I asked Alex several times if he wanted to get his hair cut. He is 14, and even though he is severely autistic he kept saying “No.” He says no to almost everything these days.
“Haircut, Alex?” This inane repetition worked wonders when he was still in the single digits. Instead now he just repeats “No!” (didn’t you hear me the first time?), whips up his hand and sweeps his hair back from his forehead – as if imagining what he’s going to look like when he’s 50, if he makes 50 – and opens his mouth like an alligator to grin into the bathroom mirror.
He has Jill’s hair (lucky him): thick dark-brown strands, almost like wire when I pick a lock from the floor of the barber’s and roll it in my fingers. Alex, sit still. In the mirror, Alex. Look in the mirror.
We get his hair cut at a hole in the wall at 3rd Avenue and 93rd Street, I think it is, a place Jill liked the looks of for me eons ago and then forgot, a place where I went (and still go) and a place I brought Alex.
“Alex, do you want a haircut?”
“Haircut!” he says one day.
Wasn’t the first place. “I can’t cut his hair if he won’t sit still,” said one barber. “No, no,” said another, I think I remember. Strange how there’s no place that has the patience to cut the hair of a lot of people like Alex. So we walked in and out of places until we found a place where some of the name is “Lucky.” Every time I walk by in my unemployed wanderings I glance through the window and wave; they usually wave back. I’d tell you the full name of the place except I’m afraid every silently desperate family in New York with a kid like Alex would make a line out of the door.
Like last Saturday. I walked down to Lucky’s with him and shadowed my eyes with my hand and peering into the window to see every seat occupied along Lucky’s six-foot padded bench. “Alex, let’s walk around the block.” “Nooo!” and he shoved me (did they see this through the dark windows?) “Alex, let’s just frigging walk around the block.”
We go in, while the place is still here. There’s the boss in glasses (his mother cut my hair once), the guy in salt-and-pepper hair who usually does Alex, and some guy I don’t recognize. They have the local news on the big TV atop the counter of the center seat. The place is so crowded one customer is sitting in the chair of a barber who isn’t in there today. “Alex, there’s nowhere to sit.” Hi, Alex! They know him here. Jill was once struck by that.
“Alex, there’s nowhere to sit.” Alex runs to one of the barbers’ chairs, but it isn’t his turn. “Do you want to sit here?” a woman at the end of the padded bench said. She moved to our side, where two people with grey hair sat. They both looked like women. “I’ll sit in the moms’ section,” she said. She had a blonde pageboy and was kind of hot. “Thank you,” I said. Her son was soon in a chair. He had blond hair and said nothing while the man with the salt-and-pepper hair clipped away. The young man’s eyes weren’t there, but still he didn’t tip his head up and stare at the ceiling like Alex. I pretended to watch the news in the TV.
A chair opened, the chair of the guy who didn’t know Alex. Alex took it. The man we didn’t know whipped the maroon apron around Alex and fastened it behind his neck. The man tucked a white paper napkin behind Alex’s neck. And it began. Alex would pitch his head forward at the sound the electric clippers and bite the maroon cloth and I’d get off my mother-donated place on the padded bench and say, “Alex, no. Look in the mirror. Look in the mirror.” I swiped my palm of my hand across Alex’s temple the way I saw one of his special education teachers do it once. “Look in the mirror.”
“How do you want it?”
How in hell do I know? I don’t know this man and he’s never cut Alex’s hair, and Alex can’t tell me how he wants it. The man we don’t know cuts and snips fast – that’s the only way you cut Alex’s hair – but during some time as I stare at the local news the guy who’s in charge and whose mother once cut my hair comes over to Alex’s chair. He starts snipping and clipping, and who the hell am I supposed to tip now as the guy who’s in charge comes in with the clippers and finishes Alex.
“When are you guys moving?” I ask him as I pay (a 20 percent tip – standard here as far as I’m concerned). “Still November?” Still November. They’re ripping down the block to presumably make room for yet another high-rise apartment building that will have nothing to do architecturally with the other high-rises in the area of 93rd and 3rd. They say yes, November. They mumble a street. I don’t speak Russian, but I will, it seems have to hunt down the place where my son can get his hair cut.
Posted by Jeff Stimpson
at 9:10 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 3 June 2013 9:11 PM EDT