MY PROTRACTED FLIRTATION with very early retirement often leaves me with more time than I know how to spend. The extra time gives me the opportunity to develop sweeping cultural indictments based solely on daytime TV, and then to deliver these critiques to the patient young men and women who call to interest me in special offers. It gives me time to inform the local supermarket managers of the misprints I find in their circulars. Most important, it gives me room to conduct various thought experiments, with myself playing the roles of scientist, technician, and guinea pig.
Usually this painstaking work occurs in the controlled environment of my imagination, or in the slightly less sterile confines of my apartment. But occasionally Iíll cook up a hypothesis that can be tested only in public. Through the same gradual process of habituation by which people accustom themselves to doing shift work or living near hog lagoons, these experiments have come to seem normal to me. It always comes as a surprise when my friends and loved ones tell me, usually with a mixture of amusement, tenderness, and sarcasm: " Not everyone can turn his life into a joke and get paid for it. "
I can see why they might think this, but I have tried to convince them that testing the limits of personal freedom is no laughing matter: I take my responsibilities seriously. Whenever I get to wondering just exactly why Iím, say, spending a week eating only green food, I remind myself that such work is conducted as a public service for the benefit of those who donít enjoy the same liberties I do.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I got a Carson Daly haircut. Because I got a Carson Daly haircut for you.
Allow me to explain. First of all, you might know the Carson Daly haircut as the Ben Affleck haircut or the Freddie Prinze Jr. haircut. Not as slick and coiffed as an Emporio Armani; not as All-American as a Bruce Springsteen. Itís a camera-ready look, one that goes well with a shiny shirt. Itís haircut as sportswear. Itís mainstream but not white-bread, suave but not rakish. Youíll see the Carson Daly at the ballpark by day and the disco by night: itís a hairstyle that can cross Lansdowne Street with ease. Itís not a hairstyle, really; itís a passport.
You should also know that I once wore a similar haircut. Looking back over the tortuously convoluted canyons of puberty, I can faintly make out a well-mannered child who wears loafers and freely shares his desire to be a lawyer. Somewhere between then and now, my hair-care strategy shifted toward an approach that can best be described as " benign neglect. "
Now, Iím well aware that most private meanings are best left that way, so I wonít try to decode the arcane personal logic by which the Carson Daly came to represent the life I would have lived with a clean-cut head of hair. Is there any use in looking back on the road not taken? I doubt it. As I commenced my research, one thing was clear: I couldnít change my past decisions any more than I could explain how a standard-issue wet-look hairdo could symbolize liberation from the smug tyranny of the past. But I could get a haircut.
REVIEWING THE results of my experiment, I now see that I made at least two crucial errors. The first was choosing a hair salon based on its name. I picked a place Iíll call Omni Styles. The name evoked modernity, versatility, competence. What it meant was, Weíll cut anybodyís hair ... the exact same way.
My second blunder was not bringing a photo. Itís not as though I didnít try. Beforehand, I went to the newsstand and conducted exhaustive research. But pictures of Carson were nowhere to be found, and I began to feel a little immodest standing there in the Teen section. So when it came to explaining what I wanted, I was on my own.
One of the things writers must believe is that the right words exist to describe any object. Apparently this isnít true of haircuts, at least not as administered by Rhea, the sixtysomething hairdresser who met me at the counter. When I told her my plan, she expertly feigned comprehension and went to the magazine rack to produce an issue of the Star. Smiling broadly, she pointed to a picture of an orange-suited young man with a crew cut: " Like him, right? " Wrong. " Him " was Timothy McVeigh.
Before I could think once, let alone twice, about what was happening, Rhea had me shampooed, conditioned, and all but strapped into her chair. She started out well enough, assuring me that " a new look is a new you. " But she then informed me that my birthmark hides a secret message from God, and complained that hairdressers donít get enough media attention. Right after she told me how sheís had to " fire " long-time customers who didnít know their place, she told me I had so much hair I was going to have to pay the womenís price.
By the time we were finished, I knew that the situation was well out of my control. I smelled like a Jolly Rancher, and could hardly bring myself to look in the mirror. When I did, I wasnít sure about what I saw. Did I look like Carson Daly? Sort of. Did I also look like a well-groomed otter? Again, sort of. Did I look anything like my fantasy doppelgänger self? Not really ó I just looked 14 all over again.
Lacking a conclusive result, I canít determine exactly what my experiment proved. Reactions have been mixed. The words people use to describe my new ído are at once well-chosen and vague. People say things like " It accentuates your features. " Iíve been told more than once that I now look like Tintin. All I can say is, " Better him than Snowy. "
So while I wait for this haircut to grow out, I have plenty to think about. I do hope my experience helps illustrate the folly of trying to re-enact, recapture, or otherwise reproduce the past. I also urge you to be skeptical when a hairdresser tells you that a new look will mean a whole new you.
My same old me couldnít help noting that Tara Reid, Carsonís celebrity bride-to-be, recently up and ditched him for some hotshot stock analyst. Maybe I should introduce Carson to Rhea.
Andrew Weiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.