Sunday, April 09, 2006


Near the end of Woodward and Bernstein's fantastic book The Final Days, Richard Nixon, the soon-to-be-ex-president, sits himself down for a haircut. His last haircut. (As a president, that is.) His usual barber is summoned for the cut. They make small-talk for ten, fifteen minutes. And the whole exchange I found riveting, for two reasons: the fact that Nixon was getting ready to resign from the most powerful office on earth, and the fact that here, for a few moments, he was immobile. At someone else's mercy. Unable to move or write or do much of anything. In other words, the same way we all are, every one of us, whenever we place our asses down in that barber's chair.

Think about it. Getting a haircut is one of the few times in life, outside of meditation, where you have to just, well, sit. You can't read. You can't listen to music through your I-Pod. You can't watch TV, although some salons try to add that feature to their hairdressing experience, as you strain to see what's going on in the inverted images the mirror reflects back at you. You have to simply sit there, plain and simple, while some stranger with a sharp object cuts your little life away.

Every single time I sit myself down and set myself up for the sometimes subtle, often flagrant flicks and snips of a barber's blade, I find myself wondering about the person hovering over me like a benovelent, indifferent vulture. Who is he (or she)? How many heads have they cut today? How many heads have they cut total? What happens if they sneeze while the scissors are snipping my nosehairs? If the blade pierced through my nostrils, into my brain, would the pain be as instantaneous as the blood? (Yes, these are the kinds of things I think about...) Would I be able to sue them? How are they trained as barbers, anyways? Do they practice on models first -- plastic models, not Tyra-Banks models? My first day moving houses, I was told: "Don't tell anyone it's your first day." If I were to ask a barber how long they had been cutting hair and rinsing heads, and they replied that I was, in fact, their first customer, wish me luck, what would I say? What would I feel?

And I come back to that image of Nixon, in the barber's chair, getting his cut. I'm not sure why. It just seems so sad, almost pathetic. Most definitely human. Nothing for him to do but watch himself in the mirror. Ten, fifteen minutes of friendly chatting. His thoughts elsewhere. I think about Hitler, and Pol Pot, and Elvis Presley, and Brad Pitt, and Albert Einstein, and Wayne Gretzky, and that asshole at work you hate, the one with the bad jokes and even worse breath. At some point, every month or so, they're utterly placid. Almost alone. A sheet tied around their neck. Impotent, for all intents and purposes.

Whenever I'm intimidated by somebody's power or intellect, I just imagine them, alone, in the barber's chair, docile as a drugged-up child. Makes me feel calm, even connected to others. Perhaps only Nixon could have gone to China, yes, but even Nixon had to have a little off the sides, longer on top, every now and then.

1 comment:

Helen said...

Very interesting post. I hadn't ever thought about it, but you are right!