You’re Only As Good As Your Last Haircut

Not all that long ago I decided to grow out my hair. It had been over forty plus years since I last had long hair. Hair that cascaded over my shoulders. Hair that I could pull back, and gather up into a ponytail and fasten with a lacker band. When I decided to grow my hair the undercut top, not ponytail, man bun, and ponytail with a side part were just starting to show up on every wannabe hipster’s head. I wasn’t interested in following the latest men’s hair fashions, and I didn’t need long hair for a comb-over. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could once again grow my hair below the shoulder; just the way the young john mcadam did.

image source:jmcadam

I don’t remember when I first went to the barber’s shop in Ferguson Street that was just down from the Hoyts picture theatre and a few shops up from Douglas Parade; I think I was either in first or second form at Williamstown Tech. When mum decided it was time for a haircut she would give us the money for the barber when we left for school in the morning. From when I first started at Williamstown Tech I rode my bike to school; riding up Peel Street into Wilkins Street, and then up to Melbourne Road and into Power Street. Houses lined one side of Power Street, and the Newport Workshops and railway lines the other side; all the way up to the North Williamstown Station. Williamstown Tech was a couple of pedal pushes down Kororoit Creek Road from the station.

The fifteen-minute morning bike ride was no big deal; except when it rained, or if a North wind was blowing. We set off every morning in our school uniform. The winter uniform was long woollen grey trousers, a grey shirt with tie, a light maroon v-neck jumper, a light maroon blazer, and a cap. If it was raining we wore a lightweight see-through plastic raincoat and rolled the legs of our long trousers up above the knee so they wouldn’t get wet. Your cap never got wet. All of the boys folded their caps and pushed them into their back trouser pocket with the tip of the cap just sticking out; making it easy to quickly slip the cap out and onto your head in case of a sudden school cap inspection. We’d all keep our raincoats on until the locker bell rang; as you headed for your locker you’d drip water onto the floor, producing small puddles of water the length of the corridors. You’d drip more water as you took your books for the morning classes out of your locker. Most of us shook our raincoats before stuffing them, still somewhat wet, into our lockers. And we didn’t care about our wet, drenched, straggling hair; we sat in the first period classroom with bedraggled rain slickened hair and waited for it to dry into an uncombed snarled mop. And today generous amounts of hair gel and glossing spray are used to produce the wet hair look that we obtained by riding our bikes to school in a Melbourne winter’s cold rain.

image source:menhairstyleslab.com

I was in the fifth form when I started questioning my hairstyle; surveying it with the demanding eye of a teenager, and the insight of peer pressure. It was a pot cut; short on the sides and back, and looking as though the barber had put a pot on my head, and then cut off all the hair he could see. It was the sixties, and so with a proud act of defiance, I rejected the pot cut.

I started my rebellious life’s journey at Footscray Technical College by getting rid of all traces of my pot cut. I set my sights on being an unkempt, eccentric, brilliant Industrial Chemist relentlessly chasing reactions waiting to be discovered; dismissing all pressures to be a clean, efficient and organised, white lab-coated scientist performing everyday experiments. Even though I enjoyed the thrill of putting a pipette into my mouth and sucking an acid or a base into the pipette bowl, and then to just above the graduated marks on the stem, I lost interest in the meniscus. I no longer cared if it was concave or convex. My fascinations turned to the student drama club, hotels along Nicholson Street, The British Invasion, and growing my hair. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the message of dissatisfaction the Rolling Stones embraced in I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, instead, I focused on Mick Jagger’s hair. With the same strong commitment I had made to be an outstanding scruffy Industrial Chemist I ignored mum’s emotional haircut pleadings and pronouncements.

john it’s about that time for you to get your hair cut
john have you thought about getting a haircut
john will you please get your hair cut
john you used to look so nice when you got your haircut
john you look so handsome when you get a haircut

With my desire to be a dishevelled Industrial Chemist waning I was able to focus on growing my hair and finding other ways to nourish my newfound creativity; the success of my efforts was captured in the review of the college drama club’s yearly production.

image source:jmcadam

The college year was again “blessed” with the advent of unusual performances by members of the Drama Club. There were many old faces, but lots of new stars were born when the Group performed the one-act plays “Passion, Poison and Petrification” and “The Crimson Coconut” supported by an extremely well-written revue called Lady Loverly’s Chatter.

