Story type: Essay
Once every ten weeks or so we get our hair cut.
We are not generally parsimonious of our employer’s time, but somehow we do hate to squander that thirty-three minutes, which is the exact chronicide involved in despoiling our skull of a ten weeks’ garner. If we were to have our hair cut at the end of eight weeks the shearing would take only thirty-one minutes; but we can never bring ourselves to rob our employer of that much time until we reckon he is really losing prestige by our unkempt appearance. Of course, we believe in having our hair cut during office hours. That is the only device we know to make the hateful operation tolerable.
To the times mentioned above should be added fifteen seconds, which is the slice of eternity needed to trim, prune and chasten our mustache, which is not a large group of foliage.
We knew a traveling man who never got his hair cut except when he was on the road, which permitted him to include the transaction in his expense account; but somehow it seems to us more ethical to steal time than to steal money.
We like to view this whole matter in a philosophical and ultra-pragmatic way. Some observers have hazarded that our postponement of haircuts is due to mere lethargy and inertia, but that is not so. Every time we get our locks shorn our wife tells us that we have got them too short. She says that our head has a very homely and bourgeois bullet shape, a sort of pithecanthropoid contour, which is revealed by a close trim. After five weeks’ growth, however, we begin to look quite distinguished. The difficulty then is to ascertain just when the law of diminishing returns comes into play. When do we cease to look distinguished and begin to appear merely slovenly? Careful study has taught us that this begins to take place at the end of sixty-five days, in warm weather. Add five days or so for natural procrastination and devilment, and we have seventy days interval, which we have posited as the ideal orbit for our tonsorial ecstasies.
When at last we have hounded ourself into robbing our employer of those thirty-three minutes, plus fifteen seconds for you know what, we find ourself in the barber’s chair. Despairingly we gaze about at the little blue flasks with flowers enameled on them; at the piles of clean towels; at the bottles of mandrake essence which we shall presently have to affirm or deny. Under any other circumstances we should deeply enjoy a half hour spent in a comfortable chair, with nothing to do but do nothing. Our barber is a delightful fellow; he looks benign and does not prattle; he respects the lobes of our ears and other vulnerabilia. But for some inscrutable reason we feel strangely ill at ease in his chair. We can’t think of anything to think about. Blankly we brood in the hope of catching the hem of some intimation of immortality. But no, there is nothing to do but sit there, useless as an incubator with no eggs in it. The processes of wasting and decay are hurrying us rapidly to a pauperish grave, every instant brings us closer to a notice in the obit column, and yet we sit and sit without two worthy thoughts to rub against each other.
Oh, the poverty of mortal mind, the sad meagerness of the human soul! Here we are, a vital, breathing entity, transformed to a mere chemical carcass by the bleak magic of the barber’s chair. In our anatomy of melancholy there are no such atrabiliar moments as those thirty-three (and a quarter) minutes once every ten weeks. Roughly speaking, we spend three hours of this living death every year.
And yet, perhaps it is worth it, for what a jocund and pantheistic merriment possesses us when we escape from the shop! Bay-rummed, powdered, shorn, brisk and perfumed, we fare down the street exhaling the syrups of Cathay. Once more we can take our rightful place among aggressive and well-groomed men; we can look in the face without blenching those human leviathans who are ever creased, razored, and white-margined as to vest. We are a man among men and our untethered mind jostles the stars. We have had our hair cut, and no matter what gross contours our cropped skull may display to wives or ethnologists, we are a free man for ten dear weeks.