As I neared my 5th birthday, my hair had grown wild and untouched by human hands – except for my mother brushing it affectionately. After a summer of sun, beach, and water, I entered the first week of September blissfully unaware that something unexpected awaited me.
“He can’t go into Kindergarten looking like that,” Dad said.
“Oh, dear,” Mom said, “but he’s so cute.”
“He looks like a hippy,” Dad said.
I watched my favorite TV show, and as Bugs Bunny said, “What’s up Doc?” I wondered what a hippy was and what that had to do with me.
Late on Saturday afternoon my father’s father came into the kitchen. “Ready for the old trim,” he said.
Suddenly the two of them were heading down into the dark abyss of the basement. I never went down there because I assumed that trolls, witches, and ghosts patrolled it, and I wanted nothing to do with that place.
As I plopped down and played with my G.I. Joes, I heard my father yell, “Vinny, come down here!”
“Me?” I thought. “I must be imagining things.”
“Vincent, get down here now!” Dad yelled again.
Mom came into the living room drying her hands on a dishtowel. “Vinny, sweetheart, please go down by Daddy.”
“I never go down there,” I said.
“You’re starting school next week, so Daddy has to get you ready. Your teacher’s going to be Sister Regina, and she sent a letter home telling us how you are supposed to look.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes, you need to wear a uniform, get special shoes, and you need a haircut.”
Mom led me to the cellar stairs. As I stared down them I heard banging and the muffled voices of Pop and Dad talking. I tried to turn back and looked up at Mom; she was crying. I never saw Mom cry except when she and Nana were watching their soap operas.
I started down the stairs slowly, the old wood creaking as I took each step. As I got to the bottom I stared ahead at Pop sitting on a chair with a bedsheet wrapped around his neck. Dad had some kind of machine and he ran it along the back of Pop’s head. It made an awful noise like an electronic insect gnawing at Pop’s hair.
Looking back up the stairs, I noticed Mom shutting and bolting the door. Doom obviously awaited me. I turned and walked toward them. Pop had his head down and Dad took something else from the table and started to scratch it on the back of Pop’s neck.
“Hey, watch it, Vince!”
“Sorry, Pop,” Dad said.
Dad noticed me and said, “Take a seat, Pal. I just have to finish up with Pop.”
I watched as he took a comb and a pair of scissors and clipped around Pop’s ears. “Hey! Quit nicking me!” Pop said.
“Sorry, Pop,” Dad said.
I had no idea my father gave haircuts. We used to pass the barber shop on the corner every morning, and Dad would say that was where he got a haircut. Now I knew that Dad, who was a New York City cop, also could be a barber. I knew he fancied himself a doctor – he had pulled enough splinters out of me with his implements and stinging rubbing alcohol. He also thought he was a dentist, having the thing with a little mirror on it and other metal tools that he used to probe my mouth. I figured Dad could do just about anything.
Pop stood up; Dad shook the gray hairs off the sheet and stared at me. “You’re next, Pal.”
I went to the chair, sat down, and felt the sheet coming around me like I was getting tied up. He secured the top part around my neck, and it was very tight and caused me to cough. Dad loosened it a bit and said, “Sorry, Pal.”
Pop started up the steps, knocked twice on the door, and Mom unbolted it. I closed my eyes and thought, “This was all part of a plan.”
I stared ahead and realized that there was a mirror above the shelf on the basement wall. I could actually see myself ready to be tortured.
Dad reached over to the table and brought a pair of scissors and a comb close to my head. I watched as he combed my hair forward so that it covered my eyes. Snip-snip-snip and suddenly that hair was gone and I could see again.
I felt the sweat running down my back as he combed my hair back, put those things down, and brought that electric contraption up to my temple. As he turned it on it reminded me of that terrible sound I heard in the dentist’s office, but this was right next to my ear. I shut my eyes and didn’t open them again until Dad finished his work.
“Okay, Vinny, all done,” Dad said, taking the sheet off me and shaking all my dark hair from it onto the basement floor next to Pop’s gray hair.
I stood up shakily and touched my head; my hair felt like little needles against my palm. I looked in the mirror and saw most of what had been on my head gone. “Why’d you cut off so much, Dad?” I asked.
“It’s called a crewcut, Pal.”
I started up the stairs and looked over the banister. Dad took a broom and began sweeping up the hair on the floor.
When I walked into the kitchen, Mom started crying again, fell down on her knees, and kissed my cheeks. “I’m sorry, my boy.”
I didn’t like seeing my Mom cry and said, “It’s okay, Mom. I’m fine,” and I was; I had survived my first haircut.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000JNQSIQ]