109_box_348x490When I got a Mohawk over the summer, my parents reacted with horror:  you look like a punk, my father said.  A no-goodnik.  A Mexican.  I had once joked, as a teenager, about getting a Mohawk, and my parents said that if I did, they’d hold me down and shave my head all the way.  My mother pleaded with Matthew to convince me to revert to my old haircut.  “I can understand him wanting to cut his hair that was if he were young,” my mother told him.  “But he’s almost forty.”

I thought, There’s no way they would have let me have one while I was growing up.  I waged my follicular rebellions in secret.  One evening, when they had gone to dinner with friends, my sister and I mixed up a bowl of sticky blue dye, a color that could only been seen directly under light.  We smeared a protective layer of conditioner along our hairlines—Direct contact with skin may result in a burning sensation, the package read— and tried not to touch anything with our heads for two hours.  When we rinsed, we were disappointed to see the color:  most of it streaked the bottom of the bathtub, and none of it had stayed in our hair.  Our rebellion washed down the drain.

So, at the start of the summer, as Tomacina took the clippers to the side of my head, the revolutionary spirit rekindled.  The grey hairs fell away, a clearcutting of old-growth lumber.  My head felt lighter.  And when she had finished, the black nylon haircut cape was speckled with years of my life, shaved off.

Early in The Scarlet Countess, there’s a scene of Marlene Dietrich on a swing, playing the young Catherine the Great.  When the camera focuses on her face, it’s unmistakably her, though something seems off.  Let’s face it:  Marlene Dietrich is one of the screen’s greatest sexual icons, but she can’t pull off a teenager too well.  Her hair, a mass of blonde ringlets, can’t disguise the sensuousness of her eyes, and despite her attempts to play the ingénue, her sexual persona shines through.

Over the summer, I paid careful attention to other Mohawk-bearers.  We were a secret brotherhood, I thought, until I realized that my brothers were, on the whole, much younger than I was.  The Mohawk was a bit of play-acting on my part, something I could pull off for a short time, but not convincingly.  Maybe it’s better to let Marlene be Marlene and for Viet to be Viet.

My hair grows quickly, so it only too about a month for it to reach sufficient shagginess.  The new school semester was about to start.  I returned to Tomacina, and she asked what I wanted.  I repeated what I’ve said to her at least a hundred times now:  one-and-a-half on the sides, longer on top, kill the sideburns.  She ran her fingers through my hair.  “You’re a mess,” she said.