Monday, March 21, 2011

The Adventure of a Haircut

The scissor blades opened and silently lunged at the gray hair over my ear like an angry sparrow dispatching an unlucky insect. Tufts of gray fell to my shoulders. As the silver jaws hovered slightly again before swooping in for another bite I wondered if the desired target had been hit or was the subject of repeated attempts. Instead of cringing with each strike of the shears I chose to close my eyes, hoping my blind faith in Milan, my assigned haircutter, had not been misplaced.
Milan, I had learned, was originally from what was Yugoslavia before the war tore it into pieces. He fled leaving behind his past, his friends, his family and, his eyes told me, his heart. He was part of the Serbian culture, smiled rarely and still spoke with a sad, heavy accent. He looked like “Doc Emmett Brown” (from ‘Back to the Future’)…except there were sandy-colored streaks through his swept-back gray hair. From the neck down he resembled the Eastern European immigrant he was. He wore a no-longer stylish, foam-green shirt and an unmatched pair of forest-green pants cinched in too tightly at the waist with a belt that looked every bit as old as Milan himself.

Milan was the only male worker in the hair salon into which I had wandered. When asking about the chance of getting a haircut without having an appointment, the carefully coiffed pensioners (both beauticians and patrons) all looked at him. One stylist, with a hint of a doubt in her voice, said, “Milan can help you”. Milan hesitantly stepped forward, looking anything but confident. Despite being in his late 60s I wondered whether he had been cutting hair for long. Perhaps he took it up after retiring to keep busy and earn some supplemental income. Whatever, how bad could it be?

Haircuts for me are often a leap of faith. I often too busy to have the same person cut my hair twice in a row. So each time I need to explain about the ‘cowlick’ above my forehead, how much should be left over the ears and whether the back should be blocked or tapered. I remove my glasses. Then I tell him or her about the need to remove my hearing aids for fear of them being shampooed, sprayed or snipped accidentally. Once extracted from my ears I am left in silence like a deaf and blind lamb to be sheared. Add to that my Parkinson’s tremour and it is easy to understand why I wait two months between haircuts.

Despite Milan’s unorthodox style of snipping, his other moves seemed generally what I expected. That is except for one thing. He held his right hand awkwardly and moved it slowly to catch up with his left hand, which he used for cutting. At first I chalked it up to his age, or maybe arthritis, but as he continued, and I squinted to see better, I noticed a slight tremour in his right hand whenever he tried to hold it still. Suddenly, it all became clear as I recognized the all-too-familiar movements and counter-movements. Milan, like me, had Parkinson’s disease.

I never let on to him that I knew about the PD. I was not sure that he knew, or wanted anyone else to know. I did not want to embarrass him and I was fairly sure that it would be a career-limiting disclosure if it were announced in the presence of several overly-attentive women sitting with nothing to do while waiting for their nail polish to harden or their blonde and red streaks to set. I simply tipped him an undeserved 25%, for which he seemed grateful, though a little mystified.

And the haircut? Well, it will grow out.

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