On a mid-October morning in 1957, a murderous gangster named Albert Anastasia was assassinated in the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Two men, faces covered by scarves, rushed in and fired round after round into one of the mafia’s most feared killers, who thrashed about vainly clinging to life before expiring in an ever-expanding pool of blood and mess on the barber shop floor.
It was a lucky escape for Anastasia. Had he lived, he might have had to have his hair cut.
For some people it’s the dentist poking metal into holes that are best left unpoked, for others it’s the proctologist doing similar at the other and of the alimentary canal, but for me there is no experience on this Earth that horrifies me more than having to get my hair cut. It’s not fear in the traditional sense – there’s nothing inherently worrying about hair being shortened – but putting control over how stupid I look for the next few weeks into the hands of a random, frequently Italian man is an action I find intensely distressing.
My head looks fairly idiotic at the best of times as certain people close to me never cease to remind me. I still have the same barnet I settled on at about 16 years old, having realised attempting to emulate the extraordinary fringe of Jimbob from Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine left me with a pair of Olympic-sized ski jump ramps either side of a pasty yet spotty face.
But, stupid as it looks, I’m used to it. And a few weeks after getting my ears lowered it settles into the type of mop people expect to see on me, and looking in the mirror leaves me with a warm sense of apathy. All I ever want is to blend in, to go unnoticed.
But it never stops fucking growing does it? The front starts expanding in all directions like an ash cloud above Stromboli, the top and sides lift until I look like Bet from Coronation Street and the back adopts pretensions of mulletry. In no time at all I look like a bellend and I can hear the barber tapping comb against scissors in delighted anticipation of the battle to come.
Here’s how it plays out: he asks me what I want, and I say something like “Just a trim thanks”, possibly adding “it’s got a bit big” to make the point I don’t want him just waving the weaponry at it and demanding I line his palm. He sets about the back; fine, don’t care, can’t see it. Then he starts on the sides.
It’s at about this point the barber forgets what I asked him and skips off down a path of his own choosing. They always know best, what’ll look great on you, exactly where you’ve been going wrong all these years. He hacks too much off one side because he doesn’t want to do it gradually to see how it looks; time is money after all. He then has to do the same to the other side because, at least in the places I go, it’s tricky to glue or sew an inch and a half of hair back into place having just scythed it from the head of a terrified man.
The top then comes into play, and this is where he suddenly remembers what I asked for. Why remember that now for Christ’s sake? ‘Just a trim’, so he takes a tiny bit off the top and front and leaves me with some kind of tower effect on my head. Welcome to a period of cowering in front of the mirror attempting to rearrange what will, no matter what you do, look like two scoops of ice cream in a little cardboard tub.
The worst thing about all this is, by the time you realise he’s gone way too far, it’s far too bloody late to do anything about it. So nowadays I don’t even look in the mirror as he does it, I just sit there and take it, let him do as he pleases. He’s going to decide what’s best for me anyway – I might as well just experience the final horror without the preceding, increasing despair. Those creepy, longer scares in horror films are always more unnerving than “Oh look she’s opened the bathroom cabinet – I wonder if there’ll be a cleaver-wielding maniac behind her when she shuts it”.
Not that the ordeal is over when the scissors are put away, far from it. There’s still the hairdryer. You saw how I came in, didn’t you mate? And my ‘trim’ request suggests I just want a shorter version of what I came in with, right? Please don’t let that stop you blasting hot air upwards and to the side on the highest setting available to ensure I leave the place with a lopsided wall of hair that looks like I’ve been dragged sideways along an electric fence during a hurricane while channeling the spirit of Jedward.
A few years ago I decided, outrageous as it is, to do it myself. The benefit of this is you can just hack off a bit that looks stupid, roughly do the other side the same, and no-one really notices; no ‘hair cuuuut’ in a playground voice from anyone.
I didn’t tell anyone I was committing this fashion heresy, of course, but it became a little tricky to hide when overconfidence while drunk got the better of me and I left home one day with a small bald patch above an ear that not even Sweeney Todd would have allowed out the door. People noticed. I was rumbled.
So I started going to the barber’s again. And after the very next ‘proper’ haircut I heard “Have you been cutting your own hair again?” My triumph at declaring that no, it’s just that barbers are all bastards was rather tempered by the knowledge that I’m doomed to look like a tit no matter what I do.
Shave it all off is the answer, but if I was going to do that it would have happened by now. Fear of the unknown is worse than fear of the knowable piss-ripping I’ll endure after every visit to one of these arseholes with Edward Scissorhands on a loop in their heads. Instead I will continue to sit grimly in the big leathery chair, nodding at the mirror held behind my head as though there’s a single thing I can do to change what it shows me, while begging for masked gunmen to run in and put an end to the nightmare. And if they happen to take out the barber while they’re at it you can thank me in the afterlife.