Dad's hair is always short, as short as he can get it. Mom cuts it. Mom has barber's scissors, a whole set of them, which she keeps in a brown leather pouch in her drawer in the bathroom. There are short fingernail clippers and there are some funny looking toothed scissors ‑ both blades of the part that swings open being provided with fine metal teeth for more precise, one at a time hair cutting. Then there are two different sized plain blade scissors. All of these scissors are fit snugly into little loops of leather that line the pouch. Mom also has an old fashioned kind of barber's clippers. The clippers is a machine about as big as a telephone receiver. It is black and has a switch on the side, and two serrated metal strips attached to the front of it. The electric cord runs out of the back of it, and right now she has that plugged in. When she turns the little switch to on the clippers vibrate. They make an electric gnashing sound. The two metal strips make micro‑motions too fast to clearly distinguish. When she puts the clippers to the side of your head, around your ear, or in back of your head, at your neck, you can smell a spark smell ‑ a smell of electric current and metal. Your head buzzes with the vibration of the clippers. Curls of your hair are sheered off and fall at your feet. Sometimes hair trickles down where your shirt is open at the back, getting in your shirt, and for an hour afterward you will be shaking out hair. Just when you think you have got it all
shaken out, you will feel another itch. It is funny how dry and scratchy locks of hair can be.
Dad sits there, a towel around his neck. Mom says Jack, I don't like your hair so short. Can't we wait on this?
She knows the answer.
I don't want to look like one of those singers Street listens to, Dad says, and he looks at you. What do you think, son, he says. I have a better singing voice than most of your rock n roll buddies. Hell, the Sherman s dog has a better voice than that Led Balloons group you listen to. That is probably a minus, but I bet if I sang and gargled at the same time I could make a sound pretty similar to your buddy Dylan.
You are sitting there at the dinner table. There is a book in front of you. You look down at the book, and then you grin and look back up.
Those singers make millions of dollars, you say, lightly taunting the old man. We don't make millions of dollars. So I think this proves that if you have long hair and a hippie attitude, you can make tons of money. And you all seem to think more of money than of God, so that ought to be proof that you should let me grow my hair out to where I want it.
Street, Mom says, poised with her clippers over Dad's neck, I don't want to hear you talk like that.
If there are fools like you around to spend the money, Dad says, they'll be fools to make it. But a funny thing, son. A funny thing about economic history, here. Just when the fools
who are making their money from the fools who are giving it away think that they can just sit back and let the money roll in, the fools who are giving it away decide to give it away somewhere else. You ought to read up on the Great Depression, then you'd know what I'm talking about. This country might be going down that road again for all I can tell.
Death and hair.
Hair and nails grow on the dead, but hair and nails aren't really alive. They are the deader parts of the body. They are lessons in what is alive and what is dead. The oldest idea is that the whole universe is alive. All that blackness in eternal drift and torn flight, all those interstellar hollows, all that dust and ash, litter of the this fast crematorium of flaring stars ‑ it is all ultimately bound up with a colossus, a vital, human‑like creature, striding with his own purposes through infinity. Hair and nails are like the bits of seemingly dead nature that are really attached to and function because of some living creature.
The newer idea is that the universe is dead. The parts that are alive are novel forms of death, masks of the mineral grin beneath it all. And this is just a way of saying that hair and nails rule ‑ forever and ever one stumbles through hair and nails. They grow, dead things, on a corpse ‑ a dead colossus tumbling through fretful emptiness.
In the seventh grade the boys, for a joke, liked to stroke their chins, as if they had hair growing there. Few did. You think it would be neat to have a beard. Dad, though, hates beards. He doesn t like it that Brian, Dita s boyfriend, has a beard. It is one of those very dense beards, like some phenomena of the insect world ‑ all closely packed cells of dark hair. The beard goes down to the first button of his shirt. Dad always asks, when Brian comes to the house: so, Brian when are you losing the growth? And Mom, in the kitchen, says to Dita that she can t understand why a young man with a nice looking face would want to ruin it like that. I could understand, she said, if he had a scar, or a weak chin.
I like his beard, Dita says. I think it is sexy.
But you wonder about something else. Brian s beard is just the tip of the iceberg as far as hair is concerned. His chest is matted with a mattress of dark hair, his back and legs crawl with hair. He is a hair machine, except that hs is growing bald. His hairline is definitely receding. It seems so funny that anybody with so much hair can t get a little to grow where everybody else has hair. You think that maybe it is because the beard and all took the vigor out of the hair on top of his head. The hair gene just got exhausted from all that production.
