Five-year-old Devin climbs up in the largebarber's chair in Saugerties, N.Y., sits up straight like the big boy that his mommy wants him to be, and then waits patiently as the barber swings the cape around his shoulders like a matador in training.
He smiles sweetly over at his mother while the barber snaps the cape around his thin neck and pumps the chair up to the right height.
And when the barber says in his most kindly barber voice, "What kind of haircut would you like this time, Devin?" Devin doesn't shrug as he usually does. He knows exactly what he wants. He's already thought about it at home and on the ride over to the barber shop.
"I'll have a circle," he says.
"Circle?" repeats the confused barber.
"Circle?" asks his confounded mother, Melissa, suddenly fearful that her beautiful blond boy has been tricked once again by his older brother, Clay.
"Circle," replies the boy, confident that he has come up with the perfect haircut.
The barber presses his lips together and looks toward Melissa for some guidance.
"Devin," she begins haltingly, "we're not sure what a circle haircut looks like. Try to describe it, OK?"
Devin is now the one wearing the look of consternation. (I mean, how could two adults not know what a circle is?) "A circle," he repeats a little patronizingly.
He waits a few seconds to see if they finally get it, but they don't, so he adds, "Like Chief."
Oooh! His mom gets it, but the barber is still confused. "Who's Chief?" he says.
"Devin's grandfather," Melissa murmurs, not knowing whether to laugh or scoop up her kid and run out of the shop. "The kids call him Chief. And, well, he's pretty much bald on top. His hair is like a circle, I guess."
"Ah," the barber nods and smirks – at what parts of the information he has learned, it's not clear. Then he proceeds to give Devin the buzz cut he was going to get anyway – like all the little "big boys" in Saugerties.
But that's not the end of the story. Back at home, where the story was told a few days later with a dollop too much glee by my oldest son, Cael, and his wife – and received by the entire family sitting around the long dining room table with more than a gravy boat of hilarity at the bald guy's expense – I humbly learned a late-in-life lesson.
No, it wasn't just the making lemonade out of the lemons thing, or the beauty is in the eye of the beholder thing, or the love is blind thing – or even the "hey, ya never know" thing.
It's all that, but it's also this: I am a man who came of age in the long-hair '60s, a man who felt a biblical kinship with Samson, and, not withstanding his own better and hipper tastes, always sang joyfully along with the Cowsills and their love of "long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen, knotted, polka-dotted; twisted, beaded, braided, powdered, flowered and confettied, bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied!" – hair, that is.
I also believed in my John Lennon heart and soul that "love is all you need." And nearly 40 years later, as a Woodstock Generation grandparent, my spirit still glows when I hear Steve Miller sing on the oldies radio station about the "pompitous of love."
The problem was that I somehow connected the two – hair and love. And in all those years since that hairy Summer of Love, as I have observed morning by rueful morning, cold month through hot month, good year by bad year, awful president by worse-than-awful president, my long brown curly hair turning gray and falling out, I became increasingly distraught at my own follicularly impaired slide into the land of the bald and homely (and unloved).
And then this innocent, fair-haired 5-year-old, who loves me for no other reason than that I am his grandfather, comes along to let me know (through his wisecracking parents and aunts and uncles and a barber I have never met) that someone out there not only thinks I'm still lovably hip, but that the universe is perfectly round – a beautiful circle. Bald, baby, bald!