In my experience, and unfortunately I have a lot of experience with this, bad decisions are like cookies. I can’t ever make just one unless it’s enormous. Usually I make a couple dozen smaller ones, which add up to the same amount of error, but seem so much more reasonable at the time. For example, when I first went to graduate school, I decided to let my hair grow long. That wasn’t a particularly big mistake, but it launched me into a series of poor decisions that made me bald.
The trouble began on a sunny spring day when I went outside to throw a Frisbee. It occurred to me that my head was too warm, and that my hair was the problem. As much as my biology teachers had talked about how mammals have hair for warmth, I always figured they were talking about shaggy sled dogs and such. I’m decently hirsute, but my hair doesn’t keep me warm in the winter. It isn’t as though I can frolic in the snow without either clothes or consequences. Therefore, I never thought hair might make a difference in summer. (Growing up in a tropical wasteland didn’t help; when one is hot all the time, the presence or absence of hair doesn’t register.)
Maybe it’s just my hair. My wife’s hair is long and she’s always cold even when the temperature outside is approaching the level at which entire people spontaneously evaporate. Contrariwise, my hair can be short and still feel a bit like wrapping my head in a sheep.
Thus, as I stumbled back to my dorm room, miserable from the heat, I recognized that my hair needed to go. My childhood dream of a flaxen pony-tail didn’t warrant such discomfort. Also, discomfort might have helped me realize that my dream was impossible for me anyway. In any event, I resolved to cut my hair.
Now, just to be clear, I did not resolve to have my hair cut, which would have been the sane option. Instead, I decided that hair cuts were the sort of thing I should manage by myself. After all, I had scissors in my desk.
I’ll pause for a moment so that we can all bask in the idiocy of that moment. In my mid-twenties, while engaged in rigorous post-graduate study, I thought I could cut my own hair. Apparently a significant portion of my brain had missed about twenty years of development. In fact I’d like to blame that portion of my brain retroactively for a number of other questionable choices, such as watching The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in high school or watching reality TV just a few hours ago.
Also, I blame my gender. My understanding is that, at one point or another, all little girls discover the dangers of scissors vis-à-vis hair, usually by mangling their bangs. Growing up the closest I ever got to trying to style my own hair was when I put baby-powder in it so that it would be gray like my dad’s, or possibly like Peter Jennings’. The only danger I discovered then was that baby-powder turns to paste when it gets wet, which has always made me wonder how it’s useful as baby-powder.
Thus, fresh from my brush with athleticism, I fetched my scissors and went to my suite’s bathroom to use the large mirror. Clearly I had a lot yet to learn about life, and lessons abounded. For instance, sweaty hair is hard to cut. Also, I couldn’t see the back of my head in the mirror, even when I did an awkward gangly pirouette and grunted. Even worse, scissors made for right-handed people don’t work if the right-handed person uses them in his left-hand. (I think this is misleading. After all, I was still right-handed; the right-handed scissors were just being picky.) Finally, I can’t cut in a straight line; my kindergarten teacher was right all along.
I learned all of those lessons in an instant. Unfortunately, I didn’t let them stop me. There’s that classic advice that everyone quotes about enduring after failure; I think it should be reworded: “If at first you don’t succeed at something that you shouldn’t have ever tried anyway; give up before you stop being able to deny it.” Instead I kept cutting and twisting and grunting, trying to even things out and to fix my increasingly embarrassing missteps.
Eventually my reflection struck me. I looked like the world-weary victim of an attack by radioactive feral cats, or like the typical disaffected teenager of today. I knew that I needed a new plan.
What I should have done was put on a hat, travel to a barber shop, and admit my mistake to a professional. We could have had a nice laugh and I could have spared myself some blood loss and nightmares. But then how would I have found out which of my dorm-mates was the bravest?
For an explanation of all that, stay tuned for part 3.