Thursday, September 6, 2012

Looking for a (good) Mexican clip job

Some people may say that as guys get older haircuts become less important because the luxuriance of one's mane is inversely related to age. I'd argue the opposite and not just because, at 64, a fair amount of my follicles are still merrily fornicating and reproducing on my scalp.

If anything, as you get older regular trips to the barber for thirty or forty-five minutes of unadulterated vanity, of looking at yourself on a mirror while somebody fusses over you, are even more crucial to the male ego and self-esteem. And compared to wrinkles, sagging this-and-that, and other gravity-induced phenomena, your hairline is still something that can be at least partially managed.

We recently paid a visit an eighty-plus-year-old guy and his wife, great friends, who were celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Norman had taken some care to comb his hear stylishly for the occasion and looked damn handsome. It's never too late.

Indeed if you've reached the point in your life when you've not only lost most of your hair but the only thing you can think to do with the few diehard strands is to corral them with a rubber band into a scrawny pony tail, I'd say: Buddy, you may be closer than you think to that day room in a nursing home.

Locks management is not easy in one's later years. I just finished collecting and framing some pictures of Stew and me during our forty years together and it's amazing how when you're twenty- or even thirty-something, your hair looks fine no matter what.

Fresh out of graduate school I sported a wavy, Jesus-like jungle of dark brown hair that occasionally reached my shoulders. Sometimes I cut it short or in-between. To judge from the pictures, it didn't make much difference.

Exhibit A: Site of the latest tonsorial mishap
With that luxury of youth long gone though, I've been casting for barbers in San Miguel who can come up with a good haircut.

Yesterday I tried a new "Estética Unisex," as most hair salons are called in San Miguel, that had been recommended by someone at the gym.

It was a one-chair establishment belonging to a young woman so shy she seemed almost afraid to come near me. She asked whether to use clippers on the side and scissors on top, which sounded like plausible plan.

While she was working my attention drifted from the mirror to an ancient television set tuned to a documentary, of all things, about wigs. Elizabethan wigs, French wigs, drag queens with wigs.

The last segment showed a contest in Brazil in which the guy who placed second was so irate that he jerked his head back in theatrical disgust and his mountainous wig flew off his head. The scene of a bevy of drag queens on all fours looking for the missing wig, and of the guy frantically trying to place it back on his head, was a moment made for live television.

But back to my head and my real hair, which didn't come out looking so great. The clipped sides are OK enough, but the top is so choppy and badly cut it looks like a corn field ravaged by a hail storm.

I can hear some of you say: For three dollars and eighty-five cents, what kind of haircut do you expect? Better than this, I insist.

For the last truly spectacular cut I would have to go back to Chicago, where a haircut at a fancy salon was a one-hour floor show, starring Patrick the stylist and a libidinous shampoo boy from Poland who could hardly say much more than "shampoo" but gave you the most sumptuous scalp massage of your life. Other assistants served as a sort of a corps de ballet who fluttered about and inquired if you wanted a manicure, body waxing (or what part exactly?) or some special hair or skin potion.

In addition to hair styling Patrick was one of the most accomplished female impersonators in the city. One Halloween he went on a walkabout on North Halsted Street, Chicago's gay neighborhood, in full Liza Minelli regalia.

His Liza was so convincing that a burly Chicago cop tried to pick him up. Not arrest him, mind you, but pick him up. 

Patrick's multiple talents notwithstanding I left him when the cover charge for the show, including tip, reached something like $80. I sheepishly wandered back to my old barber, a chatty Puerto Rican named  Bob who charged only $30, though you had to endure the same mindless tales about him and his Greek wife every time you visited.

Shortly after we arrived in San Miguel I went several times to a sad and lonely barber on Diez de Sollano Street, right in the center of town, who offered one of the quietest and fastest haircuts. Also the cheapest, at two dollars and fifty cents.

The thin and serious gentleman, always dressed in a sparkling white smock, turned out to be a deaf mute. There was not much discussion about styles, the weather or world events, as he just lined up the three attachments to his hair clipper on the counter and asked you to pick one.

He then buzzed your head from all directions and in ten minutes you were done.

One day I went back and the shop was closed. I never figured out why he didn't talk or hear.

After the deaf mute gentleman came Pavy who became pregnant shortly after we began seeing each other. Pavy insisted on working to the very end of her term, when she was so enormous I feared she'd go into labor while trimming one of my sideburns.

A baby girl eventually arrived and Pavy pretty much lost interest in my hair. Never much of a talker, she now seemed thoroughly bored by our dates. Our tonsorial affair fizzled.

Then came Juan, a young, soft-spoken and thin guy with a cascade of dreadlocks hanging down to his tailbone. He was a smart but very diffident person, an odd trait for a hair stylist.

The only topic that seemed to animate him was politics, when he set forth his aggressively leftist views and conspiracy theories. Did you hear why the pope came to Mexico recently, shortly before the presidential election? It was all a set-up to get Catholic Mexicans to vote for the PAN, the conservative party. Even if true, it didn't work for the PAN which lost resoundingly.

One day, while he was about to cut a lock of hair, he paused and asked a profoundly odd question, coming in the middle of a haircut: "What do you think of Communism?" I remember being startled but not what I said.

Despite Juan's eccentricities his haircuts were not that bad. What drove me away was the increasing cost of his services, which had reached seventeen dollars a visit.

Am I not worth it, to paraphrase the folks at L'Oreal? Did I forget that you get what you pay for?

Juan may be indeed the best I can hope for in San Miguel, as long as he shuts up about politics.

In the meantime, I may have to resort to that ultimate prop of old retired guys: A baseball cap.


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