I just completed my latest social experiment. I finally made it into a barbershop for a haircut. I have had my wife clip the ends periodically, probably cutting off several inches each time. Now it is almost all gone, nearly shaved. There are several things about the experiment where my assumptions were incorrect. For one I had no idea how slow hair grows. I was not prepared for the maintenance required. Most of all though I was surprised by the reaction of people, those that I knew and those who are strangers. Overall this was a great experiment, I’m going to have a difficult time dreaming up another one this good.
I suppose the experiment really began when I was in my twenties but I didn’t set it up that way. I had grown up during the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. In my youth most of my friends at one point or another had long hair. It was a way of life but for me it was not to happen. My parents were not liberated. They held that their identities and values were to be reflected in their children and visa versa. At the time and still today I respect my parents and what they have provided for me so it was not a big deal. However, after I left home I was working and employers of the day didn’t hire people with long hair so again I excluded myself from the “Longhairs”. One evening of playing cards and socializing with friends I commented that when I retire I was going to grow my hair long and not worry so much about what others thought of me.
Thirty five years or so into the future and it was to become part of reality. I had forgotten all about making that statement until I was reminded of it. The reminder came one day when I was getting a little shaggy and decided to complain about the cost of haircuts. My wife recalled my comment about letting my hair grow and cajoled me into letting it grow with the suspended carrot of how many haircuts I could eliminate and the retirement wealth I could retain. A friend who was at the table that night in our twenties confirmed I had said it and commented that from his perspective I have never cared what others thought of me. He figured growing my hair long as a senior was just another example of me “doing my own thing” – to continue with the 60′s theme.
Obviously it didn’t happen over night. Now that it’s finished I am amazed at exactly how long it took. Still it was an experience I am glad I had. Like snowflakes each life is like no other that has happened before or those that are yet to come. Our experiences are to be cherished, good or bad, without one you cannot appreciate the other. During the time of this experiment I had many worthwhile experiences. At first as my hair began to get longer than I had ever had it, there was nothing good about it. It was a mess which could not be made to look good because it had no style. Cutting it to give it a style would have just made the whole process that much longer as there is no way to cut it longer only shorter. One day I eventually had it cut off in frustration. My wife laughed at me for quitting before I completed the task. I grew it again, this time with resolve.
It is said that time heals all wounds – it also grows hair. Given enough time “something” will grow almost anywhere. On my head that something was hair. It was not wonderful thick shiny healthy hair like you see on the ads for shampoo and expensive hair products. It was more like the dull dry unmanageable hair that you see growing on the heads of other old people. If you see an old person with nice luxurious hair chances are it is not theirs. It is the stuff they show in the commercials as the “before shot”. I had never thought of my self as a “before shot” kind of guy. Don’t get me wrong I am not someone who has ever seen myself as some sort of Adonis, in fact I think of myself as being very average. I am not short but I am not tall, I am not ugly but I am not good looking either. I am not stupid, well lets just leave it at that. Eventually it got long but how does one know when is long, long enough. I decided that long was achieved when you could comb it all into a pony tail at the base of the skull. Before that point it was just long hair but not long enough hair.
It was quite a relief when I could put it in a ponytail for the first time and get it under control. The pony was about an inch long but it was a ponytail. After all, control of ones hair is lost quite early on in the growing process. When you are used to having hair just long enough so it will lay down along the part it becomes unmanageable at about 2 inches. You have no concept of control when your hair is between 2 inches and a ponytail unless you have traveled this particular path. I suspect most women who decide to grow their hair long probably start out staging it and not being satisfied in increments. There are of course women who experience cancer treatment and as a result experience my type of hair growing experience but then I imagine at that place in time for them a bad hair day is pretty minor relative to what is important. A revelation only truly understood except by those who have survived sobering, life threatening type illnesses or accidents. My hat is off to them but I have ventured off topic. When you are running down this particular path a bad hair day doesn’t have anything to do with you just washed it and you cannot do a thing with it or you slept on it wrong.