The main new star to arise this year was John McAdam. John’s ready made beard and flowing locks, along with his untamed flare for the melo-dramatic, presented the audience with a convincing villain, who was both evil and yet passionate, but nevertheless perfect to hiss and boo at. John made an extremely good job of his part and some mused that he wasn’t really acting nut being himself. However, this displays the creativeness and sensitivity of his nature, which could quite possibly take him to the theatre in time to come.
Drama Club Notes. Blue and Gold 1965. Magazine of Footscray Technical College.

My growing hair was a symbol of my rebellion against an authoritarian culture; I in defiance of mum, the old ways she stood for, and the haircuts that she had forced upon us. It was the sixties when All You Need Is Love. I don’t remember any haircuts after Footscray Technical College even though I would have had them as I whiled away four years working as a white lab-coated Industrial Chemist performing everyday experiments. and teaching Math and Science.

image source:jmcadam

I set off on the Aussie hallowed right of passage with neat, shaggy mop-top hair, and smartly trimmed mutton chops; they grew into a beard and long tangled hair as I searched for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary. I thought of my hair as a symbol of my self-determination, and I admired the ragged, weathered, tired, frizzy look of my long hair; especially the ends as they flowed over my shoulders. My hair had been without products, or trimming, for two years and more.

Time went by, and eventually, I had my wild free-wheeling long hair, trimmed and shortened at a barber’s school. The young barber in training confidently explained how the bounce in my hair was caused by split ends. I remember dismissing the suggestion from the yet to be barber because the only split ends I knew about were the New Zealand band who renamed themselves the Split Enz; sometimes described as a twitchy weirdo cult band. Before I left Australia to traipse around South East Asia and the Middle East I had my shortened hair trimmed once again; throughout the next few years, it grew and was without products. I maintained the belief that my hair was an expression of my thoughts and an extension of me.

The mullet, flat top and let’s look like my favourite hairband, welcomed me to the US. My hair was introduced to shampooing, styling, the blow dryer, and hair care products at a Lincoln, Nebraska, hair salon. It was my first time in a hair salon and I remember being mystified when the stylist, after draping me with a cape, gave a warning that she was going to adjust the chair. And I thought I was just getting a haircut. She explained that she was going to shampoo my hair before styling it. It became short but not short; shorter than the Beatle’s mop tops, but as long on top as the pot cut I got from the Ferguson Street barber. The sides were also longer and layered into the top. She styled my hair for as long as we lived in Lincoln and Omaha.

image source:jmcadam

Gimme head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming
Streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, oh
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair

After spending five years in Omaha we moved to Illinois; returning after a two-year absence. Over the next thirty years, the same hairdresser pampered my hair. They styled it as a mullet, through to full length on the sides and back and spiky on top, to a ponytail fastened with a lacker band, Then came their retirement; I was in a tonsorial wasteland. I was wracked with indecision about what to do with my hair; would it be haphazardly layered into beautiful chaos, styled into an amorphous blob with my eyes peering out, or would it be fashioned as a long blond streaked messy comb-over. I strode with purpose into a strip mall barbershop and confidently announced I want hair so short that I’ll be mistaken for Brad Pitt in Mr and Mrs Smith.

image source:jmcadam

When I think back I should have acknowledged mum’s innate understanding of male hair fashion more than I did; she was introducing her young teenage boy to the long hair undercut. My hair is now the shortest it has ever been for as long as I can remember, but it does bring a certain ruggedness to my personality. I need to start ordering three eggs lightly scrambled, bacon, and toast with marmalade for breakfast.

