Better Grooming, The Latest

A Cut of Charity

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Forgoing follicles and all inhibitions, our author sets out to groom a better life for a stranger in need.

How short do you want it? Like short, short? Like when you were a kid short?

It feels weird to be back in a barber shop, weirder to be back in this barber shop. Penny—or “Lady Di” as she’s known on the streets of North Reading, MA—has been slinging cuts and shaves from her eponymous storefront for almost 30 years. I personally found myself at the mercy of her shears some 600 times throughout my adolescence. That was several lifetimes ago.

Surrounded by the natty haze of Barbicide in a place that feels untouched by time.

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Alas, here I am. Back in the chair. Surrounded by the natty haze of Barbicide in a place that feels untouched by time. I’ve been mulling this moment over for a while now. Patiently waiting to achieve the masterful state of sublime unkempt—killing time while my hair grew long enough to be eligible for donation.

That’s what’s brought us here today. As I’ve gotten older I’ve watched friends and colleagues, acquaintances and strangers, struggle with and succumb to disease. It’s easy to feel helpless, useless and shiftless in light of illness. Short of throwing on a lab coat and learning some heavy duty science, there isn’t much a rock journalist / Grade-A putz like myself can do to make a difference. Except grow my hair. It’s the one thing I can’t stop doing. Beyond my love for Weird Al, nothing has been as constant.

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“Hair is important. If you have it, you don’t think about it—but for people battling for their lives, those dead cells are very important,” my friend Rebecca would later tell me. We were barely out of our teens when she lost her hair to cancer. Her experience an enduring guide to facing the unimaginable with style and grace. Rebecca continues,“You wear your illness on your sleeve when you go through this sort of thing. But you’re not necessarily wilting away in a hospital bed…donated hair can give a person back their privacy.”

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The old timers give me a gentle but appropriate ribbing as Penny leads me over to her chair. I deserve it. My follicles have survived uncut for two years and I’m starting to resemble Curly Joe, the lost Allman Brother. I’d have been disappointed if they hadn’t mocked me.

As Penny pulls my hair up…the light catches the shears and, for a moment, I feel dread.

“So we’re going to put your hair back in a ponytail like this, because we don’t want it to be wet and get moldy,” Penny explains. “Then we’ll cut it from the nape.”

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As Penny pulls my hair up and back, the light catches the shears and, for a moment, I feel dread. I think about all the good times my hair and I had—the early morning surf missions, late night heavy metal shows—and begin to regret sitting down. Then I remind myself of random fights with angry bald men and think good riddance! In a flash I’m back to the joy of driving with the window down…then to the fear of waking up with a mouthful of mane. Finally settling on the notion that some sick kid out there needs this more than I do.

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“We’re constantly looking for more children to help,” Lilly Robbins, Director of Communications for the charity Locks of Love, told me the day before. The Florida-based nonprofit takes donated hair and turns it into state-of-the art prosthetics for kids suffering from any kind of long term medical hair loss. Not a wig or toupee, these prosthetics don’t use glue or tape. “We’re very fortunate to receive donations from all over the world. About 80% are from children, but anyone can donate if they meet our guidelines.”

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Snip. With one smooth motion Penny harvests the whole hair-farm.

My soul is unearthed. No longer tethered to a massive mop, my head begins to float away.

My head feels…strange. My brain is in shock. The blond, flowing locks that had become my identity are gone. While there’s no nerve endings firing up my pain receptors, I feel the cut in a metaphysical sense. My soul is unearthed. No longer tethered to a massive mop, my head begins to float away.

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The abstruse shockwave of my sudden image-change dissipates when Penny asks, “Is this what you had in mind?”

I pause briefly before answering, searching for the words that usually arrive with such ease. My newly liberated earlobes tingle in the open air, my soul feels unburdened.

“Yes, yes, this is exactly what I had in mind.”