The Last Haircut, Shared with the World.
I hate those videos where a barber shaves their cancer-ridden client’s head, then proceed to shave their own head in solidarity. I know it’s mean like but seriously *what’s the deal* with the tone of those videos?
If I had cancer, the last thing I’d want is some wally pulling out his phone as he patronisingly snips away the last of my hair-derived dignity. Hanging in the air and watching them fall like spiders web to the floor, all the while he’s smiling like a deviant. Dressed like Peaky-Blinders-by-way-of-Glee, ugly faded tattoos up his hairy arms, and he’s 48 but wants so desperately to be either 31 — ‘then I can have an 18 year old girlfriend’, or 67 — could be a proper geezer, last orders sunshine or “I’ll ‘ave you!”.
Fair play on me — if it was me — for going to the barbers in the first place. I cannot imagine what it feels like when undergoing chemo or radiotherapy, to then go in public and get your beautiful head shaved off like you’re in a draft. I guess cancer is a battle! Takes a lot of courage, that this monumentally shit thing is happening to you, and you can take control of and by your own hand, so be it! But to do it in public? I can’t comprehend. I’m too scared. Too anxiety-ridden. I’d just shave it off at home and not tell anyone.
“You seen Adam these days? Dead bald. What’s that about? Also has lost a shed load and generally seems very weak. Anyway, did you see Everton got relegated? Mad innit. What’s for tea?”
And how I imagine it, these videos. It’s not fake. It’s real. It’s like First Dates and Made In Chelsea, it’s all real and it actually happened. “Uno Chrome Dome™ por favor”. And I sit down and remove my beanie. I let it roll off my head as I drag the hat down, to reveal the last spectres of hair still haunting that graveyard. And he looks at me, and he’s smiling. He knows. He’s seen this kind of thing before. Let’s say this hairdressers is across the street from a hospital, for the sake of it. He’s chuffed. The dynamic has changed.
I’m no longer a client. I am content.
He’s wrenching his neck to try and locate his tripod in the storeroom, while his hands are occupied washing my head. One last bonce scrub before I never set foot in a barbershop again. He’s eyeing up the room behind me, whispering “Chantelle! Chantelle” to his 16 year old apprentice, who is sweeping up from the last customer. “Chantelle! Have you had your break? You couldn’t check if my phone’s charged?”. But it hasn’t dawned on me yet, the imminent disaster. He’s distracted, his fingers are slipping. They’re slipping and poking me in my ear. This is my last hair-wash by a trained professional and it’s being ruined by a wet willy. Rinse, wipe. “There we go” he says, allowing me to sit up. That was underwhelming, I think, knowing full well that by all accounts, your last ever hair-wash at a barbers is still better than, I don’t know, chemotherapy? Am I right ladies? *pause for applause*
The towel is off after a pat dry. The briefest in history, it may as well have been a whisper up my dog’s bum. “What’ll it be?” he asks. And at that moment I forgive him for the pinky in my ear moment, because he’s letting me say, for the very last time: “just a short back and sides mate”. We laugh. We share a bond. Tick tock to destruction. He moves around my head, and here comes who I can only assume is ‘Chantelle’. And she hands off his iPhone 10. Relay race this. Pass the baton. Pass the puke bucket.
“Do you mind?” he asks.
“Mind what?” I reply.
“If I record this?”
Those words left his mouth. He’s staring down at the withered tumbleweed of grey hair on my swollen head, and I’m looking at his reflection in the mirror. This man is wearing a red maroon waistcoat, a powder blue pinstripe shirt, and a dickie bow like Charlie Chalk. He will not make eye contact with me. He does not want to face himself and look back at the barber — a barber!!! — who asked someone undergoing treatment for one of the most fatal illnesses we face as humans: ‘can I record me cutting your hair?’.
I am to be observed. I am to become the example. I am to be the authenticity he needs. He’s cut white hair and black hair, and he’s weaved and he’s washed (poorly) and here’s a photo of Victoria Beckham from 2000’s ‘Out Of Your Mind’. Have they met? Has he just mastered that feathering? Has she been here? And then it’ll be me. He shaved a chemo head. ‘Yep, I had someone undergoing life-saving treatment in this very seat. That’s him in the window yeah. I actually introduced Dane Bowers to Posh. No, somewhere else. Actually, I gave them the idea for ‘This tune’s gonna punish you’ at the end of the song. Nah, we don’t talk much, Dane’s busy. Strictly this year, promised not to tell!’.
