Getting a haircut is simple. But in my mind, it carries weight like the new era hurricanes spiraling beyond our control. If you search on google you can find just about anything you’re looking for in the world of hair. I searched “modern mullet thick hair flat tops” or “modern rat tails.” Or my personal favorite, “hipster modern mullet flat top thick hair.”
The truth is I tend to see hair through the lens of a woman. I’m always drawn to how a style looks so much better on a girl. And somehow I think I can pull off just about anything. So when I sit in Kat’s chair to get faded up, all the obsessive tendencies boil up to my mouth. Of course, this leads me to leaving the salon recently with a fairly straight forward haircut, and a huge rat-tail. Easily fixable of course, and its gone now. But the mindset going through the pros and cons of keeping the tail, has depth to it. Yes, I just said the rat-tail on my head had a deeper meaning.
I’m turning thirty-seven this February. I can trace most of these thoughts back to that nugget. The roads I have to cross right now (in my head) carry buckets of new directions, folding and shifting through the haze and blunders beneath my eye of reality. The center still holding, but everywhere a maddening exercise of being slowing nudged to the edge of losing everything I know to be foundational.
Hair, style, the whole upkeep of our appearance is important. I went in to get my haircut believing that if I lost the sense of youth, and cutoff the mohawk mullet I’ve had for seven months, then I had to lay down everything else as well, including my quasi radical leftist political bend. I’m exploring getting my real estate license. Another piece of this pie which tells me my youth is dead, and I have to stop being cool forever. All this from a rat-tail?? Yeah, pretty much.
The hair is a symbol of identity. Hell, in many cultures it determines spirituality, or religion. Sets a tone for discipline, politics, and basically how you fit into a category of societies stereotypes. I wanted to be the first rat tailed real estate agent in my zip code, maybe even the whole city. I walk to show a house wearing my tight pants, self cut V- necked inside out T-shirt, my favorite sport jacket, and those beautiful black boots that go passed my ankle and sit below the thick paint leg roll. I haven’t even got to the hair appointment yet, and I’m so far down the road in my head, thinking about what this haircut will say about me. I don’t want a rat-tail, but I must keep it to prove I’m not getting old, and I’m bold enough not to let expectations of the general day-to-day win, ever.
I want to run wild with nature, let my body fly in the open air as my uniquely hairy self becomes one with its true habitat. This isn’t possible if I don’t have a rat-tail, and the proper blend of modern hipster, co-mingling with bohemian life, and just a pinch of stinky hippie. I want that tight wrapped rat-tail to hang beaded on my body, while some armpit haired goddess wraps my lightning in a teepee somewhere we can’t hear cars, or cheap wind chimes. This tail has its own life, its like a parrot on my shoulder. It’s so loud and clear it could have driven home when I walked out of the salon.
The drive, a familiar one. I’ve lived in Knoxville for a while, so in part, it’s a boring as watching someone else literally watch paint dry. Familiarity is cool, but it’ll turn your edge into a low energy baboon. But if you do it wearing a giant rat-tail who whispers sweet young ideals in your ear, its can be glorious for a moment.
Like a seduction expert, the tail, thick, wavy and curly, wrapped far enough over my left shoulder, I could almost put it in my mouth. Quietly it says…
“Don’t be afraid of me, you look wonderful with me on you, look at us driving this old black Subaru Forrester down broadway. The new Washed Out album is on, the windows are down, your kids car seats behind us, reminding us of our real life, yet here I am, your rat-tail, your new guardian of the real self within. You should call me something cool. You should give me a name like “Coyote Rainbow,” or how about Bob, the rat-tail? It should be something as cool as us. By the way, don’t slow down under the bridge where all the homeless are sleeping and congregating. I’m afraid of the homeless. I’ve lived homeless several times, and it’s not pretty. I was never meant to poop in buckets, or masturbate in cardboard boxes. I might look like those things would fit in my stereotype, but they don’t, please tell me you believe me.”
I come to, and turn down Central Street, the gust of cross wind from the turn picks up the rat-tail, as if it’s actually a rat holding on to the back of my head. I catch its sway in the rear view mirror. The embarrassment is damaging, my heart is racing. I look at my face, deep in my eyes and ask myself “why the fuck are you wearing a rat-tail??” I can hear the playful laughter from my homeboys back home. I can hear the word “GUY!!” be yelled from across the room. I am also laughing with them. Outside of my body, looking at myself roll around in a mind twirl over a piece of hair I’ve already named on the drive home.
