The wife knows. She knows that there’s Someone Else.
The web of deceit unwound in time-honoured fashion. There were the overheard phone-calls “Ten o’clock on Saturday? That’s fine, I’ll be there. See you” And then the coup de grace. While looking over the withdrawals from the joint account – like a journalist with the Freedom of Information Act – she queried an expense;
Wife: Erm Colm..?
Colm: Yes dear?
Wife: What’s Delilah’s and why are you spending €40 there every two months?
When confronted with the evidence of my own guilt, I was silent. How could I explain that I had other needs? That I loved my wife dearly but she couldn’t be everything to me? How could I tell her the shameful truth – that I kinda liked getting my hair cut in a women’s salon?
How did it come to this? Most men’s haircutting history follows a familiar trajectory. To paraphrase the Bible, in the Beginning there was your mother. For a long time when I was a boy, my mother cut my hair; with the Big Scissors. These scissors did not live in their own neat little black leather bag like salon scissors. The Big Scissors were the household shears which cut hair, twine, nails, death notices out of The Paper, sausages. Anything that was in one piece and needed to be in two.
But there comes a time in every Irish male’s life when he must bid goodbye to his darling mother, meet a nice girl and give her two pounds to cut his hair. I was a slow developer, nearly 12 when I first walked through the doors of Lady Sue’s on Oliver Plunkett Street.
The male section of Lady Sue’s was at the back so you had to walk through the women’s salon to get to it. This was an eye opener for me. Women sat under machines as if in suspended animation. Such was the array of tools, potions and general apparatus on show, I felt like I was in a horror film and had stumbled upon Dr Mental’s twisted laboratory. And most disturbingly, the Doctor also had a fetish for Woman’s Way magazines.
In the back room a crowd of pre-pubescent boys eagerly awaited their turn. The eagerness was, in part, due to the common knowledge that at some stage in the haircut, the back of your head would feel the unmistakeable touch of a boob.
In most salons the haircut starts off with what is known as the consultation. The consultation between the hairdresser and young fella in Lady Sue’s was usually fairly pithy.
HairDresser – WhatIlEyeDo-feyaa?
Boy – BladeTwoBackNSides-FourOnTop Dere. Please
HairDresser– No problem
Four minutes pass and having the done the BackOfTheHead mirror-wave.
Boy – Grand Yeah
HairDresser– BittaWax, BittaGel?
Every so often, someone would come in and would go for a Blade Nawt All Over. A frisson of respect would go around the room. He was obviously a Mad Feen. Or he might have had nits.
But Lady Sue’s was a haircut preschool – a sort of Monte-sci-ssori. As you grow older, you look for something a little hipper – a bit more nuance in your haircut. When you’re in your late teens the barber of choice will often have a number of characteristics.
Typically there will be a poster on the wall of slain US rapper Tupac Shakur. Or an alien smoking a joint. At least one hairdresser, though white, will have cornbraids. Often there will be a man with some piercings who spends a lot of time in there but doesn’t get his hair cut. He’s just having the craic. He may be a DJ in a cool bar. He may carry his music – vinyl of course – around with him a lot.
By my mid twenties I was tired of being in places where cool people hung out. I retreated to the calm quiet of a Proper Man’s Barber. You’ll know a Proper Man’s Barber, because as you go in the door there will be a sign saying No Boys on Saturdays. That’s because the Saturday exuberance of adolescents – with their texting and loudness and loud texting – will upset the serenity.
The walls of the barbershop will be covered with tickets for soccer matches and currency from all over the world. There will be at least one photo of the barber with Eric Cantona. The shop may be run by two men who rarely speak directly to each other. It’s as if during the years spent working so closely together, there’s been so much pent up annoyance, it’s best not to trigger anything with loose talk. Especially in a room filled with sharp instruments and hot towels.
In a Proper Man’s Barber’s the consultation is also quite clipped.
Barber: – Did ye see the match last night?
Customer: – I did. Shocking.
Barber: – They’ve had it coming all season. Wasters. Just a bit of trim is it?
Customer: – Yeah, just a bit of a tidy up.
Barber: – Grand so. You watching the match tonight?
One day, the barber’s was closed and I had to go try the salon next door. That first time was a nerve-wracking moment. When you walked into Lady Sue’s, you knew there was a safe haven at the back and the women customers knew you were just passing through, but this salon was different. Women looked at me stonily from underneath their space helmets. I was in Their Place. What business had I disrupting their comfortable womany existence with my male awkwardness? I shifted from one foot to the other, not being able to shake the feeling that my fly was undone. One of the hairdressers sensed my discomfort and put me sitting down somewhere safe, out of the line of ire.
The next hour was like being at the palace of the Sultan. Such luxury. One woman spent a full TEN minutes washing my hair (about nine and a half minutes longer than I would). The chair massaged my back. Another woman handed me tea and one of those hollow Italian biscuits that’s not that nice but looks posh.
Then Tracey came along to ask me what I wanted done. The consultation was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I didn’t know you could talk for that long about hair. I was encouraged to express what I really wanted. If it had gone on any longer I think I might have started sobbing and saying I was “tired of fighting my hair”.
As Tracey snipped away we chatted about this and that – it was pleasant. We bantered about the grey hairs. “You can cut them ones very short” I joshed. “I know, the natural highlights” says Tracey. We laughed. There was empathy. Conversation at the Proper Male Barber’s was never like this – it was more one-way. Like being in a taxi where the driver is standing. And holding a scissors.
So now the wife knows about Tracey. She’s coming to terms with it. Maybe we can go there together she says. Or we could buy a Big Scissors.