’m sitting on an Igloo cooler in my garage. My wife stands behind me, shaving my head. The clippers buzz. Tufts of hair fall to the concrete floor.
My dad used to take me to Davis’s Barbershop in Russellville, Arkansas, where fine-toothed combs floated in blue Barbicide and the patriotic-striped pole spun forever on the outside wall. A retired Marine named Terry owned the place, nodding as old men told tales from their basic training days in San Diego or Parris Island. Dad didn’t say much and I didn’t either. We weren’t soldiers, but Terry gave the best haircuts in town.
My wife has the guard off and her muck boots on. My daughter runs circles around our cat. Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin blares from my truck’s speakers. My wife pins my left ear down, working hard to cut a straight line. Robert Plant’s voice reminds me of my father.
The way Dad looked down at my legs one day the summer before seventh grade and said, “You’re gonna be hairier than I am, son.” How he knew that then—just by looking at the peach fuzz on my calves—I’ll never know. I wasn’t even the hairiest kid in seventh grade, the first year of school-organized football, my first time in the showers.
Some boys wore their underwear after practice when it was time to come clean. Others donned bathing suits. Most, though, myself included, wore nothing, tugging and stretching before we stepped into all that steam.
I knew I wasn’t the hairiest kid in seventh grade when I saw the black fur on Larry Don’s ass, the pubes and the armpit hair—even the traces of a mustache—sprouting up off our star defensive end. At that age, though, I hoped Dad was right; I pined for a happy trail and all that came with it.
Still mostly hairless by high school, I colored in the peach fuzz on my cheeks with mascara—Maybelline Great Lash—painting dark sideburns where the blonde baby hairs remained.
My daughter forgoes the cat and runs our way. I hope she’s digging the Zeppelin. My wife shouts, “Stay back!” and points at her with the clippers. “There’s hair everywhere!”
There was hair everywhere in the showers after my college practices, linemen with black patches on their backs they called their “angel wings.” Mine were already coming in but I kept them shaved down. The cornerback in the locker next to me asked one day: “You got hair on your back, Cranor? Like the big boys do?” It was the same sort of question I shouldered in high school, Larry Don all grown up with his thick-ass beard, saying, “You got dirt in your sideburns or something?” Embarrassed but not ready to confess, I told him, “Yeah. Dirt.”
I ask my wife, “You think you could do the rest? All of it?” She sighs because there is already hair everywhere. But it’s early spring. The days are warm, the nights cool, and that means it’s time to trim the winter coat. The clippers feel like a thousand tiny bug bites as she scrapes them down my neck and across my back.
In college I had long hair past my shoulders. I always got weird when it came time for the seniors to shave the freshmen’s heads. We did it on the last weekend of summer camp, right before the first day of class. Some of the fifth-year guys got creative: Mohawks and bald spots. Every once in a while, they’d leave some poor kid’s bangs. If a guy had long hair like mine—maybe some dreadlocks he’d spent the last three years growing out—we shaved one of his eyebrows instead.
A breeze picks up and my head is cold. I smile at my daughter as my wife begins trimming the hair on my upper arms.
During NFL games, I scan the sidelines for players with hairy biceps—a left guard, or maybe a bulky tight end—but there are none that I can find. I picture those hulking men in their own garages, or maybe laid out on some sort of clinical table, undergoing a round of electrolysis.
One year a freshman ran from the seniors. I don’t remember his name. He ran out of the dorm lobby, away from the cinderblock surrounded by a ring of hair, and made it to the stairwell before anybody noticed. A wooly lineman holding the buzzing clippers shouted, “We got a runner!” and the horde of freshly pruned footballers stormed the stairs.
We had to break his door down, kick it so hard the frame split and that’s when he started shooting, pellets flying everywhere. Nobody was hit. We regrouped in the halls, seniors telling freshmen to run and get pillows. They did. They were bald and pissed. A few were even missing eyebrows.
He shot at us again but the pillows did the trick, or maybe the CO2 cartridge ran out. I don’t remember. But I do remember the look on this kid’s face as we carried him back down the stairs, forced him onto the cinderblock and took his hair. All of it. The big furry lineman pressing the clippers down so hard they broke the skin. There were red lines on the poor boy’s head when it was over and wet ones down his face.
“Okay, I’m done,” my wife says and steps back, covered in hair as she snaps the clippers off. “Go look.”
Sometimes she gets in a hurry and misses a big strip on the left side, or maybe it’s because a few of the fluorescent bulbs in the garage are out. Either way, she tells me to go check. She doesn’t want to already have put the clippers up and taken a shower when I finally look in the mirror and say, “Hey, babe? Think you missed a spot.”
Mr. Davis used to spin me around in his black leather barber chair, hold a mirror to the back of my head and say, “How’s it look?” That was before the bald spot that led to the Igloo cooler in the garage.
I leave a trail of tiny hairs behind me on my way to the master bath. I rub my scalp and flex my jaw. She did a good job, sharp lines and clean edges. I want to look like Jason Statham—a badass with a buzzcut—but there’s just this bald dude staring back at me in the mirror, his back smooth for a few days like it was in high school, hairy everywhere else like Larry Don in seventh grade.
“Hash Marks” is part of our weekly story series, The By and By.
Enjoy this story? Subscribe to the Oxford American.