Tuesday, June 17, 2014


       I cut everyone's hair in my immediate family, including my own (what little is left). Now, before assuming that we must all look like crap, consider that my family and I have received far more compliments for their haircuts (never mine) than we ever have for my writing and guitar playing combined—this despite having spent tens of thousands of hours more mastering (bungling) the latter than the former. This disproportionate share of hair cutting compliments must mean something.
     Perhaps the kids' and Deanne's hair really do look like weed-whacked vacant lots and the “compliments” were more commiserations? But such compliments often were accompanied by the question where did you get your hair cut (as in which salon) and astonished expressions upon learning the source. Deanne has even received requests from lady friends that I cut their hair. It hasn't happened yet, but perhaps one day it will.
     Hair cutting is fulfilling in a very non-serious way: it's practical, convenient, saves tons of time and money, and I get to sculpt—one of the few visual art forms (not counting photography) with which I feel comfortable. The tools all came in a hair clippers (Wahl) kit purchased from Sears a dozen years ago for thirty-five dollars: mechanical clippers (buzzzzz...) for the boys, and scissors and comb for the girls.
     Here's how I did it when Braden was a toddler: Line the bathtub with newspapers. Have him sit inside wearing only the plastic cape (to be followed by a bath). Work from back to front, bottom—nape of neck to over the ears and sideburns—with short comb spacers first, then up top with longer spacers. There is an upward and outward pull away wrist flick from the scalp that creates a smooth medium–length transition in the in-between sections between shorter and longer hair. Instructions were included in the kit, but recalling what our barber did when I was a child, I just imitated. Lastly, trim off side burns and back using clippers without spacers and touch up as necessary.
     For the girls, have the kitchen dining room floor lined with newspapers with a chair placed atop. I'm not a fan of cutting with the subject's hair wet because it's not how it normally looks or falls (no one wears gel these days). Have her comb her hair natural (wash and wear is best—no elaborate blow drying, curling, or perms necessary). And, again, start from the back.
     At first when Penelope had rather thin hair, her hair in back naturally fell like a water fall, so the cut merely enhanced it with the sides cut to match. Short straight bangs set off her chubby Squirrel Nutkin cheeks. Later when she grew a fuller head of hair, a careful chop—block cut in back that fell evenly to a soft point at the spine worked well with her shoulder-length hair. By “chop-block” I mean cut all about the same length from neck on outward.
     When I was a youth it was deemed ugly to have a “chawan haircut.” A chawan is a tea bowl. Picture a large tea bowl placed atop the head with hair cut all the way around to match the bowl's rim. Ugly, right? I did not cut Penelope's hair to look that way. Hers would have had an angled canoe shape toward the back with a cute manicured duckling tail. Long, eyebrow-level straight bangs softened her maturing oval face. The sides came up at an angel with the tips of her earlobes peeking through. Shorter hair on the front sides were just out of reach her eyes—practicality always coming first.
     With Deanne, a more layered, feathered look helped thin out her full, thick pate. I had previously used this technique with Braden since he had been afraid of the clippers at first, and modified it for Deanne's much longer hair: Comb and scissors in right hand, use the comb's end tines to separate a pencil–barrel's worth of hair away from the scalp, flatten between straight fore and middle fingers of left hand pointing down approximately parallel to scalp, palm facing in. (This process may take a few passes to create nice even spacing of hair between the two fingers, the object being cutting all this hair approximately equal length.)  Transfer comb to left hand by gripping between thumb and forefinger, then cut hair as close as possible to the left hand fingers holding the hair, nice and straight. (I'd observed hairdressers doing this for decades whenever I went in for a cut.)
     After cutting the back, cut the sides and lastly the front to match. Altering them with each new cut helps keep things interesting.
     Another technique is to view the silhouette of the head and hair from all sides and cut to shape a pleasing profile. This softens the effect of rogue strands (no one's hair falls identical everywhere throughout). Such shaping means not all hair will be cut the exact same length at each given latitude (given distance below the head's North Pole top center), but that's okay because good irregularity can add personality and character. Also rather than a perfectly even helmet-shaped look, recent fashion trends have created jagged edged bottoms and cleaved crevices (like Charlie Brown's zigzag shirt design), whereby zigzag intervals, lengths, layering, and depths vary according to taste—from quite severe to barely noticeable. (Youth on the bus and downtown workers serve as Hawaii's fashion models for these and other cuts—fun to notice.)
     Very short cuts tend to be tricky on Deanne because of her full head of medium thickness hair. Certain strands of late tend to bow out, creating unsightly tufts up back. I'll never cut her hair so short again unless she's certain she'll gel it to keep it down, or unless that “look” happens to be “in.”
     Best thing about cutting is enjoying looking at my subjects—God's handiwork touched up—everyday.
     Tip: Start off with guys or an infant while he or she is asleep in the crib using a children's safety scissors because these just don't sweat their appearances much. The first time I cut Deanne's hair was shaking–hands stressful—especially when things started looking botched halfway through. But as the cut progressed, things improved and by cut's end, all looked well (to me at least).
     Cutting a resistant daughter's hair takes a measure of gall, insistence, bull-headedness, arrogance, or confidence—especially when she's crying. This happened twice with Penelope because she wanted longer hair so she could better tie it up in a pony-tail, pig-tails, or braids. I had no problem with that, but both times I warned her twice not to eat her hair or put it in her mouth—a vile habit I have no tolerance for—lest I cut it. So both times when I caught her, I followed through, cutting all the way around just out of reach of her mouth (plus the usual shaping and balancing). Both times she walked away smiling, pleased with her new “look.” (Maybe it'll become a hot new hair cutting technique—at least for the longest strands within mouth's reach?)

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