In fact when I was asleep it was pretty much the only time I was not conscious of my hair. If a wind blows, or someone opens a door nearby, someone decides they want to run their fingers through it or perhaps just give it a tug as they pass by. It all counts toward a bad hair day. It gets messed up and tangled when you move your head. Who lives without moving their head? Baseball caps are great but even those do not get pulled down far enough to keep all your hair behind your ears and eventually even hair behind your ears can end up in your face. You feel it moving around behind you.
Finally you have reached the ponytail milestone. This whole experiment will be over soon right? You start measuring where on your head the hair reaches far enough back and try to guess how long it will take to grow the remaining distance to your receding hairline. You now can leave the house looking well groomed with a slicked back appearance to all who approach you from straight on. Until that wind picks up and everything which is not yet long enough begins to blow straight out leaving you looking like…? I guess old white guy afro kind of do. At least the attempt at a ponytail was an attempt at a hairdo. I finally had a “do”. I thought, “It won’t be long now.” Of course I was referring to the time not the hair.
This whole process has been accompanied by a wealth of learning about hair care. I had spent my whole life thinking hair care was the 10 – 30 seconds I spent combing it after a shower. Beyond that I would run my fingers through it if it felt like it was messed up and that was done without the need for a mirror. Hats occasionally left a ring shaped depression around my head for a while but everyone gets that when they take off a hat or cap with short hair. With long hair you get a wave that lasts until the next time you wash your hair. The same thing for an elastic holding the ponytail, it produces a wavy lumpy appearance at the back of your head which doesn’t go away.
To manage the tangles you can use hair products, I called it stuff but the industry calls it, “product.” Don’t call it stuff in a drug store, the young girl will feign ignorance and abandon you to look for someone else to assist. Older clerks will point and then look for someone else to help. Young women had th emost obvious reaction to old guys with long hair just as you might expect. Apparently, I have been told, young women think older men with long hair are just creepy. This is what you would expect from females who live in a society where there seems to be a significant portion of the population that has a predatory strategy. However that cautious nature only goes so far. When you talk to them about guys with long hair they will reserve judgment on young guys with long hair as long as it is not too long and the guy is good looking. Young men likely don’t really care one way or the other about old guys with long hair, at least from the way they interfaced with me it is not readily apparent what they thought. This is likely because they don’t see an old long haired guy as a player in the game they are competing in. There are always exceptions. Older folks especially those who are around the same vintage as I am are by far the most opinionated on the topic when presented with the opportunity to express themselves.
Older women who I know seem to be amused and think it is humourous that I would grow long hair unless they are typically involved with the academic community then they see it as fairly normal. I guess that means that academic males are more prone to grow longer hair. Other women display a look of apprehension and suspicion. I think women are programed to be cautious of guys who do not fit within some first approximation of normal. That is a good thing.
Men my age on the other hand often have an opinion on the matter. Guys I have known for a long time see it as pure foolishness and think it is a ridiculous thing to do. They look somewhat surprised each time we get together as if they cannot believe I am still screwed up. This reaction actually surprises me. I am certain I am the most eccentric one of the group and I am pretty sure they have always thought that way as well. It should be mentioned that I have known most of this particular group of fellows since I was in the eighth grade. I expected that they would have passed it off without regard because I have been different throughout our relationship. Others my age that I have not known prior make a cursory face indicating humour and then their reaction is over. Afterward the interaction seems to progress normally as if the hair has little or no impact, it is accepted as being part of who I am. A few older guys offered comments about my hair even if we had not been interacting up to that point. Usually the comments were well natured but not necessarily supportive. This was the way it was for the most part for an old guy with long hair.
However, I was able to ratchet it up a notch from time to time. This was accomplished by becoming a biker with long hair. Maybe it was all in my head. But when I got off my black Roadking with loud pipes dressed in all the leather with my hair in a braid down my back everyone seemed a little less friendly. Even the real biker type bikers, would react differently towards me. When a real biker type biker (the kind in the bike gangs) normally passes the average old dude with a Harley they pay zero attention to us. We really don’t share the same circle of life and the real biker doesn’t give a shit. When you have a ratty looking gray/blonde braid they check you out, just in case. You are still dismissed in short order but they evaluate you none the less.
In the end it was an enjoyable experience over all and it turned into a worthwhile learning experience regarding human nature. Because it took so damned long to grow I was able to run the experience for about 3 years. What should I do next?