Adapting to retirement has been interesting, to say the least. Not that I am truly retired, mind you. My permanent address has not changed to a fishing boat on Lake Placid, and am still years away from heading to restaurants in time for the Early Bird Blue Plate Special.
Fishing and discounted dinners aside, one thing cropped up that I hadn’t really paid much attention to but needed some attention right away. I stepped out of the shower the other day, and after toweling off my head I looked in the mirror and almost fell over. Where for decades I had sported a closely cropped Marine haircut (although not as closely cropped as most, to be quite honest) I now saw that I was doing a pretty decent impression of Albert Einstein after he stuck his finger in a light socket. I had hair going everywhere- straight up, sideways, backwards, you name it. Frightening!
It snuck up on me. Really, it did! I had been using a comb for the first time since the ’80s, but hadn’t been paying much attention as I “did” my hair every morning. I was able to part it after a month or so, which was pretty neat. It started tickling my ears, too, as it grew over them. Also pretty neat. I toyed with sideburns. Neat again! But it just kept growing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I am thrilled to have hair! Plenty of my friends don’t, suffering from the relentless onslaught of middle aged baldness. Fortunately, I come from a family unfamiliar with the ravages of excessive hair loss, and now I am reaping the rewards of such a hirsute lineage.
Anyhow, as much as I enjoyed growing out my hair it was now becoming annoyingly unsightful. In addition to it being grey in places where it used to be brown, my attempts to tame it with brush, comb, and hair gel (!) it still managed to do whatever it wanted.
Time for a haircut.
Where do civilians get their haircuts, anyway? I had been going to the same suite of barbers for decades. It is a very simple process when you are in the military, and especially so in the Marine Corps. The uniform regulations state that a Marine haircut must graduate from zero (meaning no blocked cuts allowed) up to a maximum length of three inches on top. Not a lot of room to work with, but even so there are about a half-dozen varieties of authorized Marine styles: the “Mr. Clean” Bald look, the fresh out of bootcamp “High and Tight” (shaved around the head with a patch of hair on top) the ’50s inspired “Flat Top”, and the “I really don’t want one of those other haircuts” Regulation haircut, in low, medium, or high style (the low, medium, and high in reference to how closely you want it cropped on the side of your head). After my overly enthusiastic embracing of the High and Tight Flat Top as a young and motivated NCO I gradually seasoned my sensibilities and embraced the sedate Senior Officer’s Low Regulation. Just enough on top to push over one way or the other, but not long enough for the Sergeant Major to question my gender (“Gee sir, would you like some mousse to go with your flowing tresses? When are you going to start braiding it?”).
Anyhow, I digress. Week in and week out for years and years I had plonked myself in the fine naugahyde splendor of the base barbershop and asked for a “low reg.”. A few minutes later, the barber’s work finished, I looked in the mirror to see myself exactly as I had looked the week before after my last haircut. It didn’t matter if it was in Camp Pendleton, Okinawa, Iraq, or Afghanistan, the same ritual took place. “Hello. Low Reg.” Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. “Done.” And that was that.
Now I was flummoxed by what to do. I feared going to a military barber because I knew what the outcome would be, so instead I cast my gaze to the local strip mall. Civilians get their hair cut too, and where else but at a hair-cuttery sandwiched between Men’s Wearhouse and GNC? SUPERCUTS, of course.
So into SUPERCUTS I went. It was quite bewildering. There was a little seating area with magazines; not too different from the military side, but there were no copies of Guns and Ammo or Soldier of Fortune here. Only US and People. Good thing I didn’t have to wait long enough to find out how many more kids Angelina and Brad adopted last week.
A very nice young lady greeted me, and after explaining that I needed a haircut, I was introduced to another nice girl with an “i” at the end of her name. Brandi or Candi or something like that- very different from the surly and generally grumpy barbers I was accustomed to.
She sat me down in the chair (which, to be quite honest, was not a real barber chair, but then again, she wasn’t a real barber, but a “stylist”) and asked what I wanted. I explained again that I was newly retired and didn’t want to look like Albert Einstein. As I talked I glanced around the shop and saw a pastiche of pictures- hair models with gelled spiky hair next to mullets next to wavy haired surfer dudes. I opted for something bit more conservative. I asked for the “Don Draper” look from the television show Mad Men. After she got done laughing she set to work.
“I’ll thin it out here on the sides. You have a lot of bulk.”
Bulky hair? Really? I guess that explains the Einstein look.
“How about the sideburns? How low do you want them?”
Decisions, decisions! How low do sideburns go? I stabbed my cheek with my index finger at about mid-ear.
“I’ll get rid of the fuzzies, too.”
Fuzzies? Nobody wants excess fuzzies, which I learned are stylist-speak for neck hair. Fuzzies be gone!
After ten minutes snicking scissors and buzzing clippers she was done.
Sure, said I. She worked it into my newly-shorn locks, and in no time I looked almost nothing like Don Draper but significantly less like Albert Einstein.
I quickly paid at the register, and after turning down the generous offer to set me up with a bewildering variety of hair care products I left the shop with a freshly stamped “frequent customer” card. Just think…nine more haircuts and my tenth one will be free! At the current rate I’ll be claiming my free shearing some time in 2014, but who am I to complain?
There are probably some fine hometown barbers who can fix your SUPERCUTS haircut, if you see the need (ha, ha). Like the sign on the barber says, “we fix $8.00 haircuts.”
I know how you feel. It is quite a contrast to be on the civilian side of anything, to include the regulated styles of one’s hair. You probably already know that nobody’s looking at your gig line or haircut anymore. Probably a good thing. Welcome to the real world, Colonel!!
OORAH, Marine!! Semper Fi!!
You’re right- nobody is looking, but it is a really interesting experience growing my hair again. I may need to find the haircut fixer……
Thanks for reading!
Hirsute? Pastiche? Good grief man you retire and I can’t understand you any more
I ate a thesaurus for breakfast this morning – it’s pretty good with a side of eggs and bacon…
Thanks for reading, Sam!
When You write your book let me know so I can buy a copy. I enjoy your writing Mike. Thank You for sharing your career with Military Matters.
Thanks, Milly! I’ll send you an autographed copy. All I need to do is write it! I really appreciate your support, and thanks for all your great work helping veterans!!
Your dilemma of where to go is the plight of many a Reservist, particularly those of us in areas not considered military towns and therefore not blessed with many places that are familiar with the low reg, much less willing to take care of business for a $6 fee. I ultimately resigned myself to cutting my own hair and eventually moving to the “Mr. Clean” look a couple of years ago (which, as a HS teacher, helps to project command presence to today’s corporal punishment-deprived student.)
I do remember that particular dilemma from my days as a very young reservist a looooong time ago. It was particularly hard to get a regulation haircut in the days of ’80s Big Hair and mullets….thanks for the note!