It doesn’t stop there though, does it? It’s 2022. He’s got a TikTok and an Instagram. He’s got it all and I’m the star attraction. Won’t even tag me, but a family member will. He’s going to film him cutting my hair. And it will live in the barbershop window of the internet, forever. Downloaded and re-uploaded to the next social media platform. My face, glum and bruised and drained of life, immortalised as degrading pixels for the next generation to discover. His sweet, sweet internet karma. It’s my cancer, my struggle, and he’s claiming all of it! And I don’t even know what’s coming next.
What am I supposed to say? Nah mate, can you not? Can you not like, film me having a haircut please? Can you just rewind 7 minutes back to when you were treating me like a human? Like I wasn’t just your passage to social media fame? I do certainly mind, I mind quite a bit. I do not want to be filmed and in the frame as he snips away my wisps of grey. But he’s already handing the phone off to Chantelle, our junior cameraperson. She’s filming, but it takes an extra beat for him to snap into some sort of on-camera personality. His shinigami creepy face is in full flow, moving around my head. I am reserved. I am shutting down, I am embarrassed for him and me. Chantelle is filming and she’s holding it vertically, and I’m being recorded getting my last ever haircut.
He turns to the counter, his back to me, and he’s loading up the clipper. I hear the snap and a click of the guard as he takes off the 3mm piece, placing it in the small pull-out drawer. Oh, we’re going bald alright. Shave me, this is it.
The clippers buzz to life and he moves it gracefully over my head.
The vibrations of the blade massage my scalp as they slice away at the mess that was left. He’s doing the sides and the top, he’s tilting my head down and following the line up my neck to get the back. It’s effortless how he moves from ear to ear, folding them over ever so slightly to tidy what’s left. He is a master at his craft, beyond the bullshit and ‘Jack Daniels bottle as a candle holder’ on his workspace. Past the optional moustache wax on the counter. He is a human, naked and ugly as the rest of us, and he’s so good at cutting hair. But I can feel his stare, piercing through my skull. I’m afraid to open my eyes to see him now. But I feel him tilting my head up and pausing. I know if I open my eyes, he’ll be there.
He’s in front of me and he’s head height. I can sense the hotness of his musky-ass breath. Cheap coffee and tuna. I accept that I am about to be eye-to-eye with a weird man. I open my eyes, and sure as shit this guy is about 2 feet away from my face.
“Hey.” he says, while staring a hole into my soul. And - what is he doing?
This Rufus Hound stan raises the clippers to the front of his head and begins to shave a big chunk out of it from front to back. He does not break eye contact. He’s laughing, and I’m laughing. It’s not funny. I am in a trance with this creature as he continues to shave off the entire hair on his head. Chantelle is still filming! Chantelle, are you seeing this? He’s shaving his head, freehand, in my face. Chantelle, what is happening?
“For you.” I hear him mutter. He’s shaving his head for ME? He is shaving his head for me, because he thinks I will feel better about undergoing chemotherapy at this age? His hair will grow back! His hair will grow back long after I find out that the chemotherapy will not work. He’ll be at a number 2 guard, doing his sides and leaving some on top, shaping his next pompadour, long after the doctors find a second lump. That was my last haircut, because I have given up the fight. They won, and I quit. I will wither and die in bed, someday drawing my last breath, and he will be living off those likes of this day for years to come.
And it’s not hygienic either, is it? What’s that blue liquid for? I thought you had to wash the equipment between uses. This is wrong!
“You know that lad died?” a comment will say on Instagram.
“I know, so sad!” the OP will reply. And it’s not even the barber, it’s just some kid in the future. I am the anecdote. I am the video shared on local Facebook groups by people who graduated 5 years before me. ‘Why can’t we be more like this? #BeKind’ the caption will read, posted to an online group who, offline, couldn’t be less interested in a strong society or community. They don’t give a fuck, but they ‘liked and shared from Warrington x’ so their job is done. I’m their Get Out of Jail Free card for their conscious Monopoly. And it’s all because I decided to take some agency in my final days, and went to the biggest bellend barber I could find.
And the worst thing? It was £17 and I let him keep the £3 change. Livid.