In a few days we will be moving 260 miles north to Birmingham, Alabama. So I got my last Florida haircut.
I’m picky about who cuts my hair. There is nothing as traumatic as a bad haircut, and I’ve had some doozies.
As a kid my mother believed in saving money so she cut my hair at home using Briggs & Stratton clippers that predated the Second World War. She had two basic hairstyles in her repertoire. The “Marine,” and the “Uncle Fester.”
My yearbook pictures are unbearable to look at.
When I got older, I let my red hair grow longer since my hair had natural wave. At the time, I believed I looked debonair, but years later I realized that I looked more like Danny Partridge.
And there was the time before college graduation when I wanted to get my shabby hair cleaned up before the ceremony. So I went to a hairstylist that was recommended to me by a friend. The stylist’s name was—I’ll never forget this—Trixie.
Trixie’s one-woman salon was in the back bedroom of a dilapidated doublewide trailer parked by the interstate cutoff. There was mildew on her ceiling, cigarette butts in old coffee mugs, and Trixie had a deep affection for gin.
When my haircut was finished, she spun me around to face the mirror and I looked like Billy Ray Cyrus after a very long night. The woman had given me a world-class mullet. I was horrified.
The next evening, at graduation, I accepted my college diploma before 900 people while sporting an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey. That year, my graduating classmates voted me most likely to own a Pontiac Firebird.
I bring all this up to say that when you find a good hairstylist/barber/beautician, you must hold onto this person with both claws because they are a precious gem.
My longtime hairstylist used to be a lady named Blanca. Blanca was from Mexico City, she was 4 foot 9 inches tall, and had a wandering eye. I was initially worried that Blanca’s eyesight might interfere with her scissor work, but she assured me by saying, “Hey, no worries!”
This phrase, I would come to learn, was the only English phrase Blanca knew. “Blanca,” you could say, “Your car’s on fire.” “HEY, NO WORRIES!” she’d answer.
But Blanca gave the best haircuts. They were flawless. I went to Blanca for years, and over time she learned many other essential English phrases such as, “It’s all good in the neighborhood,” “Supersize me, bro,” and “You call this a tip?”
But then Blanca left town, and I was adrift again. I went through a dark period, looking everywhere for a new stylist. I traveled great distances to get my hair trimmed by old-timey barbers recommended by my uncle’s elderly pals.
These were geriatric tonsorial artists whose Social Security numbers were in the single digits. Whenever I would walk into these barbershops, the old men would take one look at me and say, “Well, well, look what the hippie dragged in.”
I would enter with a full beard and thick head of hair; I would leave looking like the spokesperson for Brylcreem.
But then I found Wendy.
I found Wendy by pure chance in Santa Rosa Beach. She worked at a little salon next to my local Publix.
One day I walked into her shop on my lunch break and she fit me into her schedule.
Wendy moved around my head carefully, methodically, working with her scissors the way some work in oils or clay. She is a nothing short of master.
We hit it off. She was a single mother who had raised her kids. We talked about her grandbabies, about life, we talked about our favorite books. We became friends.
Over the years, I’ve visited her to get gussied up for countless weddings, funerals, speaking engagements, and special occasions. I visited Wendy during the pandemic, when nobody was getting haircuts. I visited her the morning after my mother-in-law passed away. I visited her for a trim before I gave a speech for the Alabama governor.
She was always cheerful. Always happy. Always upbeat. Even when I’m sure she didn’t feel like being chipper, she put on her matinee-idol smile and made me feel like I mattered.
This afternoon I sat in her chair one final time.
I told her I was moving to Birmingham.
She stopped clipping.
We were quiet for a few moments.
“Gosh,” she said. “I’m so proud of you.”
And I don’t know why, but my eyes became watery.
Because, you see, this somehow made it all real. I’m actually leaving home. As a young man, I couldn’t wait to get out of this two-point-five-horse town. But somewhere along the way I got older and softer. And, well, just look at me now. There I was crying in a salon like a cast member in a Sally Field-Dolly Parton movie.
Wendy and I wished each other well. I left. And just like that I was gone.
Soon, I will be gone from this zip code. Gone from this state. In mere days, a brand new episode of my life will begin. And in a small way, my wife and I will become new people. We will make new friends. We will form new routines. New habits.
Even so. If Wendy is reading this, I hope she knows that 260 miles is not too far for me to travel for haircuts.