Well, I guess that time has come around again. I delay and delay and delay, but finally reality wins –or is it Society that triumphs -opinions, not loud but deep which my poor heart would fain deny, yet dare not?
I was standing on an escalator in a mall yesterday, when a woman in a greater hurry than was probably good for her, lanced me with her umbrella as she attempted to pass. I don’t think she meant to, or anything –in fact, I’m sure she didn’t- but things like that are bound to happen on a structure as narrow as an escalator. There are no center lines, no assured passing lanes where the impatient can safely achieve their goals. And even if we slower creatures stand to one side, there are still impediments to lateral progress. I did not dress for narrowness, and I have non-conforming elbows at times that are thinking of other things than someone trying to overtake them.
Anyway, an escalator is a mini-mindfulness machine, designed for contemplation -a belle indifference however temporally circumscribed. It is a state of mind –a short break when the exigencies of an otherwise hectic existence can be suspended for a while. Or, at least should be.
The woman’s jab didn’t so much hurt my body, as my pride. As she hurried past, she muttered an ill-conceived apology without so much as looking around. “Excuse me ma’am,” were the words I heard as she ran up the escalator, and since there were no other ma’ams within a meter or two in front or behind me, I have to accept that her thoughtless atonement was meant for me.
But I do not exculpate lightly –especially since I am neither an aspiring, nor an actual ma’am. I am merely someone in need of a haircut.
Tell me I am not the only male –I hesitate to cast aspersions on any other gender- who delays getting his hair cut until some moment critique arrives and forces the issue. I usually wait until the hair starts bothering my forehead, or until my hats don’t fit –which is probably the same thing, I guess. Anyway, it’s not fear that keeps me away from the barber. Yes, they are messing with my sanctum sanctorum like dentists are fond of doing, but unlike them, I can still talk while they perform. And no, it doesn’t hurt –well, if I move too suddenly, or reach up unexpectedly to scratch something, I suppose I risk jeopardy, but I think that’s actually why they put the cape over me. It’s not to catch the hair, or stop it from going down my pants –it’s really to slow my reaction time. Make me think twice. That’s fine, I know their tricks, and yet, still, I delay my visits until some little incident pulls the trigger.
You’d think that now I’m retired, it should be a simple matter. I have the time, and more importantly, I still have the hair, but shadows linger -curls, linger. It’s not that I look down over the cape, and past the prison of the chair and see them strewn on the floor around me like stranded fish on a beach, and it’s not that I feel they are actually fallen body parts that are now somehow naked and disrespected en route to the garbage. For me, it’s more the interregnum, that time required for regrowth. The time before I am me again, and recognize my face in puddles.
It’s funny, that in-between time. I mean, I know it’s me in the mirror –I lock the door, eh?- but it’s still a surprise when my head changes. Things transmute so slowly in a mirror. Unless I suddenly acquired a duelling scar across one cheek –something I’ve always wanted, but never pursued, I have to admit- I would probably be hard pressed to spot any ravages that age has bestowed on me. I’ve always been fond of those little wrinkles that appear beside my eyes when I smile –I figure I’ve always had them. And I’m glad my hair usually covers my ears. I do not have an ear fetish, I just prefer they peek out quietly from the bushes rather than parade around naked on my head. Such is my mirror-world…
Let’s face it (sorry) the only change of any significance that I would ordinarily want to notice is whether or not I should shave. Otherwise I am the same. And, a bit like Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, I dare not question what I see, lest the mirror crack. Anyway, we all get used to our own me. Mine just happens to have curls.
But the incident on the escalator reminded me of just how intercalated we are. How one person’s me is someone else’s him –or in my case, her. So mindlessly confusable. So interchangeable. The woman on the escalator was blissfully unaware of the existential moment she inadvertently created. That one gender could so carelessly be exchanged for another with such little consequence, should be a cause for profound reflection. Is even something chiselled in stone a reliable marker? Immutable? I come from an era where you were what you were named, and damned be him who first cried ‘Hold, enough!’ -but now I’m not as certain as Macbeth about my fate. Unbeknownced to others, do I even know myself? Strange, isn’t it, that a simple knock on an escalator could reveal so much about the world? That my hair -my curls- could bespeak a world of uncertainty?
Well, except that it is no longer that speculative. I now have little choice, I guess. When I got off the escalator, I noticed that my hair was beginning to bother my forehead. I hate that. It also made me wonder if my favourite New Zealand baseball cap –the one with the Kiwi on it- was sitting a little high on my head, and maybe jiggling when I walked. Hats can blow away when that happens.
No, I may have freed the world -or maybe just the escalator- of the tyranny of inflexible assignation, but for me, the past is prologue. I can no longer dabble in the uncertainties of Pandora’s gifts. I must surrender my hair. Again.