When Jim was a kid, he visited the local barbershop whenever his mother decided he needed it. He really didn’t care, as long as the appointment didn’t make him late for Little League practice or miss a television show he wanted to see. Since he’d been old enough to be in charge of these things, Jim had only had two haircuts he’d describe as not entirely voluntary. While neither was exactly forced, calling them self-determined would be a stretch.
Jim had never been one to spend much time thinking about how his hair looked or to ascribe any particular importance to it. A quick comb run through it after his morning shower and shave typically sustained him until the next day. So the fact that it had assumed so much significance on two separate occasions struck him as a little ironic.
The first time was in his senior year of high school. He was the star of his school’s basketball team - in spite of himself, if he was being honest. It’s not that he wasn’t competitive; if anything brought that streak out in him it was the adrenaline rush of a close game. He had always loved to play, but the older he got, the less it felt like a destiny. He was the proverbial big fish in a small pond and that was fine with him. He had neither illusions of standing out beyond that nor the single-minded dedication it would take to get there. Now, the state championships loomed. Suddenly it all became Serious Business. He could feel his drive waning in inverse proportion to the increasing expectations.
Complicating matters, just as the team began gearing up for the championships, Tracy, his first serious girlfriend, finally – mercifully – decided to allow him to relieve them of their respective virginities. Jim found himself almost continually keyed up, but not about basketball. To say he was distracted was an understatement. As was claiming he’d only missed a couple of practices. Saying his coach was pissed off didn’t begin to describe the situation.
Shortly before the big game, the coach delivered a pep talk about discipline and purpose – the usual high school coach-speak. Furthermore, he announced that his players were looking unsuitably shaggy and asked them to get short haircuts. Very short ones. It was only a request in the rhetorical sense, delivered while staring Jim straight in the eye. The message was not subtle: the spotlight was on him to renounce his lackadaisical attitude and prove his allegiance to the team.
Problem was, Jim hated the prescribed near buzz cut. It would make his ears look huge and him feel like a fraud. Had there not been a possible college scholarship at stake, requiring his coach’s recommendation, he probably would have balked. But, the unanimous wisdom of his parents and friends was that the payoff was too desirable to let slide. There were some opportunities you just didn’t walk away from. Did you?
‘It’s only hair, Jim. It will grow back,’ his mother reminded him when he expressed his dismay.
The only one who sympathized with his reticence was Tracy, and he suspected that was because she was given to grabbing onto his hair, as if for dear life, when they were in the thick of it.
‘Trace, you okay?’ he’d pant, worried that the sounds she was making beneath him meant she was in pain. ‘Am I hurting you?’
He guessed he wasn’t, because when he’d pause and try to hold still for a second she’d only gasp, don’t stop. So he didn’t. Luckily, his lack of hair didn’t seem to deter her from their self-taught crash course in Teen Sex 101. He continued to be an enthusiastic, if somewhat fumbling, study partner.
While the dreaded haircut did nothing to diminish his hormonally induced fugue state and refocus him on basketball, it did seem to signal to his coach that his heart and mind were back in line. In the end, he played hard, but his team lost the championship anyway. Jim was just glad that the coach couldn’t blame it on his unruly hair. He figured it didn’t really matter if he secretly felt like he was just going through the motions.
After all, coach knew what was best.