I killed Bob about twenty minutes later. There I was, almost thirty-seven, letting my distant wife use kitchen scissors to kill Coyote Rainbow. Oddly, cutting this piece of hair was the closest we’d been in weeks. My youngest child crying at my feet, the long nails of my oldest dog tapping the wood floors as a reminder that I would have to say goodbye soon, and I wasn’t really that cool anymore. The dog knew me better than anyone. Her existence a symbol that I could be loyal and take care of anything for a long period of time, but not necessarily from love, but routine, and safety. The corners of your house, real or in your head, keep us consistent. The routines of life keep us balanced while slowing killing the likes of Bob, and the pink hues all around us.
The image of me on the train belonging to no one or nothing is looking at me now. I look at his face too. In the sun he stares out into the open pastures of middle America. A small handmade bag, beat up guitar, and his journal rest behind him. He bites an apple, sips his canteen. The world is wide open. The goodbye whispering in the ether, beyond the clouds. He is half of me, and I am half of him. The certain finality in both of us, simultaneously giving our stories life. I will see him again when the earth collapses us into its purpose and we become simple flowers ignored.
I turn up Harvey street and ascend the giant hill and back down it on the other side. Passing by the old duplex I rented on Churchwell. I’ve lived in 37917 for over a decade. I’ve driven down this hill time and time again. I pass the street and see myself standing on the corner with my first guitar some ten years earlier. The all white acoustic, gifted to me from my mom, who too received it as a gift from her brother years before.
That night it was cold, really cold. I remember strumming and singing in the dark. You could see my breath in the air, my fingers practically frozen, stiff, but still eager to move. I was new to Knoxville but confused like now. My cousin was about to ride down the big hill on Harvey street with his long board, as I strummed G and C, howling in the evening air. A car at the bottom approached. I watched from the corner of Harvey and Churchwell, the sounds of the small skate wheels echoing through the valley, the engine of the old car mixing in as it got closer to him. In seconds he would be at the bottom. heart beats get faster, sweat beads drizzle over the temples underneath the winter beanie I was wearing, the air still, and all the noise is gone, even while I’m playing. We’ve entered a ritual, we’ve approached death, and it was as obvious as the road was hard.
In a vision I see a large crash, I saw him smash head first into the car. He was going at a speed that would have killed anyone. He was blown up like mashed potatoes being smashed with hands, oozing between the fingers. I didn’t yell, or say anything. I just kept playing. A different car turns from the other direction, and I come back to real-time, they slow down to avoid me on the corner. A young girl in the passenger looking up at me, smiles. I see her clearly from the street light above my head. I shoot her a casual grin, and keep playing. I was proud that she was witness to me, and I to her. We collectively shared a moment together, almost a sense of pride was revealed about out neighborhood that long ago. Now a memory stuck to the old tree, and branches. I never forget the expressions, the small gifts of nature in humanity, and as simple as a chemical reaction telling muscles to move. The meaning in a smile uplifts the universe, shakes it all up for us to start again, by the seconds. I appreciate it.
I come to and turn back toward the hill, my cousin is halfway toward the car, and it’s really happening this time, no more visions of the future, or my mind predicting an outcome. The girls smile brought me back to reality, I see the tail lights of her car pulling away. I turn and look toward my cousin racing toward his death, the seconds are ticking away. Tick, tock, its about to happen, the predictable outcome is razor thin. Watching from 100 yards away in the farthest colored dusk, the pace faster and faster, my guitar and voice felt lifted by the wind, the stirring night mantra, the build, the build, the orchestral tones from nature, he was gonna die, I knew it, I was watching it. I’m wanting to scream but in a trance of pure mind and body. I was frozen but the world was thrusting and thrashing, the moment lit like an animal feasting on its pray. So long Cousin, its been real. The lion roars with thunder as it leaps toward the gazelle, the earth hand slams down the shock of stillness, as if the whole existence ended again and the elemental fury choked us all to dust.
He was able to swerve his long board just in time before the impact. But like a game of Russian roulette it wasn’t him swerving in control, it simply worked out to be the moment when the board needed to go right, because it just went left, and he just happened to start from the top in the right way. Chaos, unpredictability, instinct, pure luck, one can never really know the science or religion with these things. But he lived, it wasn’t his moment and it was a careless gamble, but as youthful and intense as you could imagine
I was far away, but to guess the gap between his knees and the bumper, I’d say it was three feet. The scene was beautiful, even with the chances of death. The street lights lit his long board and silhouette as he raced down the hill, the sounds, the temperature, the life indeed living in the moment.
A collective “hell yeah!!!” belted through the air and around the giant hill on Harvey St. Tragedy avoided, intensity and rush exemplified on a chilly Tuesday evening in the south some ten years ago. My cousin walking up the hill coming closer to me says “you wanna give it a go Ryan?” Quickly I reply, “nope, I’m good man, that’s all you.”