I'VE TAKEN TO GIVING MY KIDS haircuts at home lately, but I think that's rapidly coming to an end. Not because my reasons for doing it have changed, but because the kids hate it, my wife hates it, and--Well, that about tells the tale right there, doesn't it?
I love giving them those haircuts, but, as with everything else in family life, what Dad likes or doesn't like is not a factor. I--seriously--giggle all the way through them, beginning to end, a lot and out loud. In fact, I positively cackle; and, of course, we've been saving so much by not taking them to The Yellow Balloon (I know you can tell what that place is just by the name) that in ten or twelve years, left to my crisp, no-nonsense stewardship in the matter, we might have saved enough to buy a brand new catcher's mitt. That's right. Maybe even a case of Rheingold, too. ("My beer, is Rheingold, the dry beer . . . Think of Rheingold, whenever, you buy beer . . . ") That's real folding money, folks.
Now, the money isn't why I started doing it. I'm not cheap. Just the opposite. I pick up every check in every restaurant, whether liquored-up or not. My wife and I regularly buy five, eight, or a dozen at a time of those stupid, XXL candy bars for every marching-band-uniform-fund-raiser/friends'-daughters'-soccer-team-tournament/temple-youth-group-trip-to-see-Christopher-Wren-churches-and-then-swing-down-through-Israel-raffle that comes down the pike, and give to anything that sounds right. I'm not saying that to look like a big sport here, I'm just saying I'm not cheap.
Also, frankly, we're not strapped for cash. Not yet, anyway, and if the bottom ever falls out, at least we're set for candy bars for the next 10,000 years.
I hate when people who are not scraping by try to sound like they are. I've been lucky enough to make a very good living in show business so far. Maybe not much by Cruise-Hanks-Pitt standards, but giant vats by any other sane measure, since, as you well know, even lunkheaded actors in Hollywood can often out-earn any twelve pre-Christian Persian kings put together.
Still, a man's got to have his standards, and for years that $25-a-pop for a 7-year-old's crew cut stuck in my craw like a chicken bone. By the way, craw means stomach. Not craw, craw. (Oh, come on, somebody out there gets that.)
I had to look it up, but craw actually has two definitions, and "stomach" was the second; the first was "the crop of a bird". I didn't know what in the world that was, either, so I looked it up, too, since it also started with "c-r", and, I figured, how many more pages could it be? Crop had seven definitions. The first is "a saclike part of a bird's gullet, in which food is stored before digestion", and the last and seventh was "hair cut close to the head", which, oddly enough, brings us right back to where we were before I reached for the dictionary.
I THINK THE HAIRCUTS I've been giving the kids are pretty good, too, if what you're going for is to make them look like Dillinger. I got one of those oh-fficial, ee-lectric, Wahl barber razors (made in America) for myself about seven years ago when it finally became clear that elaborate haircuts were no longer going to be a big part of my life.
For the first year or so I thought the thing was handy and fantastic, but then my wife started looking at my head oddly, as if I were an alien who was just trying to look like her husband. I didn't take the hint, though, not even after she said, "I think you ought to stop using that thing. It looks terrible." But after seven hair dressers in seven makeup trailers on seven jobs also recoiled and said, "I think you ought to stop using that thing. It looks terrible," I put it away in a drawer in our bathroom. And that's where it sat till this latest, gleeful brainstorm: "I know! I'll use it on my children!"
Our kids have very thick heads of fast-growing, dirty-blond hair, but then again, at that age, so did Ed Platt. (Sorry, now I can't stop making Get Smart jokes. If it gets to Bernie Kopell saying, "Vell, Shmart . . . " we'll both know I've gone too far.) We've never been Johnny-on-the-spot with haircuts, anyway, and only notice when shampooing takes more than forty minutes.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and The Divine Mrs. M. was over at Starbuck's with all the little league moms for an important, pre-season meeting to discuss the size of the strike zone, and why husbands just don't want to go to Hawaii. The kids and I were downstairs, and I was wrapping up telling them in no uncertain terms they'd just have to watch the last fifteen minutes of Ride The High Country with me whether they liked it or not before I'd let them turn their narrow range of father-approved cartoons back on. Then I noticed their hair was really, really long.
"Your hair is really, really long," I said--that's how sharp I am--and one of them asked if I'd take them to get it cut that day. Can you imagine? It gets long enough to bother them to the point they actually ask if they can get it cut. Not over the ears or anything, which I think is weird in kids. Just four or five months longer than a crew cut. It piles up pretty thick.
That's when the light bulb flickered on and off weakly over my head, and I said, "Say, why don't I do it? I'll cut your hair."
I'll skip the spirited back and forth to overcome their natural suspicions, or how long it took me to find where they'd hidden after running away as fast as they could (behind the water heater again; so predictable). Suffice to say, exactly five minutes after Joel McCrea said, "I know that. I always knew it," to Randolph Scott, and asked him not to let Mariette Hartley see him--well, see what was about to happen--I loaded them into the tumbrel for the sad trip to The National Barber.
I cleared a little area in our bathroom between the two sinks and pushed aside all my wife's creams and perfumes and things, grabbed a section of the newspaper that was sitting on the hamper, and spread it out to catch the hair. (You can probably guess which section it was. Go on, guess. Correct.)