 

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How Can Every Job Be A Good Job

I paused at the corner the other Sunday morning to contemplate which direction I would take for my meandering walk through the neighbourhood; should I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first or keep them until midway through my amble. It was a beautiful late summer morning; the sky was clear and blue, and the sun was just starting to warm the day. I settled upon a route that I don’t take all that often; the curving narrow road running through part of the nearby golf course. Halfway along the curving narrow road, a pedestrian crossing leads to a downhill path that runs alongside a tee off and then past a small pond, with a concentration distracting water geyser before it empties into Elmwood Park Road. Elmwood Park Road feeds into AKSARBEN Village, my usual halfway point when I walk the uphill uneven footpaths first. I do the golf course route once every couple of weeks. I distract myself when I’m walking the fringes of the fairways by looking for golf balls. It doesn’t take much searching; if I didn’t pick up the balls I would trip over them. I wonder how golfers can lose so many of their balls.

image source:jmcadam

After walking a couple of blocks to reach the street corner to turn onto the curving narrow golf course road I came to a hesitant stop. I was besieged by runners and walkers; surrounded by a flood of coloured tee shirts, vibrant hue running shoes, and earbuds. People of all ages and shapes were emblazoned with numbered race bibs. I was in the middle of the 2017 10K and 2 Mile American Lung Association Fight For Air Omaha Corporate Cup; walking the wrong way without a race bib. There was a water stop by the pedestrian crossing, where runners and walkers were snatching yellow cups of water to hydrate; the water stop volunteers were verbally pushing the runners and walkers into the back half of the race with cries of Good Job. As I started down the downhill path alongside the tee off I could see a sea of walkers and runners on the back half of the race, pacing themselves along Elmwood Park Road.

image source:omaha.com

And once again I became part of the Corporate Cup; this time walking the right way, but still without a race bib. When I sauntered past the Elmwood Park Road Cheer Station a chorus of Good Job chants, together with a thumping sound of muted clapping greeted me. The Cheer Station volunteers were slapping together two-foot tubes of solid foam rubber to cheer me on. I was now at my halfway point when I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first route, so I walked on the footpath as I usually do; alongside the Corporate Cup participants and towards the finish line. The footpath ahead was packed with spectators so I stepped onto the roadway; it seemed that with every step I took I was greeted with shouts of a Good Job and fist pumps. As I walked to the side of, but past the finish line I could still hear the cries of Good Job; I felt a surge of pride.

You hear a Good Job a lot nowadays. It seems to be the go-to praise phrase for most mums and dads. Telling their little ones every time they hiccup Good Job; Good Job when they blow their nose, Good Job when they put their plastic water bottle in the recycle bin, Good Job when they put their coat on, Good Job when they eat all their fries at Macca’s, Good Job when they finish colouring outside the lines of a kiddie restaurant placemat, Good Job when they eat their broccoli, Good Job when they wake up from having a little nap, and Good Job at pointing Percy at the porcelain. No task is too small or too large for doling out a few Good Jobs.

image source:pixabay

If only mum and dad had told me Good Job. I would have followed my own success plan for my future self; I could have chosen any of my dream jobs of the seventies

Fitness Instructor: always surrounded by flocks of beautiful women. You didn’t need to know what you were doing; aerobics and nautilus equipment was so new that nobody knew anything about them anyway.
Airline Pilot: more beautiful women than you could shake a stick at; and they were still called stewardesses.
Office Boss: before the revolution so every day your fighting off beautiful women.
Politician: John F. Kennedy shagged Marilyn Monroe; say no more. Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister and he set out to change Australia through a wide-ranging reform program. You’d be in like Flint if you were a labour polly.
Student: librarianship.
Bartender: sitting in the driver’s seat of The Decade of Decadence; the height of the sexual revolution.
Truck Driver: an anti-establishment figure; beautiful women like bad boys.

instead, I wandered Europe and the Middle East along the ill-defined hippie trail searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary.

image source:jmcadam

Back then, if what has been your biggest failure was a question asked at job interviews, my answer would have to have been

I’m not exactly sure what my biggest failure is. Everything I’ve ever done and everything I do is a failure; I’ve never been afraid of failure. Nobody has ever told me Good Job. I think failure is good for success.

