Part I: The Scythe
The lady said to me, ” No, no. I will just go ahead and do it my way with the clippers. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.” The breeze was gentle but gaining strength, a storm on the outskirts of the island approached the small shed and outdoor patio area where I sat. The lady’s hands bolted around my scalp, grabbing, pulling, twisting. Chunks of red began to fall to the floor and so began the second haircut in my first three months of travel in Panama.
I had chosen this place on the basis that there was a woman haircutter willing to cut a man’s hair. For some reason in Bocas Del Toro, there was not one other local lady willing to do the deed. Taking note of my past haircuts, all good ones have been done by women, so going to the local barber shop here seemed a little less appealing.
The lady is also an American, which technically would make it easier to explain how you like it cut. And so, explain I did – ‘like this but shorter, use scissors not clippers, thinning shears at the end, leave a little room for styling.’ …but to no avail. This woman had 36 years of experience that no doubt would trump my five seconds of directions. She immediately busted out the clippers without a guard and began shearing away. A bead of sweat formed above my left eyebrow.
There seemed to be no pattern to her mayhem. Locks of golden redness blew away in the gusting gale, never to be seen again. There was no turning back now, I had to just sit still, very still, ever so still knowing that even the slightest breath might throw her alignment off and my head would be gouged yet again. She had a way of slapping that clipper around, walking to the front of me with one eye wide and the other in a squint, that made feel like I might have been better off growing dreadlocks. The speed at which she worked was quite impressive. So astoundingly fast, that just as I thought she might have finished the first pass on one side…she announced that instead, she was finished. ..and what a fine job she thought she had done. I peered into the handheld mirror and to my horror I saw exactly what I imagined was being done up there. A complete mess, so much so that i couldn’t even begin to explain how to fix it. Better to cut my losses early, pay up, and run at a full sprint back to the apartment to clean up the atrocity with my own clippers.
Part II: The Weedwacker
Rule number one in haircutting, never cut your own hair.
Rule number two, if you must cut your own hair, don’t even think of trying it with a $5 pair of clippers bought in a Chinese owned general store in Panama.
I began chopping away at what was already quite a tragedy on top of my scalp. The results were not good, to say the least. I ended up with a sink full of hair, and what amounts to the fine beginnings of a proper mullet. Not entirely wanting to sport a mullet on my journey, I opted for what I should have done in the first place…go to the local barber.
Part III: The Lawnmower
After walking several blocks through town on a well-lit afternoon, with tons of people on the street available to admire the fine work being done to what was left of the tufts on my head…I arrived at the barber shop. Little more than an open-air garage with tin roof and stolen airport seating benches, it was a quaint place. I plopped myself down in the chair and explained in Spanish what had occurred over the previous hour to my poor follicles. The barber, a bit younger than me, spun me around and immediately shook his head in disbelief. This was serious, he understood, he could help me. Yet again another pair of clippers came out and started chopping away, but this time things were different. The guy had an elegant sense of control, gliding the clippers as though he were steering a John Deere lawn mower through a falty patch of unruly grass. He evened things out and blended them down. At the end he took out a razor blade and, holding it tightly in his fingers, began to scrape away at the nape of my neck – shaping my freshly mowed head of hair. Once more a bead of sweat formed on my brow – for one untimely slip would send that razor straight through my neck.
My wallet is now $15 dollars thinner, my head 3 pounds lighter, and another day has passed in Panama.