It is a strange day. As a California native, I find most summer days to be a little strange, they usually seem to be cold, not the image most people have of Sunny California. Fog rolls in, chilling everything.
The office is closing at two. The four day holiday was not enough for my industrious co-workers. They need a few extra hours to celebrate. As much as I dislike the idea, it does give me a few hours to get an errand done, an errand that I have been putting off. I need a haircut and I need it bad. My hair is getting shaggy. During the summer, this is no good. Short. Short. Short.
I walk into the SuperCuts, give the woman my name and sit down for a promised twenty to thirty minute wait. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a guy with very long, curly hair, a drawn face and colorful clothes. He also wears a bandanna. Nobody in LA wears bandannas anymore. What’s going on? He looks like a respectable hippy. I barely have time to open ‘Adventures In The Screen Trade’, by one of my screenwriting idols, William Goldman, before my name is called. Twenty to thirty minutes, hell. I have waited for less than five minutes. Sure enough, the hippie will be my hair stylist.
I grab my bag and walked towards him. “How are you?”
I ask him how he is, my standard greeting for strangers. Rather than ignore the question, as I have come to expect from people, he answers me.
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
I walk by him, trying not to look at him, to let him know I am alarmed.
“I’m fine. Thank you.” He puts an inhuman amount of emphasis on the words ‘Thank you’.
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
The response keeps rolling around in my head. I doubt I will ever have to hear someone respond to the question again. They already have and always will. Every time someone asks me, the answer will be supplied by a hippie haircutter at SuperCuts.
Inhuman is the right word. I immediately imagine someone sitting in a self-help meeting.
“It’s all right to have feelings. Acknowledge everyone. Make sure they realize you are you. You are not insignificant.”
I set my book down on a counter nearby, take off my glasses and hop into the chair. He asks me, with a discerning look of seriousness, what I want to have done. Before I can answer, he answers for me, including the answer in his question. “So, what’re we going to do today... I’m guessing that the sides are shaved and blended into the top. Been about a month, six weeks...”
Wow, usually, the hairstylists at SuperCuts have trouble hearing you over the popping of their gum. “Uh, yeah, that’s right. Actually, it’s been about two months. They usually use No. 2 clippers.”
“No. 2 clippers.”
He whips the plastic apron out to full length. His hands hold one end, the rest unfurling much like a matador would wave a red cloth in front of a bull. Securing it, he walks over to his workspace. Looking down for a moment, he becomes reflective, thinking for a few moments about what will follow. He picks up electric clippers and immediately goes to work, shaving the sides of my head.
He moves quickly, removing the growth from the previous two months. His hands move steadily as they continue. It is almost too fast. I have had fast haircuts in my life, but this is likely to set a new record.
After a couple of minutes, he moves back to his station, depositing the clippers and removing a comb and some scissors. The comb brushes through my hair and he starts snipping away. Snip, snip, snip.
He walks around me, to the other side.
Snip, snip, snip.
The snipping sound is relaxing, able to drown out the horrible din in the overcrowded SuperCuts. This location is making available use of every space. One of the front doors is blocked by a rack of shampoo and conditioner. Hairdressing stations line the sides of the salon. In the middle, a normally unused space, two stations sit, ready to crank out as many dollars every fifteen minutes as possible.
Snip, snip, snip.
I watch the haircutter's hands. He snips a few hairs and flicks the comb with his wrist. The flick is very fast and almost subconscious. I am just thankful that the hair is getting shorter. Thankful that he is flicking it off the comb before he runs it through my hair again.
But wait! The flick has something else. What is that look? The ex-hippie haircutter is saying something to himself with that flick. What is it? I am not a great interpreter of body language, but that flick, that look says... revulsion? Is that the meaning? Is he revolted by my hair? I wash my hair every day. It isn’t dirty. Is he just generally revolted by hair? Better get a new profession, buddy.
Snip, snip, snip. Flick.
Even the ‘flick’ becomes slightly soothing, almost like a ballet.
