“I need a haircut,” he says. “Dad, can you cut my hair?”
COVID-19 closed all the hair places down. I was assigned hair cutting duties since I am a cutter, of sorts, but not of the hair cutting kind. If you need a tree cut, I’m your man. Hair though? That’s hard with a chainsaw.
Ever since the pandemic started we’ve all had to do things differently. I hate it when my hair gets in my eyes, and I use that basic measure to determine when to get a cut. My wife and I have three sons, 4, 6 and 8 years old, and our 6-year-old has decided that what works for Dad is good enough to work for him.
“Look, it’s in my eyes Dad,” he pulls his hair down in front of his eyes.
“Oh man,” I say, “how do you see with that mop on your head?”
“Ya, I know. Can you cut it?” he says, dropping the mop and giving me a look.
“Ok, sure,” I say. My personal philosophy toward the hacking of hair is: if I mess it up bad enough, we can just shave it off. And after you shave it off it’s gonna grow back. Why not give it a go?
“Dad. Hair.” he says again.
“Right, let’s go upstairs then and see what we can do,” I reply.
Here’s what we need to cut hair: an electric razor, 13 weird-looking clippy-type guards, a second razor with 5 different cutting attachments, 5 additional weird-looking clippy-type guards, a comb, 3 pairs of scissors, and an extension cord to reach the tub.
“Ok, get in the tub,” I point to the tub. He jumps in.
What happens next is my best attempt at copying what I’ve seen done about 137 times at various hair places. We agree on one of the electric razors and a clippy-type guard. I start at the bottom and run the thing up along the side of the head, pulling up right where the skull starts to curve to flat. I won’t go past the curvy point unless I’m doing a shave job and Mom has made it very clear that a shave job is only to be done as a last resort, so I’m being careful. I go around all the sides and stop at his face.
“How’s it feeling?” I ask. Always make sure the customer is comfortable.
“Good,” he says. “But I’m a bit itchy.”
Ah. I had him strip to his underwear to save getting hair on his clothes so now there’s hair all over his shoulders and down his back. “Hold on,” I say.
I grab the small hand broom thing from one of the razor kits and start brushing away the hair on his shoulders.
“Ouch,” he says.
“That hurts?” I ask.
“Ya,” he replies as I’m jamming the thing into my arm to test it out. Ouch. That hurts.
“Ok, I’ll be more careful,” I say.
The next step is to get the hair wet. I’m not 100% sure why but the hair place does it, so we do it, too. “Time to get your hair a bit wet,” I say and grab a handful of water from the sink on the other side of the room. I kind of slap it down on his head and pet him like a dog to spread the water out. He picks up what I’m trying to do and starts running one hand through his hair, back and forth and back and forth, to help soak his mop.
“Looks good,” I say, “now I’m going to take some off the top with the scissors.”
“Ok,” he says. I’ve gotta give him credit, he’s brave.
The top proves harder to manage than I expect. I’m trying to grab bunches of wet hair with the fingers of my left hand and cut with the scissors in my right. The problem is that the wet hair is sticking to his head. Then I remember that the hair people usually have a comb, too.
“I need a comb,” I wipe my forehead and start looking through a colorful basket on the back of the toilet with a hairbrush and about 45 moisturizing-type spritzing things in it.
“Dad, there’s a comb in the razor bag,” he says.
“Razor bag?” I raise my right eyebrow. “Where…?”
“The black thing,” he points somewhere.
“This thing?” I grab a plastic case with 12 weird-looking clippy-type guards in it.
“Ya,” he says.
The case is open, so I rummage around in it and see a thick black comb. “Here,” I lift the comb up to the light to make sure it is what it is.
“How did you know there was a comb in there?” I ask.
“I saw it,” he says.
“Smart boy,” I say, moving back to the tub to get back to it.
The comb seems to help. I’ve got the scissors on my right hand, hooked to my pointer finger and thumb; these fingers are also holding the comb. I find the comb works well to scoop up the wet hair up to my left hand which can then pinch the clump kind of like I’m holding a hard shell taco. I pull up a bit with the left to keep the hair off the skull and do a juggling-type move with my right hand, rolling the comb into my palm with my pinky and ring fingers and cutting the hair with the scissors on my pointer finger and thumb. Snip.
I work my way around his scalp, trying to cut the hair the height of the pinky finger, the ring finger and the middle finger on my left hand all stacked up. Keeping the scissors from cutting my own fingers or his head takes up all my focus. Soon, I decide to ditch the “three finger measure” method for the “ballpark measure” method.
We’re about an hour in at this point and there’s no going back. The hair is drying out and I find that the dry hair is easier to work with. I’m not sure why the hair people get your hair wet before cutting it, maybe they like a challenge.
I go over the whole head with my left hand ballparking everything to make sure it’s the same length. Small snips here, small nips there.
