Home is Where the Hair Is

For some people, a haircut is important; for others, it isn’t. But for Kevin Nguyen, hair isn’t about how it looks, but where you get it cut.

Shana Alexander said, “Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving ground.  Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices.”

I disagree.

Growing up in the suburb of Southborough, Massachusetts, I got my haircut at the same place my entire life. It was a barbershop in the town center, next to the laundromat and pizza place, and across the street from a convenience store. This, more or less, comprised the entirety of downtown Southborough.

The barbershop was called Saxony II, a sequel to the first Saxony in nearby Framingham. It was run by Craig, a big guy who liked hockey and Playstation 2. He had other barbers in his crew, but they came and went. Oddly, Craig was one of the constants in my life growing up. Even as I got older, moved houses, and switched from the public to private school system, I got my haircut at the same place by the same guy.

And through sheer contentment, my hair has stayed pretty much the same. Even for proms or weddings, I never sported a fancier ‘do. I just can’t stand getting a haircut at a place that washes my hair. I’ve been shampooed twice, and both times, it felt like driving a Rolls Royce to the grocery store. For a lot of people, hair is a form of personal expression. For me, it’s the thing I get cut when it interferes with my ability to see.

There was one exception though. My junior year of high school, I shaved my head. I had a friend in the dormitory Bic it, mainly out of curiosity. It didn’t look great. In fact, my bald head made my mother so upset that she went and yelled at Craig, who had nothing to do with it. Even though I looked awful, I was never embarrassed by my shaved head. But because of my mom’s reaction, I never tried anything different with my hair again.

There aren’t any pictures of my hair when it was shaved, mainly because my mom takes most of our family photos. The only one I have is on my driver’s license, which encourages bar bouncers to make jokes like “You got more hair now” or “Your head must’ve been cold in Massachusetts.” Hair grows back, but mistakes seem to stay with you.

So going to college across the country in Tacoma, Washington meant, for the first time, finding a new barbershop. It’s strange and trivial, but I’ve never been comfortable getting a haircut at any place but Saxony II. It’s not the atmosphere—soap operas and classic rock radio—or the quality of the cut, but the fact that I’m not familiar with anything else.

For the past three years, I’ve put off getting haircuts for as long as possible and trying a new place each time. I even ventured up to Seattle once for a trim at Rudy’s, which just meant that I paid a premium to hear Vampire Weekend while someone cut my hair.

I’m in the fall semester of my senior year, and I’ve only recently found a place I like. Within walking distance of my house, there are three barbershops. Being a thrifty college student, I choose the least expensive place, Jon the Barber.

There’s no one waiting when I walk in. Jon asks me if I’m in college. I tell him I am, and to start a conversation, I ask if it’s easy to distinguish who’s in school.

“You look college age,” he says. “Also, you were carrying a book when you came in. That made things pretty easy.”

We laugh, but the joke is lost on the two patrons who’ve just walked in. They look more representative of the staunch working class of Tacoma.

After mentioning that I’m from the Boston area, Jon launches into a discussion about sports. He speaks pretty quickly, so it’s hard to follow everything he’s saying. I also don’t know that much about sports. But of what I do know, we both seem to agree. The Patriots are a great team, but Bill Belichick is a jerk. It’s sad the Red Sox are out, but it’s good to see two new teams in the World Series.

I leave with a pretty good haircut, but that doesn’t really matter. I’ve been going to school in Tacoma for over three years now, but for the first time, it’s starting to feel like home. Hair may not always be about vanity, but it is important, even when you think it isn’t.

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.