It was picture day at school and my mother had dragged me to Bloomingdales the previous day to get me a suit. I was mortified at the idea of wearing a suit to school, just wearing shorts had subjected some kids to tauntings that were unmerciful. I was sent off to brush my hair and warned that we only had fifteen or twenty minutes before we had to get in the car to leave. I climbed the stairs and my sister followed me from the hall into my room and then bathroom. She was wearing a pretty nice looking emerald green dress with a white rounded collar. The dress had a sheen to it that caught the light and I had to admit to myself that she looked pretty good in it. Her hair was done in a french braid, with loose strand that curled at the bottom hanging from her temples. “You look pretty.” I told her, wincing at the slip. It was normal behavior for us to demean one anothers look or brainpower at every opportunity and I just broke the unspoken rule.
She blinked, surprised, and said “Really?”
In for a penny, in for a pound. “Yeah, you look really nice today.”
“Thanks, Bob.” she said, smiling widely. “Do you want some help getting your part straight?” She’d heard mom send me to brush my hair.
“Okay.” I replied. I ran the water and dipped the hair brush into the stream and with the typical abandon of a seven year old, I raked my hair to the side.
“Here,” said my sister, “let me help.” I handed over the brush and she combed my hair straight forward and then carefully created a part. She squinted and bit on the tip of her tongue in concentration. She brushed my hair and smiled. “All done.” she said.
I looked in the mirror and admired the job she did. My part was straight as a ruler and she’d given the front a kind of sweeping wave that looked pretty cool to me. “Thanks, Kathy.” I said, admiring myself. As I looked, a group of hairs on the crown of my head suddenly popped up. I went from looking suave to looking like an imitation of the Little Rascals ‘Alfalfa. I made a noise. My sister used the brush to try and tame the wild hairs, but they kept popping back up.
“Wait here.” she said. “I can fix this.” She trotted out of the bathroom and returned a minute later with a comb and a pair of scissors. She had me sit on the toilet while she trimmed the hairs. “Whoops.” she said.
“I cut a little too much off. Hang on, I’ll even it out.” She began to snip, moving here and there. I noticed that I was getting a fair amount of hair piling up on my shirt and lap, and her pretty green dress was festooned with bits of my hair. Finally she stopped and said “I guess that will have to do.”
About then, my mother yelled for us to stop whatever we were doing and come down right now. “We have to leave.” The both of us jogged downstairs to where mom was waiting for us in the front hall by the door. She took one look at me a screamed. I mean, she really screamed. “What did you do?” she shrieked at me. I hadn’t seen myself so I shrugged and felt confused.
My sister spoke up. “I was trying to help. His hair wouldn’t stay down.”
“But. But. Oh my God. Your brother looks like he has mange!” I wasn’t sure what mange was, but from the way my mother said it, it didn’t sound good at all. I ran back upstairs and looked at myself in the mirror. I had bald spots all over my head where the hair had been cut almost to the root. I burst into tears, thinking I looked like a freak. I ran and slammed my bedroom door and locked it. I crawled up on my bed and sobbed into my pillow. My mother tried to come in, and finding the door locked she tried to talk me into opening the door and letting her help. “We’ll go by the barber and have him give you a burr cut. It will grow out quickly, she promised.”
“A BURR!” I wailed. I would be the brunt of a thousand endless jokes and insults for at least a month. “No! I’m not coming out. I’m staying here until my hair grows out again. I’m not going to go to picture day with a burr haircut. I’ll look like a retard and it will be in the school pictures forever.”
My mother talked and cajoled me for almost a half hour before I finally opened the door in defeat. My mother said she would give the school my photo from the previous year and tell them to use that. Since there was no real school for the day, only pictures for my group, mom put a hat on me, used windings of tape around her hand to pick the hairs off of my sister and then she drove us to the school. My sister got out of the car and looked at me solemnly. “I’m really sorry. I just wanted to help.” I nodded unhappily and watched her walk up the steps to the school door. We drove away and went downtown to the barber shop where the barber used first a clipper and then a razor to remove all but the slightest stubble from my head.
“I look like a balloon.” I told the barber as he swung the chair so I could see myself in the mirror. He smiled and told me not to worry, that hair grew quickly, especially on young men like me. I didn’t believe him for a moment.
It took seven months for my hair to grow back to the length it was before that fateful picture day. The following year I was sent to Palo Alto Military Academy where the first thing they did was give me a burr haircut.