The long and short of my hair

Me, 2007

Students at my university are rather amused at the passport photo to the right, which hints at my long hair in 2007. I ask them “what’s so interesting?” but they don’t have much of an answer. I’m guessing that they’re reacting to the difference between then and now (my short hair is not more salt than pepper), but, I think there’s also something of a “whoa, crazy” element to guys with long hair — or maybe economists with long hair?

That reminds me of one of my favorite long-hair scenes: I was in Virginia (the rural side) for a summer school in 2005, and we grad students were climbing the stairs to the bar/pool hall when a guy yelled “hey, where you going hippie?” in my direction. Without a pause, my philosopher friend from Quebec said “he’s no hippie, he’s an economist!” Take that, non-sequitur!

Anyways, back to hair, the long and short…

I had normal hair for most of my life. The first time I got radical was after returning from my post-university European travels, where I merely trimmed my hair at the neck, thereby allowing quite the “fullness” to develop. At that time, I was under a lot of stress (long story), which I escaped by changing job, home and girlfriend. I decided to travel the world for five years, and that kinda fuck-it led to my Halloween mohawk. My “as loud-as-possible” style was popular with the guys on the shop floor (they were Vietnam vets recovering from drugs, alcohol and other issues). “Hey man,” one said, “I used to have hair like that.”

Oct 1994: Nic (left) and Mike (right). Mike died of HIV/Aids a few years later

From that “base,” my next step was obvious: grow my hair as a clock during my travels.

As anyone will tell you, there’s an “ugly” phase of growing out your hair, where it’s too long to manage but too short to tie back. That stage (and many others) don’t matter when you’re traveling and meeting new people every day, so my transformation was just my private source of amusement (some people wouldn’t recognize me if we met after too many “hair days”). A few years later, I had a mane:

Me and Mike, with a dodgy Somali guy (he tried to “sell us” to his friends) in Yemen, July 1997

Long hair seemed to fit better in Africa, where people — locals and visitors — tried many looks. Long-term travelers like me (over two years in at that point) often carried a “look” due to saving money, carrying a few changes of clothes, and embracing no social norm. Our “culture” was whatever we focussed on.

I also thought long hair changed the way how people saw me and helped  them relax — “where you going, hippie?” types excepted.  Short hair says “responsible” or “stressed;” really short hair says “military/CIA,” so that’s a bad sign, right?

I wasn’t totally wrong, but long hair is a pain, and — after yet another day of trying to look through my mop (while driving around the US, on a “trip-inside-the-trip” visit to the US in 1998), I cut it short.

And then we (I was with a girlfriend now) went back “out there,” on the way to Asia, where I started to cut shave my hair, which was handy for staying cooler, cleaner, and fitting in with the locals, like this guy:

Mar 1999: This Burmese monk shaved my head (“$1, USA only”).

I kept the short hair for the rest of the trip and until I started graduate school in 2002. Then, I decided to “start the clock” for the duration of my PhD studies, so I didn’t cut my hair for 6 years and then a few years after. Ok, I did trim the ends that split due to my swimming. (I was using heaps of conditioner, but chlorine is nasty.)

2007: Me and my “long lost” half brother Gary.

In 2009, I went short with a “fancy” (=$90) haircut in San Francisco. While living in the Netherlands, I adopted the national gel-habit for a few years, but then went to “shorter doesn’t need gel,” where I’ve been ever since.

I like my short hair for its low maintenance and tidyness. I’m not sure if it scares people (CIA!), but long hair also isn’t a “peace weapon” so I’ll just stick with the smile.

My one-handed conclusion is chose your hair to suit your mood but don’t assume your hair will change the way people see you.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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