Grabbing an unidentified spray bottle, he gives my hair three quick squirts. As he moves around behind me, I watch him in the mirror. Walking behind me, he sprays his own hair once before returning the bottle to his work station. What was that all about? Sharing things with this guy seems very weird. How much longer do I have to endure this haircut. Is it almost over? Do I smell the essence of marijuana smoked many years ago? Was it smoked yesterday?
Snip, snip, snip.
As he continues to encompass me, circling the chair I am sitting in, I look at the stations on either side of me, on either side of him. Both are empty. The entire salon is jammed with people and employees but these two stations... both on opposite sides of him... are empty. I don’t think this is an accident.
Flick. Flick. Snip. Snip.
Most of the actual haircut is done in silence. I don’t usually make idle chatter, words are precious to me. I don’t ask him about his wife and kids because I don’t want to know. I won’t ever see him again. I don’t care.
He looks over at the station next to his and walks over. This is the station that I set my book and bag on. I watch him walk over and realize my mistake. I laid the book face up, the cover plainly visible. He stares at it, slightly stooped, for a few moments. I can see that he has read the title and is trying to come up with a questions, some sort of interaction. I don’t want to interact with him. We have shared hairspray. That is enough.
“So, what are you writing?”
There is an old joke that you can approach just about anyone on a street in Los Angeles and ask them “How is the screenplay coming?” and they will respond. You see, everyone in Los Angeles is writing a screenplay. Hah, hah. Well, the joke probably isn’t that far from the truth.
The hairdresser is trying to show his superiority. He doesn’t ask if I am writing something. Or how the book is. He assumes that I am writing something.
Damn it. He’s right.
“I’m writing a screenplay.”
I don’t really want to get into specifics. Why is it necessary for me to chat with this guy? A guy that I will never see again in my life.
“What kind of screenplays do you write?”
Damn it. Hasn’t it been fifteen minutes already?
“I have written thrillers, dramas, suspense, the like. You know?”
That should end the conversation. But I instantly realize my mistake.
He stands directly in front of me before continuing.
“No, I don’t know. That’s why I asked.”
“No, I don’t know.”
“No, I don’t know.” What kind of response is that.
Now, I am obligated to explain a little. My response is very brief.
“I have written mainly thrillers. My screenplays are not easy to summarize, which is why I have never sold one.”
I sense a shift in his attitude. His gaze shifts a bit, his defenses lower a bit. Why is that? He seems to think that we are joined in solidarity now. Brothers in the battle against ‘the establishment’. Oh, wait. I get it. He has written a screenplay. I know he has only written one. Some fantastic life event, maybe his entire life, encapsulated into one event. That screenplay never got positive feedback, so he abandoned it. The martyr screenwriter. There are a lot of his brothers and sisters out there. I think twice and realize that I should not reveal the number of screenplays I have written.
Flick. Snip. Snip.
“Should I use any gel?”
“No, I prefer to let the air blow my air. Free and natural.”
What is happening to me. I sound like I grew up at a nudist camp.
He appears to be done. He reaches for the mirror and hands it to me, swinging the chair around. I look at the haircut. It is awfully short
“Looks good”, I lie.
“Looks okay. Bad haircuts never last.”
“Two weeks will be over before I know it.”
He vacuums my neck and flicks the remaining hairs away before removing the plastic sheath.
I stand up and retrieve my book and bag.
The hairdresser pulls another slip of paper. He calls out “Sean.”
A guy in his mid-twenties stands up. “I’m Sean.”
“I don’t have any reason to doubt it.”
And they walk away towards his station.
The cashier/ hair sweeper returns and looks at the slip of paper.
“Okay, Matthew. $11.50 please.”
I write out a check and include some money for a tip.
“Please give that to him for me.”
I don’t want to physically give him any money, even if it is only two dollars. I don’t want another interaction. Before I can pack everything up, the cashier hands the hairdresser the money. He looks up and shakes his head. He doesn’t smile, no, he is engrossed in his next customer. He quickly whips out the plastic bib and secures it around ‘Sean’s’ neck.
That evening, I spend some time in a coffee place and return to Adventures In The Screen Trade. In it, William Goldman has included a short story that he wrote at about twenty. A story called ‘Da Vinci’. The story is about a hairdresser.