“We’re looking good,” I say. No obvious chunks are missing and there’s no blood or tears which means we’re winning.
Time to move onto the bangs. These are super easy.
“Ok, close your eyes, I’m going to do the front,” I say.
“Ok, Dad,” he replies.
I take the hair over his forehead with my left hand. Put the comb down with my right and make sure I’ve got the scissors on tight. This close to eyes you’ve really gotta watch out. Holding the scissors vertically I make little stabbing-type cuts, back and forth and back and forth, all the way across his forehead, grabbing new clumps of hair with my left hand as I go. The little stabs back and forth give the finished hair an uneven, messy kind of appearance. I think of this as the “trendy look.”
Another way of cutting bangs is to cut them in a straight line right across the forehead. I think of this as the “robot look” which is pretty healthy but not what we go with today.
“Right, looking good, eh?” I ask.
“Ya, Dad, but I’m itchy,” he swipes a gob of hair off his shoulder. “Can you do that blower thing?” he asks.
“Blower thing?” I reply. “What blower thing?”
“You know, the one Mom has,” he says.
“A hair dryer?” I ask.
“Ya…” he answers.
I stand up, wipe the obvious hair off my legs and open the bathroom door. There’s a blow dryer on the bed so I grab it and bring it back into the bathroom.
“This?” I ask.
“Ya,” he says.
“Good idea,” I plug in the blower thing, point, and shoot blasting all the hair right off of him.
“Ok, almost done. Hold on tight and don’t move,” I say.
We’re nearly home free now, just gotta clean up the edges. I trade the first electric razor for the second electric razor and switch the cutting attachment over to the one that looks like a little mini razor head. I triple check the instructions to make sure this is the one that doesn’t cut skin when you touch it. I found out the difference in cutting heads the hard way, one time I got a bit too close with the wrong one. Don’t want to make that mistake again.
The key to cleaning the edges out is to keep part of your hand anchored to the head. You can slowly and carefully trace the outside edge of the hair to give it a clean look. Hair over the ears is my second big indicator of needing a haircut, so I make sure to carve those ears out real well. You’ve gotta be careful going up over the ear though, it’s really easy to get carried away, cut in too high too deep and then end up needing to throw away all your hard work by salvaging with a shave job.
I restrain myself and the back of his head cleans up pretty nicely.
“Well, what do you think?” I ask.
“It looks good,” he replies.
“Now,” I say, “you want to cut mine?”
“Ok,” he says.
We agree on one of the electric razors and a weird-looking clippy-type guard. I strip to my underwear to save getting hair on my clothes and get in the tub beside him and kind of hunker down a bit.
“Here’s how you turn it on,” I say, pointing to the sliding black switch on the side. “Make sure you don’t push really hard because you could pop the guard off and cut me. Look, try popping this thing off,” I say, pointing to the black guard.
He tries to pull the guard off and can’t. I find that a bit comforting and hope it means he’s less likely to snap the guard off and dig the razor directly into my head.
He turns the razor on BZZZZZZZZ and starts making little baby bird pecks with it.
“No, not like that. Like this,” I say, making a longer smoother motion with my hand.
“Ok,” he says.
I try to keep as low as I can sitting in the bathtub so he can cut wherever he wants. It doesn’t really matter what he does, since he’s giving me a shave job. He might as well have some fun with it, you know?
BZZZZZZZZ, the razor echoes off the bathroom walls, surrounding us.
Hair falls like snow all around me. I’m looking at the bottom of the tub, hunkered down. All I can see are his tiny, little feet shuffling back and forth and back and forth, working to get the best angle. The hair is sticking all over his feet which makes them look like a hairy man’s feet but shrunk down to 6-year-old size. These are the feet he’s going to have when he’s grown, when he’s a man.
I’m warm and cold. We’re slow dancing in a bathtub during a pandemic that shut the whole world down. Me with my boy and his hairy little man feet. Maybe he’ll have kids, when he fills his feet. I wonder what he’ll be like. How often will I see him? These feet, they’ll change the world. Hairy little man feet that could be anything, that could do anything. He keeps shuffling, back and forth and back and forth. I think he’s humming.
BZZZZZZZZ, the vibrations are like music, filling us.
I don’t know what the future will bring. It’s big and it’s scary. I know there will be love and laughter, pain and tears. For some reason, a chill creeps over me. My stomach pushes itself up it into my throat. Lots of people are dying right now. What if he doesn’t make it? What if I’m not there?
Not now. I’m losing myself. People are always dying. People are always living, too. These things are life. I can decide which road to take, so I choose the path that brings me back to slow dance with my son.
Presents. The razor. The bathtub. My son. My self. The dance. The pandemic. Time.
Here, together. Both of us in the bathtub, both of us in our underwear. The razor singing. His hairy little feet dancing. And I am remembering to never forget our pandemic haircuts. This might be the closest we ever get in our whole entire lives.