The Hair Cowboy
by Lindsay Katai
In these trying economic times, it is easy to feel that the world is against you and the financial odds are stacked, especially if you’re young and without means. When I moved to Los Angeles, the only job I could get was at a Starbucks in West Hollywood. It was a 20-minute drive from my apartment, and paid $9 an hour plus some pretty sad sack tips, although that was actually good for a Starbucks in 2006. But my dad was still helping me with rent (begrudgingly and not without lingering relationship issues), and I was trying to keep my expenses way, way down.
One of the things that was easiest for me not to spend money on was a haircut. I had a boyfriend at the time who insisted I keep my hair long, which helped. (Don’t worry, ladies. In exchange, I required him to have a beard, so I wasn’t just taking that shit lying down.) Still, things were getting a little split-endy, and I’d been thinking about getting a trim. However, as any lady with long hair can tell you, even a trim is nothing to sneeze at. You are charged more for having more and it’s going to run you at least $40 (including tip) at a Rudy’s Barbershop (my personal favorite), and probably more like $80 to $100 if you’re gonna get shi shi about it and go to full-on salon.
So this haircut business was on my mind as I walked home from work one day. My car was in the shop, and I had a good three-mile schlep home because I couldn’t afford a rental and Los Angeles public transportation is famously crap. I had only gotten a couple blocks away from the Starbucks when a man emerged from the shadows, and, I am not kidding, said, “Do you need a haircut?” It was as if he’d been summoned out of thin air by my thoughts and the god of personal upkeep. He was African American, about six feet tall, wearing skin tight jeans, cowboy boots, a purple vest, and a snakeskin cowboy hat. A snakeskin cowboy hat. I responded, quite reasonably I think, “Ahhhhhh!” to which he calmly explained that he was called the Hair Cowboy. His life’s purpose was to wander the streets with his tools and offer $20 haircuts to the needy citizens of Los Angeles.
I had to agree! Was the man crazy? Probably. Homeless? Almost definitely. Holding sharp objects? Yes, he was. He was fucking holding sharp objects and offering to cut my hair while I stood in the middle of the sidewalk. But when the fates conspire to send one a magical haircutting nymph at the moment one is considering a haircut, I feel strongly that one ought to comply. I am happy to say that 15 minutes later my feet were surrounded by strands of my own hair, and I was left with a pretty damn good haircut. I paid the man $20, and thanked him for his services. Then, I presume, he was swept back into the mystical folds of the dimensions of time and space, where he floats in the ether to this day, listening for the cries of the broke and longhaired while riding a majestic purple buffalo with his best friend, RuPaul.
Or he was possibly arrested. One of the two.
My point in all this is that if it weren’t for the fact that I was struggling financially, I would never have met the Hair Cowboy and have this silly story to tell. A financially secure person wouldn’t have been working at Starbucks, or agonizing over the price of a haircut, or walking home because they couldn’t afford anything else. Sometimes the best way to cope with how difficult it is to start out in life is to realize that this is where your stories are going to come from, and where you’re going to get your color as a human being. No good story has ever come from being able to afford a haircut and then going and getting that haircut. And good heavens, if you are telling that story, please stop because everyone hates you. I promise. You don’t know it, but everyone hates you and your terrible, beige stories about being able to afford stuff. Seriously, Janine, just shut up already. Everyone in the office agrees.