Shut the front door.

The spare room was an unfinished room in the back of our house. There was a door from the dining room to the spare room and a door from the spare room into the back fernery. The spare room had two windows; one looked out onto the small sideway, and the other into the fernery. The sideway led into a back gate that opened into the fernery; a door from the fernery opened into the backyard. The kitchen back door also opened into the fernery. I don’t remember what bad deeds warranted what punishment; sometimes a simple slap of dad’s hand across the back of the legs was enough, other times several whacks with the leather belt across the back of the legs was enough, and at times being locked in the dark spare room was enough, or being locked in the dark spare room after being whacked across the back of the legs with the leather belt was enough. The spare room was stacked with boxes, and old household things that mum didn’t want to throw away; she might use them again sometime. The spare room was also the nighttime refuge for our collection of pets.

image source:pixabay

Each night the white cockatoo was put into its cage, and the cage was draped with a towel and placed between the boxes; the guinea pigs cage was carried into the spare room and put on top of the boxes, the white mice’s cage, and it always seemed to have a litter of squirming babies, was also carried into the spare room and put on top of the boxes. When we were locked in the spare room for punishment we sat with the animals in total darkness. Sometimes the cocky just wanted to enjoy the company, and would start talking; rapidly repeating its word dictionary and thesaurus of sayings, hoping for some sound from the boy sitting in the darkness. I never knew how long I had been sitting in the spare room when the dining-room door was unlocked, but I knew I had done a Good Job of sitting in the dark and refusing to talk to the cocky. If only dad had told me Good Job when I walked out; I may have become a fitness instructor.

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After an uncountable number of times sitting alone in the dark and listening to the cocky, I started to plan my escape from the room. I experimented with how to get out, and back into the spare room undetected. One night I discovered the key was always in the door to the fernery; the door from the back of the fernery opened into the backyard, and it was easy to climb the small backyard wooden fence into the sideway. There were many nights that I escaped from the darkness of the spare room, and the cocky’s never-ending favourite sayings. I walked the dark, and sometimes rain-drenched, streets of the neighbourhood. About five houses up from our house was a small somewhat overgrown park that led into the road that ran parallel to our street. A rough, uneven asphalt winding pathway crossed the park; I walked that moonlit path many times. Most times when I escaped from the spare room I was barefoot. On that moonlit night, I knew the gash between the heel and toes on the sole of my foot was serious. I reached down and picked up the bottom of a broken glass milk bottle; one of the jagged, thrusting blades from the side of the bottle was covered in my blood.

image source:pixabay

I limped home leaving a trail of blood down the footpath. Mum opened the front door and panicked; mum and dad drove me to the Williamstown Hospital for injections and stitches. And now when I run my finger along the faint scar on the underneath of my foot I think back to the Good Job I did with the slow and painful hobble back home. If only mum had told me Good Job when she opened the front door and saw the blood draining from my foot and pooling onto the veranda I may have become a bartender.

Dad and granddad did a Good Job fixing up the spare room; they lined the walls and ceiling with sheets of masonite, put in a new louvred glass window that looked into the fernery, replaced the two top wooden panels in the door to the fernery with glass, and carpeted the floor. And the spare room became my bedroom. I wonder if they knew they did a Good Job.

image source:jmcadam

Before long, the morning sun will no longer be able to warm the start of the day; the winter cold will send me back to Westroads Mall and my old walking mates. They’re not really mates; I never talk to any of them and I don’t know their names. I just give a slight head nod or an indiscernible move of the index finger as we pass. I think when I return I will replace my head nod with a high spirited shout of Good Job.

