October 13th, 2002

abstract butterfly

Number 4 shears

I love the way that everything has its own inner complexity. There's a lingo native to every pursuit. I turn on a sports radio station, and it refers to its loyal listeners by a nickname ("P-1s"?) whose etymology wholly escapes me. I read a book on house plants, and there are thousands of choices, each with its own care requirements. When I was a boy, I went to the local small town barber shop for haircuts. The barber would invariably ask if I wanted my hair thinned out a bit. This sounded to me as if he was asking if I wanted a light trim. In barber argot, though, this apparently was asking if I wanted all the hair cut off other than a thin strip.

Yestereday I went to the chain hair place with the alliterative name not far from my home. I don't have to go to one of those hip stylists who uses only a first name, because my wavy but not wavy in a good way hair just needs to be sheared off. I know this because I was a teen in the 1970s, when hair was worn collar-length (the collar being a sky blue leisure suit), very thick and feathered. I have been to the mountain of gel and enjoyed the valley of an hour of blow drying each morning, and I need never climb that particular Everest again.

But even the chain haircut place has its lingo. The key piece of data is not the "style" question which arise in a conventional barber's or stylist's place. There's none of the "shall we feather or layer?" or "shall I thin it it out good, there, podner?" from more customized hair places. No, at the chain place, the crucial question is "which size shears?". Now, this question sounds as though I am to pick from small, medium or extra large scissors ("I'd like the sheep shears, please, but could you use the ones with the special lamb-sensitivity?"). In fact, though, this question is actually asking which pre-numbered size comb-like plastic device should be affixed by the cutter to the electric razor attached to my hair.

I was mightily flummoxed the first few times the stylist would ask "what size shears?", because I had no idea whether the numbers went up or down, and what gradations of meaning could be at work. I still don't know if a big number cuts more hair or less hair. But one day, after a particularly good "so short it's microscopic but not as short as Moby's" haircut, I had a wave of "inspiration".
I asked what size shears the cutter had used. Now I had data.

Yesterday, when she asked me "How do you want your hair done?". I said "Number four shears". She breathed a sigh of satisfaction, and the job was done in ten minutes.