Ellen and I were in the Subway in Aztec, N.M., on Sunday when a biker couple came in and sat at a window booth. I stared at the back of his black T-shirt, which featured a fluorescent green chopper and an odd-looking rider.
“Is the biker on his T-shirt an alien?” I whispered to Ellen, who glanced discreetly over her shoulder. We both recalled the banner on Main Street proclaiming an Alien Symposium in Aztec March 27-29.
“I’m not sure,” Ellen whispered back. “Maybe. But did you get a look at her hair?” The woman had thick brown hair to her waist, and she’d curled the bottom four inches like gift-wrapping ribbon. He wore his hair in a long, multi-jointed ponytail, but hers was extraordinary, a virtual Navajo rug of hair that was impossible not to wonder at.
When David Crosby sang “Almost Cut My Hair” in 1970, he spoke to a generation that claimed hair as identity. Clothes make the man; you are what you drive – true. But hair, more than any other personal choice, stood and continues to stand for something, or at least has the effect of standing for something.
How many mothers absolutely forbade their sons to grow their hair like the mop-top Beatles? What whitey was not at least a little afraid of the huge afros on Eldridge Cleaver and Angela Davis? Why was the butch vice principal of my high school given absolute power to suspend or expel over a lock of hair that extended micro-centimeters below collar line?
Why is hair sexy, or threatening, reassuring, rebellious, or funny?
Media obsessed over Hillary Clinton’s ever-changing hair styles during the campaign of 07-08. Did that mean she was indecisive, unclear about who she was, disingenuous?
We learned years ago that Condi Rice spent hours straightening her naturally curly black hair to achieve that helmet-head look. Now people are saying the same thing about Michele Obama, that she ought to let it go natural, or put it in corn rows – something more culturally sensitive, or politically correct. As if hair is an outward sign of honesty or personal integrity.
Men are just as judgmental as women. Hippie. Skinhead. Nerd. Look at the hair-restoring industry. Look at George Costanza in Seinfeld, the archetypal insecure victim of male-pattern balding. You can quite accurately guess which season of Seinfeld reruns you are watching by how neurotic George is over his (lack of) hair.
On the other side of the Brylcreem tube, who hasn’t heard or commented on JFK’s virile mat? Why was it virile? Apparently it was, because guys with big hair keep getting elected, including Dan Quayle, who was recruited specifically for that empty stylish head of his. John Edwards suffered a reverse hair snub when his $400 haircuts were outed in the press. His subsequent admission of adultery somehow confirmed our judgment.
In the ski world, stories about Stein Eriksen invariably make mention of his wavy blond locks while shorting, or skipping entirely, the fact that the man skied faster and better, more precisely and inventively than anyone in a generation or two.
What does it say about you if you cultivate Fabio tresses? Go purple? Cover up your gray?
None of which was foremost on our minds on Friday, the vernal equinox, down in Albuquerque, when son-in-law Adam asked Cloe to give him a Mohawk. Cloe regularly cuts Adam’s hair, but this time he said he wanted a Mohawk. He’d come home with a Mohawk once in high school, and his father had said, “You look like an asshole. Get rid of it.” Now, as a stay-at-home dad, Adam wanted one.
And Cloe gave him one: very short on the sides with a skunk-stripe tuft down the center. I have worn my hair in a ponytail off and on for the last 30 years. Ellen says she likes it, and I’ve been partial to David Crosby’s freak-flag sentiment ever since a high school tennis coach labeled me “the long-haired leader of rebel scum.” But the current version had been bugging me for some reason – the hair bands, the hairs in my mouth. I wanted a change and asked Cloe to cut mine too.
She obliged with a less severe, though still skull hugging cut. I like it. It feels free. Ellen isn’t so sure. When we got home from New Mexico, I was standing there, unwinding after the long drive, and Ellen said she thought for a moment there was a Secret Service agent in her driveway.
We’ll see how it goes.