Losing My Hair and My Mind

Last Thursday I went to get my hair cut at a place called the Blue Club, or “men’s beauty shop” (how do you like that for an oxymoron?).  I like it because it’s cheap and quick.  The barber is usually a woman, and she always does a good job.  For illiterate foreigners like me, they have a laminated card with pictures of several different hairstyles on it, and all you have to do is point at the one you want and grunt.  It makes you feel almost like a native Korean.

I’d been putting off getting a haircut for months, not that I’m too attached to my hair (believe me), but it’s been so damned cold here lately, I was just letting it grow wild on my head like an eagle’s nest around the pink egg of my bald spot.  I haven’t used a comb or a hairbrush in years (an old barber I had told me I didn’t need to), and the idea of glopping mousse or gel in my hair is offensive and disgusting.  If my hair wants to look ridiculous, that’s its business.  My wife Jina occasionally suggests I dye (had to change the spelling from “die”–Freudian slip) the whitening temples to match the light brown hair that’s soon to match the rest of the inevitable ivory encroachment, but I don’t like the idea of trying to cheat nature out of her inheritance.

(Yesterday on my way to work, I saw an old woman bent nearly in half by age, straining to climb the steep hill I was walking down.  I followed John Prine’s advice and said “Hello in There,” to which she responded from a bewildered fog, probably so preoccupied with the weight of her own mortality as to consider she might be hallucinating.  It’s probably a good thing my wife Jina, who was walking about a hundred yards behind me, didn’t hear me, as she’d say I was violating some arcane law of Confucian protocol.  Still, I can imagine few things worse than being a lonely old widow whose own body is rebelling against her as she struggles to survive due to an obsolete instinct, something the rest of our sorry-assed species shares, even though we’re all probably living on borrowed time at this point.)

Back to the barber shop:  I closed my eyes and sank into meditation as my cheerful barber snipped away at the wings growing from the sides of my head, giving me an unwitting resemblance to Bozo the Clown and Michael Bolton.  Since she’d taken my glasses and put them in a basket, I didn’t have to see myself anyway–men’s beauty be damned.  As my head started to droop, she lifted my chin; I opened my eyes and apologized.  

After she was finished snipping and buzzing away at the thickened excesses that now lay on the floor, magically transformed into garbage, she held up a mirror shaped like a giant lollipop and handed me my glasses so I could admire her handiwork.

Yeppo da,” I said.  (It means “pretty.”)  Then, remembering the word I’d just learned recently, doubling my  Korean vocabulary, I added, “Kyota,” or “cute.”  She laughed, revealing her gregarious overbite.  Korean people are such gracious hosts.  She then guided me to the back of the shop where they have two sinks with showers attached to flexible stainless steel hoses, along with small blue linen towels stuffed in some holes from an overhanging panel, and some waterproof jackets with magnetic buttons you snap together before shampooing and baptizing your noggin.

Although I’d just shampooed my hair that morning, I wanted to savor the whole barber shop experience, so I squeezed a dollop of mentholated shampoo from the pteradactyl-headed dispenser into my palm, made a lather with both hands with way Jina had showed me to, and applied it to my newly wet hair.  Washing it entailed hunching over the sink, which was painful after awhile, even though I’m by no means tall.

Afterwards I scrubbed my hair dry with two towels, throwing them on top of a pile bursting from an overstuffed laundry bag.  Then I walked over to another zone, where another barber pointed out some skin care products for me to try, including one for “emulsion.”  I’m still not exactly sure what emulsion means, but it certainly sounds impressive.  I patted my face with the skin shit, also in the manner Jina showed me (I’m so well-trained!), then blow-dried my hair, which I subsequently brushed just to make a good time great.

My phone had rung twice during the haircut, and after I paid the cashier 7000 won (about five U. S. dollars), I went outside, crossed the street, and returned the phone calls before going up to the eleventh floor of the Shinsegae department store for a beer.  They were from a guy I met last week at a deli, an American dude who wanted me to read the first part of a novel he’d written.

The “losing my mind” part of the title I’ll have to save for a later entry.  It’s of a different tone altogether.  


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