Accidental Makeover


Nestor the Oft-Used

I tiptoed down the flat escalator into the Kaufland shopping center near my work. It’s not huge, but the Kaufland is a supermarket whose hallways are lined with shops. A tobacco shop, a butcher and a bakery with two tables between them so people can eat there if they’d like. There’s also a pharmacy, a betting shop, a flower shop, and, in true Czech fashion, a  wine room.

Today I do a quick lunchtime shop, and while walking past the most recent addition to the center, a barber’s carrying the clear yet not-so-clear name of Kadeřnictví 100 CZH (100 Koruna Haircuts), I see that a man is paying and the chair is free. My heart speeds up and I move faster, afraid that someone will jump in front of me.   

My relationship with haircuts is extraordinarily on a need, get, and proceed basis. That is, one day I look at my head in the mirror and say, “Oh yeah that hair’s pretty long.” And then I make sure I always carry my emergency baseball cap (just in case things go wrong. His name is Nestor) and I start walking by barber shops. When I get to the barber, I want to be in and out as quickly as possible. I look for free spots and go for it. If there isn’t a free spot, I move on.

Today, I can’t believe my luck. The excitement of knowing I will accomplish a task. While you in the customer-service-happy U.S. might not understand this glee, it’s something to celebrate in ye olde Czech Republic. Anything can keep you from fulfilling simple tasks as a customer or in general. I have run up to the barber to see closed early signs due to illness, holiday, and general discontent. I have been told by a yawning girl reading her phone that she couldn’t do my hair because she had a client in 20 minutes. When I suggested that my haircut would take about 10 minutes, she looked at me with an oh-you-don’t-know-what’s-happening-here kind of a look.

I open the door for the man who has just paid. He looks sort of military, with a serious-almost-dour expression that goes along both his olive drab clothing and his new flattop. I have a moment of nostalgia about the flattop, as it was my doo of choice from age nine to thirteen, when I decided that I liked girls and they didn’t like boys who looked like a cantaloupe with eyeballs.

The woman gestures to the chair and I sit with an adrenalin rush of knowing that this is genuinely going to happen. Soon my hair will be out of my eyes, my head won’t be so itchy in the heat, and drying my hair after a shower will take 30 seconds. Also, depending on how good the girl was, I might soon have the hair on my ear lobes shaved off. I am happy.

Happiness lasts until, no words having been exchanged between us, the woman steps forward with clippers set on “fecken short” and runs a deep line in my hair from my right sideburn up to my temple. What remains is a deep shaved groove in my otherwise woolly hair, as if someone had run a lawnmower over one strip in the middle of deep grass.

The die, it seemed, was cast.   

I have no choice then but to sit and watch as this woman, again, having not said one word to me, began cutting my hair shorter and shorter. What commences is one of the most thorough delandscapings of my head that I have had since I was thirteen. Where there’s seemingly no more hair to cut, she finds some and scrapes away at it. While other barbers have stylistically manipulated my cowlick into submission, she avoids dealing with it altogether by shaving it all off. I watch in horror until I am finally desensitized to the brutality and I descend into a happy place, the way I have read is common of those being tortured for information in darkened basements of the White House and Chick-fil-A. My place is a bar in my neighborhood which has a garden. I feel the wind push my hair around.

When I come to, she has removed most of the hair on my head and she’s not done. When she finishes, I have to point out that while she’s removed one of my sideburns, the other is bushy and freestanding on my cheek. She attacks it with her customary gusto, but unfortunately this sends her into another round of cutting and trimming in her scorched earth campaign against my head. My ears remain hairy, but I decide that I can take no more assault and I let it go unmentioned. I need to get out of there.

I pay her 140Kc (thus the confusion of the Kadeřnictví 100 CZH ) and leave. A man opens and holds the door for me. He looks at my head. I am wearing a dour serious expression and want to warn him, but I am too shell-shocked. In the hall, I catch a look at myself in the window of the wine place and it genuinely looks as though the top of my head is missing. I can’t stop rubbing my head as if trying to pull some more reserve hair out of it. I reach for my emergency baseball cap (Nestor) and realize that I have left it in my other backpack.

Resigned to my fate, I sit at the wine place and order a glass of Riesling. I ask in an offhand way if they serve liquor there. She replies “we are in a shopping mall in the Czech Republic, of course we do.” I order a Moravian slivovice and write some notes in my notebook, which, appreciated later appear to be sort of a stunned blathering. My head and face feel fat, as if I’m a cantaloupe with peach fuzz.

I do the shot.

“Na zdraví,” the waitress says.

“Na zdraví,” I say back. ”

“Na zdraví,” someone else says. In the corner a guy raises his glass of wine, dour serious expression, olive drab clothing, and flat top all making him look as though he’s military. At the table next to him, another man with a similar doo sips a red and scratches the back of his head.    

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