Girl s hair
Jan s hair, for instance. Jan s hair is reddish colored, long and tangled. But reddish colored is only a conventional name for the real color, which, at its base, is a certain ruddy gold. Strand by strand, that was the color of Jan s hair, and even then, breaking it down, the strands individually varied in tint along their length, from darker near the root to lighter at the tip. This made more difference in Jan s case because her hair was so long. Sometimes you would find a strand of it floating around somewhere that would measure a good two feet. It was only as the hair combined and gained, as they say on shampoo bottles, body , that it exhibited an overall redness.
In the dark, Jan s hair was a mane, all spread out on the pillow, smelling slightly of oil and another faint odor vaguely reminiscent of wet clay. Individual filaments of her hair would get in your mouth sometimes. You d wake up next to her on the one weekend a month when Bob was away at a hospital in Baton Rouge and there s a long string of hair, slick with your saliva. Sometimes you d pull the hair out in an exhibitory fashion and say: your hair. As though accusing her of losing the hair on purpose.
You would watch the variety of things Jan would do to her hair.
One thing she would do had a certain swan‑like grandeur. She would lift her pale arms above her shoulders and with both hands grab her hair, and twist it, a thick coil, above her head, lifting it in one gathering yank almost as far as her arms could
stretch. She would, doing this, unconsciously jut out her chest, as though to compensate one movement with another within a certain image she possessed of the balance of her body. You would watch while she twisted the hair playing with the rope she made of it, a distant daughter of Rapunzel. Her neck would look so undefended. She would do this while you were eating with her in a restaurant, or while you were with her at a party. The gesture seemed curiously intimate, it seemed to be the kind of thing that not many people other than yourself should be privileged to see. Jan, at such moments, would become too obviously attractive, so that she even seemed to slightly levitate among us like one of Chagall's lovers.
At other times Jan would do astonishingly dumb things to her hair. For instance: you would go with her to a concert. You would walk over to her house on Audubon from where you lived on Calhoun. Her husband, Bob, hated any music that was written before nineteen sixty about, or that didn t have guitars in it. Consequently he was just as glad that you were taking Jan to the symphony. You would talk with Bob, sitting with him on the glassed in porch, sharing a joint. Then Jan would come in, and you and Bob would rise from your chairs. She d be wearing a black sheath gown. And she would have wound her hair up into a bobbin on top of her head. As if there were something superchic about looking like a slightly dented unicorn.
However, the very dumbness of her hair at this moment would illuminate her face with a blanched, childish beauty. Her nose
would be blunter, more puppet‑like. Her smile would be charmingly hesitant, the upper lip so slightly rimpled just above her front teeth, she would look at you and Bob as if there was a question she would like to ask. Actually there was and she would ask it later on in the evening. What were you and Bob talking about?
Nothing, you'd say.
Ah, she seemed so easy to undermine as she stood there with her hair done up like that, one beautifully gloved hand clutching her expensive little white purse. The first impulse of your heart was to protect her from everything, including yourself. The second impulse was to fuck her with such greed, fluttering about her with great thumping falcon wings of sheets in the hotel room you all usually went to in the Quarter that the bun would fall apart, and ringlets string about her ears, and all the king's horses and all Bob' s drugs wouldn t be able to put your cousin Jan back together again ‑ not as she was, not as she was.
Dad's hair (con't)
Dad's hair comes out in wiry tufts. It is a charcoal color and as he gets older and there gets to be gray among the black hairs the gray reminds you of the ash forming on the edge of charcoal briquettes after they have been burning for a while in a grill. The hair makes tight curls as it gets longer so that Dad is right to have it closely cut, since his only other choice would be to have a sort of Afro, a sort of jerry‑curl nimbus. This isn't what you think he should look like. One of the effects of the seventies on Dad was that he began to discretely let his sideburns grow. Not to tuft out, but to grow in length. He used to have Mom cut the sideburns back so that there weren't any. She would simply buzz off all the hair around his ears, letting them simply stick out, thick, fleshy. Around 1978, when you went to school, he was letting the hair get a bit thicker, and he started using Grecian Formula to combat the gray. This you know not so much from the sudden uniformity of his hair as from seeing a bottle of Grecian Formula in the medicine cabinet. You were looking for Mom's sleeping pills.
