we had an appointment with Allen and she asked us to have a seat in the waiting area. She soon returned saying that it would be a few minutes and asked if we would like a glass of wine or a cup of coffee or tea, which we kindly declined. After having waited there unattended for nearly thirty minutes, another young woman appeared apologizing for the wait and asked us to come with her.
She led us upstairs to Allen’s private studio where we imagined the likes of Sally Field, Raquel Welch, Anne Bancroft and Suzanne Somers would get their hair designed by Allen Edwards himself. We were directed to a small, richly appointed waiting area where we sat on a beautiful Italian sofa, and after waiting another half hour yet another woman appeared saying that Allen was finishing up with a client and would be over in just a few minutes.
About ten minutes later Allen Edwards rushed in shook our hands and apologized for keeping us waiting. He asked Sari to come over and have a seat in the swivel chair that was beside the sofa. He stood back then approached Sari running his fingers through her hair, stepped back and said, “cut it.” He then thanked us for coming and told us to see the receptionist downstairs who would make Sari an appointment at the Allen Edwards Salon in Woodland Hills, near to where we lived in the Valley.
That was the long—and short—of Sari’s consultation with the famous Allen Edwards. And yes, she did cut her hair. Short. And in the hottest and most highly demanded woman’s hair style of the day fashioned after the hairdos worn by Morgan Fairchild, Donna Mills and Sally Field.
New Year’s Day always conjures up beautiful memories of my childhood. My parents would always have an open house on New Year’s Day where family and friends would turn up spontaneously at our house beginning at noon to share in the festivities and the generous refreshments that my mother would serve until late into the night.
As a child I was pretty much unfazed by the whole affair and took it in stride, waiting patiently for someone to arrive with their children or the few family friends and relatives who would make the effort to seek me out for a chat or to ask to see the Chanukah presents I had recently received.
But the best part about New Year’s Day for me was that it was guaranteed that my mother would make a special breakfast—usually pancakes or thick-cut french toast made from challah—and I’ve carried on the tradition of making a special breakfast every New Year’s Day.
Today, on my first New Year’s Day in The Netherlands since moving here about 18 months ago (last year’s was spent holiday making with my two older children in Spain), I sat at a breakfast table adorned with freshly baked homemade croissants (except for mine which, as they are gluten-free, came packaged), bread rolls and assorted cookies and cakes.
Strangely, as I was sipping my tea, my thoughts turned to recollections of my zayde, my maternal great-grandfather, who was the driving force of my young life until his death at age 89 in 1980, just two months before my 17th birthday.
I wondered what he would say if he could walk through the door at that very moment to see me there having breakfast with my four children. I wondered if he’d be proud of the man and father I became; pleased to see me as a family man; content that I was raising four beautiful, healthy and seemingly bright children.
But then reality set in and I knew exactly what my zayde would say if he walked into the room at that moment. He’d take one look at my children and say in his thick Eastern European accent, “Vhat do they need all dat hair for? Vhy don’t you take them to my barber on Division Street for a haircut?”
With that, I recalled all those trips I made with zayde to his barber’s way out on Division Street on the West Side when I was a young boy, to the old fashioned barber shop where he continued to go to “take a haircut” every six weeks even after having moved away from the West Side some twenty years earlier. And when he lay dying of pancreatic cancer at Edgewater Hospital during the winter of 1979, his barber from Division Street came to the hospital every few weeks to cut his hair and shave his face and continued doing so right up until the day he died. And as he liked it, I always made sure the barber would comb his hair with a wave, the same wave my hair makes when I comb it.