The last time I was in New York, a man in Union Square yelled at me, “Hey! Lady with the polka-dot umbrella! How much do you spend to get your hair done?”
He took me so much by surprise that I told him the truth.
“Nothing,” I said. “I cut it myself in the bathroom mirror.”
There was a brief pause while my new friend and I contemplated my shame.
“Oh,” he said, more subdued than he had been at first. “Well, it looks real nice.”
He didn’t have the heart anymore, it seemed, to mug me or harass me or anything. We parted amicably, but we both knew the truth.
The thing is that my hillbilly heritage has turned me against professional hair-doing people for life and everyone in Union Square will just have to deal with it.
The woman who cut my hair the whole time I was growing up until the day I left Arkansas was named Bugs. That was her name. Of course, everyone in the hills is named something like Miz Goober or Aunt Zuleikha or Old Man Doo Dad, but to be named Bugs and to mess around in people’s hair is pushing it even for Arkansas.
Hillbilly girls learn early that dreams of glamour – or even presentability – are not for them, but are only for the OTHER type of Southern girls, the ones who are called belles by the outside world and who never get yelled at in Union Square because they are home at Tara practicing their curtsies or killing Yankees or whatever the fuck it is that they do with their time.
So it’s not that I expected any sort of tonsorial splendor when I was regularly dragged to The Chair where Bugs presided, but it would have been nice sometimes just to be able to walk back into the house after a trip to the beauty parlor without scaring the dog.
On the late night TV station out of Memphis, we saw commercials for the Flo-Bee, a gizmo that you attached to the end of the hose on your vacuum cleaner and then ran it all over your head until you looked like Marilyn Monroe on a good day. What could be easier?
But Bugs preferred a more tried and true method. “Just put your head in this bowl,” she would say, “and hold real still.” I’ll give her this: the edges of your hair were always perfectly straight. You can hardly get a haircut like that anymore.
It wasn’t glamorous, god knows, but eventually it would grow out. And now, in my maturity, I have come to realize that “Eventually It Will Grow Out” is as good an excuse for wisdom as you’re ever likely to get. It strengthens you. It makes you brave and adventuresome. It makes you daring enough to cut your own hair in the bathroom mirror and then go out in Union Square with nothing but a polka-dot umbrella and your own sense of self-esteem to protect you from the critics.
In that spirit, I offer four useful tips for successful hillbilly haircutting:
- If you are going to use a bowl, be sure to empty it out and wash it thoroughly before you start. No one wants hair that smells like guacamole.
- Never try to even anything up. That way lies baldness. If necessary, just keep your head tilted at an angle.
- I know it’s tempting, but wait to start drinking the moonshine until AFTER you’ve finished cutting. That’s when you’re going to need it.
- Remember, road kill is your friend. A dead raccoon makes a fine hat.
Kathy Giuffre was born and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas where her family goes back at least five generations. She is the author of An Afternoon in Summer: My Year in the South Seas and lives in Colorado with her husband and two sons.