The shortest haircut

The thirteen-inch old school television was the initial draw. It was broadcasting a local sports show. Hoping for football, I got an equally cool Champs preview show. Champs is the annual competition of youth running in Jamaica. It’s a very big deal and has produced future track luminaries such as Usain Bolt. The barbershop itself was towards the end of a row of shops that ringed a taxi lot in Santa Cruz. Shop as a descriptor is generous; crude shack is more accurate. My hair was getting somewhat long and, while rather low on the day’s agenda, I decided impulsively to get a cut.

I introduced myself to Winston. He had a warm smile and seemed nice. His barbershop had a cool vibe, with track clippings and posters on the walls. I asked Winston if he had ever cut a white guy’s hair. He said no. We both smiled. A first time for everything, I suggested. I committed to the haircut.

newspaper clipping in the barbershop

As men get older, haircuts become increasingly traumatic. Greyness and recession are hair’s harsh reminders of mortality. From an early age my family has told me that I resemble my maternal grandfather in both appearance and disposition. He had an Irishman’s thinning hair before he died prematurely of a stroke. I fear I may have inherited his visage and temperament.

I’ve been insecure about my hair since adolescence. Dutch Boy was an enduring nickname. My straight, lifeless hair resembled the bowl cut of the boy featured on cans of Dutch Boy paint. My flat hair never styled well. The height of excitement for my hair was when I dyed it Manic Panic Midnight Blue during senior year of high school. Otherwise, my hair has generally been forgettable.

Finasteride entered my life in my mid twenties. Actually, the passive voice of the previous sentence is misleading. More accurately, I decided to take Finasteride in my mid twenties. Propecia is the branded name of the drug Finasteride. My corners started to recede ever so slightly after college and some members of my peer group were hurting even worse in this regard. Given the family history, I started taking the drug. Better to be early, rather than late. I was on one-milligram Propecia for a while, but I eventually decided to get a generic five-milligram Finasteride prescription and a pill cutter, given the pronounced cost differential.

Merck, not Mother Nature, invented Finasteride. I would prefer not to take it. In fact, I’ve tried going off. I went every other day, then every third day and then eventually off completely for a couple of months in 2016. But then it seemed like my corners were starting to slip, so I went back on. I’ve read competing articles about the health consequences of the drug. Vanity has a cost. Finasteride may or may not impact kidney health, bladder control and sexual function.

My degree of vanity is reasonable. Self-assessments, of course, are dubious. But I think a fair description of my own level of vanity is “moderate” or “normal” or “healthy”. I don’t look in the mirror too much, I don’t fret too much about my appearance and I’m generally comfortable with how I look. That said, I am certainly vain enough to fear balding. I’m an unmarried forty-year-old and, while not really dating, I would like to present a with-hair version of myself to the world. Oddly, even seemingly reasonable impulses of vanity carry shame.


My relationship to pharmaceuticals has evolved over time. I use to curse Lamictal, for instance. I hated how it made me feel different, unlike myself. On it, I felt like my mood was synthetically range-bound. Which, of course, was the intended outcome. But I had difficulty relinquishing that control. I went off Lamictal cold turkey a few times and one of those times I noticed how it felt like I was missing one or two of the twenty-four frames normally occurring in each second. Like, a couple of frames were manually removed from a film. I would nearly trip and fall, walking on a flat sidewalk during that Lamictal break because I was so discombobulated.

I want to include Finasteride in my list of ten drugs to quit. Its use is not imperative, medically, unlike my bipolarity-related medication. Currently, my hope-to-quit list is comprised of coffee, other caffeinated drinks (tea and soda), chocolate, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, pornography, fingernails (biting), Finasteride and ice cream. I’ve managed to cease four items thus far — coffee, alcohol, marijuana and tobacco. The remainder of the list is imperfect and subject to change. For instance, I considered forbidding red meat at one point. But then it occurred to me that I didn’t have a druggy relationship with red meat. I didn’t consume it frequently; I had no cravings or compulsions, so why give it up? Also, technically, I’ve triple-counted caffeine. I may rethink my relationship with ice cream. Life is for the living.

Mid-way through the cut, I thought to myself that Winston must have been fucking with me. There was no nuance, no subtlety, no attempt to fashion a shorter version of my existing haircut. He just shaved my head. No scissors — number one on the blade, the shortest option. He was precise with the edging, I must say.

Santa Cruz is hot. Locals in Treasure Beach had warned me about the interior town’s heat prior to my daytrip. And yet I underestimated it. Treasure Beach, itself, was plenty hot and Santa Cruz was not far away. I figured there couldn’t be much difference. But the heat in Santa Cruz is oppressive. The landlocked town is brutal mid-afternoon. The conspicuous anti-corruption billboard on the main road in town announces that Santa Cruz is, indeed, in a non-touristy, inhospitable interior pocket of the island. My shaved head was a sensible adaptation.

Santa Cruz billboard

“Hey, soldier” the t-shirt vendor called out. It took me a second. I was wearing cut-off camo shorts, sporting a fresh buzz cut and drinking water from an army/navy store canteen. We spoke a bit and I declared that I wasn’t in the service. He kept asking me what war I was in. Finally, I said, “everyday is a war”. He agreed and we shared a good laugh about that.

After a few days of acclimatization, I’ve grown more comfortable with my new haircut. It’s very convenient. Though, I have taken to wearing a hat or bandana on my head, for fear of sun damage on previously unexposed areas of my scalp. And I must confess, I’ve shied away from some social interactions. I read somewhere that hair typically grows an inch every six weeks. I suppose my hair will be less severe upon my return to the States in late March. My Britney moment has been constructive. It’s helpful to check one’s vanity periodically. And I need to do more research on Finasteride, lest my sexuality be voided.

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