 

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There’s a Pencil in My Inkwell

The other day when I was mindlessly surfing the web I came across a farfetched story titled; Australian schools set to ban students from raising hands in class in favor of greater engagement. The blood drained from my face, and my eyes and mouth froze wide open, as my brain desperately scrambled to make sense of it all. Some Victorian schools are banning students from putting their hands up in classrooms to answer the teacher’s questions; a few teachers at Frankston High School are writing their students’ names on icy pole sticks and pulling out names at random from the cluster of sticks, and then asking that student for the answer. An unsettling feeling started to well up inside of me as I started to think about what else has already been banned, or is to be banned, from Australian schools. Several schools have already dropped teaching cursive writing. Experts have proclaimed: Why teaching cursive handwriting is an outdated waste of time. And playground games that are deemed too rough have been banned. Shooting my hand into the air to answer a teacher’s question, learning to write cursive with a pen dipped in an ink well, and longing for the fun and freedom of recess and lunchtime was the essence of my primary school life.

crowded playground

image source:facebook.com/AustraliaRememberWhen

I went to North Williamstown Primary School. I think that dad would drive us to school some mornings. On other mornings I would walk, and from time to time catch the red bus at the corner of Melbourne Road and Wilkins Street. After I got a bike for Christmas I rode the couple of miles to school. I was advanced from kindergarten into first grade halfway through my first school year and so I had to catch up to all the other first graders as well as get ready for second grade during the last half of the year. For the next six years we sat in wooden desks, two to a desk. The desks were built on a tubular metal frame; the seat was a flat wooden plank and the writing storage area was a box with a lift up lid. The top of the desk had holes for the ink wells, and a recessed pencil pen holder; if you remove the ink wells the desks were not all that different from the furniture in today’s college classrooms.

inkwells

image source:paperandplastics.co.uk

It must have been about third grade when we graduated from pencils and started to use an ink pen. The pen was a thin wooden cylinder with a metal nib holder on one end; we dipped the nib into the ink well and carefully put the pen to the paper in front of us to start our writing exercises. The ink bottle and the wooden box holding the empty and unused ink wells were kept in a cupboard at the front of the room. The Ink monitor was the most esteemed, and acclaimed, job that could be entrusted to a third grader: and it was a highly prized job in any of the grades. The ink monitor would position the ink well into the hole at the front of the desk ready for ink filling. The ink bottle was capped with two glass tubes; one tube was bent and tapered to a point and the other smooth and open on top so the ink monitor could fine tune the flow by holding and moving their finger across the opening. The ink wells were filled by raising one end of the ink bottle, placing the tapered end of the glass tube as close to the ink well as possible, and then slowly pouring while controlling the flow with an ingenious and proficient finger motion. I think the inkwells were re-filled a couple of times a week. At the same time we were learning to use ink we were learning to write cursive: we had paper with equally spaced guidelines and had to reproduce one line at a time each letter of the alphabet.

Blotter

image source:rockerblotters.com

Each cursive letter was carefully covered with blotting paper as it was shaped. And the blotter was gently pressed, to soak up the extra ink that was used to form our fascinating cursive hieroglyphics. Some days we lost interest in forming and then joining cursive letters to make words and we would drop the tip of our ink filled nib onto the blotting paper toand then marvel as unfamiliar and unique ink shapes appeared. Blotter was also used to make spit balls; a smallish chunk of blotter would be surreptitiously torn from the blotting paper and rolled into a ball and popped into the mouth to soak up spit. We would flick the spit ball onto the ceiling, or at somebody, by jamming the end of our ruler under the desk lid. The ruler was then bent back, with the spit ball on the end, to produce a launching catapult. We also flicked ink at each other in ink fights, or onto the back of the teachers dust coat as they walked the classroom aisles, by loading up the pen nib with ink and then launching the ink with deft wrist movements. Sometimes after practicing our cursive alphabet we would revert back to using pencils for drawing and other activities.

pen ink blotter

image source:ambaile.org.uk

But before we retired our pens we made sure that we had smeared and then rubbed ink into different parts of our fingers; signs of our emerging maturity and manhood. I reproduced those ink stains years later at Footscray Tech; the chemistry students were easily identified by the chemical stained white lab coats we all wore. And we were deliberately clumsy with the potassium permanganate so our fingers would be dressed in tell tale brown stains: A sign of our brotherhood.

