Still hacked off: Beatles mop-top butchery

June 12, 2008

A photograph would convey more than words, but I don’t have one of a barista at Peet’s Coffee at Northeast Broadway and 15th. You can’t miss him: the young guy with a modified mohawk, traditionally cut on top but with checkerboard-patterned sides and back. By Portland standards, the haircut barely rates a second glance. But the doo is striking in its geometric precision and attention to detail.

I asked him who cut it. His brother, he said, first drawing a carefully measured grid and then following the lines.

The barista had no idea that as I looked at his haircut I was transported back to 1963. Beatlemania was sweeping the nation, and boys were going for that mop-top look, which seems preppy and conservative today. My hair was getting close. Then my father ordered me to the barbershop.

I’d have trouble persuading the twenty-something barista how much controversy Beatle cuts stirred all those decades ago, and how many parents were driven to irrational -– and ultimately futile — acts to preserve decorum and order.

The barista might not believe I returned home with only a cursory trim, might not believe my father marched me outside to the back steps and with scissors hacked my bangs to the hairline, might not believe I still remember the falling hair sticking to rivers of tears. I don’t know what was more humiliating, the haircut or crying.

After all these years, I should cut The Old Man some slack. A good father in the aggregate, he was thirty-four and of a generation that looked unkindly on rebellion. And I the oldest of three sons was already branded a troublemaker, and not unfairly. Many years later, he expressed regret, though I would have preferred prostration at my feet and begging for forgiveness. Not that I bear a grudge.

I’ve never told my father that I went to school the next Monday and wore the cut proudly, like a medal of heroic defiance. In truth, the haircut incident represented cross-border incursions by two countries vying for supremacy, a flashpoint that set off a protracted war without winners.

Maybe I’ll let my thinned hair grow long and dangle to my eyebrows in white wisps, have someone photograph me with the barista, and send the picture to my father with the caption, “It could have been worse.” No, of course I’d never do it. While I may imagine seeking vengeance for wrongs, vindictive acts aren’t among my faults. Instead, I’ll tell the barista his look is too conventional. I’ll show him this photo and suggest he try a more advanced pattern for his next haircut. one that really gets him out of his comfort zone: