Tina's my girl – the girl who cuts my hair for two years now. I don’t actually call her my girl to her face. We’re not that close. But if we were, I would. I’d step into the barber shop where she works and probably say something like, “Hey Babe,” before giving her a big hug so I could smell her Elizabeth Arden Red Door up close. “Hi Cutie,” she’d say, eyes smiling. “Take your jacket off and sit down and I’ll be right with you.” I kind of feel that’s how it would go down, if Tina and I were closer, that is.
Instead, when I enter the shop, I just say "Hi".
"Have a seat," she'll say, indicating her chair.
Tina’s just a few years older than me, probably in her mid to late forties, and she’s good looking. She’s tall and has long blonde hair that looks pretty soft, considering she probably dyes it. She usually wears a black top of some kind, and tight, sparkly pants. She also wears tall, black, heeled leather boots which, depending on the season, sometimes have tassels on them.
Tina’s haircutting station is covered in memorabilia from Coronation Street, that British soap opera that makes me feel sad. I've always found the lighting they use on the show to be cold. On Tina's counter are pictures of her and her family touring the set of Coronation Street, a mug with the name of the show and a small tin British telephone booth. Knowing I’ll never be able to connect with her about that show, I’ve tried to steer her toward a conversation about Downton Abbey. Now that’s a foundation upon which we could really form a solid barber-client friendship.
“Have you seen Downton Abbey yet,” I’ve asked, “because you’re absolutely going to love it.”
“No,” she’s said. “I have the DVDs, but I haven’t seen it yet.”
There. Conversation over. No “Did you see the documentary the other evening on Highclere Castle?” or “Wasn’t Shirley Maclaine great as Cora’s mother this season?” Instead we’ll stick to small, common talk – if I like the weather; what I did for the holidays; if I’ve been to the new Japanese restaurant up the street.
Tina insists on asking me every time if I’d like my eyebrows trimmed. I always politely decline. ("Why, do my eyebrows need trimming?") She also sometimes takes her electric clipper and buzzes some hair off my ear lobes. I’m pretty sure I’m too young to start shaving my ears. I don’t tell her this; instead I just cringe and hope those hairs don’t start to grow back thicker than they were, like my mother said happens to hair you shave off your body.
When Tina’s done cutting my hair, she holds up the mirror behind me so I can inspect the hairline she’s given me at the place where my head meets my neck.
“Oh. That's great,” I tell her. Tina doesn't know, but I'm lying. In fact, I've stopped thinking of her and my nape altogether because all I can see is the bald spot forming on my pate. The crown of my head is like a young niece or nephew that I only see once or twice every few months. It changes significantly between sightings. It’s my age quite literally creeping up at me from behind, silent and slow and not something I wish to face.
Now at 40, my slowly balding head is in the same category as my cheeks – once thin, blushed and pert. I now keep a week’s growth on my beard at all times, because when I shave my face clean, I notice how my jawline is widening, just like Carrie Fisher’s did as she got older. My white skin makes the area look even bigger than it is. A beard, I tell myself, blurs the edge of my face. It hides my true age for just a little longer. Princess Lea I am not.
Tina removes the black cloak and I stand up for one of the few moments of the afternoon when we’re standing eye to eye. Her blonde hair no longer looks as soft as when I walked in. Her crows’ feet are more visible now too, caked in foundation, and I don’t smell any Elizabeth Arden Red Door at all.
“Turn around for a sec and I’ll brush you off,” she says.
While Tina’s behind me, brushing my own hair off my ears and the back of my neck, I look at my reflection in her mirror, rising from her collection of Coronation Street memorabilia. And I can’t wait to leave.