I sat the first one down in my wife's makeup chair, and made him lean over the newspaper like Thomas More. He handed me a shilling and forgave me, and I slid the Wahl razor out of the straw behind him, plugged it in, and went to work. And, no kidding, the kids were digging it and laughing every bit as much as I was. At least initially.
And let me just take a moment here to say something: It's not easy cutting hair. I don't say that as a kiester-smooch to all the barbers and hair stylists out there, I'm just saying, it's not easy cutting hair. Not as easy as I thought it would be, anyway. I mean, what the heck, how tough could it be? I wasn't cutting Joan Rivers' hair for the Oscars, it's just two little-boy buzz cuts with an electric razor on the half-inch setting, a little longer in front to stick up with some Butch Wax. All right, I wasn't thinking it through. I know that now. Where were all of you with your big advice when I needed you?
Never mind "easy," I kind of couldn't do it. Really. It was hysterical. I'd go a little up one side and then down the other, but it was hard going, and a lot of hair escaped (which I didn't understand), and I'd get bored with one section and go on to another, like the contestant on a Lightning Round who says, "I'll come back to that one, Dick. Next, please."
Another thing you might need to know, in case you're considering doing this yourself: I didn't put towels or anything around their heads. It was just damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and a lot of hair got all over their necks and down their backs. And in their noses. And, well, they didn't like that so much. That was around the same time most of the laughter stopped.
There was hair piled and sifted over everything in the room except for one place: the newspaper I had laid out. It was still as clean as when I slid it out of its womb that morning. It was amazing. That section couldn't have had less human hair on it if I'd left it wrapped on the driveway. The fact that it was also the section that has all the toupee and hair-restoration ads was not lost on me.
So I finished the first boy, in a very rough sort of way, and set him on the side. To be honest, he didn't look good. Impoverished farm families in the thirties gave kids better haircuts with bowls on their heads. But I couldn't stop. I was having too much fun. The second one popped into the chair (a plucky kid, considering what he'd just seen) and away we went again.
I was giggling like a madman.
See, I thought I'd do the finishing touches on the first one after I finished the second, and vice-versa. A few minutes in, though, the one I'd just set aside was getting itchy and impatient and angry. "One chair, no waiting," I tried cheerfully, but I could tell the poor kid was uncomfortable. I could tell it from the screaming. "Okay, honey, take everything off, and we'll stick you in the shower. Oh, stop it, the razor didn't cut you. It absolutely did not. Where? I don't see it. Show it to me. Ooh. Oh. Yeah, I see it. Hmm. Uh-oh. All right, listen, that goes away in an hour or two. Don't worry about it. Don't mention it, either. Take off your clothes, and get in the shower. HEY. TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES, AND GET IN THE SHOWER."
A great artist cannot be rushed, especially when one's métier is children's heads. But I was starting to feel nervous. I was halfway up one side, but only in patches, and was suddenly horrified that the razor seemed to be losing juice, or getting clogged. So I turned it off, and told the second one to hold tight while I showered the first. He asked if he could stand up, and when he did, I got a good look at my wife's makeup chair. This was not a positive development.
It was like the outline of a kid, but surrounded by hair. I tried to wipe it off, but the chair is upholstered in a velor-ish fabric, and the hair wasn't budging. In fact, I spread it more. And the floor? Caked. Filthy. Stacked. Piled. All her perfumes and jars were covered, like that ivy from Japan that eats trees and cars. Frightening. Nauseating. That's why the guy comes by every ten minutes in a real barber shop with the giant broom.
I was leaning into the shower busy shampooing the first one, which explains why I didn't notice the stream of water spilling out and mixing with the hair to form a slow soup. "You look good," I yelled to the other one. "Like one of the Star Wars characters. Not one of the handsome ones, but still. I'm kidding, we'll fix it up, you'll see. Hey, that's what baseball caps are for, right? I'm kidding again."
That's when I noticed the rising water on the floor and felt a very rare curse forming in my throat, which was, happily, cut off the second I looked up and saw, naturally, my wife standing in the doorway.
Perfect. Just perfect.
She glanced at one kid, then the other; admittedly, they looked like mental patients. Then her knowing eye ran over the counter, chair, bottles, and floor. Then she noticed the hairy water lapping at her feet. Maybe she saw that first, though, I don't know. It's hard to know what women are thinking.
But her eyes told the story. They looked like . . . Remember the close-up of Lee Van Cleef's eyes at the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly? That's how they looked.
LATER, around a quarter to 9:00, after she'd spent hours with a scissors and comb gently finishing/correcting/jury-rigging their hair . . . after they were re-showered and in their pajamas, and in bed with us watching cartoons . . . after lotions and powders and a little Bactine . . . and a couple of Band-Aids . . . and a glass of milk and a cookie Mommy had baked the night before.
A cartoon ended, and one of them stretched, and I looked over to my wife on the other side. She felt the glance and turned away, shaking her head. Then, after a second or two, the corners of her mouth turned up a little. She tried to stop it, but couldn't, and started to laugh, and couldn't stop that, either, and we both laughed, and then the kids got it, too, and joined in, and no one said anything to anyone, and we all laughed for a long time.
When the kids were asleep, and after I'd done a little shaving and re-showering myself, I went downstairs and made her a drink without asking, and sat down on the couch and handed it to her, and she was still trying not to smile. Then she turned, and we looked at each other for as long as we had laughed before.
By God, in this light, she looks just like Barbara Feldon.
Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.