There was a separate boys and girls sixth grade class. I remember our desks from sixth grade. The desks were arranged in rows and the rows were ranked by your proficiency; each row was arranged with the two brightest boys sitting in the front desk. The smartest row was by the windows. We didn’t have any privacy policies at school back then; each day we all new who was the smartest and who was the not so brightest. Some time during the year I was moved to the end of the smartest row and sat beside Wayne Pendlebury. In sixth grade we were starting to establish, and focus on our identity, and how it relates to the self. For us our identity was the tool of our expression and we spent hefty amounts of time carving our initials, which we elaborately disguised, into the desks with our compass needle. We also gouged intricate connecting curved lines that could be mistaken for dry river bed landscaping to make the desk our own; or we just doodled and whittled.

desktop

image source:thesuperslice

And you would always smudge the new carvings with lead pencil or ink to disguise the fresh cuts in the wood. Because we might change desks a couple of times a year, depending on our class ranking, no one was ever caught and given six of the best for desk carvings.

The only time talking was allowed in the classroom was answering the teacher’s question. And providing the answer to the question was done with decorum. When the teacher asked a question it was your duty if you knew the answer to silently raise your hand. The teacher would then choose an answerer from the raised hands. If the teacher judged there were not enough raised hands they would command “boys, hands up now”. No one ever taught us how to raise our hands; it was something we just knew. There were several hand raising techniques and strategies.

Basic Hand Raising: slowly raising the hand in an arc from the desktop while keeping the arm in a curved extension.
The Self Assured: speedily moving the hand to the shoulder and then quickly extending the arm.
The Pump: infinitely repeating the Self Assured.
If I Have To: when the elbow stays resting on the desktop and the arm moves through ninety degrees and one finger is pointed up.
I Don’t Know the Answer: supporting the raised arm with the other arm at the elbow.

And now I wonder; if nobody gains experience in raising their hand in school will that lead to the imminent demise of wedding toasts, Scottish sword dances, thumbs up, high fives, fist pumps, knocking on wood, and talk to the hand gestures.

school games

image source:museumvictoria.com.au

Recess and lunch promised release from the classroom routine and the constant gaze of the teacher. After quickly eating the lunch that our mum’s had carefully wrapped in grease proof paper the playground was our land of far horizons. British Bulldog was always a favorite: Two lines at least twenty feet apart were scratched in the playground dirt and someone would start off alone in the middle. The rest of us playing would line up along one of the lines and on a count run to the other line. The person in the middle had to grab someone who was running and lift both their feet off the ground while chanting British Bulldog. If he succeeded then the person he lifted joined him in the middle. And so you became a member of the tribe and the pack was hunting the few runners; the tackling and the lifting became zealous and energetic. Bruises and grazes were common but that was just part of growing up in the school yard.

game

image source:EJ Fox from Circleville, United States

We also played our version of Hoppo Bumpo; you had to hop on one leg and try to knock anyone else over. A good Hoppo Bumpo strategy was to form alliances and then hunt in packs to hop and bump other players until they fell to the ground. The members of the pack would then turn on each other because the last person standing was the winner. Brandy was a less physical game; the least that you might take away was a slight bruise. Brandy was usually played with ten or fifteen and you would line up in front of a shelter shed wall between two markings. You could not move outside of the two markers. Some one would throw a tennis ball as hard as they could from a few feet away and you would have to avoid being hit. If you got hit you swapped places. We never went into the girls playground although we sometimes lost sight of the unmarked border during a frenzied game of chasey. And now leapfrog, marbles, tag, ball games, and even skipping is being banned; the school system is failing our kids.

john bumpo

image source:johnmcadam

Maybe I should start the tradition of staging an official launch of summer Hoppo Bumpo tournament; create a twenty by twenty square with sidewalk chalk on the street in front of the house. Friends would then know that summer has officially arrived.

 

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