In this series of blogs we will be publishing some of the best loved articles from our back issues. This short story was first printed in Issue One of the Idler, in 1993. It was written by James Parker, who now works for the Atlantic and recently wrote a modern translation of the Norse epic poem Kalevala in Idler Issue 70, available at our stockists.
The drunken hairdresser was in trouble, although he never knew it because he was drunk all the time. Trade was dropping off – he hadn’t had a customer in two weeks and there were piles of hair in the corners of his shop that were turning grey. He spent most of the day spinning slowly in one of his two rotating chairs – going up, going down – and every time he saw himself in the mirror, he was surprised. “Hello Paul,” he would say (Paul was his name) to the sad red face. Sometimes he would use hairspray to give himself a punk rock hairstyle and stand in his window smiling at children. Once a cat wandered in, and he shaved it completely. Paul was in trouble.
So you might have expected him to be surprised and happy when Ricky the Model walked in and asked for a haircut, but he wasn’t, because he was drunk. He stood and looked at Ricky for a long time, making a funny chewing noise in his head, then he said: “Yessir… what’ll it be?”
Ricky was late for an appointment – his manager’s car was running outside – but he had a problem. “Listen man, I’m on my way to a photo shoot, but I’ve got chewing gum stuck in my hair. Right here” – he lifted up a little dreadlock of stuck together hair – “so I need you to snip it out for me, and sort of tidy up.”
“Tidy up… yessir,” said Paul, picking up a pair of squeaky brown scissors. He was very drunk, but he was still a hairdresser.
“I have to look good,” said Ricky, sitting in the chair with his cheekbones glinting.
“Look good sir, I understand,” said Paul, and began to snip.
“Not too much off around the ears,” said Ricky.
“Round the ears, THANK YOU, sir,” said Paul, shooting a great stinking meringue of Studio Line mousse onto the top of Ricky’s head.
“And er, easy on the mousse.”
“The mousse. But of course.”
Ten minutes later Paul held a wobbly mirror up to the back of Ricky’s head. Ricky screamed. Paul had the angle wrong and was reflecting the side of his own head.
“But excuse me, sir,” he said, and turned the mirror slightly. Ricky screamed again. “Good CHRIST!” The back of his head looked half finished – the hair was entirely lopsided – as if Paul had cut it while looking out of the window.
Ricky stood up. “Shit, man! Finish it off!”
There was no answer. Paul had sat down in the other chair, and was slowly spinning, spinning…
“Oh my GOD!” said Ricky. He ran outside to where his manager was waiting. But before he could open his mouth his manager said – “Ricky. Great cut man. Really saying something.”
“Oh… you think so?”
” Think so? It’s brutal man, and it’s vulnerable. It’s street poetry.”
“Street poetry? Well, yes. I thought, why not?”
“Absolutely. Listen, d’you mind if I get myself one?”
“One of those cuts. Just quickly.”
“What about your ponytail?”
“Oh that old thing – let’s stuff a cushion with it. Hahaha! Hold one, I’ll be right back…”
Ten minutes later, Ricky’s manager came out of Paul’s shop with his own lopsided haircut.
“ALL RIGHT! Now let’s get our arses into gear. They’re warming up the cameras for you!”
They left Paul in the doorway of his shop, absently firing shots of hairspray into the afternoon air.
Well, the magazine came out with the photos of Ricky and his lopsided haircut, and a caption sating, “Hair by Paul.”
The look caught on, and the drunken hairdresser soon had a shopful of fashionable customers, chattering and serving each other coffee. Thrilling golden ringlets, silky fringe-cuttings and dyed-purple tresses began falling onto the piles of greying hair at Paul’s feet. He spent so much time in the performance of his duties as a hairdresser that he forgot to get drunk. Of course, when he was sober he couldn’t do the lopsided haircut, because you need double vision to do that, and so, slowly at first, his shop began to empty out. The days ran into each other, and soon Paul was drinking again, spinning in his rotating chair and surprising himself in the mirror.
MORAL: You never know what you can do until you can’t do anything else.