I'm a vain person. Very vain. I've never been deluded enough to think I'm move-star handsome, but I'd like to believe I've hung in there over the years. And while my face is up for debate, I've at least felt my hair has looked good. If I may be totally honest, I think my hair is one of my best features. It hasn't always performed as I've liked, but I'm very thankful for such rich raw material. Maybe a little too thankful.
My hair and I have been together a long time. Like my two kids, I was born with a lot it, and looking at old pictures, it was always thick and healthy — brown with a tinge of red in the sunlight (much like my son's). It was cut for me by many different barbers in many different places throughout the Midwest, with the part on the left, as I have it now. I was just another late '70s/'80s white American Catholic middle-class suburban boy.
It was a happy hair childhood, but all that changed in junior high. Junior high, when new rules are instituted overnight that no one tells you about. An aristocracy moves in to take power and set the pace while everyone else scrambles to keep up or (like me) fall behind.
I started junior high in 1988, the era of the spiked mullet (for future frat bros), the surfer wave cut (for sneering skaters) and the Lars Ulrich long look (for glue sniffers). I wasn't cool enough for any of these. With my big brown glasses, little-kid part and habit of reading books about, say, the Battle of Berlin, I began my new life as a nerd at age 12. And much like the Battle of Berlin, it sucked.
Eventually I headed to a private high school in Northwest Indiana. I stopped wearing my glasses to at least spare me that pain, but as I looked at the other guys in the halls, with their cuffed pants and gelled dos, I still felt very much on the outs. I tried gelling my hair for a year in a weak attempt to fit in, but when my acne sprouted at 15, I had to spare my face any excess grease.
I moved to Buffalo after that, got into metal and grunge, and alternated between ugly mullet-y cuts and having all my hair buzzed off, which made me, thin as I was then, look like a Red Army POW. I didn't have much luck with girls in high school for a lot of other reasons, but my hair probably wasn't helping.
College was indie rock and thrift store clothes — a new beginning. The prevailing retroism of the day made the natural '70s tendencies of my hair suddenly cool. I saw guys on album covers who looked like they paid a lot of money to get what came to me without even trying. I was feeling more confident. My acne cleared up, I started wearing my glasses again and girls wanted to talk to me. A late bloomer, I had finally fully assembled, after fits and starts, by age 20.
By the time I returned to Chicago, this earnest bravura had turned into big-city cockiness. My "look" was firmly in place: somewhat bushy, no product, combed nicely on the left, no sideburns. When I went out, I would wear a sweater and some trim corduroy pants. Maybe I looked like a nice guy who read books, I don't know. I thought I looked all right, and my vanity swelled.
Now that was all years ago. I've been a happily married father of two with a steady job for quite some time. More and more lately, as I look in the bathroom mirror, I wonder if I should change something about my hair to reflect this.
I don't think I'll ever be one of these guys who keeps his hair so short you don't even notice it — really, most American white dudes. I also don't think I'm going to be the super-cool rocker dad with long hair because I wasn't even that when I was 24. I've always been in the middle, and lately my middle path has looked uncoolly unkempt, weedy, even a few shades off from Meathead on "All in the Family."
It's a bit depressing to contemplate, as it means aging and the end of youth, in a certain sense. But I like to believe there's a sensible, even handsome way forward. I still have a good hairline and no gray hair that I know of — frankly that's a blessing. I just don't want to look like I've given up. If I look square, it'll be the good kind of square, as I once cultivated. Except older now. Sheesh.
Well, at least I know that on Thursday I'm going to see Kim, my hair-cutter of more than a year, at the State of Illinois Center. I'm hoping she can give me some advice. The fact that I'm even contemplating this doesn't fill me with great self-confidence, but I'm out of ideas. Oh, I know she'll give me much the same cut I always get. It's just a matter of what happens once it starts to grow out — the question that, I suppose, faces most of us. The answer will have to come from me, really. It always must. I just hope my vanity is cool with it.