For years Dad had covered the business beat for the Atlanta evening paper. Now the business section on weekdays mostly meant the stock market, positioned on the hind side of the sports section, after the fishing part of it; on the weekends it meant the auto section and the house section and a bit more business analysis, mostly wire service. Dad's work mainly came out on the weekends.
At this time he parted his hair to the left. The hair was so short and the individual strands so closely interwoven one with the other that it was a bit hard to tell that there was a part, and a wave of hair over one way. He never spent a lot of time combing it. You'd see him (you in your pyjamas, getting out of bed and wanting crankily to go back, and Daddy already up and his coffee half drunk, his egg half tasted, his toast half eaten, in the bathroom, the door open as you pass by) take a comb and perfunctorily style the hair with a little water, or a little green lotion in a bottle that smelled spicy. After school sometimes you'd take a bit of this lotion and some toothpaste and one of Mom's creams and make a chemical experiment, hoping for an explosion, like in the movies. A little curl of hairs would sometimes creep out on Dad’s forehead, right there where the left wave of the hair crested, by the time he he came home at the end of the day. Sometimes he would come home, change into his yard clothes, and spend the rest of the afternoon in the yard. He'd come back into the house when Mom sent you out there to get him. Tell Jack dinner's ready. He'd be hot and sweaty, he'd smell like grass and gasoline ‑ from the lawnmower or the weedeater . Little blades of grass would sometimes be in his hair, or sticking to his arms, which glistened with sweat. He would stick his head under the faucet in the kitchen and pour cold water on himself. Then, dripping, he sould walk over to the fridge and get a beer.
Towards the end of the seventies there is a trend in newspapers to give the business section more play, which in Dad's case meant that the paper had a special Business section on Wednesdays. Dad was raised to editor, and he got a raise. The salary wasn't near what Jim Mince, the sports columnist, got. Also Jim Mince, as Dad liked to point out, was an illiterate drunk, whose assistants straightened out his copy. But Jim Mince was a personality, and he earned extra by going out to things like the opening of sports bars and making a speech. Or making a fool of himself ‑ in Dad's view.
Jim Mince burned Dad up.
Well Dad quit. What happened is that he is talking to this man who teaches economics at Georgia State, Vince Abfondel. Vince says look, Jack, if you are going to make some money in this life you are going to have to move pretty soon, because you are almost at the end of your real wealth‑making period. Why don't you come in on this newsletter with me?
Vince Abfondel published a newsletter for investors in the bondmarket. It was called: The Southern Bond Investor's Watch.
This is 1979, and the country is going into a real tailspin, with a big upswing in inflation and bankrupcies. Interest has gone crazy.
Newsletters like Abfondel's were taking off in other parts of the country. It was a little unique in the South.
Dad renamed it Sunbelt Investor's Times. He added some features. Abfondel kept his column, but Dad added information about businesses in Georgia and Florida and South and North Carolina.
So the thing takes off. Dad benefits from that, but also from the advice Abfondel gives him on investments. Soon Dad's inflow is uncharacteristically wealthy. He tells you on the phone, son, we are going to be in the upper fifth quartile this year.
All these years Dad has been dying to be rich. Just to be rich before he died.
You are uncertain about how this is happening and what it is doing to Mom and Dad. This is because you are away. You are going to college, supposedly. One year you do, one year you just pretend to. Then, in Easter of what is really your second, but to your parent's your third, year you come home.
It is a new, much bigger home. There are two guest bedrooms. You stay in one of them.
Dad's hair is longer than you have ever seen it. The sideburns are gray, and the rest of it is peppper and salt. The hair comes down over his collar in back, which is an innovation upon which you cast a troubled eye. But the eye looks truly askance at the way suddenly Dad’s hair arises in a wave in the front and sweeps back, getting choppy and then eddying out about halfway. Somehow the hair is less kinky - Dad’s been getting it treated in some way to make it softer. So this is his look for being in the late fifties. It is a style favored by Mafiosi and Politburo members, and now by Dad.
Mom no longer cuts Dad's hair. A cheap haircut, he says, is a quick turnoff, business‑wise. You have to speak through your image, son. Half the battle is lost for the fellow who is trying to speak around his image. Dad talks a lot about image, and in this tone. Partly this is because he is a little crazy, which is what you note detail by detail staying with him and Mom. Partly this is because he is trying to write a book with Abfondel about business management. The book will be full of advice about image. The tentative title of it is: Too many chiefs, or not enough indians?
