We used to get Alex’s hair cut at a place designed for little kids – racks of toys, balloons, seats that looked like humungous bright plastic jeeps. Terrific for kids about to enter Kindergarten, but after a while I found that I was cramming a long-legged kid with a mustache into big plastic car .
Not to mention the place cost $45 by the time we got Alex out with a toy. So we tried to find another barber shop. That meant, in our case, places where the barbers said, after a moment with Alex cocooned in their apron, “You have to get him to sit still or I can’t …”
You can’t what? Isn’t the cutting of your kid’s hair some unalienable right? I grew up thinking it was, at least until I hit 36 and autism barged in and I had to find some place where kids like Alex had to sit still. About, what, a year ago (who can keep track?), I found a place. The first few times I walked in, there were kids in the chairs that I’ve learned to call “special needs.” One boy here once flopped and squirmed while his dad keep saying his name and looking exhausted.
So I bring Alex here. Alex’s brown hair has grown thick after being ignored for three cuts and droops over his eyes; it’s curling behind his ears and it’s over his ears. It’s time. Do the men of this shop – Russians? – know somebody like Alex and these other flopping kids? Maybe they do. Maybe it’s a kindness of the universe. Thing about having a kid like Alex is, you don’t tend to question,
We get the guy who works the middle chair, with the mirror that reflects into endless other mirrors. “Hey, Alex. How you doing, Alex?” Alex hasn’t been in here in weeks, yet they remember. (Then again, I get my hair cut here too, and though they don’t do the best job in Manhattan I feel I have to come here because they take Alex.)
“How are you, Alex?” Alex bolts into the chair; they buckle an apron across his neck. This is a man place, with golf on the TV. A guy in the corner is getting a shave; a five-year-old by the window chatters through a trim.
During his haircut, Alex doesn’t chatter but does rock back and forth, back and forth fidget, whip his arm up from underneath the apron and sink his teeth into his own arm. “Alex,” I say, watching him in the endless mirrors, “sit still.”
“How are you, Alex?” this barber asks as I reply, “Just shape it up along the sides and whatever you can get off the front, please.”