Dad's face is a little flushed. He has on a gray suit with a flower in the buttonhole. Dad is at that point in his bodyhistory where skinniness, that starved dog look of those early years of the marriage, is a memory startlingly recorded on old photographs in the family album but not otherwise accessible. He is a short man, and he is chunky. Not fat, but broad, in that tough way that cops and vice principals have. You and he have the same kind of face: one reflecting a certain wariness. Both of your chins are sharp, and you both characteristically frown when you aren't thinking about it. A slight frown, but definitely there. Sitting there in the living room with Dad, both of you reading newspapers, you glanced up the other day and were surprised how much your faces resembled each other in the mirror that hangs on the wall opposite the sofa.
You are in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee, which you have liberally laced with Dad’s vodka. You weren’t expecting him home so early. You have been standing there for fifteen minutes, looking out the kitchen window at a plum tree in full flower, around which bees are buzzing. The blooms are so white that they seem to send out little waves upon the sunlit air, and the bees to ride the waves. You have a Van Gogh feeling about that tree. Then you hear steps, turn around, and there’s Dad. He wants to know if you want to go with him to the barber’s.
Why would I want to go with you to the barber’s? My hair is shorter now than yours is.
To watch, Dad says.
Okay, you say, what is the joke? I am not exactly extremely thrilled by the idea of watching you get your hair cut.
You’ll get a shampoo, he says. We are going to Off the Top. Okay. A little treat, on your old papa. Come on, let's get going if you're going, I don't want to be late.
You got in the car. He got in on the driver's side and started the car. The radio came on in a sudden blare, and he turned it off.
I would have thought you would have heard of Off the Top, Street, Dad says. They’ve been on one of those talk shows and I don’t know what all. People, Playboy. But I forget, you don't like tv. Too middle class for your refined tastes, I bet.
Well I don't have one. I didn’t know my tastes were so refined. Now what is the deal with this barber shop. What, they got some hot little tootsie assistants to the barber? What?
Not an assistant. No, this whole place, this Off the Top place, which I am just surprised you haven’t heard of even back there in Austin, this place is a unique gimmick, a topless barber shop. I kid you not, topless and in the back room, where they have a bar you can adjourn to after being fixed up, bottomless too. It is another one of those screwy laws which says for some reason the girls can’t go bottomless when they cut hair, God knows. Like a safety regulation but, yeah I know it’s funny, and as if wit the little they wear on the bottom it makes a whole hell of a lot of difference. And they set it up right, I mean they have women in there you rub your eyes over, you say where did they get these gorgeous, gorgeous... these girls. If they wanted to any one of them could be in the movies, except it is better than the movies because it is completely live. I go there on Thursdays for a shave from Sherri, my regular girl, she makes Raquel Welsh look like nothing, canned goods. I mean to tell you she is a stunningly put together young lady, what they call a well stacked young ... lady.
Oh, you say.
Yeah, I started going there because of this business acquaintance who is a bank president. I'm in there in his office once and he says to me, let's go get shampoos at Off the Top. Well, I think he's gone nuts, just like you the way you looked at me. You thought the old man has gone nuts. So Darrel, Darrel Pickering from the National Coastal bank is who it was, Darrel says to me what, you haven't heard of Off the Top? Well we went and I mean I was a little hesitant. I wasn't totally comfortable. You know I come from a different generation about all this, it takes me a while to get used to certain things. I mean I am not a prude, but to see these naked girls like that, and the things they do. But it isn't like you are going to get away with anything, for one thing. And for another, this is the eighties. What people thought about certain things in the past, nobody cares about anymore. I don’t think they ought to be open all over the place but if it is a consenting adults proposition... So anyway I have started going there. And let me tell you, Street, when you are leaning your head back, those creamy jugs in your face, well it beats old fashioned barbering all over the place. Your mother never gave me a cut like that. They lather you up and I don't know. I get so I have to keep a magazine in my lap. But they do a good job too. Dad laughed a little nervously, and you did too.
You reached out and turned on the radio again.
I'm sure they do, you said.
You know what Sherri wants me to do? She wants me to grow a moustache. She says it would come out gray, and gray moustaches are cute.
Don’t grow a moustache, Dad, you say. If you do I am not going to go out with you in public.